Free agency talk heats up at draft weekend

June, 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The focus of the hockey world was in Los Angeles this weekend, and it may yet again come on Thursday when the NHL's free-agent market opens.

Sources confirmed to yet again on Saturday that the Kings will make an offer to the prized jewel of a thin market, star winger Ilya Kovalchuk. They tried to acquire his rights this weekend from New Jersey, but were denied since the Devils remain interested in trying to re-sign the Russian star.

On the back end, Los Angeles also has eyes on a top-four defenseman, and if Dan Hamhuis doesn't sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Kings will take a look at him. The Kings also like Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, but don't have a fit with Toronto because the Leafs want a top-six forward in return (there were rumblings of Toronto being interested in Stars center Mike Ribeiro). That doesn't make sense for a Kings team looking to add a top-six forward, not get rid of one.

Either way, expect the Kings to be in the thick of things come Thursday as the team attempts to add the final pieces to a rising Western Conference powerhouse.

Martin and Kaberle talks

While the Devils continue to talk to Kovalchuk's camp, the same holds true with top defenseman Paul Martin, an unrestricted free agent who is looking more and more headed for the market.

"We'll do everything we possibly can," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told on Saturday when asked about Martin.

If he loses Martin, he'll need to replace him. Just a thought, but Sergei Gonchar could be an attractive possibility. So would Kaberle. The latter remained on the Maple Leafs as the draft came and went since Toronto didn't receive the kind of offers it wanted. But there is still plenty of time.

"It may come to [moving him] after July 1, but we'll continue to listen between now and then," Leafs GM Brian Burke told before exiting the Staples Center.

In some ways, it might make more sense to wait until after the market opens. Once Martin, Hamhuis, Gonchar, Anton Volchenkov and Zbynek Michalek all sign contracts, there will be teams that struck out on those guys and need to fill a top-four hole.

Sharks signings; Nabokov update

The San Jose Sharks continued to take care of business on Saturday, re-signing defenseman Niclas Wallin and center Scott Nichol to one-year deals just a few days after locking up Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau.

Wallin, who would have been UFA, will get $2.5 million next season and may see an increased role with the retirement of Rob Blake.

Now, the Sharks' No. 1 order of business is to find a new starting goalie after deciding not to bring back Evgeni Nabokov. He's UFA, although we are told the Sharks have given permission to Philadelphia to speak with Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan. The Sharks would get some form of compensation if the Flyers succeed in signing the veteran Russian netminder.

Savard and Boston

Marc Savard remained with Boston through the weekend. Rumors of his imminent trade were greatly exaggerated. A Bruins source said that no trade was imminent, although he did confirm that there had been talks with other teams concerning Savard, who has become available because the team obtained a natural center in franchise draft pick Tyler Seguin on Friday night.

The No. 2 overall pick creates a glut at center with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci; but if Savard isn't moved, Seguin can be moved to the wing. Somewhat complicating matters is that Savard has a limited no-trade clause that goes into effect on Thursday (he has a list of only five teams he can be moved to). The Bruins source said they would continue to talk to teams, but insisted they are fine under the salary cap if they end up keeping him.

As the Hamhuis talks turn

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero is hoping to talk to Hamhuis in the next day or so. He also spoke briefly with Hamhuis' agent, Wade Arnott, as Shero tries to work out a deal to sign the longtime Nashville Predators' rearguard.

"I expect I'll talk to him tonight to say hello and set something up for the next day or so and get into it and see if there's a fit for either of us and go from there," Shero said.

Shero sent a third-round pick in next year's draft to Philadelphia for the rights to deal exclusively with Hamhuis before the start of the free-agency period.

"We're going to take a real good stab, because if we can add him, I think he can really improve our hockey team," Shero said.

Interestingly, when Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren was asked about Hamhuis, he said he wouldn't rule out taking a run at him on July 1 even though there was no movement on a deal when the Flyers had exclusive bargaining rights (Holmgren had earlier sent defenseman Ryan Parent to Nashville, Hamhuis' only NHL club, to obtain those rights).

It remains to be seen whether Hamhuis hits the market or not.

Coyotes talks

The Phoenix Coyotes are hoping Michalek never hits the market, but time is running out to get him re-signed.

"He's certainly the most important [free agent] for us," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told "He's part of our culture and our mix and we feel like we grew up with him. But it's like anything else, there's comes a point where you might have to walk away ... we'll see."

Maloney also has top-six forwards Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak, as well as defenseman Derek Morris, who are set to become UFAs Thursday. He's re-signed Scottie Upshall (RFA) and Adrian Aucoin (UFA), and is very close to re-signing Wojtek Wolski (RFA).

"I would say I was a lot more optimistic a month ago than I am now," Maloney said. "And yet, it's not without hope. We're still going to grind it out this week to see ... we're looking for the blue-plate family special. I think all the players we have want to stay, it's just, at what discount? We can't pay market [value]. That's what it comes down to and they know it, they accept it. So is there a way to structure something that both sides can live with? Honestly, right now, I'm not sure."

Sabres and their D

The Buffalo Sabres are in a similar position with a pair of blueliners, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, who are both set to become UFA.

"With the cap going up, I think the expectation [from players and agents] is that there's money out there, and in some cases there will be," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told on Saturday. "[It] has kind of interfered with getting deals done. So, we'll keep working on it, but I have a feeling that one or both [Tallinder and Lydman] may go to the line. We'd certainly like to get at least one of them back."

Tallinder is an underrated defenseman who might be a sneaky pickup on the open market for teams who missed out on the bigger names.

It was quiet this weekend, but there was plenty of talk. Look for more activity over the next two weeks.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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