As of Thursday night’s NHL action, Caps center Dainius Zubrus stood 52nd in the NHL scoring race, tied with three others with (ironically enough) 52 points in that position. The Caps are interested in keeping Zubrus, and Zubrus is interested in staying in Washington. So it’s possible a contract extension could be announced between now and Tuesday’s 3 p.m. NHL trading deadline. If no deal can be struck however, the Caps must trade Zubrus. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, the playoffs are beyond Washington’s grasp, and the demand is there.
It can be hard to determine the value of a player as the deadline approaches. Basically, it is whatever the highest bidder is willing to pay, and is acceptable to the “seller.” As with contract negotiations, you can sometimes use “comparables” as a basis of measuring value. Problem is, no real comparables to Zubrus have been moved thus far.
The Nashville Predators paid a handsome price for center Peter Forsberg last week, but he was one of the best players in the game as recently as 2003-04 (when healthy). He is also a proven playoff commodity. On the debit side, his salary cap hit to the Preds is more than three times what Zubrus’s would be. Forsberg is 33 years old, and has not played more than 60 games since 2002-03.
Earlier today, the Carolina Hurricanes obtained veteran winger Anson Carter from Columbus for a fifth-round draft choice in 2008. An ex-Capital, Carter doesn’t provide any basis for comparison, either. His salary is higher ($2.5 million to Zubrus’s $1.85 mil; but potential suitors will only be assessed about a third of that amount in terms of a “salary cap hit”) , he is older (he’s 32; Zubrus is 28), he is less versatile (plays wing, Zubrus plays center or wing) and has produced less in 2006-07 (10 goals and 27 points compared to Zubrus’s 20 goals and 52 points). The Carter deal doesn’t help the potential return for right wing Richard Zednik, another Capital who figures to be on the move between now and Tuesday if he does not ink an extension. Then again, just because the Jackets took less than they should have when they had the leverage, doesn’t mean the Caps should or will.
Besides Zubrus, what options to other playoff-bound teams have? Not many. Several of the league’s top 52 scorers are on teams whose playoff chances are all but nil. Several others play for teams who aren’t likely to squeeze into the hunt for the Cup. And most of those players aren’t going anywhere, regardless. Here’s a look at the non-playoff players ahead of Zubrus on the league’s scoring ledger, and where they currently rank on that list:
5 – Marc Savard (C), Boston — He has had a great year, is in the first season of a long-term deal and isn’t going anywhere.
9 – Joe Sakic (C), Colorado — He is on the Steve Yzerman career path. One team, entire career. Extremely unlikely to be dealt, and costly if he is.
10 – Jaromir Jagr (RW), Rangers — The playoff math is starting to get difficult for New York, but who wants this guy and who could afford him anyway? The Stanley Cup playoffs are hockey’s foxhole, and you’d be better off with a poodle in there with you than this guy.
12 – Alex Ovechkin (LW), Washington — As if.
19 – Martin Straka (C) NY Rangers — He signed a contract extension last month. He’s staying in New York.
20 – Michael Nylander (C) NY Rangers — In the last year of a deal that pays him $2.28 million this season. He can be had only if the Rangers decide to give up the ghost between now and Tuesday.
26 – Mike Cammalleri (C) Los Angeles — Very reasonably priced cornerstone piece of Kings rebuild. Not going anywhere.
29 – Alexander Frolov (LW) Los Angeles — See Cammalleri, above.
31 – Olli Jokinen (C) Florida — An 80-point franchise center who plays 21 minutes a night and is signed for three more years at a fair price of $5 million per. Maybe Jokinen wants to be traded, and certainly there would be interest. But could team with designs on a Cup make it worth Florida’s while to pull the trigger? Extremely doubtful.
37 – Andrew Brunette (LW) Colorado — A steal at $800,000 this year, and he signed a very reasonable extension back in Sept. Under the current economic structure, you need a guy or two like this who delivers more for the dollar. The Avs would be foolish to part with him, unless the return is Godfatheresque (too good to refuse).
43 – Alexander Semin (LW) Washington — See Nos. 12 and 37, above.
45 – Mats Sundin (C) Toronto — The Leafs hold a pricey option ($6.33 million) on Sundin’s services for next year. They may decline that option, but the only way they deal him in the next few days is if they kiss off all hope of a playoff berth. Not likely.
48 – Anze Kopitar (C) Los Angeles — See Nos. 12, 26 and 29, above.
50 – Brendan Shanahan (LW) NY Rangers — See No. 20, above.
51 – Patrice Bergeron (C) Boston — The Bruins have made some head-scratching deals in the last 16 months or so, but they’re not going to move Bergeron.
52 – Ryan Smyth (LW) Edmonton — He’s not a center, but he is a power forward and a gamer, and there isn’t a team in this league that wouldn’t like to have him. The Oilers are teetering on the precipice of non-contention, and Smyth’s fate hangs in the balance.
52 – Zubrus
75 – Bill Guerin (RW) St. Louis — Still has speed and a great shot. Not many 28-goal scorers to pick from this year. Salary is reasonable ($2 million), but the trading cost might not be.
91 – Keith Tkachuk (LW) St. Louis — Will be 35 in a month. Cap hit would be twice that of Zubrus the rest of the way. Is he twice the player Zubrus is at this stage of both their careers? Will he produce twice as much as Zubrus the rest of the way? Tkachuk is a “name” player. That might fetch the Blues a bit of a higher price than it should.
Half the league is in a buying mode, but far fewer have made the absolute cut-bait decision to sell. It would seem to be a seller’s market, at least for now. Some “buying” clubs will have an easier time adding payroll than others, but virtually all of them should be able to make Zubrus’s contract fit, should they so desire.
Certain “Buyers” (15) — Nashville, Detroit, Anaheim, Vancouver, San Jose, Dallas, Minnesota, Calgary, Buffalo, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Atlanta, Carolina
Certain “Sellers” (8) — Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Columbus, Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington, Florida
Likely “Buyers” (4) — NY Rangers, Montreal, Toronto, NY Islanders
Likely “Sellers” (2) — Colorado, Boston
On the Fence (1) — Edmonton
If I’m one of the buyers, and I need some offensive help the rest of the way, Zubrus is right up near the top of my list. Short of convincing Glen Sather that the sky is falling, Zubrus is arguably the most attractive asset in the NHL’s top 52 scorers. There should be a decent amount if interest in him if he does not re-sign with Washington, but time and the market will tell.