Weekend roundup: Latest on Bouwmeester, Jokinen, Briere and Connolly
The clock is ticking toward the March 4 trade deadline and the star defenseman, slated for unrestricted free agency, remains unsigned despite Florida's best efforts. In fact, we are told the Panthers' last offer was in the ballpark of $6.5 million a season on a multiyear deal, but that still didn't cut it. Hey, it's his right to go to July 1 and see what's out there; we've got no problem with that.
As the Panthers keep winning games and the playoffs seem like a reality for them, there's always the chance Bouwmeester might change his mind and sign; but, at this point, it appears he's going to stick to his guns. The Panthers' brain trust knows that's a probability, so it has had talks with several teams, including, we believe, Calgary, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Vancouver, among others. But we are told there are no concrete offers on the table at this point; teams are still kicking tires.
The Panthers will only trade him if they get a good enough package. They'll keep him for the playoff drive if they don't get what they're looking for. They're not going to move him for a B-level prospect and a draft pick. But if they can get immediate help at forward and maybe a defense prospect and draft pick ... now we're talking. We'll see what the market bears out. It depends how desperate these teams are for a high-priced rental like Bouwmeester.
Carolina and Kaberle
Veteran blueliner Frank Kaberle cleared waivers Saturday. We are told the Carolina Hurricanes will send him to the AHL at some point over the next 10 days and then recall him on re-entry waivers.
He's earning $2.2 million this season and $2.2 million again next season. A team would get him for half the price on re-entry waivers. At $1.1 million a season, Kaberle isn't a bad option. One interesting theory out there is if there's a team that covets Tomas Kaberle of the Maple Leafs, then they should definitely claim the older brother off re-entry waivers. That would have a huge influence on Tomas, given his no-trade clause and his ability to pick where he's going. Food for thought.
Premiere Games in Europe
Our good friend Eric Duhatschek of globesports.com first reported this update Saturday on the NHL's Premiere Games, which sources at both the NHL and NHL Players' Association subsequently confirmed to ESPN.com.
Because of the seven-week battle between with the NHL and NHLPA over the Premiere Games earlier this season, which was finally resolved, it left promoters scrambling in Prague and they've given the NHL games a pass this time. So the original plan to have six teams open next season in Prague, Helsinki and Stockholm has been downsized to four teams. It'll be St. Louis and Detroit in Stockholm and Chicago and Florida in Helsinki. The Sharks and Flames will sit this one out.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have cap room and are surprising people. Word is if things keep going well, they're going to be players in the trade market. The feeling is they'd like to reward the kids for playing so well this season, give them a carrot. The name of Marian Gaborik has been rumored several times this year. He's UFA July 1 and should soon return for Minnesota from injured reserve. We believe the Kings have reached out to other teams as well in search of a "big-name" forward. Keep an eye on Los Angeles.
Senators and Neil
The interest from other NHL teams has started to pick up on rugged winger Chris Neil (UFA July 1), but the priority right now for Sens GM Bryan Murray is to try and get him signed. One thing is clear, however -- Murray will definitely deal him March 4 if there's no extension.
Flyers and Briere
Flyers forward Daniel Briere, out most of the season battling groin problems (he had two surgeries), is doing well in his rehab and is targeting a Feb. 25 return. That'll force the Flyers into some cap-related maneuvers to fit Briere back into the picture. But we're told the team can clear the space from within by sending a player or two down. The Flyers don't necessarily have to make a trade to bring Briere back off IR.
Coyotes and Jokinen
The Coyotes are taking phone calls on No. 1 center Olli Jokinen (he has one more year, at $5.5 million, on his deal), but insist they're not shopping him. Other teams are calling since they're putting two and two together -- that Jokinen hasn't played as well as he can this season and the Coyotes are financially strapped. But we're told the Coyotes are not feeling pressure to dump salary at this point despite the financial issues.
Sabres and Connolly
The Sabres reached out to the Tim Connolly camp and have asked to open contract talks. The talented but oft-injured center is UFA July 1. But he's been dynamite over the past month. Contract talks are set to begin over the next week or so. The question is, what will the playoff-bound Sabres do if he's not signed by March 4? Tough call.
You might be wondering why the Sharks have suddenly dropped five of six games (1-1-4) heading into Sunday's contest at New Jersey. But after spending some time with them Friday in Buffalo, we quickly realized they're sick as dogs right now.
The players and coaches don't want to make a big deal of it, but a terrible flu is ravaging the team. Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle couldn't take the pregame skate Friday, but played anyway. Claude Lemieux got it Saturday morning. Other players have recovered. Even coach Todd McLellan needed an IV after the game in Pittsburgh.
Either way, the Sharks are going through their first real rough patch of the season.
"You know what, I think it's good actually," star center Joe Thornton told ESPN.com. "You don't want to hit the playoffs and not have hit any bumps in the road. It's good for the team to go through things like this. We've had injuries and some sickness; these things happen."