|RYAN SMYTH Now an Islander|
Crude facts of salary cap life
Oiler favorite Smyth found skids greased
Few players in today's NHL carried the kind of profile Ryan Smyth had in Edmonton. He was the Oilers. Slow afoot, maybe. Lacking in finesse, for sure. But he overcame both of those deficiencies with a mother lode of will and determination, and Edmonton fans embraced him as their own over the years as the great Oiler dynasty faded into memory.
Last Tuesday, unable to sign Smyth to a contract extension, the Oilers shockingly traded the face of their franchise to the Islanders.
Talk about a left cross followed by a right hook. In July, less than a month after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers were compelled to move franchise defenseman Chris Pronger to the Ducks. Personal reasons, said Pronger, whose wife, it was widely reported, didn't care to spend her winters in the Great White North.
Then came news Tuesday, just after 1 p.m. in Edmonton, that the Banff-born Smyth was dished to Uniondale for Robert Nilsson (son of ex-NHLer Kent) and Ryan O'Marra, both former first-round draft picks. O'Marra projects as a legit second-line pivot, while Nilsson, also a center, might be more of an impact player -- although he hasn't shown it in his stretches with the Isles.
As expected, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe took a beating (think Mike O'Connell in wake of the Joe Thornton deal) from the local vox populi. On the books for $3.5 million this season, a deal that had him pointed toward unrestricted free agency July 1, Smyth was on the verge of working out a long-term extension to remain in northern Alberta. His agent, Don Meehan, was presented a deal that one source familiar with the negotiations contends stood at five years/$27 million. Overall, it was one year longer and about $9 million more than the Oilers' starting point in negotiations.
What did Smyth want? Numerous reports last week had it that the total gap in talks was no more than $1 million, and might have been as short as $100,000 per year. Just prior to the swap, Lowe warned Meehan of the "ramifications" if the agent didn't call back to accept the standing offer. When the phone didn't ring shortly after noon in Edmonton, Lowe cut the deal with Islanders rookie GM Garth Snow, the former US Olympic goalie from Wrentham.
Get used to this, folks. It's life in the new CBA-NHL, and there is no denying that hyphenated relationship, or the excruciating decisions it will continue to present.
Sure, Lowe could have relented and gone the extra $500,000 or $1 million, but every year there is a finite salary-cap figure (this season's is $44 million), and tossing around that extra $500k here or $1m there eventually leads to being unable to fill the bottom of the roster with a $500,000 defenseman or winger.
Every roster has those guys. In fact, most rosters have at least three or four. And as the money for high-end guys gets higher, soon every team will have a half-dozen or more. Top dogs will get their cash, and the runts of the litter will go barking.
The Sabres are going to find out the harsh reality this summer, with their two franchise forwards, Chris Drury ($3.154 million) and Daniel Briere ($5 million) headed for the open market. The following July, Jarome Iginla ($7 million) and Miikka Kiprusoff ($3.6 million) are pegged for UFA, as well as San Jose's Thornton ($6.67 million) and Patrick Marleau ($4.5 million). As the Oilers found out, it's hard enough to settle with one franchise player. Imagine making a pair happy. And you can bet that both Iginla and Thornton will be looking to score "max cap" deals in '08, when that figure will be upward of $10 million a year.
Nothing, of course, prevents Smyth from seeing his deal expire on Long Island and then returning to Edmonton for a new deal. But, remember, he is now on Long Island, where owner Charles Wang OK'd a 15 year/$67.5 million deal for Goalie For Life Rick DiPietro. Roughly 25 miles to the west, Smyth has old friend Glen Sather running the Rangers. Slats was still running the Oil in 1994 when the scouting staff suggested against making Smyth the No. 6 pick in the draft, only to have Slats exercise presidential veto and take the hard-nosed Albertan boy.
In other words, Smyth has options, some he likely never considered, and that undoubtedly will only spike his price even higher over the next three-plus months. He might see offers as high as $6.5 million per year once July 1 arrives because of the valuable heart-and-soul intangibles he brings to the ice.
All he knows now is that the Oilers won't pay that, or anything close to it, and he now has a strange logo on his chest as proof.
Bruins plan a summer camp
According to assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, the Bruins will hold a prospects/development camp in July, likely at the club's training headquarters in Wilmington.
"We want to give them everything we can give them in order for them to be prepared for the pro game," said Gorton. "There will be some coaching, information on nutrition, work with [strength and conditioning coach] John Whitesides.
"Don Sweeney [director of player development] has put together quite an agenda. We think giving these guys a head start can be invaluable."
Gorton said likely candidates will include a handful of European prospects, including Tuukka Rask (G), Vladimir Sobotka (C), Mikko Lehtonen (RW), and Yuri Alexandrov (D), along with players who have spent most of this season in Providence, such as David Krejci (C), Petr Kalus (RW), Martins Karsums (RW), and Matt Lashoff (D).
Gorton wanted to have the same camp last summer, but there were too many visa hurdles to overcome.
"We're looking at about 20 players total," said Gorton. "If all goes as planned, it will be 10 days or a couple of weeks after free agency begins [July 1].
Toivonen continues to go nowhere -- except Providence
The Ottawa Citizen reported that the Bruins offered Tim Thomas and Paul Mara to the Senators for goalie Martin Gerber and defenseman Christoph Schubert prior to Tuesday's trade deadline.
Believable? Certainly the money would have worked. Based on this season's salaries, the price tag for the two Senators is $4.225 million, while Thomas and Mara are worth a combined $4.2 million. What's better than a swap with a net difference of $25,000? Toss in a load of featherweight sticks and it's a deal.
In the end, everyone stayed put, except for Mara, who was swapped to the Rangers for Aaron Ward.
The surprise of the day, in terms of Bruins netminding, was that they didn't deal prospect Hannu Toivonen, who was ditched to Providence (AHL) in the hours following Boston's acquisition of backup Joey MacDonald. General manager Peter Chiarelli, the day he acquired MacDonald, said, "Hannu's had a tough ride, and circumstances have dictated that he is not playing . . . We have to address that in short order, and [acquiring MacDonald] is part of it."
Clearly, coach Dave Lewis has lost faith in the young Finnish backstop, and the result has been to work Thomas like a rented Clydesdale. With prospect Tuukka Rask no doubt to be signed prior to June 1, it's all too obvious that it's time for Toivonen to get a fresh start somewhere else.
A peek into the future?
While the Bruins were on their protracted road trip, goalie coach Bob Essensa headed to Finland to get a first-hand look at Tuukka Rask, the Finnish phenom who will turn 20 next Saturday. "Bob saw him play three games," said Bruins assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, "and he was very impressed with his athletic ability, his composure, and his overall ability to stop the puck." Acquired in last summer's swap that sent Andrew Raycroft to Toronto, Rask must come to contract terms with the Bruins prior to June 1 or he will be eligible for the June 23-24 draft.
The Kings and Ducks will open their 2007-08 season with back-to-back games in London Sept. 29-30, playing in the state-of-the-art 02 Arena that is owned and operated by
Once the Blues dished Bill Guerin to San Jose, where he was reunited with fellow former Bostonians Joe Thornton and Kyle McLaren, the Red Wings dealt for bad-backed rental Todd Bertuzzi, amid speculation around the league that the Winged Wheels had at least mild interest in Boston's Glen Murray. Bertuzzi, still recovering from back surgery, has played only seven games this season but hopes to suit up in Hockeytown within 2-3 weeks. Meanwhile, Big Bert still has a $19.5 million civil suit pending against him for assault against then-Colorado forward Steve Moore on March 8, 2004. Bertuzzi and Chris Chelios, arch enemies when Bertuzzi was in Vancouver, chatted up and made nice prior to Bertuzzi's first practice. Before arriving in Detroit, Bertuzzi opined, "I don't think me and Chelly are going to room together."
Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.