The talking is just about over, and if all the dialogue adds up to anything, the Bruins will make a change or two to their roster between now and Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
"We've been in enough discussions that, at this point, I think we would do something," general manager Peter Chiarelli said as the weekend was about to begin. "I'd prefer to do that before the deadline, but realistically, I think it will be the last day."
Now, what, or who, is that something?
Currently clinging by their fingernails and skate laces to one of the last playoff seeds in the East, the Bruins need help in a number of places, but primarily up front, and especially when it comes to size. They get their shots, but rarely do first shots go in the net, in part why they have a dog-paddling 14-12-3 record since Dec. 15.
Size alone doesn't guarantee muscle, jam, second effort, or the will to score, but another big body or two up front at least would be a start in trying to remedy the passivity around the offensive net. Their 5-3 win over the Lightning last night was only their second in regulation since Jan. 31, and three of their victories this month came via shootouts. For the month of February, they had been outscored, 31-26, when tabulating goals scored in regulation and OT.
Not much of a comfort level there, with only 21 games left in the regular season and the need to take home somewhere around 25 of a possible 42 points (approximately .600 hockey) to cop a playoff berth.
In what has been a constipated trade market, there remains no telling which of the better available scorers around the league will be moved. In fact, no one in Toronto could say with certainty Friday whether Mats Sundin would surrender his no-trade clause. Sundin, to this point, has said he wants to remain in Toronto and eventually retire as a Leaf.
According to a number of reports earlier in the week, interim Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher had a deal in place to send defenseman Tomas Kaberle to Philadelphia, with the Flyers dishing back center/wing Jeff Carter and a first-round pick. All well and good, until Kaberle refused to waive his no-trade clause, which had to have some GMs wondering what weight to put in Fletcher's words if he came talking deals for, say, Bryan McCabe or Sundin (both of whom have NTCs).
Fletcher is well-liked, and has a deep reservoir of good will around the league, but even he can't take another GM on a cruise to nowhere on the trade waters, or he'll be dubbed captain of that ship of fools.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3-inch Carter could be a nice fit for the Bruins, both for his size and touch, but they don't have that Kaberle-like blue liner to offer in return. The most enticing package Chiarelli can take to market is Phil Kessel, a first-rounder, and a prospect - even though the GM was saying yesterday that Kessel would not be part of any deal at this time. A "prospect" would mean the likes of Vladimir Sobotka, David Krejci, or maybe even the near-sainted Tuukka Rask, dubbed the goalie of the century prior to his arrival in September. Really, of their kids, only Milan Lucic is a true untouchable.
It's that kind of package that gives Chiarelli some legit clout with Atlanta GM Don Waddell when talking a swap for Marian Hossa, but it's too much to yield if Hossa, age 29, doesn't first agree to a long-term deal (sign-and-trade agreement). The Bruins have been among Hossa's more aggressive suitors since it became obvious weeks ago that he didn't want to extend his deal with the Thrashers. Boston captain Zdeno Chara is a buddy and fellow Slovak, and Chiarelli knows Hossa well from their days in Ottawa. There is a lot of "fit" to such a deal from a Boston perspective.
A couple of other top offensive performers rumored to be available: Alex Tanguay (Calgary) and Martin Havlat (Chicago). Neither would fill the size component the Bruins are looking to satisfy, but their abundant skills make them intriguing.
Havlat, who played for the Senators when Chiarelli was Ottawa's assistant GM, has been chronically injured since his arrival with the Blackhawks, and that takes away much of his luster. Tanguay, rumored to be headed to Montreal for Michael Ryder, has been a bit of a quirky fit under Mike Keenan's tour behind the Flames bench. Quirks and Keenan usually part ways. Unlike Hossa, both Tanguay and Havlat have one more season on their deals before becoming unrestricted free agents.
As the week played out, two other top forwards, Florida's Olli Jokinen and Tampa's Brad Richards, repeatedly surfaced on the rumor mill.
Boston's shootout win in Sunrise Thursday night only added weight to the Jokinen talk, because it looks as if the Panthers will miss the postseason yet again (extending the string to seven seasons). Jokinen is 6-3, 220 pounds, and though a thoroughbred, he has never played in a postseason game. His money, two more years at $5.25 million, is a comfortable fit in today's market. Look for Chiarelli to make a similar Kessel/pick/prospect offer there.
Richards is a real talent, too, though not as big (6 feet, 200) as Jokinen and outrageously overpaid (three more years at $7.8 million). With big money commitments in place for Chara, Marc Savard, and Patrice Bergeron (a total $17.5 million next year), Richards would be a budget-buster in the Hub, unless Chiarelli got very creative in offloading bodies. It's far more likely that Richards lands in Columbus or Edmonton.
Changing on the flyAnd whither Peter Forsberg?
Good question - and one that no one, not even his agent, could answer with certainty as the weekend arrived.
Forsberg, 34, was on course for a sign-and-arrive 2-3 weeks ago, but last Monday, agent Don Baizley said it was highly unlikely the Swedish superstar would be seen in the NHL this season. Forsberg's ongoing foot problem, said Baizley, was proving too much of a bugaboo.
"He's been hopeful that he would get the level of confidence that he needed, but he can't," said Baizley. "I don't know how close or how far away he feels. He was hopeful, up until [last] weekend, that he would be able to do it."
But only a day later, reports out of Sweden had it that Foppa might yet give it a try, the gritty pivot noting that he understood it was "now or never" with the deadline fast approaching.
And . . . one more day later, a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, crediting two European news outlets, said the Blackhawks offered Forsberg a three-year deal worth a total $11 million.
If we follow the timeline, and we follow the money, are they one and the same?
Pros and cons, from the college sideJoe Bertagna, the former Bruins netminding coach who is now the commissioner of Hockey East, journeyed to Naples, Fla., last week with fellow Division 1 commissioners Tom Anastos (CCHA) and Bruce McLeod (WCHA) to meet with NHL GMs over concerns related to college players opting to sign pro contracts.
"Did we make specific requests? No, we really didn't," said Bertagna, also a former Harvard goalie. "And our approach here wasn't a bad guys/good guys thing, the way some on the outside might have perceived it. More than anything, it opened the discussion, and that's good."
As Bertagna noted, there are myriad factors at play influencing a player's decision to go to school, stay in school, or turn pro. The NHL's new CBA, nearly three years along, has made younger, and therefore cheaper, talent very attractive to NHL GMs - no doubt helping nudge players into contracts.
"But that's just part of it," said Bertagna. "Our sport on the college level has gotten older, too, and we have to acknowledge that. Hey, we've got 22-year-old sophomores now, and GMs are justified in saying to us, 'Well, we signed them at 22 before, so the change has been on your end.' And, to be honest, a lot of the times it's the parents of these kids who have contacted the team to initiate a signing."
In December, the NHL set up a GM subcommittee to deal with such college-related matters. The group includes Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), and Scott Howson (Columbus). They will continue the conversation with the Division 1 commissioners.
"It was great to meet with them and, like I say, express our concerns," said Bertagna. "Now they can look at it, and from there, maybe establish some protocol, and that would be a terrific development."
Etc.A Flyer is grounded
Simon Gagne done for the season? Bruins fans who saw Patrice Bergeron sidelined Oct. 27 by a Grade 3 concussion delivered by Flyer defenseman Randy Jones won't feel much empathy for the talented Flyer forward. But Gagne learned last week that he'll have to pack it in until next year, and revealed that the consulting doctor, James Kelly in Colorado, informed him that he did not suffer second and third concussions this year. In fact, said Gagne, Kelly told him he suffered only one concussion, on Oct. 24, when nailed by Florida's Jay Bouwmeester. The two other "concussions" were hits that aggravated the original concussion, which never healed. All in all: further evidence that dealing with head injuries is as much educated guesswork as it is science. Meanwhile, according to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, there is a slight chance that Bergeron this week will get on his skates for a very brief twirl. "Possibly," said Chiarelli, noting that Bergeron is not close to a return, "just to see how he feels."
Small adjustment needed
While in Naples, Fla., for their meetings, NHL GMs continued their hand-wringing over the lack of scoring and the need to trim the size of goalie equipment. They walked away convinced that they'll implement changes for next season (which the Players Association will have to approve, of course). Some of the issue here, the GMs say, is that the equipment is just too big, and some of it is that the goalies stretch the limits, especially with shoulder pads and shirts. "Too bad they have to hold it over our heads to change the nets," veteran backstop Martin Brodeur told the Newark Star-Ledger. Yes, it's true, fewer goals will only give some GMs traction in their desire to make the nets bigger. Awful idea. Regular readers of this space know that the better "fix" would be to leave all the equipment as is, but have goalies play without sticks. Then, folks, we'll have more fun than . . . you . . . can . . . shake . . . a . . . stick . . . at.
The Lightning continue to need a goalie, desperately, which could lead to a deal that sends Brad Richards out of town. One stopgap possibility would be former UMass-Lowell standout Dwayne Roloson, now a forgotten part in Edmonton and due $3.67 million next season. He is so forgotten, in fact, that he had his wife and two children moved back to Ontario rather than have the kids endure the barbs of their Edmonton schoolmates. Tough crowd. "Kids can be pretty mean," Roloson told the Edmonton Journal. Richards would fit well among a cast of Oiler forwards who could use a character guy, a role that former Bruin Steve Staios fills on the back line. The Bolts' woes had coach John Tortorella blowing another gasket after a 4-3 loss in Buffalo last week. "We got paralyzed," he said. "To me, it's mental toughness. And it's coming from our top people. That's what's frustrating to me. They need to take the lead. They need to show us the way."
Just one minute...
The GMs liked the idea of cutting minor penalties to one minute in overtime and will make a formal request to the AHL to implement the idea as a test in the 2008-09 season. Provided it works down there, it likely would be adopted in the NHL for 2009-10.
Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players Association, said soon after taking office in the fall in Toronto that he would open a US-based office, in part to facilitate business opportunities that the PA deems essential in growing the game's revenues. It could be that the Hub of Hockey is where the office lands. "We are looking seriously at opening a satellite NHLPA office in the States in the coming months," Kelly noted via e-mail. "Cities under consideration are Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with Boston and New York being the obvious front-runners for reasons of geography, proximity to major marketers and advertisers, as well as nearness to the NHL main office (to better facilitate communication and joint efforts between labor and management)." Friends of the former Forever .500s could make a compelling case for Hartford as a compromise candidate, with former Whales working the front desk as officers of the day.
Chris Simon, now with seven suspensions on his rap sheet, returned to the Islanders lineup Thursday night in a 1-0 edging of Tampa Bay. Simon was away for 30 games, punishment for using his skate blade to chop on a defenseless Jarkko Ruutu. On the ice for a total of 6:17 in his comeback, Simon was booed every time he touched the puck. No surprise, except the Islanders were playing at home. "I'm gonna work hard on gaining them back," said Simon . . . Calgary GM Darryl Sutter told the Calgary Sun that he prefers to pay no attention to rumors around the trade deadline, referring to the reporting this time of year as "echo" journalism. "It's like listening to a magpie in the morning," said Sutter. "As long as it doesn't wake up the kids, it doesn't bother me." . . . Ex-Harvard defenseman Noah Welch, 25, is just about ready to return to the Panthers lineup now that his surgically repaired right shoulder is healed . . . The Flyers lost their 10th straight game last night, tying a franchise record. "When the passion and emotion aren't there, you're not going to win a hockey game," said coach John Stevens. Again, why did they sack Ken Hitchcock? . . . If Blues forward Martin Rucinsky is dealt back to the Rangers, as rumors had it, it will be his fourth tour in New York. If so, a name change to Billy Martin Rucinsky would be in order, no?
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.