Leino sets aside salary talks so Flyers can add Versteeg

Posted: February 22, 2011

Ville Leino is not looking for any credit, a pat on the back, or a high-five from teammates.

In fact, he was a little embarrassed when asked about it yesterday.

Multiple team sources told the Daily News that Leino, believe it or not, was the biggest key to the Flyers bolstering their roster last week with forward Kris Versteeg.

Leino agreed to postpone his ongoing contract-extension negotiations, so that the Flyers could spend their remaining salary-cap and tagging space to acquire Versteeg from Toronto. Leino will become a sought-after unrestricted free agent on July 1.

He knew that the Flyers have a better chance to hoist the Stanley Cup with Versteeg, a talented scoring winger, than without him. And he was able to table an offer from the Flyers, putting his own personal security and gain aside, for the betterment of the team.

"Those conversations are between me and [Paul Holmgren]," Leino said yesterday. "But obviously, we all want to win the Cup. That's my first priority here. And I think everyone else would feel the same way."

Holmgren and Leino's agent, Bill Zito, reportedly discussed two offers somewhere between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per season.

All season, Leino, who has 13 goals and 27 assists, has frustratingly watched the Flyers' available cap space for next season dwindle, with Jeff Carter ($58 million) and Claude Giroux ($11.25 million) inking extensions in November.

The tagging rule - which prevents teams from committing more dollars to next season's unknown cap number than is available this season - has come into play with Leino. And it came into play with Versteeg.

Holmgren, undoubtedly, wanted to leave some flexibility for this time of year, before next Monday's trade deadline, in case he could add a player such as Versteeg. Now, with Versteeg's $3.083 million committed this year and next year, the Flyers have only $2.1 million remaining in tagging space.

Not wanting to ruffle the feathers of Leino, his biggest playoff hero last year (seven goals, 14 assists), Holmgren asked Leino how he would feel about the team pulling the trigger on a deal. Now, Versteeg is here - and Leino is stuck until the offseason. Even so, it was a no-brainer for Leino, who makes more than only Darroll Powe, Oskars Bartulis and Blair Betts.

"He's got to sit tight now," Holmgren said. "We have about $2 million in tagging space, so that's probably not enough to get it done right now.

"I think there's an open dialogue. I think my conversations with Ville and his agent, he wants to be here. He knows we want him here. That's a topic for another day."

Yes, now it's a topic for another day. But in this "me, me, me" professional sports world, where multimillionaires sweat out each cent of a contract, Leino's willingness to win shouldn't be swept under the carpet. It should be celebrated.

And maybe, just maybe, after that parade down Broad Street, Holmgren can give him a kickback of some of the millions the Flyers made along the way.

Zherdev moving?

After watching Jody Shelley dress over healthy scratch Nik Zherdev - and his 15 goals - twice in the last week, many were left wondering whether we have seen the last of Zherdev in a Flyers uniform.

Some rumors had the Flyers waiving Zherdev and his $2 million salary to create room under the salary cap. Another rumor, from Russian reporter Dmitry Chesnokov, said yesterday that six NHL teams have contacted the Flyers about obtaining Zherdev's services before next Monday's trading deadline.

"I must have missed those calls," Paul Holmgren deadpanned.

Despite missing 12 games this season as a healthy scratch, Zherdev would still lead the Ottawa Senators in scoring. That's an insurance policy Holmgren won't exactly give away, in case of injury.

"Yeah, I would be [reluctant]," Holmgren said. "A little bit. Because he's a highly skilled player. And, in case something happens, it'd be difficult from an insurance standpoint."

Zherdev has clearly fallen out of favor with coach Peter Laviolette - and the Flyers couldn't even find Zherdev in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday night when Mike Richards came down with a stomach illness after warmups.

"We were scrambling around, about 8 minutes before the game and the only guy they could find was Jody," Holmgren said. "I think Nikolay has struggled with being in and out of the lineup. Perhaps his work ethic has dropped in practice as a result. But he needs to tough it out here and work hard if he wants to get back in the lineup."

O'Donnell out

Paul Holmgren also said defenseman Sean O'Donnell will miss 10 to 14 days with a knee injury suffered in the first 2 minutes of Sunday's win over the Rangers. O'Donnell, 39, has missed only 11 games since 2003.

Oskars Bartulis, who played in eight games while Chris Pronger was out in December and January, will be reinserted in the lineup. Bartulis has not played since Jan. 11; he has been a healthy scratch for 17 consecutive games. The Flyers do not have the roster or cap space available to recall an extra defenseman from Adirondack.

Multiple reports have said Holmgren is looking for an inexpensive depth defenseman to add before the trade deadline, and O'Donnell's injury would seem to validate those claims.

Slap shots

Forward Blair Betts (lacerated finger) will definitely miss tonight's game against Phoenix, according to Holmgren. He remains a possibility for Thursday's home game against the Islanders . . . Mike Richards also missed yesterday's practice. Holmgren said Richards "lost a lot of weight" with his stomach illness over the weekend . . . The Flyers are only 7-5-3 against the Western Conference and 2-3-1 against the Phoenix-leading Pacific Division this season, compared with 32-10-2 against the Eastern Conference.

Stat watch

13: Number of combined goals this season from Darroll Powe, Blair Betts and Dan Carcillo.

6: Number of goals from Powe, Betts and Carcillo that are game-winners.

20-7-3: The Flyers' road record, best in the NHL. It is the fastest the Flyers have gotten to 20 road wins (30 games) in franchise history.

The week ahead

vs. Phoenix

Tonight, 7 o'clock

The last time Phoenix invaded the Wells Fargo Center, Nov. 22, 2008, Dan Carcillo scored for the Coyotes and Wayne Gretzky was their head coach. Only seven players from that 2008-09 Flyers team remain on the roster. Tonight is former Flyer Scottie Upshall's first game in Philadelphia since the March 4, 2009, trade that sent him to Phoenix with this year's second-round pick for Carcillo. The Coyotes enter as one of the hottest teams in hockey, winners of seven straight games.

vs. New York Islanders

Thursday, 7 o'clock

The Islanders earned a 5-1 win over visiting Florida in a Presidents' Day afternoon special yesterday. The Flyers are 3-0-0 this season against the perennial doormat Islanders, who have not finished better than last in the Atlantic Division since 2007. The Flyers are 22-2-0 in their last 24 games with the Islanders, who list five goalies on their roster.

at Ottawa

Saturday, 7 o'clock

We can still remember sitting in the Wells Fargo Center press box, being scoffed at by a member of the Senators organization for not having them in our playoff predictions in October. Now, the Senators have waved the white flag. They're the only team in the East looking up at the Islanders. They traded away Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Brian Elliott. The No. 1 pick is in their sights. The Flyers were 0-2 at ScotiaBank Place last season.

Tweets of the week

Former Flyer Scottie Upshall (@ScottieUpshall) wrote: "Back in Philly! Air feels good out here. Excited for Tuesday. Everyone have their tickets?!? The best restaurants in the world here, too. Agh, I only have 2 nights . . .

Upshall then took a good-natured ribbing from hilarious Coyotes teammate Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2Point0) about his undying love affair with Philly: "Going out to eat with my old pals Dan Carcillo and Jeff Carter. @ScottieUpshall is coming, obviously. Guy loves this city. #CutTheCordUppy"

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