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Buyouts Not The Norm

Saturday, 30.07.2005 / 9:13 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs

July 29, 2005

OTTAWA (CP) -- General managers talked trades and debated draft choices Friday. But not too many dug into their team's wallet to rid themselves of their own talent.

Friday was the deadline for teams to buy out players without it counting against the salary cap. The New York Rangers, as expected, bought out 34-year-old centre Bobby Holik, who had two more years left on his deal at $6.8 million US per season.

-- The Columbus Blue Jackets bought out defenceman Scott Lachance, who was slated to earn $1.52 million this season. They also put veteran centre Andrew Cassels ($2.32 million salary this season) on waivers before the 5 p.m. deadline. If he clears waivers at noon EDT Monday the Jackets will likely buy him out and it won't count against the cap because he was put on waivers before the Friday deadline.

-- Centre Chris Gratton ($1.9 million this season) was bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

-- The Minnesota Wild dumped tough guy Matt Johnson (was due $874,000 a season over the next two years).

-- Florida parted ways with defenceman Mathieu Biron ($1.06 million this season).

They joined John LeClair, Tony Amonte, Derian Hatcher, Darren McCarty, Ray Whitney, Pierre Turgeon and Brian Savage among the small group of players bought out during the six-day period.

Under the new CBA, teams had a one-time window to buy out existing contracts at two-thirds value.

While buying out Turgeon, the Dallas Stars decided to keep winger Bill Guerin, who is slated to earn $6.74 million a season over the next two years.

"I think in a game that's trending towards giving offensive players the ability to score, and you have a natural goal-scorer who likes to shoot, it didn't seem like a proper business decision to pay a player $4.5 million to do it for somebody else," said Dallas Stars GM Doug Armstrong.

Added Phoenix Coyotes GM Mike Barnett, whose only buyout was Savage. "It's not an ideal situation to be paying someone to go away, all with real dollars."

The Westin Hotel was a beehive of activity Friday on the eve of the draft. Anaheim Mighty Ducks GM Brian Burke, a cellphone stuck to his ear, was entertaining offers for the second overall pick.

"We haven't received any offers that merit consideration,'' Burke said in a hotel lobby filled with NHL types. "We've received lots of tire-kicking. I guess we did get one offer that I would describe as legitimate but not enough to make the deal."

As is almost always the case when it comes to flipping picks, the deal doesn't get consummated until Saturday morning.

"I've made two big deals at the draft before and they both happened on the floor," said Burke, who was also linked to rumours involving St. Louis Blues defenceman Chris Pronger.

While Burke is getting interest in the second pick, the Carolina Hurricanes have had little action with their No. 3 pick.

"A few calls but it's not that active," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said. "Maybe one reason is because most people know I don't want to move it. But I suspect Anaheim will get most of the activity and if nothing happens there then maybe that will shift to us tomorrow before the draft."

One big rumour Friday had the Blues shopping Pronger, whom they qualified at $7.22 million on Wednesday. Because the Blues now have about $20 million tied up in Pronger, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight alone, with little room left under the $39-million salary cap, the speculation was GM Larry Pleau will move Pronger.

The Atlanta Thrashers were rumoured as a possible destination.

"As I stand here today, there's no deal for Chris Pronger coming to Atlanta," Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Friday.

Pleau would not comment on the rumours involving Pronger, but did say the Blues could handle all three big salaries and still have a $34-million payroll this season with everyone signed.

"We'll be somewhere in that range, yes, that's where we're sitting," Pleau said. "What we do as an organization, economics are going to affect it for sure over the next year or so. But am I going to do something tomorrow or five months from now? I don't know."

Translation: somebody may get traded at some point this season, likely Pronger because he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, met Friday with star centre Vincent Lecavalier in what is expected to be one of several meetings with the restricted free agent. The 25-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent next summer and speculation has him linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Lightning GM Jay Feaster, however, wants desperately to sign Lecavalier to a long-term deal.

"We had a great meeting today," Feaster said. 'Very very encouraging in terms of Vinny expressing a desire to stay in Tampa and stay long-term and that's what we wanted to hear. It was very very positive. We discussed a timeline to keep things moving and I'm very optimistic."

Lecavalier was slightly more guarded.

"We had a 20-minute meeting, just wanted to know where we stood. I still haven't decided what I'm going to do but I've got some time to think about it," he said. "But it went well and I'm glad we met."

Should Lecavalier decide not to commit long-term, he'll likely file for salary arbitration and get a one-year award, which would be a raise on his $3.325-million qualifying offer. The one-year award would bring Lecavalier to unrestricted free agency next summer.

Feaster, meanwhile, has all but given up hope he'll be able to re-sign star goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin before he becomes an unrestricted free agent Monday.

"At this point in time, he'll probably test the waters Monday," Feaster said. "I don't see us getting anything done. We've made an offer, we've had some discussions with his agent, but certainly we're not close to getting a deal done yet."

Armstrong, meanwhile, is also in talks to re-sign longtime Star Mike Modano, who on Monday can hit the unrestricted free-agent market.

"We've had good conversations with Mike and his representative and of course we'd like to get something done," Armstrong said. "I think Mike is willing to work with us. If it doesn't happen by (Monday) I don't think anybody should read anything into it that it might not happen later."

The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are embroiled in a battle with injured winger Owen Nolan that is far from over. He was not officially bought out Friday because the Leafs have determined that Nolan does not have the right to exercise his $5.6-million option for 2005-06 because they feel he suffered an injury on his own time during the lockout. In their opinion, Nolan therefore becomes an unrestricted free agent come Monday and the Leafs don't owe him a dime.

The Nolan camp will grieve that decision, arguing Nolan's right knee injury -- which required surgery Tuesday in Cleveland -- was a re-occurrence of the same injury he first suffered during the 2003-04 season.

"It comes back to the same issue -- Owen's injury and how it relates to the Leafs and how it impacts his contract," his agent J.P. Barry said Friday.

Should Nolan win his grievance, not only will his $5.6-million deal for this season count, but so will his $6.5 million salary from the lockout year. Sources indicate the Leafs have made arrangements with the league that Nolan would be bought out in case they lose the grievance and it wouldn't count against the cap.

"We've preserved our rights relating to the compliance buyout and as well as other rights," Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. said Friday, not wanting to get into specifics.

Regardless of the outcome, the Leafs save $5.6 million of cap room for this season and that's huge for a team that has big money tied up in Mats Sundin ($6.8 million), Ed Belfour ($4.56 million) and Bryan McCabe ($3.46 million).

"The 5.6 number provides some needed flexibility for sure," said Ferguson.

Meanwhile, the Leafs hope to be picking higher than 21st Saturday.

"We're going to explore maybe bumping up a little bit," said Ferguson.

In other moves Friday:

-- The Ducks re-signed defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh to a two-year deal. The offensive blue-liner, who turns 33 next week, could have become an unrestricted free agent when the market opened Monday.

"We're switching our style in Anaheim," Burke said. "We've been a trap team the last couple of years but my teams don't trap. We need a guy who can move the puck by either passing it or skating with it and he fits that profile."

The Latvian was to earn $5.5 million US during the wiped-out 2004-05 season but it's believed he signed for half that amount, another example of the new era in the NHL.

-- The Ducks also acquired tough guy Todd Fedoruk from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a second-round draft pick (59th overall) in Saturday's draft.

-- The Calgary Flames traded defenceman Mike Commodore to the Hurricanes for a third-round pick in Saturday's entry draft. Commodore, 25, played just 12 regular-season games for the Flames in the 2003-04 season, but played 20 games for the team in its playoff run that concluded with a Stanley Cup final loss to Tampa Bay.

-- The New York Islanders re-signed backup goaltender Garth Snow to a three-year contract. He would have become an unrestricted free agent Monday.

"Garth has been an excellent goaltender for us the last three seasons and has been a true professional every step of the way," said Islanders GM Mike Milbury. "We're very happy he'll be back with us for the long term."

-- Defenceman Dmitri Kalinin re-signed with the Buffalo Sabres, exercising his one-year contract option. Kalinin will make $1.33 million next season.

-- The Minnesota Wild re-signed centre Alexandre Daigle to a one-year deal. He could have become unrestricted Monday.

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