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Sunday, June 23
NHL draft has quiet end, almost too quiet

Associated Press

TORONTO -- It's not often the Detroit Red Wings and hockey's other high-profile teams take a back seat. This weekend's NHL draft belonged to the league's have-nots.

Highlighted by Florida and Columbus swapping two of the top three selections, the league's 39th annual draft ended with a whimper when rounds four through nine were completed in Toronto on Sunday.

Things grew so uneventful that both Philadelphia and Carolina cleared their respective draft tables and left the Air Canada Center floor before the start of Round 8.

There were no trades of note on Sunday -- unless you take Glen Sather's word that the New York Rangers' acquisition of enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa for future considerations was significant.

"It was a quiet draft, more so than usual,'' Florida general manager Rick Dudley said. "There's usually at least one or two major deals. There wasn't really any of that.''

In comparison, last year's draft at Florida featured the New York Islanders acquiring both Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin.

This year, Tampa Bay (acquiring Ruslan Fedotenko and Brad Lukowich), Atlanta (Slava Kozlov) and Montreal (Mariusz Czerkawski) were the only ones that bolstered their rosters.

Most everyone else fell into two other categories.

There were teams such as Washington, which couldn't swing a deal even though the Capitals were offering one or all three of their first-round draft picks.

And then there were teams looking ahead to the free-agency season, which opens on July 1.

That group includes the Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings, who are still awaiting word from defenseman Chris Chelios and goaltender Dominik Hasek on whether they plan to return next season.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland said he continues to negotiate with Chelios, while Hasek is expected to decide by the end of week on whether he'll retire.

"If those two return, I don't know how active we will be (in free agency),'' Holland said. "I don't really see us all that active with the top guys.''

The Rangers fall into this category, too, deciding whether to bring back captain Mark Messier and goaltender Mike Richter. The Rangers are unlikely to re-sign forward Theo Fleury after failing to meet a June 15 deadline to pick up the option on his contract.

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to negotiate with goaltender Curtis Joseph, while the Boston Bruins risk losing forward Bill Guerin to free agency. Suggesting that Guerin's asking price is too high, Bruins GM Mike O'Connell said, "I might not offer him a contract.''

Other potential high-profile free agents include Chicago's Tony Amonte, Boston's Byron Dafoe, San Jose's Teemu Selanne and Dallas' Ed Belfour.

With all that on the horizon, it's no wonder the NHL's lesser lights managed to steal the show.

Dudley led the way on Saturday, trading the No. 1 pick to Columbus, which selected rugged forward Rick Nash. After Atlanta drafted goaltender Kari Lehtonen No. 2, the Panthers used Columbus' pick on defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

"Yeah, they're the ones that created the stir,'' Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. "Those teams made moves to improve themselves immediately.''

The Panthers are relying on Bouwmeester, who has represented Canada at three consecutive World Junior Championships, on making an immediate impact.

"Is he going to jump in and be a dominant player? I don't expect that from any 18-year-old,'' Dudley said. "But I do expect him to be on the team for a couple of reasons. One is that he's got the skating ability.

"And secondly, I see no purpose in him going back to junior. He's been there enough.''

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