Shark bait no good

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Brian Campbell won't know where he's playing until Canada Day.

While all 29 teams were given the chance to speak to the highly coveted Sharks defenceman before the NHL free-agent period kicks in on Tuesday, most clubs have indicated to Campbell's agent, Larry Kelly, that they'll wait until he hits the open market.

"We had some discussions during the period of time we were allowed to talk and most teams wanted to wait until July 1," Kelly said yesterday.

In other words, no team wants to give San Jose GM Doug Wilson compensation in the form of a draft pick, when all it has to do is wait a couple of days for Campbell to become a free agent.

There's no question Campbell, the former 67's star blueliner, will be one of the most sought after players in free agency.

Sources say the Senators are going to make a push for Campbell, but if he wants in excess of $6.5 million (all terms US) per season it will likely be too rich for the club's blood.

PREFERS EAST

Money won't be the only factor. The word is Campbell, a Strathroy native, would prefer to play in the Eastern Conference. The indications are the Thrashers, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Panthers and Rangers are all going to make pitches.

There have been whispers that Atlanta GM Don Waddell, determined to show fans that he's serious about getting the Thrashers back into playoff contention, will ante up $7 million per season for Campbell.

Once Campbell is gone, teams will turn to Rangers defenceman Michael Rosival, Colorado's John-Michael Liles, Ottawa's Wade Redden and Columbus' Ron Hainsey. That group could score in the $5-million range per season -- not exactly chump change.

Senators GM Bryan Murray is spending a lot of time getting ready to make moves on the market. Murray plans to talk to winger Shean Donovan this weekend because the two sides still remain at odds over whether he should receive a one- or two-year deal.

As reported yesterday, the return of winger Cory Stillman hasn't been ruled out.

Defenceman Mike Commodore, winger Martin Lapointe, centre Randy Robitaille and Redden will all be gone. Veteran blueliner Luke Richardson wants to play one more year, but Murray hasn't decided if he wants the Ottawa native back.

VERMETTE TALKS HEAT UP

The Senators are also trying to find out where defenceman Andrej Meszaros and winger Antoine Vermette are going to fit into their salary structure. Talks with Vermette have intensified in the last 48 hours, but the two sides aren't close to an agreement.

"I had discussions with (Murray) over the last few days regarding a contract for Antoine," Vermette's agent, Allan Walsh, said in an e-mail. "While no formal offers have been received or exchanged, I expect that we will speak again soon and remain hopeful in making progress towards a deal."

If Vermette doesn't sign a contract, he can opt for a one-year deal in arbitration and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

BOLTS DEAL FOR MALONE

The Lightning made a bold move yesterday, acquiring the rights to Pittsburgh wingers Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts in exchange for conditional draft picks.

Brian Lawton, who took over as the Bolts' VP of hockey operations last week, used to represent Malone as a player agent. The indications are Tampa will offer a five-year, $25-million deal and it's believed that Malone will likely jump before July 1.

"We said earlier this week we would be aggressive in our pursuit of free agents in order to win and compete," said Tampa co-owner Oren Koules.


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