“It’s been everything I expected, it’s what we dream about,” Brian Burke told The Canadian Press from Palm Springs, Calif. “But now it’s back to work.”
The busy season for GMs and player agents really gets going now and will hit a crescendo when the unrestricted free-agent market opens July 1.
Until then, teams are frantically trying to re-sign players headed for open waters. The chatter will increase when the hockey world descends on Columbus for the NHL entry draft June 22-23.
The list of potential unrestricted free agents is deep and there are no bargains at the top. The likes of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Michael Nylander and Peter Forsberg could be available at centre; Ryan Smyth, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov, Jason Blake, Keith Tkachuk, Scott Hartnell and Todd Bertuzzi on the wings; and Sheldon Souray, Brian Rafalski, Mathieu Schneider, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart on defence.
Plus, J.S. Giguere could be available in goal. But if Burke has his way, Giguere won’t hit the market.
“Yes, he’s our No. 1 priority, but at a number and term that makes sense,” Burke said.
Just what the number is will be intriguing. Giguere earned US$3.99 million this season while backstopping the Ducks to their first-ever Cup.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin are the highest-paid netminders in the league at an average of $6.75 million a season. No one is going to confuse Giguere with Luongo – arguably the best goalie in the world now.
But then again, Luongo doesn’t have a Cup ring.
“J.S. Giguere was terrific for us,” said Burke. “It would be demeaning for us to suggest otherwise. But he’s got a pretty good team in front of him, too. So to sort out what the right number is, I’m not going to negotiate through the newspaper.
“I know this, he’s going to sign for something that makes sense for us . . . or he’s not.”
Burke said he planned to meet with Giguere’s agent Bob Sauve later this week.
“We’ll meet this week and the goal is to try and get a deal done,” Sauve said Monday from Anaheim. “It’s Jean-Sebastien’s first priority to get a deal done here. And we’re hoping that happens.”
Anaheim’s other big UFA-to-be is veteran winger Teemu Selanne, who turns 37 on July 3. The Finnish Flash has yet to decide whether he’ll return for another season. Selanne led the Ducks with 48 goals in the regular season and added 15 points (5-10) in 21 playoff games.
“Obviously the only time-sensitive thing for us is July 1 if he is going to retire,” said Burke. “We would like to be in position to do something July 1 – that’s the only date that matters to us.
“We’re not pushing Teemu, he’s earned the right to take some time.”
Tkachuk, meanwhile, is almost sure to hit the free-agent market. The Thrashers like him – Tkachuk had 18 points (8-10) in 22 total games with Atlanta after his deadline acquisition from the Blues – but the Thrashers would have to hand over another first-round draft pick if they re-signed him as part of the blockbuster deal they made with St. Louis in February.
“We’re just not prepared to do that,” Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Monday.
In the meantime, Waddell hopes to prevent Kozlov from leaving. The 35-year-old Russian had 80 points (28-52) in 81 regular-season games. Waddell would not confirm it, but it’s believed he’s offered Kozlov a multi-year deal.
The Islanders, meanwhile, have touched base with the Smyth camp. They’ve made it their priority to try and keep Captain Canada from hitting the market. Blake appears gone from the Island. Blake’s agent Neil Sheehy last spoke to Isles GM Garth Snow last Tuesday and there was no progress made.
“Based on our discussion, nothing has really changed,” Sheehy said Monday. “Basically we kind of agreed that going on the free-agent market was probably the best thing to do. . . .
“I’m not saying Jason doesn’t want to be an Islander, I’m just saying that based on everything he’ll probably be on the market July 1.”
Burke, meanwhile, has also informed his GM counterparts that Anaheim’s first-round pick, 16th overall, in the June 22 draft is available. Anaheim acquired the pick from Tampa in the Shane O’Brien deal in February.
“We put our first-round pick in play to move up or move down – probably spoke with 18 teams,” said Burke. “We’d consider any scenario.”