Rolling down the river

Lyle Richardson
By: Lyle Richardson
Jan 25, 2010

David Backes has 10 goals and 27 points in 49 games this season. (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News


Rolling down the river

Lyle Richardson
By: Lyle Richardson
Jan 25, 2010

The appearances of Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis in Montreal last week for the Canadiens-Blues game and Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter checking out the tilt between the Rangers and Flyers created quite a buzz in the rumor mill.

Matt Sekeres of the Globe and Mail suggested Gillis, whose club could use depth at center and the blueline, might’ve been scouting the Blues, perhaps revisiting interest in center David Backes, whom Gillis unsuccessfully attempted to sign to an offer sheet over two years ago.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon noted the Blues gave veteran defenseman Daryl Sydor some playing time recently and noted pending UFA Carlo Colaiacovo might be available.

Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province suggested the Canadiens, rather than the Blues, might be in Gillis’ sights, owing to his good relations with Habs GM Bob Gainey.

The Blues, not the Habs, were more likely the focus of Gillis’ interest since the Canadiens remain in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, while the Blues are in danger of falling out of post-season contention in the West.

Should the Blues become sellers, don’t expect Backes to be dealt. Davidson stated in a recent interview the center will be staying put.

• Larry Brooks of the New York Post, meanwhile, cited a GM claiming the Flames, despite Sutter’s recent denials, were desperate to move defenseman Dion Phaneuf and his $6.5 million cap hit.

Brooks claims the Blueshirts couldn’t afford Phaneuf unless they shipped out a comparable salary.

The Post’s Mark Everson also noted Calgary scout Ron Sutter twice scouted the New Jersey Devils last week, once with his brother Darryl, Calgary’s GM. Everson wondered about the availability of Phaneuf as well as Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

One must take care not to read too much into Sutter’s eastern excursion, as his Flames face both the Flyers and Devils in the near future and he might’ve merely been checking out the competition.

Still, there’s no disputing the fact the free-falling Flames desperately need to bolster their anemic offensive depth. And while Sutter continues to deny the trade rumors, the scoring woes might force him into the trade market in the very near future.

Little wonder TSN’s respected hockey analyst Bob McKenzie suggested the Flames may – emphasis on “may” – be interested in Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, should he hit the block by the trade deadline.

McKenzie speculates the Flames might have to talk about including some notable players – including Phaneuf – in the return.

He also suggests the Chicago Blackhawks could get into the bidding for Kovalchuk with players like Patrick Sharp, Cam Barker or Dave Bolland forming part of the deal.

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman declined to comment about Kovalchuk, but admitted to considering several trade options, saying he had enough cap space this season to add another player without giving up one in return.

Phaneuf is undoubtedly the Flames’ most valuable bargaining chip, but Sutter insists he’s unavailable.

If Sutter were to offer up Phaneuf for Kovalchuk, it wouldn’t make sense for Thrashers GM Don Waddell, who has plenty of puck-moving defensemen (Pavel Kubina, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey) on his roster.

As for the Blackhawks, they’re currently the third-highest scoring team in the league and have no reason to add a player like Kovalchuk as a rental, especially when it’s believed Bowman would prefer to add more grit to his defense.

• Looks like a fire sale will begin soon for the Carolina Hurricanes.

TSN reported GM Jim Rutherford had asked left winger Ray Whitney and defenseman Niclas Wallin to waive their no-trade clauses. Matt Cullen, Scott Walker, Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, Manny Legace and Andrew Alberts are also believed available.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported Whitney and Wallin haven’t waived their clauses yet, but that doesn’t mean they might not do so in the coming weeks.

It remains to be seen if Wallin will finally do so having twice rejected previous requests from Rutherford in recent years to waive it to facilitate a trade.

Cullen and Ward might also attract some attention around the league by the trade deadline.

• As the playoff hopes for the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to fade, speculation keeps growing over which players GM Brian Burke could move by the trade deadline.

Various reports from Toronto in recent days center on Leafs forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak due to their unrestricted free agent status in July.

Burke is not a big fan of making trade deadline deals, but given the need to continue overhauling his roster he could move out a couple of players by the deadline.

• The Minnesota Wild found no takers for little-used veteran winger Petr Sykora via waivers last week, but that won’t stop management from working in conjunction with his agent to find a trade.

GM Chuck Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that just because no one plucked Sykora off waivers doesn’t mean there isn’t interest in him. He believes teams would rather swap players at this point rather than add additional salary.

It’s also possible Sykora could be demoted and then placed on re-entry waivers, where an interested team would only have to pick up half of the remainder (less than $800K) of his $1.6 million salary.

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

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Rolling down the river