Senators' wish list topped by Jokinen

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:29 PM ET

TORONTO -- He's got $3 million in his pocket and a shopping list.

Senators GM John Muckler is ready for a trip to the NHL's super store as the trade deadline looms Thursday.

At the top of the list is a top-six forward with talk in NHL circles having the Senators zeroed in on Florida Panthers centre Olli Jokinen and rumours Muckler has also made an inquiry about the availability of Vancouver Canucks power forward Todd Bertuzzi.

Jokinen's fate with the Panthers will likely be determined by the outcome of contract talks, which are expected to continue until the trade deadline. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, making him a potential rental player.

Both Jokinen and his agent, Mark Gandler, and Panthers GM Mike Keenan are having to try and predict where an unprecedented market will go for a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent in a salary-cap world.

If the Panthers can sign him (he's rejected a four-year, $16-million US deal already), they'll likely hang onto him.

If they can't and the Panthers decide they are out of the playoff race -- they are 13th in the East and 10 points behind Montreal for the last spot -- they are likely to be sellers.

The Senators could make the decision final: They play the Panthers on Wednesday, the eve of the trade deadline.

For what it's worth, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who spent the Olympics with Jokinen on the Finnish team and discussed the situation with him, has predicted Jokinen will stay in Florida.

"I've been here five seasons, and every deadline we've been sellers. I've been lucky to stay here, but I've seen a lot of good players leave every deadline," Jokinen told Florida reporters. "I've been trying to do everything possible to keep this team close at the deadline. I just hope it's not my turn to go."

Besides shopping for a forward, Muckler said yesterday the Senators would also like to add a depth defenceman.

''Those are the two spots we're looking for," he said.

The Senators are expected to get strong competition from the Calgary Flames in their pursuit of Jokinen. The Flames have been looking for a centre to play with Jarome Iginla, who has had an off-year.

With the trade deadline moved up to 40 days from the end of the regular season (two weeks earlier), the clubs obtaining players have to pick up an extra paycheque for their new players.

"Our club can't go crazy. We don't have too much (cap) room left, about $3 million," Muckler said.

The GM said he's willing to part with the Senators' first-round draft pick next summer, but is loathe to move anybody off of the club's current roster.

"The fit would be to deal with a team that's looking for the future while we are looking for the present," said Muckler. "I don't know if a deal is there or not. There are still a lot of teams that still feel they are in contention. I believe there is going to be a lot of action."

ON THE BUBBLE

The next few days should help those teams on the bubble decide if they are buyers or sellers. Going into last night's games, just 10 points separated the Eastern Conference teams seeded sixth through 11th. In the West, only 11 points separated teams five through 11.

"Montreal, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, Boston ... they all feel they're still in it," said Muckler. "That could change over the next three days. Anaheim and San Jose still feel they can get in (to the playoffs), too. Whether they feel that way Thursday, only they know."

There will be a few names in the category of depth defencemen, include the St. Louis Blues' Eric Weinrich; Filip Kuba, Andre Zyuzin and Willie Mitchell of the Minnesota Wild, if they become a seller; the New York Islanders' John Erskine; and Paul Mara and Denis Gauthier in Phoenix.

"I like our team," said Muckler. "If we don't make a move, I still think we're capable of giving it a good try to win the Stanley Cup.

''Would we like to make a move and make our team better? We're always looking to do that."

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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