Cap room drives NHL trade talk

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Where National Hockey League general managers gather, trade talk follows.

Their meetings in Toronto next week right after the Hall of Fame fluff ends is in range of U.S. Thanksgiving -- the quarter mark of the schedule, when many teams have seen enough to make a change. Though the salary cap restricts trades as a whole, it does mean that desperate GMs can make more deals within the conference or division, something that used to be taboo.

Witness the Boston Bruins, who already have made two trades in six weeks with Northeast rivals Toronto and Buffalo. Phil Kessel finally debuts for the Leafs tomorrow after the Sept. 18 swap for three high draft picks, while Boston acquired Daniel Paille from the Sabres for a third-rounder a couple of weeks ago.

It was the first time Boston and Buffalo had ever traded a player under contract, though Buffalo once dealt the rights to Peter McNab to Boston back in 1976. Montreal and Toronto got chummy with the Mikhail Grabovski deal last year and, since March 1, just before the trade deadline, there have been 53 trades involving at least one live body, of which 16 were deals in the conference and seven between division rivals.

"What it really speaks to is the economics of the NHL today," Buffalo GM Darcy Regier said of the Paille deal. "Ironically, I was one that always wanted to place a player in the Western Conference. It's not always do-able, and in this case it wasn't do-able. So, you make the best deal you can in the Eastern Conference.

"I think the days of not dealing with teams in your own division or own conference are gone. You just have to hope that the player you're dealing helps that team beat the other teams in your division."

Atlanta Thrashers' GM Don Waddell had the same thoughts.

"When making any trade you have to feel good about the pieces you are getting and can't be that worried about who you're trading with," he said.

Flyers flustered

If you put the daily turmoil of the Philadelphia Flyers into the Toronto media market, there might be no resources available to cover other teams in town.

But the Flyers not only make headlines, they win a few games, sitting 6-4-1 heading into tonight's game after an eventful month:

* A flap about a clique of Flyers who allegedly lived the high life off the ice caused captain Mike Richards to try and organize a media boycott.

* There's another team medical controversy, this one regarding Simon Gagne's groin. The Flyers' doctors have advised him there are two small hernias that need surgery, but Gagne went home to Quebec for a second opinion and found two surgeons who disputed the Philly staff's recommendation.

Gagne is now scheduled to visit an abdominal specialist today at nearby Hahnemann University Hospital for a final opinion.

"He'll see Dr. (William) Meyers and we'll put an end to this," a frustrated general manager Paul Holmgren told reporters on the weekend.

* Daniel Briere is also sore with an abdominal pull, but after a few days of worry that it's related to groin muscle problem that wrecked last season for him, it's now believed to be a thigh muscle pull in a different area. It should sideline him about a week, but defenceman Ryan Parent will be gone a week with his own groin issues.

* The Flyers are now on the hook for $1.375 million US of cap space and half of Randy Jones' salary after they tried to sneak the defenceman back up to the NHL, but lost him in a waiver claim by Los Angeles. With Jones in the final year of a three-year pact that pays him $3 million (he was likely going to stay in the AHL all year) they made some calls and thought the coast was clear to promote him during an injury crisis on the blueline.

* And just for old-time sake, the Peter Forsberg rumours are starting again. After chatter that the Flyers would try to talk Mats Sundin out of retirement, Forsberg is now being monitored by the team at a tourney in Sweden with the national team. He is 36 and two years removed from his last NHL comeback attempt from foot problems, but has a lot of pals in the room and in management. If other stars are hurt, he'd be a cheap solution.

Union label faded

Mike Milbury hit the nail on the head during Saturday's Hot Stove when he said the next executive director of the players association should have nothing to do with writing new language into the union's constitution, removing them from future conflicts. The 30 player reps are likely to hold a conference call within a week to try to sort out the interim director. Asked if he would consider returning to the PA, former exec member Glenn Healy replied: "No, the purge is not done."

Around the league

In an ominous sign for the Sabres players, a flu bug is going through the wives' and girlfriends' room ... Ice will be installed at Fenway Park two weeks ahead of the Winter Classic so it can be rented to the public or businesses for pick-up hockey. The price? $7,500 to $10,000 an hour...Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice took the blame for picking Michael Leighton to start Saturday's game against the Flyers, less than a day after his wife gave birth. Leighton had to fly to Philly to catch up with the team and was down 3-0 after a period. Maurice, whose team had lost seven straight, could have put the seldom-used Leighton in yesterday at home against San Jose and used Cam Ward on Saturday, but played a hunch ... With 18 points in 10 games, the Penguins have matched the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers and their own '92-93 mark for the best start by a defending champ.

The week ahead

Rare meeting of the past two Norris Trophy winners as Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom hosts Zdeno Chara and the Bruins tomorrow ... The Wings are in Toronto for the Hall of Fame Game on Saturday ... The Pens get tested on a trip west where they'll cross paths with scoring leaders Anze Kopitar, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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