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NHL's $69-million salary cap could spark plenty of money-saving trades

PHILADELPHIA - Trade talk mostly fizzled at the NHL draft.

"It just seemed to me there were a lot of phone calls, a lot of talking, people interested, but nothing really happened," Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray said.

Aside from Ryan Kesler getting dealt before proceedings got underway and then James Neal a few hours later, the weekend passed without much major action. One small trade—the Calgary Flames getting Brandon Bollig from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick—looked like a preview of many more to come as cap-strapped teams try to get under the US$69 million ceiling set for next season.

"It's a puzzle to put together and try to make all the numbers work," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday. "That's clearly the biggest factor you're faced with when you have salary cap being what it is. You're going to have some tough decisions. We're not the only team that's in that position. There will be other teams that face the same things."

Without naming names, Bowman was describing the plight of the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, along with his Blackhawks, who almost certainly have to make sacrifices just to be cap-compliant. In the Bruins' case, it might mean saying goodbye to Jarome Iginla, a 61-point player and a major piece of their Presidents' Trophy-winning season.

"If we can't sign Jarome, we're going to find a good player at that position," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said Friday night. "We feel all our young guys and our current players are going to get better."

It's unclear what else the Bruins might have to do with forwards Reilly Smith, Jordan Caron and Justin Florek and defenceman Torrey Krug and Matt Bartkowski needing new deals as restricted free agents. According to CapGeek, Boston has just over $1.6 million to spend.

The Flyers, technically over the cap by a couple hundred thousand dollars, have some room with defenceman Chris Pronger bound for long-term injured reserve. But they're still reportedly shopping Vincent Lecavalier to rid themselves of at least part of his $4.5 million cap hit for the next four seasons.

Chicago managed to part with Bollig's $1.25-million cap hit but might have to clear more salary to fill out the roster.

Enter the likes of the Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, teams with salary-cap space to take on salary. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish knows players won't be given away, but talent should be available.

"We're in a pretty enviable position to be able to take on some of those contracts," MacTavish said Friday night. "Those are really the style of deals that we've looked to make over the last little while where we give up a few assets, take the contract and the cap space, so we'll be trying to do some of that."

That was part of what went into the Flames trading for Bollig, who just signed a contract extension in March. When the cap was set at $69 million, it was at least $1 million, if not more, less than GMs were hoping for.

"We've been looking at situations with the cap where people that may have difficulty or be in a situation where they had to move money," Flames GM Brad Treliving said.

Sabres GM Tim Murray implied that he'd be willing to accept expensive contracts, but only if he gets an asset like a draft pick in return.

"I tried to make a big trade today, a unique trade," Murray said Saturday. "I said, 'We got to do like the NBA.' So I went to a team and said, 'You trade me your first pick from yesterday.' He didn't want to be the first guy to do that. So I'm not sure I did, either. But I thought it was a good idea."

There could be a market for those NBA-style deals if GMs determine the cap space gained is worth it.

More likely, teams up against the $69 million limit will be getting partial value on current players to clear room to manoeuvre when unrestricted free agency opens Tuesday. Plenty of money will get handed out then, and the teams that don't have the space to do it will be forced to rely on younger players to fill the void.

Bowman, who has gone through this during two Stanley Cup runs, called it just the continuation of the development cycle.

"It's a constant process of finding guys who will be able to fill those roles," he said. "It's a never-ending game. That's the state of the game today. But you have to find players, whether they're free agents or like today draft picks and work with making it to the point where they can be NHL contributors."

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