|By IRA PODELL|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 22 February 2008 19:12|
Mats Sundin could be on the move before Tuesday's NHL trade deadline. The same might be true for Tampa Bay's Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, along with Los Angeles defenseman Rob Blake.
Their inclusion in rumors is hardly the only thing these big-name players have in common. They all also have their fate very much in their hands thanks to the presence of no-trade clauses in their contracts.
Sundin and defenseman Tomas Kaberle can't be dealt away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs - the Philadelphia Flyers were rebuffed in an attempt to acquire Kaberle for that reason - without permission. Blake returned to the Kings because he wanted to be back in Los Angeles and has no interest in heading East to the Flyers or New York Rangers, either.
Is this good for the game? Is it bogging down the trade market?
``That is totally blown out of proportion because there may be one or two isolated situations,'' New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said after returning this week from the GM meetings. ``I don't think it will be at all something that is a concern or an issue, nor should it be because when you give (a no-trade clause), you give one because you have the right to make that decision.
``The player had a right at that time to free agency. Maybe he gave up something to get that stability. So, he has the right to not go. And I do not feel that is impeding things.''
The salary cap, now in its third season following the yearlong NHL lockout, is the dominant factor in what trades get done. Teams such as Tampa Bay have to clear out salary or are looking to get something back for an impending free agent that might command too much money on the open market.
Atlanta is trying desperately to re-sign forward Marian Hossa, but likely will have to trade the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent since he doesn't appear willing to agree to a new deal before Tuesday. The Thrashers are in the race for the Southeast Division title and need to get NHL-ready talent back if they trade the free agent-to-be.
One rumor mentioned San Jose as a possible landing spot for Hossa in an exchange that could send Sharks captain Patrick Marleau to Atlanta. Marleau returned to action this week following a groin injury.
``Whatever happens happens. I've got to worry about my job on the ice. That's enough on its own,'' said Marleau, who signed an extension that will pay him $6.3 million each of the next two seasons. ``You owe it to the guys in the locker room and you owe it to yourself. If your mind starts getting cluttered, that's when things don't go as well.''
BUY OR SELL? Further complicating the trade market is the closeness of the playoff races, outside of the Detroit Red Wings who are running away with things.
A perfect example is the New York Islanders, who seemed out of the postseason running during a seven-game losing streak but now have gotten back into the race with a six-game winning streak.
With only a quarter of the season remaining, 25 teams entered the weekend within seven points of a playoff spot. That is up from 21 clubs last year. In the season before the lockout, four years ago, only 19 were this close.
Now 17 teams are within seven points of first place in their division, and six leaders owned an edge of four points or fewer following Thursday's games.
Detroit was 17 points in front of Nashville in the Central Division and 10 ahead of Dallas in the Presidents' Trophy chase. The four teams in the running for first place in the East were separated by only one point.
MR. OLYMPIAN: Although the odds are long for Chris Chelios to be on the U.S. Olympic team two years from now in Vancouver, the 46-year-old Detroit defenseman isn't shutting that door just yet.
If nothing else, he wants to at least be part of the team in some capacity.
``Well, in the role I'm playing now, it's going to be tough,'' Chelios said of playing in a fifth Olympics. ``I'm kind of comparing myself to a relief pitcher in baseball where I'm almost like a role player, basically penalty killing and defensive situations.
``I'd be honored to play in those Olympics because I think it's going to be one of the best ever, to have the greatest group of players in the world, and the fact that it's going to be in North America.''
Chelios played in 57 of the Red Wings' first 62 games this season, his 24th in the NHL. He made his debut with Montreal during the 1983-84 season after being selected by the Canadiens with the 40th pick in the 1981 draft.
He suited up for the United States at the Olympics in 1984, and was part of the team all three times that NHL players participated.
Chelios would like that experience again, one way or another.
``If it's not as a player, I would hope in some capacity, maybe as a coach, management, but I would really love to be involved,'' he said. ``It's a ways away still, so a lot can happen. I feel great. I don't want to hold any young kid from getting a spot on the team, but by the same token I'm not ready to give it up, either.''
TEXAS HOLD 'EM: Sure the Dallas Stars brought the Stanley Cup to Texas and nearly repeated as champions in 2000, but that doesn't mean they have been embraced by the masses in 10 gallon hats.
The Stars entered the weekend atop the Pacific Division and owned the second-most points in the NHL. And they still haven't captured the attention of sports fans who are more wrapped up with the Cowboys' early exit from the NFL playoffs and gearing up for baseball season.
``It's kind of always been the case down here in Texas,'' forward Mike Modano said, who started his Stars career when the team was still in Minnesota. ``We're kind of like the stepchild down here. You love them but they're really not yours. That's kind of always how we felt.
``We always kind of flew under the radar and let the hockey speak for itself and not moaning and groaning about winning the popularity contest. We've never been talked about and covered much, so that's just the way it is down here. Obviously they're still talking about football on the radio and preparing for spring training and baseball. I guess until we make some noise this spring, it's always going to be the case.''
The Stars advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2001 and 2003, sandwiched around one year of missing the postseason. Dallas has been knocked out in the first round each of the last three seasons.
GREAT COMEBACK: After 80-plus years and nearly 600 games, it's really difficult for anything original to emerge from the ``Original Six'' series between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers.
The latest installment Tuesday showed why it is still relevant to watch these teams face off.
After spotting the Rangers a 5-0 lead in the second period at home, the Canadiens stormed back with five straight goals to tie it and then completed the unprecedented comeback with a shootout victory.
Never in the storied history of the Canadiens had they erased a five-goal deficit to win or even tie. Likewise, the Rangers had never come out on the short end after taking such a big lead.
Montreal leads the series 313-183-94-2.