Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is interviewed by the Associated Press, in New York Friday Dec. 14, 2007. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Richard Drew
On a day that finally got its first trade when the Philadelphia Flyers acquired winger Vaclav Prospal on Monday night, the last name that was expected to steal the spotlight on the eve of the deadline was that of Peter Forsberg.
This is the same Peter Forsberg who through his agent last week said his return to the NHL was "unlikely" because of his foot/ankle problems.
Completely out of left field, the 34-year-old unrestricted free-agent centre signed a US$5-million, one-year deal with Colorado on Monday, a contract that will pay him just under $1.1 million pro-rated with six weeks to go in the regular season. The Avs got a phone call Monday morning from Forsberg's agent Don Baizley and the deal got done quickly.
"I wasn't sure (a week ago) that I was going to come back and I wanted to take an extra week," Forsberg said on a conference call from Sweden.
"I just feel comfortable going back there (to Colorado) and try to help the team make the playoffs and go as far as we can go," Forsberg added.
Forsberg, who hasn't set a timetable for his return in the Avs lineup, had to sign by the trade deadline to qualify for post-season play.
Fact is, his NHL club could miss the playoffs. The Avs are four points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with 19 games to go.
"We all understand that there's still a risk factor but we are willing to take that risk," said Avs GM Francois Giguere. "Especially when we don't have to give an asset to acquire him. ...
"At the end of the day, I felt I needed to do what I had to do to help this team," Giguere later added. "That's part of the commitment that I also made to Joe Sakic two years ago when he accepted to stay on board. You're always trying to juggle improving the team and looking at the future but we want to do as well as we can this year."
The Flyers added some offensive punch when they acquired the 33-year-old Prospal from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospect defenceman Alexandre Picard and a conditional draft pick. Prospal is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1 and didn't fit into Tampa's financial planning. He has 57 points (29-28) in 62 games this season.
If Philadelphia qualifies for the Eastern Conference final, Tampa Bay gets Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2009, and if they do not the Lightning will receive Calgary's third-round pick in 2009.
While Prospal was dealt, star defenceman Dan Boyle stayed in Tampa - agreeing late Monday night to a US$40-million, six-year contract extension. The contract wasn't immediately approved by Tampa ownership at a meeting Monday morning but hours later came to fruition. Boyle would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1 but didn't want to leave.
"We are extremely pleased to have Dan back in the fold for the next six years," Bolts GM Jay Feaster said in a statement. "Our team and our fans have been able to witness first-hand, during Dan's injury and recovery, how tough it is to win without Dan in our lineup. As (coach) John Tortorella has consistently said, Danny is the player that makes our offence go from the back end, and this signing demonstrates the commitment of current and prospective ownership to ice a championship calibre team in Tampa."
Another defenceman who took his name off the trade market was Barret Jackman of the St. Louis Blues, the 26-year-old signing a $14.4-million, four-year contract extension Monday night. Jackman, who will earn an average of $3.6 million a year in the new deal, was slated for unrestricted free agency July 1 and it was clear the Blues were probably going to deal him had he not signed an extension before Tuesday.
Unlike Jackman, there was no last-minute contract extension for Buffalo Sabres blue-liner Brian Campbell - at least not on Monday. The pending unrestricted free agent rejected Buffalo's $17.25-million, three-year offer last week and there were no further contract talks as of Monday evening. Sabres GM Darcy Regier doesn't like the prospect of another star player walking away July 1 after losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury last season so he may very well deal Campbell before 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The day began with Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin explaining to reporters why he decided not to waive his no-movement clause - a huge announcement that was made through his agent late Sunday night.
"I think at the end, I followed my heart and I just haven't felt the desire to go to any other team or play for any other team at this point," the 37-year-old Sundin, an unrestricted free agency July 1, said after the pre-game skate in Ottawa.
The Sundin news was surely music to Don Waddell's ears. The Atlanta Thrashers GM suddenly got his most serious offers for winger Marian Hossa, a rental player who will be unrestricted July 1. Some of the teams that viewed both Sundin and Hossa as possible fits got focused in a hurry once Sundin pulled out.
Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit and San Jose were believed to be among the several teams chasing the 29-year-old Hossa.
Will Brad Richards be moved? The Lightning centre controls his fate with a no-trade clause but it's believed he's open to a move. He has three more years on his deal paying him $7.8 million a season and the likes of Dallas, Vancouver, Columbus and Chicago were among the clubs who were believed to be interested in his services.
Centre Olli Jokinen was generating a fair amount of interest ahead of the trade deadline. The Florida Panthers captain is signed for another two seasons at $5.25 million next year and $5.5 million in 2009-10.
"We're just going to ride it out for now," said agent Todd Diamond, who represents Jokinen along with Mark Gandler. "He doesn't have a no-trade so it's a free world. If they want to trade him, they have that right."
Veteran Rob Blake, meanwhile, still wanted to stay in Los Angeles but a source told The Canadian Press on Monday night that Colorado would be one team he might waive his no-trade clause for.