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Old 06-20-2006, 12:15 AM   #4482
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Prince of Pucks: Upcoming draft fuels rumors
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Spector / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 5 hours ago



With the conclusion Monday of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, attention now turns toward the NHL's upcoming entry draft weekend and the July 1 commencement date for unrestricted free agency.

The management and scouting staffs of all 30 NHL teams will converge on Vancouver, B.C., for this weekend's draft, and with that many general managers in one place talking shop, rumors abound that some big trades for players or draft picks could be in the works.
Recent media reports claim the clubs with the top five picks — St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington and Boston — are entertaining offers from other teams, with most of the attention focused on the Blues and Penguins.

It's believed Blues GM Larry Pleau will retain his pick to select U.S. National Team defenseman Erik Johnson, but a report in Sunday's Ottawa Sun claims he might be willing to move the pick for a top starting goaltender. The Sun reported the Mighty Ducks and Sharks, two teams with goalies to move, are believed to have contacted Pleau about a possible deal.

While Johnson is rated the top prospect in this year's draft, the Blues are already deep in young blueliners with former Calder winner Barrett Jackman, former Team Canada Olympian Eric Brewer and Christian Backman. Pleau could instead decide to bolster his forward lines by selecting the promising Jordan Staal, ranked as the No. 2 prospect this season and whose brother is Hurricanes budding superstar Eric Staal.

New Penguins GM Ray Shero might also be very interested in Johnson. He already has a young superstar forward in Sidney Crosby and another on the way next season in Evgeny Malkin, and appears set in goal with young netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, but Shero lacks a promising defenseman to one day anchor his blueline corps.

Johnson would probably fill that need, so it wouldn't be surprising if Shero has already spoken with Pleau over swapping picks or perhaps about Pleau's intentions with the first overall pick.

There's also the rumor that Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford might offer the Penguins promising young defenseman Jack Johnson, whom the 'Canes drafted second overall last year, in exchange for the Pens' pick. Rutherford would supposedly use that pick to select Jordan Staal.

Bruins acting GM Jeff Gorton admitted to the Boston media he's been fielding inquiries about his pick, and if the right offer were there for a good young NHL roster player he'd be willing to make a deal. Rival clubs may not be willing to give up that much for the fifth overall selection, so the Bruins will probably retain that pick.

There's also the increasing likelihood that a major trade involving established NHL players could be announced this weekend.

The Lightning and Red Wings are actively shopping for goaltenders, and with several goalies of various ability believed available, anticipation is ramping up that one or both clubs could make their moves at the draft.

Florida's Roberto Luongo, Dallas's Marty Turco, Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere, San Jose's Evgeny Nabokov, Buffalo's Martin Biron, Montreal's David Aebischer and Boston's Andrew Raycroft are rumored to be possible targets.

What's unclear is which current Lightning and Red Wings players could become the trade bait required to land one of them.

Lightning GM Jay Feaster could shop forwards Fredik Modin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Dmitry Afanasenkov and defenseman Darryl Sydor, but if Feaster hopes to land bigger fish like Luongo or Turco, it could cost him Martin St. Louis or Vincent Lecavalier.

Wings GM Ken Holland would probably prefer to shop expensive veterans like Robert Lang or Mathieu Schneider, but to bring in someone like Luongo, whom some in the Detroit media are actively stumping for, it could cost him Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.

Feaster has maintained he doesn't want to be known as the man who traded Lecavalier and Holland maintains he has no intention of moving Datsyuk. If we take both at their word, it means Luongo and Turco won't be playing in Detroit or Tampa Bay next season.

Until recently Luongo was apparently destined to re-sign with the Panthers, but he and his agent have continually spurned the club's contract offers, and their recent insistence on a one-year contract may put incredible pressure on general manager Mike Keenan to move him.

A report in Sunday's Palm Beach Post suggests the Panthers have until July 1 to get Luongo re-signed to a long-term deal. Failing that, the Panthers wouldn't be able to negotiate with him again until January. Luongo would also be eligible for UFA status next summer, which could adversely affect his trade value, hence the talk that Keenan may be forced to move him as early as this coming weekend.

It must be remembered, however, that moving Luongo will leave the Panthers without a No. 1 goaltender. If — and it's still a big "if" at this point — Keenan does move him, expect him to either trade Luongo for another goalie, swing a separate deal with another club for a netminder after trading Luongo or shop for one via the UFA market.

There's also the possibility of unexpected deals, which is often the rule when it comes to trades and rumors.

It's even possible that, despite the mounting speculation, very little movement of picks or players occurs. This will be the first draft after a full season under the new collective bargaining agreement, so it'll be interesting to see what impact the salary cap could have on potential draft day deals.

Regardless of the outcome, this could shape up to be one of the most highly anticipated drafts in NHL history.

At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector for the latest NHL rumors from around the league.

http://msn.foxsports.com/nhl/story/5709772
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