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WHITNEY NEXT IN LINE WITH KOVALCHUK GONE

eduhatschek@globeandmail.com

The NHL's Olympic roster freeze goes into effect at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12, which gives giddy general managers fewer than five days to develop all those Plan Bs that became necessary when the primary trading-deadline target, Ilya Kovalchuk, was moved last week to the New Jersey Devils.

No. 2 with a bullet is the Carolina Hurricanes' Ray Whitney, who, in Dany Heatley-like fashion, invoked his no-trade clause last week to scuttle a trade to the Los Angeles Kings after the Kings refused to sign him to a three-year contract extension.

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Once upon a time, GMs figured there was always a way of circumventing the no-trade/no-movement clauses that they handed out. Belatedly, they are coming to the sober realization players are no longer afraid to flex their negotiating muscles by directing where they might end up as rentals.

Whitney may still get moved, but the Pittsburgh Penguins seem like the more likely destination.

Around the rinks

The Sharks' visit to Toronto tonight also coincides with Dan Boyle's second game back in the lineup after recovering from an upper-body injury that clouded his Olympic participation. The Sharks lead the NHL with eight Olympians, four of whom will play for Canada (Boyle, Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau). ... Meanwhile, the East-leading Washington Capitals - winners of 14 in a row - can tie the NHL record of 17 established by the 1992-93 Penguins if they run the table between now and the break, beginning Wednesday against the Canadiens. ... There are six games on the NHL schedule for that final Sunday before the Games, including an afternoon game between the Predators and Penguins. The tentative plan is for Canada's Olympians to gather in Columbus and catch a charter flight from there into Vancouver so that the players can all be on the ice for a Monday afternoon practice.

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By the numbers

3 Shutouts this season by Columbus Blue Jackets' goaltender Steve Mason, following Saturday's 4-0 whitewash of the Buffalo Sabres. Mason led the NHL in shutouts last season with 10, and appears to be emerging from a season-long sophomore slump. Mason won his last two starts, the first time since Oct. 17 that he's emerged victorious in back-to-back games.

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It was amazing the excitement in our country after that; it's obviously going to be difficult to match.

Ruslan Salei, the Colorado Avalanche defenceman (and anchor of Belarus' men's Olympic hockey team), to the Denver Post, discussing his team's upset win over Sweden in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Olympic tournament.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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