Big names are out there. In a financial landscape that is uncertain at best, NHL general managers may be willing to spend large if not commit long-term when unrestricted free agency opens Wednesday.
The lack of major trades at the NHL draft in Montreal on the weekend indicates the men who control the purse strings are feeling conservative. The NHL’s salary cap increased just $100,000 to US$56.8 million for 2009-10 after leaps of $5 million or more the last three seasons.
The economy has created uncertainty in the sports marketplace.
“The conditions that affect us all now impacted on the bottom line in baseball in terms of player salaries almost immediately, almost instantaneously,” Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said. “I predict that that’s likely to happen here – mainly on term. I don’t think you’ll see a big decrease in dollars.”
So multimillion-dollar deals will still get done starting at noon ET Wednesday. Players hitting the market are too attractive for that not to happen, starting with the Sedin twins, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Marian Gaborik.
The Calgary Flames got a head start on the competition to sign 25-year-old defenceman Jay Bouwmeester when they acquired his rights at the draft.
The Montreal Canadiens face a mass exodus as defencemen Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Schneider, wingers Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay and captain Saku Koivu are headed for the open market.
But the matched set of Henrik and Daniel Sedin are the biggest fish in the pool. The 27-year-old forwards averaged 80 points the last three seasons.
Vancouver GM Mike Gillis hasn’t given up on re-signing the Swedes, but they’re an expensive package deal commanding significant salary increases on their $3.5-million salaries. The Swedish newspaper Expressen reported they each want $63-million, 12-year deals.
“We have budgeted for our own players plus some other significant additions,” Gillis said. “We’ll see how successful we are on July 1.”
Gillis reportedly has headed to Sweden to try to keep the twins in the Canucks’ fold.
If the Sedins depart, one scenario in Vancouver is signing Gaborik and reuniting him with former Wild linemate Pavol Demitra. The 27-year-old Gaborik is a risk because of his injury-plagued career with the Wild. He had a second hip surgery in January and played only 17 games for Minnesota last season.
Hossa, 30, may want the job security of a multi-year deal after consecutive one-year contracts with Pittsburgh and then Detroit. After a 40-goal season, he didn’t score in the Stanley Cup final against the Penguins.
Chicago will try to retain leading scorer Havlat, who paced the Blackhawks to their first playoff appearance in five seasons. The 27-year-old made $6 million last season and is due for a long-term deal.
Along with Bouwmeester and Komisarek, Matthias Ohlund, Paul Mara and Sergei Zubov are some of the bigger names on defence eligible for free agency.
The stock is high for a couple of Penguin rearguards – Hal Gill and shot-blocker Rob Scuderi – after winning the Stanley Cup. Boston’s Steve Montador is among the best in the league at protecting his end of the ice.
There’s a glut of goalies available, but not many starting jobs out there for them.
Top of the list are 36-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin and 39-year-old Dwayne Roloson, who probably wouldn’t get lengthy contracts because of their age. They’re experienced big-gamers, however, for clubs wanting to make a post-season run in the next year or two.
Ray Emery’s signing in Philadelphia indicates Martin Biron is on the move. If Manny Fernandez wants to be a No. 1, he’ll have to go elsewhere as Tim Thomas wears that mantle in Boston.
Ty Conklin is a dilemma for Detroit after a 43-win regular season, but Chris Osgood was the go-to guy in the playoffs.
Some other unrestricted free agents include:
-Mike Cammalleri. Winger too expensive for the Flames to re-sign if they get Bouwmeester. Led Calgary in goals with 39, but scored just once in the playoffs.
-Brian Gionta. Scored 48 goals for New Jersey three seasons ago. The 30-year-old could use a change of scenery after playing his entire career there.
-Maxim Afinogenov. Missed 24 games with injury and production for Buffalo tailed off. Fresh start elsewhere might energize the 29-year-old forward.
-Chris Neil. An enforcer who can play is a valuable asset anywhere in the league. The Senators might not be able to hang on to him.
-Joe Sakic. Retirement, return to the Avalanche after their worst season in Colorado or move on?
-Mats Sundin. This 38-year-old wasn’t the playoff impact player Vancouver was hoping for when they signed him in January. Is he done?