Steve Ott is still trying to recover from appendectomy surgery, and had a small setback last week. However, he skated yesterday, hopes to work slowly into the Stars' mini-camp that starts Friday, and said he is planning on being on the ice for the March 2 game against the Kings at American Airlines Center.
But there are a couple of things that could get in the way.
One, his conditioning might not be up to the standards he needs by that time, and two he could be traded when the NHL roster freeze comes off at 11 p.m. Feb. 28.
So, has Ott thought that he may have played his last game in a Stars' uniform?
``That thought has never entered my mind,'' he said via a phone interview. ``Honestly, I'm a pretty simple guy, I work as hard as I can to prepare for the next game and play the next game, and I let the rest take care of itself.''
``The rest'' for Ott right now is a pretty big deal. He can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, he and the Stars have not been able to come to an agreement on a contract extension, and he'll probably be a sought-after piece if the Stars make him available before the March 3 trade deadline. Ott said he is letting his agent Howard Gourwitz (Mike Modano's old agent) take care of the contract extension, and he's preparing himself for whatever happens.
``I definitely understand the business side,'' said Ott, who is one of the Stars' most involved players with the NHL Players Association. ``It is tough, and it's not exactly the way you want to draw it up, but it's how our business works.''
Ott has shown he will fight for his team, suffer through pain for his team, and push his team to win. But he also understands that he has to do what's best for himself as a player. Because of that, he says he has to use his first chance at free agency to get the best deal he can get. While neither side will confirm proposed salaries, his negotiating mark right now appears to be in excess of $3 million a year on a deal that is four to five years long. That's a difficult fit for the Stars, who already have Brad Richards ($7.8 million), Mike Ribeiro ($5 million), Brenden Morrow ($4.1 million) and Loui Eriksson ($3.2 million) under contract for next season, and need to figure out a raise for James Neal.
Ott can do the math and understands the Stars' side of it. But he also understands his own side of it.
``I will say that I have worked very hard to get this opportunity, and I have earned this opportunity, so I have to study every option that I have,'' Ott said. ``I appreciate everything that Joe has to do, and I appreciate that he has been very honest and upfront with me, but I also understand that I need to do what I need to do.''
Both sides say they are still talking and both sides say they still hope a deal can get done, but it sure sounds like Ott will be available when trades can be made. And that got me thinking.
If indeed Steve Ott is available, is he one of the more coveted commodities on the trade market? Carolina's Ray Whitney is a solid offensive player. He has 19 goals among 48 points in 59 games this year, so he clearly is a strong option to help a team that needs offense. But Ott has 11 goals (among 23 points) this year in 52 games and scored 19 last season. He can bring some oomph to a top line like Alex Burrows does in Vancouver or he could bring some grit to a lower line.
I'm not saying he will draw what Whitney will get (first round pick or top prospect?), but I do think he can bring something very good in a trade.
So, with Joe Nieuwendyk seemingly ready to keep Marty Turco because he wants to make a run at the playoffs, is it smart then to trade Steve Ott? I think it is, because I think the return will be much better than it would be for Turco.
What do you guys think?