Toms Kaberle is in the last year of his contract before he becomes a free agent July 1. (Getty Images)
Since failing in last summer’s attempts to acquire a good return for Tomas Kaberle, it’s been widely assumed Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke will try to move the defenseman by the Feb. 28 trade deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing to unrestricted free agency next summer.
That, however, isn’t how Burke sees it.
In an interview with The Toronto Star’s Paul Hunter, Burke rejected the notion that he has to get something for Kaberle this season. The Leafs GM praised Kaberle as a “good guy” and “a valuable contributor,” reminding readers if the blueliner walks via free agency the Leafs will get back more than $4.2 million in cap space.
Burke has previously stated he wouldn’t ask Kaberle to waive his “no-trade” clause this season, but that hasn’t put a damper on the speculation.
It could be a different story if, later in the season, Kaberle asks to be dealt, but Burke tends to be a man of his word and if he says he won’t ask the veteran defenseman to waive his no-trade clause he won’t do it regardless of Kaberle’s free agent status.
BIG CONTRACT FOR BIG JOE, FREE AGENCY FOR RICHARDS
ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend the San Jose Sharks will re-sign star forward – and newly crowned team captain – Joe Thornton to a new contract within the next couple of weeks.
LeBrun noted that would leave Dallas’ Brad Richards as the only bona fide first line center available in next summer’s UFA market.
Due to the current uncertainty over the Stars’ ownership there’s been no real negotiation between Richards and management. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk has stated his hope there’ll be new ownership in place by mid-season in order to begin serious contract talks with the playmaking center.
Nieuwendyk would like to retain Richards, but that won’t be easy even with new ownership in place. The 30-year-old center matched a career-best in points last season with 91 and if he’s on pace for a similar performance this season it could price Richards out of the Stars market.
Richards has earned $7.8 million per season on his current contract and while he probably won’t earn more than that as a UFA there’s no question he’ll be a hot commodity in next year’s UFA market.
Ignore any Internet chatter suggesting rival teams have already begun inquiring into Richards’ availability. It’s far too early for that kind of talk and Nieuwendyk has no plans at the present time to entertain such discussions.
PREDATORS WANT THEIR D-MAN
LeBrun also reported the Nashville Predators hope to begin serious contract talks soon with Shea Weber.
The 25-year-old blueliner will be eligible for restricted free agent status next summer and unrestricted free agency in 2012.
LeBrun suggested three possible scenarios: Weber is re-signed to a long-term contract, agrees to only a one-year deal taking him up to UFA eligibility, or Predators management decides next summer they cannot retain him long-term and put him on the trade block.
The Predators performance this season will be a factor in the contract talks. Weber will likely want assurances the Predators aren’t simply going to spin their wheels for the foreseeable future.
Another more pressing factor is he’ll be a tempting target for an offer sheet as a restricted free agent next July unless the Preds can get him under contract before July 1.
GIORDANO A TARGET
Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano was once an undrafted prospect, but he’s now improved so much that he’s not only considered one of the Flames’ best defensemen, but will also be a much sought after free agent next summer.
Reports out of Calgary this weekend noted that possibility, pointing out Giordano would be in line for a significant raise over his currently salary of $892,000 per season.
Giordano said he’s happy playing for the Flames and feels indebted to the organization for taking a chance on him when no other NHL team would. Still, this is a great opportunity - perhaps his best one - to land a lengthy, lucrative deal via unrestricted free agency.
It’s been suggested he’ll have some lingering bitterness toward Flames GM Darryl Sutter over contentious contract talks three years ago which saw him spend a season in the Kontinental League before returning to the Flames. Giordano, however, denied any animosity between himself and Sutter.
What could potentially hold things up for the Flames with Giordano is their cap space for next season. Capgeek.com lists the Flames as having more than $52.5 million committed to 17 players for 2011-12, which won’t leave much space for a significant raise for Giordano should the cap fail to substantially increase for next season.
Keep an eye on the status of the New Jersey Devils roster.
The club started the season with a 20-man roster in order to be cap compliant to start the season, but over the weekend Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov were sidelined by injuries.
Having dropped their first two games of the season there’s talk GM Lou Lamoriello will be forced to make a move to free up cap space for extra roster depth should their on-ice struggles continue.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 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.