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Old 02-24-2008, 11:47 AM   #217
Bronx33
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Default Avs need to score at trade deadline

When the NHL general managers met the past week in Naples, Fla., keeping alive their streak of always meeting in places suitable for golf clubs (year-round), the discussion included whether to: a) further scale down goalies' equipment; and, b) expand the regular-season schedule to 84 games, tying it to a reduction in exhibition games.

They didn't make any official recommendations on either, perhaps because they were too busy jockeying for position as the countdown to the Tuesday trading deadline continued.

Two post-lockout season realities have changed the nature of the pre-deadline hysteria.

One, the deadline is considerably earlier than it used to be, when teams could have only about a dozen games remaining and more GMs could justify fire sales because they were out of the running for a playoff spot. In the final season under the former collective bargaining agreement, 2003-04, the Avalanche had 13 games remaining at the trading deadline; this season, Colorado will have 19.

Two, the comparative parity or mass mediocrity, camouflaged in a misleading standings system that enables most teams to claim to be "above .500" also comes into play, along with the timing.

Definite sellers?

Los Angeles, which already dealt defenseman Jaroslav Modry to the Flyers last Tuesday. Edmonton. Chicago. Tampa Bay. Florida. Probably Atlanta. And ... well ... maybe ...

It could change in the next few days.

Contract situations complicate matters, of course, with winger Marian Hossa continuing to sound like a guy determined to get out of Atlanta either now or in the summer; and Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell seemingly determined to at least check into the free-agent market in the summer after seeing what it did for former teammates Chris Drury and Daniel Briere last year. He and agent Larry Kelly again turned down a Sabres offer in the past week.

Olli Jokinen probably is about to become an ex-Florida
Blog Panther.

Another intriguing possibility might be that, after nearly three seasons of cap hockey, the Tampa Bay Lightning has figured out that even with the cap going up tying up so much of its payroll in deals for Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis isn't working.

If all three stay, their combined cap numbers will be $19.8 million next season. Richards is locked up at $7.8 million a season through 2010-11, and the Lightning at least will be listening to offers for him, in part because the indispensable Lecavalier's deal is up after next season and he will need to be re-signed presumably at a salary more than the $7.17 million he will get in 2008-09.

St. Louis is signed through 2010-11, but his deal was front-loaded, so he will make less in each of the next three seasons than his $5.25 million cap number.

And what of the Avalanche?

The decisions facing GM Francois Giguere are intriguing because of the many subplots. Just think how embarrassing, not to mention financially troublesome, it will be for the Kroenke Sports operation if neither the Avalanche nor Nuggets make the playoffs. That's a lot of blocked-off, provisional dates that are dark. That's a lot of lost revenue. And consider that the Avalanche already announced that tickets prices are going up again next season.

Wasn't it interesting that season-ticket holders were told that if they committed to renew for next season by Friday or four days before the trading deadline they will pay regular-season prices for their seats in this year's playoffs ... if the Avs make it?

That means the Kroenke Sports folks already have at least a hint of how much their season-ticket base might further diminish for next season. And maybe about how desperate they want Giguere to be as he seeks a means to strengthen the Avs' chances of just making the playoffs, which might stem a bit of the bleeding.

On Tuesday morning, the Avs still will be at least mathematically in the running for a postseason berth. They still should make a run at Hossa.

Colorado managed to stay in the hunt without Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth, and Sakic's return in the next few days will get Colorado back to full strength. But that shouldn't be a justification for inertia. This team, and even Denver as a hockey market, needs a jolt.
SPOTLIGHT ON . . .

Mats Sundin, C, Maple Leafs

As the trading deadline approaches, the Maple Leafs veteran center holds all the cards.

He is perceived as a valuable commodity, capable of being a difference-maker in a team's attempt to advance deep into the playoffs or make them altogether.

He has a no-trade clause, meaning he has what amounts to approval power over any deal.

And he can be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

The Maple Leafs, one of the few teams in the league out of the running for a playoff spot, and interim general manager Cliff Fletcher have sounded him out about which teams he would be willing to join.

It seems likely Sundin will be dealt before the Tuesday 1 p.m. deadline.

The question is how much risk a team is willing to take and how much a team is willing to pay to rent Sundin for the stretch run, without assurances of being able to re-sign him.

Last season, the Islanders and Thrashers gave up a lot for Ryan Smyth and Keith Tkachuk, respectively, and Smyth passed on the Islanders' attempts to re-sign him. Tkachuk re-signed with the Blues.

Sundin, who has had a terrific season amid the chaos in Toronto, is worth the shot. His no-trade clause is a bit of a defense mechanism; if it's a team or place he would abhor and wouldn't consider next season, he probably won't approve even a rental appearance there.

If this were a horse race, I'd make the Red Wings the 5-2 favorites to land him.
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