So much for free trade

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

League sources say if Senators GM John Muckler is going to pull off a trade at the Feb. 27 deadline, he'd better be prepared to pay a premium.

An NHL executive told the Sun yesterday that with only a couple of teams all but eliminated from playoff contention, the number of GMs trying to improve their clubs could be as competitive as the post-season races themselves.

It's believed the Senators are targeting Panthers winger Gary Roberts, who would provide Ottawa with a wealth of veteran leadership.

ROBERTS ON RADAR

When Roberts' name hit the rumour mill, Toronto and Ottawa were the most-often mentioned destinations.

And it was thought that Florida GM Jacques Martin's asking price for Roberts was a second-round pick but the demands would dip as it got closer to the deadline.

Now, the indications are that's not the case. In fact, the Panthers' demands may have gone up because the Leafs and Senators aren't the only teams that will make a pitch.

Several teams -- including the Rangers, Penguins, Thrashers, Wings and Sharks -- are going to be looking to add a veteran.

Roberts, 40, has battled injuries this year, but he's back in the Florida lineup and has posted good numbers.

The reason the Senators like Roberts so much is because of the role he's played against them in past playoff matchups when he was a member of the Leafs.

Ideally, Muckler doesn't want give up anything on his current roster.

GUERIN DRAWING INTEREST

It's possible the Senators could dangle prospect defenceman Brian Lee for Roberts, who has 13 goals and 16 assists in 44 games this season, but that would be a heavy price to pay.

Another player who might pique Muckler's interest is St. Louis winger Bill Guerin.

But Muckler only has a mild interest in Guerin, who leads the Blues in scoring with 22 goals and 18 assists in 55 games.

Guerin would have to waive his no-trade clause if he's going to be dealt. The Rangers, Hurricanes and Wings are expected to make a pitch.

BACK TO WORK: The Senators will be back at practice today with two days to prepare for Florida's visit on Wednesday night. Ottawa has had lots of practise time lately, which hasn't been a positive for the club. The Senators are 5-9-0 in games after two or more days off. Coach Bryan Murray isn't sure the club reacts well to time off. "It's a little hard for this level of player to keep on top of their game," said Murray, who gave the players yesterday off. "The more you play, if you are healthy in particular, the better rhythm you get. They don't have to put up with us (coaches) in practice every day and they feel that they get something going there." Murray said with the playoffs approaching, the players want to be on the ice. The Senators went into Buffalo last Wednesday after a couple of days off and dropped a 3-2 decision before bouncing back and beating Montreal 4-1 at home the next night. "Playing right now, at this stage of the year, is what they want to do," said Murray. "The guys want to play hockey. Getting hit after a couple of days off, is a little different than if you just played. I don't know whether the stats mean anything, but I see it as a little tougher to get going."

SENS LOOKED AT KOBASEW: The Senators had an interest in RW Chuck Kobasew before the Flames sent him and D Andrew Ference to Boston late Saturday night in exchange for D Brad Stuart and C Wayne Primeau. Talks died when the Flames said they wanted a player off Ottawa's active roster ... The next player shipped out of Boston will be LW Marco Sturm.


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