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Mill beginning to churn

In 81 games, Vincent Lecavalier had 40 goals and 92 points this season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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In 81 games, Vincent Lecavalier had 40 goals and 92 points this season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Stanley Cup playoffs are over, which means the off-season rumor mill is ready to grind back into action with several big name players making the early rounds.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning set to change ownership by month’s end and John Tortorella fired as head coach, speculation abounds over what other changes could be in store.

Most importantly, talk is centering on how all this could affect the Lightning’s efforts to get superstar Vincent Lecavalier signed to a long-term contract extension.

Lecavalier will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer and it’s been suggested he might hold off on re-signing with the Bolts until he gets a better idea of what the club might look like next season.

Should the Lightning regress into a laughingstock, as they were during Lecavalier’s early seasons, it’s believed he could opt for free agency next summer, which would lead to inevitable comparisons between his situation and Marian Hossa’s with the Atlanta Thrashers this season.

While Lecavalier would attract considerable interest from around the league if the Lightning were forced to shop him, it may be premature to envision him in the jersey of another team.

Both Lecavalier and his agent recently said new ownership and the potential changes that could come with it won’t have an impact on potential contract talks this summer.

As difficult as it is for some hockey fans outside of Tampa Bay to believe, Lecavalier loves playing and living there and has become an active member of the community in charitable causes.

If he wants to play out his career with the Lightning and the incoming ownership is keen to re-sign him (which they’re believed to be), Lecavalier won’t be going anywhere.

As previously noted in this column, the Pittsburgh Penguins have serious roster decisions to make. With nine players eligible for UFA status and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury eligible for RFA status (making him an enticing target for offer sheets) on July 1, management has precious little time to negotiate with them.

Their main consideration is Marian Hossa, but it’s believed the Pens won’t try very hard to retain him, putting more of their long-term focus on re-signing young stars Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

Hossa would be the big prize in this year’s free agent market, but he recently told Pittsburgh media he’d consider accepting a little less than market value to remain with the Penguins. (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_571463.html)

He’s only interested in signing with Cup contenders and after the Penguins’ strong run this spring, Hossa considers them a prime candidate. Potentially helping his case could be linemate Sidney Crosby, who said he wouldn’t meddle in management decisions, but said he’d like to see Hossa back on his line next season.

It remains to be seen, however, if the Penguins can find the long-term cap space to retain Hossa, but he might consider a one-year contract for another shot at the Cup with Pittsburgh and then entertain his UFA options after next season.

Mats Sundin’s name continues to pop up in trade rumors, with some in the media suggesting he might accept the Maple Leafs trading his rights to another team prior to July 1 whereby he could directly negotiate a contract with the new club.

It would be a move similar to that of Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, who both accepted trades from Nashville to Philadelphia last June and then re-signed with the Flyers.

Such a move is, of course, contingent on Sundin waiving his no-trade clause, which remains in effect until month’s end.

The lack of restricted free agent signings this spring has touched off Internet speculation that major trades could be in the offing in the days leading up to the June entry draft.

However, since none of the teams know what next season’s salary cap will be, it wouldn’t be wise for GMs to start using precious cap space until they know for certain how much they’ve got to work with.

The cap is expected to rise to between US$54-$56 million for the 2008-09 season, but those figures usually aren’t released until late June. Last year they weren’t officially released until June 29.

Most teams are already in talks with their restricted free agents. The Canadiens opened discussions last week with Andrei Kostitsyn. The Ducks have already determined they won’t be able to re-sign Corey Perry until after July 1, but despite the threat of offer sheets they are confident he’ll stay.

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ talks with Pascal Leclaire are ongoing as are the Nashville Predators’ discussions with defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

It should also be remembered this year’s pool of top restricted free agent talent has shrunk since last fall.

Many players who were eligible for RFA status this summer, such as Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, Nashville’s Martin Erat and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, were re-signed by their respective clubs over the course of the season.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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