The Senators were preparing last night to make a last-ditch offer to star winger Marian Hossa to head off today's scheduled arbitration hearing.
Sources told the Sun last night that Hossa and his agent Jiri Crha were expected to huddle at a Toronto hotel with Ottawa GM John Muckler and assistant Peter Chiarelli late into the evening, but there wasn't much hope of a deal being reached as rumours swirled that Hossa was being offered around the NHL.
$20M OFFER ON TABLE
And, if Hossa is unable to come to an agreement with the Senators, the two sides will duke it out in a no-holds-barred session set for this morning at 9 in front of arbitrator Michael Picher to see what Hossa will earn this season.
"I guess we're ready to rumble," Crha told the Sun after arriving in Toronto. "I really don't think we'll be able to get a deal done. The two sides are so far apart and we both have our positions. I would be very surprised if we didn't go to arbitration."
There was talk Muckler was prepared to offer a new five-year deal worth more than $20 million (all terms US) after Hossa thumbed his nose at two previous offers (two years, $8 million and three years, $11.9-million).
While the Senators believe they have a strong case against Hossa if it reaches arbitration, it could turn out to be a risky move by the club. Hossa can't be awarded more than a one-year deal by Picher, which means the high-scoring winger would become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
That could spur the Senators on to trade Hossa now so they don't lose him for nothing. And it's believed the Rangers and Sharks called Muckler to ask about Hossa's availability.
The word is Hossa will be using the deals signed by Columbus' Rick Nash (five years, $25 million) and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier (five-years, $27.5 million) as leverage in front of the arbitrator.
There was talk last night both of those contracts may have been motivated by the fact Rangers GM Glen Sather was sniffing around and looking at the possibility of making an offer sheet to both players. Since Hossa filed for arbitration, he wasn't eligible to receive a Group II offer sheet.
Since Hossa has better numbers than Lecavalier in virtually every category over the last three seasons, it would stand to reason he'll ask for something in the $7-million range.
The Senators will argue Hossa's numbers are no better than Colorado's Milan Hejduk or Alex Tanguay. Both will make about $3.5 million this season.
Once Picher has heard the arguments, he must hand down his decision in 24 hours.
"The arbitrator can decide any number. My guess is he'll come in around $4-to-$4.5 million since there are no unrestricted years involved in a one-year decision," a well-informed league source said.
EAVES SIGNS: The Senators did announce the signing of 2003 No. 1 pick Patrick Eaves from Boston College yesterday. Eaves will leave school to compete for a spot at centre in training camp and will take part in the rookie camp next month.