Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
St. Paul, Minnesota – With the NHL Entry Draft a mere five and a half hours from beginning, things are starting to heat up around Xcel Energy Center. The buzz in the air about who will go number one is strong, and there are a lot of other NHL stories making headlines over the past 24 hours. Here is a rundown of the latest goings on in the Twin Cities:
Flyers Go Big, But May Not Be Done Yet
Yesterday saw a flurry of activity from the Philadelphia Flyers, as they dealt Mike Richards to the LA Kings and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both moves free up some serious cap space for the team, which they used part of to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year, $51 million deal. Even with all of those moves in place, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren may not be done yet.
Rumors are circulating that the Flyers may be looking to move up to as high as the number two selection in the Draft tonight, according to THW’s own Andrew Knoll. They did just acquire the number eight pick in the Draft from Columbus in the Carter deal, so they could potentially package that with another player in order to move up. While the Avalanche would likely want to hold onto their pick at number two, they may be a little more willing to trade for a proven commodity, especially considering that they would get the number eight selection and also pick in the 11th slot thanks to their trade with St. Louis at the deadline.
Nothing seems imminent at this point, but something could happen before the Draft kicks off this evening.
Does Winnipeg Finally Have a Name?
After weeks of speculation as to what the franchise in Winnipeg would be named, both Nick Kypreos and Darren Dreger are reporting that the team will be named the Winnipeg Jets, and that they will announce the name tonight at the Draft. Initially, the team was just going to give their pick a gray NHL sweater, but with the potential announcement of a name imminent, the team might decide to reveal their jersey tonight. If so, that would be an absolute coup of secrecy, considering how prevalent leaks are in this league.
*Update: After some speculation this afternoon that the team name would be the Manitoba Jets, reports are coming back out that it will indeed be the Winnipeg Jets when the name is revealed later tonight.
Free Agent Signings Picking Up Steam
Multiple free agents have been locked up over the past day, with Devin Setoguchi signing with San Jose on a new three-year contract and defenseman Eric Brewer inking a new four-year deal with the Lightning. According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com, there could be some more signings afoot, especially when it concerns the Chicago Blackhawks.
Patrick Sharp, a center/left winger with a penchant for scoring goals (and a fan favorite in the Windy City) is potentially in line to sign a new extension sometime over the summer. According to LeBrun, Sharp’s agent Rick Curran met with Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman in Minnesota to discuss a new deal. Sharp currently has one year left on his deal, and would become an unrestricted free agent next summer if the Hawks don’t lock him up.
Evidence suggests that Sharp will remain in Chicago, as during last season’s salary cap purge the Hawks held onto Sharp, who was viewed as one of their top trading chips. Time will tell as to whether or not that happens sooner rather than later, but Hawks fans can be reasonably confident that Sharp will stay with the team.
Brian Burke Gets Active Again
Everyone and their mother who’s familiar with hockey at all knows that Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke isn’t shy about trading away draft picks when he feels that it can help his team. He was true to form earlier today when he shipped Toronto’s second round pick in 2012 to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman John-Michael Liles.
Liles is coming off of a solid offensive season where he scored six goals and dished out 40 assists for the Avs, and while he isn’t quite the player that Tomas Kaberle is, he will certainly help the Leafs’ offense from the back end.
The trade also potentially opens the door for Colorado to pick defenseman Adam Larsson in the number two spot, but it would be hard to pass up offensive studs like Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau if they are available. Of course, Edmonton could surprise everyone and grab Larsson with the number one overall pick, but that seems unlikely at this point.
*Updated at 4:15pm Central
Vancouver Has New AHL Affiliate; So Does Buffalo
Amid all the news of relocation this summer, one thing that has flown largely under the radar has been the status of these teams’ AHL affiliates. On Friday, it was revealed that two NHL teams had picked up new affiliates. After losing the Manitoba Moose to St. John’s (and the team itself to the Winnipeg Jets), the Vancouver Canucks announced that they are now affiliated with the Chicago Wolves, who had been the affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers. In addition, the Buffalo Sabres announced that they had ended their partnership with the Portland Pirates after the team purchased the Rochester Americans.
The moves leave the Pirates without an affiliated NHL team, but the Florida Panthers could potentially fill that void.
In Other News….
Tweet of the day honors have to go to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who had this to say about the Winnipeg franchise naming itself the Jets:
Now THAT would be something people would pay to see.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.