If you believe various NHL types, the chase for Marc Savard will feature as much speed as the slow-motion O.J. Simpson-Ford Bronco caper.
However, there are indications Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke may get some competition for the Boston Bruins centre, even though Burke has yet to dive in with all guns blazing, à la his pursuit a year ago for Savard's former linemate, Phil Kessel. Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter might be looking to reunite Savard with another of his ex-wingers, Jarome Iginla, now that he decided to close out the Ollie Jokinen disaster with a buyout of winger Ales Kotalik.
At this point, though, Burke cannot be said to be in pursuit of Savard, who is available because the Bruins have extra bodies at centre. Burke refused to comment Monday and league sources indicate he is more inclined to check out a few potential free agents (defencemen Dan Hamhuis and Zbynek Michalek) and another potential trade target (Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter) before getting serious about Savard.
The Bruins veteran has a few too many question marks and a few too many years and dollars on his contract for any sensible GM to snap him up right away.
All Burke would say is that he is "looking at several things that may or may not come to fruition." Word is he might take a run at Hamhuis if Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero cannot sign him before he becomes a free agent on Thursday. Failing that, there is Michalek, although some think the veteran defenceman might have his eye on the Ottawa Senators, who employ his younger brother Milan.
The Senators have also come up in regard to Savard, who has a no-trade clause in that enormous contract. Apparently, Savard is willing to waive the clause for either Ottawa or Toronto because he and his wife want to move closer to family in Ontario.
This would put Sutter in a tough spot since Calgary is quite a hike from Savard's home fires. Then again, Sutter is getting accustomed to tight spots thanks to a series of ill-advised deals.
In the worst of those deals, Sutter sent the perennial underachiever Jokinen and popular forward Brandon Proust to the New York Rangers for two more underachievers, Kotalik and Christopher Higgins. If Sutter, who was desperately trying to get the Flames in the playoffs, had simply hung on to Jokinen, it would have been a wash in offence (Jokinen had 10 points in 20 games in March and April, while Kotalik and Higgins combined for seven.) Then he could have bid Jokinen farewell as a free agent on Thursday with no damage to his salary-cap space.
But now Sutter has to buy out Kotalik, who has two years left on his contract at $3-million (all currency U.S.) a year. Kotalik was put on waivers Monday for that purpose along with some other NHL rejects (Senators forward Jonathan Cheechoo, Phoenix Coyotes centrePetteri Nokelainen and defenceman Jim Vandermeer and Florida Panthers defenceman Ville Koistinen). The buyout will cost $4-million but Sutter will have to live with a cap hit of $1-million in each of the next four years. Talk about a GM in need of a home run.
However, even if Savard might eventually agree to a second tour with the Flames he is no guaranteed home run. Savard may be a point-a-game player but he is also 31 years old and coming off a severe concussion caused by the infamous hit by Matt Cooke of the Penguins. Throw in a contract that calls for a salary of $7-million for the next two years with a cap hit of $4-million for the next four and you can see why Burke, at least, might be looking at other options first.
Hamhuis may not be a household name and he will be expensive but his defensive skill would be a badly needed upgrade to a unit that has to get better at keeping pucks out of the net. Then there is Carter. The Flyers have to find a goaltender (Marty Turco allegedly turned down an offer of $2-million a year on Monday), which could create cap problems which could make Carter available.
If Savard is to become a Leaf it probably will not happen until next week at the earliest. Nor would a trade involving Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle. But if Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli would take centre Mikhail Grabovski and the year left on his contract at $2.9-million (some think he might), then you may actually see Kessel smile come training camp.
One Leafs player who wasn't smiling Monday, was forward John Mitchell. Burke did not make a qualifying offer to Mitchell on a new contract. He will become an unrestricted free agent on Thursday.