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HOCKEY NOTES

Time to draft next plans

GM's focus should be goaltending, defense

Nothing that happened the last few days in Columbus, Ohio, site of the NHL draft, will change the look of the Bruins roster in 2007-08. As extreme makeovers go, Peter Chiarelli & Co. were extreme only in their caution, giving up a third-round pick yesterday to pick higher in Round 2.

Is there more to come? Possibly. And soon, hopefully.

Free agency begins next Sunday morning, and the Bruins still have some significant holes after missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

Chiarelli spent a good portion of his time in Columbus attempting to change his netminding mix. Nothing happened. Until further notice, Tim Thomas remains atop the puck-stopping pyramid, followed by only a series of question marks: Hannu Toivonen, Tuukka Rask, Joey McDonald. Based on rumors out of Anaheim, Calif., late last week, after the Ducks signed No. 1 goaltender J.S. Giguere, McDonald could be headed there as a UFA, provided the Ducks deal away backup Ilya Bryzgalov.

If the depth chart didn't sound shaky, then Chiarelli wouldn't have spent so much time trying to deal for another netminder while in Columbus. Chiarelli had his reservations about the position as early as last October, and he now appears committed to avoiding a repeat of that situation.

Beyond the net, though, Chiarelli's higher priority could be to find an answer or two for the blue line. In fact, if things were better among the defensemen, then it could be argued that there really isn't a need for the goalie upgrade. Better defense, including among the forwards, usually makes for better goaltending. Funny how that works.

Specifically, the Bruins need a legitimate puck-mover back there. If there's any question about the value of that kind of guy, then just take a look at the job Scott Niedermayer did for the Ducks all season, and especially down the playoff stretch. But the market is not chock-full of Niedermayers, and when they're available, they're also very expensive (witness the ransom the Flyers paid last week to get Kimmo Timonen out of Nashville).

One of the interesting puck-moving blue liners possibly up for grabs will be New Jersey's Brian Rafalski. Long overshadowed at Exit 16W by the likes of Scott Stevens and Niedermayer, the US-born Rafalski earned $4.2 million last year, playing most of the season with Claude Julien behind the Devils' bench. Now Julien is here, as well as Thomas, who played on the same HFK Helsinki club with Rafalski in the late '90s. Thomas and Rafalski share an agent, too, in Chicago-based Bill Zito.

New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello will be intent on keeping Rafalski, but the former Wisconsin standout will turn 34 prior to the 2007-08 season. Money is always the issue, but so is term, and if the Bruins thought enough of Rafalski to offer him a deal of three years or more, they might win a tug-of-war with the Devils on the strength of total contract value.

The NHL's salary cap figure for 2007-08 will be released this week, and it will land in the $48 million-$50 million range, according to numerous sources. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said he'd like to see Chiarelli operate slightly under the max, leaving a reserve to work with later in the season, if necessary. That likely means the GM will start the season some $3 million-$5 million under the cap, or right around the max figure of $44 million imposed by the CBA this past season.

A play for Rafalski at, say, $5 million a year would just about tap out the budget, given Jacobs's wish to set aside that rainy-day fund. The only way for Chiarelli to spend more would be to move contracts off the books, which is what he likely was trying to do in Columbus.

The obvious one to shop is Glen Murray, due $4.15 million each of the next two seasons, and it's a good bet Murray would be Wild property today if GM Doug Risebrough would have taken the aging right winger for goalie Manny Fernandez. Risebrough, though, was looking to deal the goalie and not take back cash -- precisely what San Jose did when flipping Vesa Toskala to Toronto and what Nashville did when sending Tomas Vokoun to Florida. In the cap world, the best deals are often those that trim the fat from both the roster and the payroll.

These next few days will be telling. If Chiarelli remains intent on changing the net, it likely means he will deal away Toivonen, at the very least. A pricier puck stopper almost assuredly would also mean moving Murray, even if only to take back an unwanted roster piece that would trim $2 million or more off the cap.

And then there is the tantalizing possibility of making a big play for ex-Boston University star Chris Drury, who reaches UFA status Sunday. True, center is a strength (see: Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard) on what is a very fragile Bruins squad, but Drury's leadership qualities, especially his sense of carpe diem, will warrant a call from Chiarelli. It could be that Chiarelli's extreme caution in Columbus is the precursor to some aggressive plays.

CBA is money in the bank

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, last week named chairman of the NHL Board of Governors, said Friday he would be surprised if the players executed their right to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement following the 2008-09 season.

"I sure wouldn't think they would do it," said Jacobs. "If they did, well, that would be their choice. But they are doing awfully, awfully well. Most teams are finding the CBA a rich transaction for the players."

Case in point: the Flyers' sign-and-trade with Nashville last week that left ex-Predators Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell a collective $63 million richer. Timonen will receive $37.8 million over six years, with $30 million of that paid over the first four years. Hartnell will pocket $25.2 million over six years.

The CBA, hammered out in the summer of 2005 following a season lost to lockout, runs through the 2010-11 season, provided the players don't execute their "out." Likewise, the players have an option to extend the agreement by one year, through the 2011-12 season.

As for the league at large, Jacobs said key issues are "talk of expansion, [revenue] growth, getting all franchises as healthy as possible.

"Nothing," he added, "as big as the CBA was."

Kane escapes even agents' clutches

South Buffalo-raised Patrick Kane, chosen first overall by the Blackhawks in Friday's draft, is a true novelty: an elite prospect without an agent. That alone shows the kid has some grit, venturing into the temple without a money hanger at his side.

Kane, who met with reporters in a group media session Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, explained that he holds a slight grudge toward the "representation" industry. The downsized pivot (5 feet 9 inches/160 pounds) didn't attract much attention until two seasons ago with the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He then became this year's draft sensation when he collected 62 goals and 145 points in 58 games for London (OHL).

"I got here by myself," said the self-assured Kane, acknowledging that the snub by agents earlier in his career still hurts. "I don't need an agent to represent me now. I think I owe it to myself to go it alone."

Kane, who won't turn 19 until Nov. 19, is expected to fill out a bit as he ages, but at 5-9, he likely will play at around 180 pounds max. In the old clutch-and-grab NHL, it would have been hard to imagine him cracking through the standard-cut 6-2 and 6-4 NHL blue liners. But scouts say he has the muscle and jam to take it to the net, and he should be a serious offensive threat at the next level.

According to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, Kane possesses "escapability" reminiscent of Wayne Gretzky.

"I'm not sure I would worry about his size," Holmgren told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "Everybody used to say, 'Well, why don't you just hit [Gretzky]?' Well, good luck -- you just can't."

Etc.

After big wins come big losses
The Ducks, bracing for the possible retirement of prized winger Teemu Selanne (still undecided), learned soon after winning the Stanley Cup that captain Scott Niedermayer may walk away, too. Only 33 years old, he now has four Cups (three via New Jersey), but he'd be leaving a total of $13.5 million on the table. General manager Brian Burke is among the best in the business, but no club easily masks a Niedermayer-like loss (witness: the Oilers this past season in the wake of Chris Pronger bolting). With that pending, Burke tied up top goalie J.S. Giguere for four more years at an average cost of $6 million (he'll make $7 million in the deal's final season, 2010-11). Look for the Quacks to unload backup Ilya Bryzgalov, an option Burke was fully considering at the end of May when he signed prime Swiss prospect Jonas Hiller for net protection.

Another new Leaf
Bold move by the Maple Leafs Friday, swapping for a potential No. 1 netminder on draft day for a second straight year. A year ago, GM John Ferguson Jr. dealt Tuukka Rask to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft, and he followed this time by picking up Vesa Toskala from the Sharks. To get Toskala, the Leafs also had to take on the last two years of Mark Bell's deal ($4.5 million total), but the Leafs were willing to do that in February, when they failed in their attempt to bring in Bell at the trade deadline. Unless Ferguson has other plans for Raycroft, the former Boston goalie will battle the 30-year-old Toskala for the No. 1 job in Leafland. The Sharks picked up first-, second-, and fourth-round picks in the swap, which also meant they cleared slightly more than $3.5 million in cap room -- some of the money they are expected to offer Chris Drury as a free agent next Sunday.

Making a checklist
Claude Julien, hired Thursday as the new coach here in the Hub of Hockey, repeatedly referenced his desire to implement an aggressive forechecking system. Fine by GM Peter Chiarelli, who felt his club's press-the-puck skills were severely lacking in 2006-07. Now, who will lead the way? "Certainly, Patrice Bergeron is in there -- puck pursuit, strength down low," said Chiarelli. "But Marc [ Savard] will be in there, and [Glen ] Murray, too. I know they all can play that game." Contact is among the keys to a solid forecheck. Bergeron landed 65 hits in 77 games, tops among Boston forwards who were on the roster all season. Savard connected 35 times in 82 games and Murray 28 times in 59 games. Chuck Kobasew, who spent most of the season with Calgary, registered 66 hits in 50 games.

Future Kings?
Don Maloney, who recently took over as GM in Phoenix for the fired Mike Barnett, is committed to going with kids in the desert. Not good news for vets such as ex-Bruin Nick Boynton, whom Maloney was trying to deal in the days leading up to the draft. Boynton, swapped for Paul Mara last June 26, is due $2.95 million each of the next two seasons. Look for Los Angeles, with ex-Bruins GM Mike O'Connell the director of pro development, to kick the tires on both Boynton and fellow B's alum Brad Stuart. It was a fait accompli that Stuart, now a UFA, wouldn't return to the Flames, and it became a certainty last week when ex-BU backliner Adrian Aucion waived his no-trade clause to accept a move to Calgary. Aucoin, due $4 million each of the next two years, is back under the tutelage of Mike Keenan, once his boss in Vancouver.

Loose pucks
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said he isn't ready to give up hope for the NHL, its TV ratings abysmal in the US for the playoffs, growing the American viewing audience. "Baseball has seen a resurgence," he said. "I hope it grows. The success we see regionally hasn't penetrated on the national level. Do I think it will? I'd like to give a positive answer and say, 'Yes, I do!' But as of today, I don't know." . . . Amid all the goalie talk this weekend, the Senators were still holding the underperforming Martin Gerber, whom they picked up last summer at a cost of $10.2 million over three years. Gerber didn't have the goods, surrendering the job to backup Ray Emery, and the Senators have until the end of this week to decide whether they want to buy him out. The cost: $1.23 million over each of the next four years . . . The Oilers are desperate for a puck-moving defenseman and have their sights set on Ottawa's Wade Redden . . . Look for Brendan Shanahan, 38, to sign back on Broadway for 2007-08. He's telling pals he has no intention of testing the UFA market, which should lead the Rangers to get him at a decent discount from the $4 million he made with them last season. However, ex-Bruin Michael Nylander isn't quite as compliant. The Blueshirts months ago offered him a three-year extension at a total $11.25 million, but the 34-year-old pivot didn't take the bait. Meanwhile, he dismissed agent Paul Theofanous in favor of ex-Bruins winger Mike Gillis, and given market inflation, the starting price for Nylander likely will be a Savard-like four years/$20 million . . . Ex-Oiler Ryan Smyth, dealt to the Islanders at the February deadline, will have an endless group of suitors next Sunday morn. But the best fit of all -- notwithstanding someone dropping "stupid" money on him -- looks like Detroit. The Winged Wheels could really use his grit, and he likewise would fit well with that bunch of talented forwards. He also would have a very realistic chance to win a Cup . . . Former Bruins psychologist Fred Neff, one more of the true professionals run off of Causeway Street last year, met with a number of club executives in Columbus last week about continuing his work with NHL players.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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