By Michael Russo
Fyi, I’ll try to throw up a free-agent primer late Monday.
7:37 p.m. I am hearing from a source that the Wild is preparing to trade Brian Rolston’s rights tonight, most likely to Tampa Bay.
8:25 p.m. According to sources, the Wild has traded Brian Rolston’s rights to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I am not sure what the Wild is getting back yet and the conditions.
9:03 p.m. update: NHL hasn’t approved this yet. There are some conditions that have to do with Tampa being able to sign Rolston. This is speculation, but I’m guessing the fourth-rounder Tampa sent to Pittsburgh is in play. Tampa’s probably saying it has the pick back now that it signed Malone (PIttsburgh gets a third in that case), but if the contract hasn’t yet been approved by the NHL, does Tampa own that fourth again? This is just speculation, but since it’s hung up right now, something’s going on.
9:42 p.m. The trade is done. It’s for a conditional draft pick with three different conditions apparently depending on whether Rolston signs with Tampa Bay or not. The conditions will be spelled out to me in a little bit. I’m up against deadline, so I’ll be back later
9:57 pm update: OK, here’s the best it’s been described to me. Rolston’s rights were traded to Tampa Bay for a third in 2010. However, if the Ryan Malone contract is approved as expected, the pick becomes the 2009 fourth round pick Tampa traded to Pittsburgh.
HOWEVER, if Rolston signs there, that fourth becomes a third again — either San Jose’s third-round pick in 2009 that Tampa Bay owns or Tampa Bay’s third in 2010 — at the Wild’s option.
Got it? Dizzy yet? I am. To make it simpler, essentially the Wild picked up a fourth that could become a third if Rolston signs there.
OK, I’m back. Fun day
I left a baby shower at 3:45 p.m. to deal with this story and here it is 11 p.m., and I’m finally done.
Although, it was made easier by some NHL peeps that clued me in and let me get a head start on the story, which I appreciate greatly.
Even Rolston asked me tonight, “How the heck do you get your scoops?” I was hours ahead of Rolston, who made countless calls and couldn’t get it confirmed that this trade was coming down.
Here’s the deal. I had a long chat with Brian tonight as you’ll read in tomorrow’s paper.
I did joke to him that if he signed in Tampa, I could not wait til Wes Walz blows the whistle and makes him skate a lap and do 20 pushups. Rolston jokingly told me what he’d tell Walz if that happened.
Rolston said in his opinion — and granted, this is before Tampa Bay throws some bigtime dollar figures at him Monday, so this could very well change – he’s still a free-agent as of July 1.
Rolston talked about how great the Wild has been and how fair it has been and how much he loves the fans here. But it’s gotten so close to free agency, he just feels he has to see what his market value is and which teams come after him.
He wasn’t casting blame, but he did half-wonder how this would have all played out if the Wild had come to him in January or last summer. But now free agency is too enticing. He said if he doesn’t sign with Tampa Bay on Monday, as far as he’s concerned, the Wild’s still a player.
But that to me seems very far-fetched. A dozen teams are going to throw cash at him, and suddenly the Wild would find itself in a feeding frenzy and potentially waste time negotiating fruitlessly with Rolston while perhaps miss out on others.
So I don’t see it happening, although Doug Risebrough declined to comment on the trade tonight because he still has interest in Rolston. And awkwardly, he felt he couldn’t comment on Rolston because suddenly it would be like tampering. His rights belong to another team, so he couldn’t say he still wants him.
It’s a shame though. This is one good player and one good guy. You have no idea how respected he is amongst his teammates.
11:15 p.m. addition: I just talked to Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay’s new VP of Hockey Ops and former MInneapolis-based agent and North Star. He’s seen Rolston play countless games in the last three years and wants Rolston badly, especially since No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos is going to need mentorship.
Here’s a quick quote from Lawton: “This one’s pretty simple. We’ve identified Brian as one of the elite free agents available, one his ability and two his character,” Lawton said. “We’re excited to have his rights and we’ll get into it [Monday] and see where it takes us. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and a deep appreciation for him as a player and person.”
By the way, Lawton did hint that the Lightning wasn’t done, that he’s got something else up his sleeve. He didn’t say if it was a UFA (although they like Vrbata, I hear) or trade (perhaps Dan Boyle?).
While Risebrough said last week the Wild would have to look for “alternatives” if it wasn’t able to retain Rolston, it’ll be difficult to fill his skates.
No Wild forward has seen more ice time the past three years (more than 20 minutes a game). He supplied a big shot from the power-play point, was a tremendous penalty killer and is one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards.
In three seasons with the Wild, Rolston climbed up the Wild’s seven-year record book. His 96 goals rank second, 106 assists fourth, 202 points third, 40 power-play goals second, seven shorthanded goals second, 21 game-winning goals second, 887 shots second and 47 multi-point games second.
I see the Wild signing Andrew Brunette and going after another “impact forward.” Problem is, there’s not a lot of impact forwards available. I’ll write more about that Tuesday. Like I said yesterday, they also want a “top-four” defenseman, but if that market gets crazy, they’ll pursue a trade most likely.
Here’s a quote from the Tampa Bay Rolston press release:
“As we said earlier this week and we are trying to prove after making our deal with Pittsburgh (Saturday), we will work feverishly to improve the Lightning team for the 2008-09 season,” owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie said in a joint statement.
“We believe getting the Lightning a head start in the negotiating and signing process can help us secure the players we are targeting. Nothing is guaranteed here, but we hope to have a chance to get another quality player in a Lightning uniform sooner rather than later.”