Just as it appeared this summer’s free agent “frenzy” was in danger of fizzling out amidst seemingly endless speculation over Ilya Kovalchuk’s potential destinations, the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers each made a move that added considerable spice to the market.
The Sharks pitched the first offer sheet of the summer, signing Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14-million contract, while the Flyers inked Russian right winger Nikolai Zherdev to a one-year, $2-million deal.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman now has seven days (July 16) to either match the Sharks offer or let Hjalmarsson go and accept the Sharks’ first and third round picks in the 2011 draft as compensation.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, meanwhile, finds himself about $1.4 million above the league’s salary cap ceiling of $59.4 million. He’s allowed to go over the cap by up to 10 percent during the off-season, but must be under it before the start of next season, meaning a salary-dumping trade could be coming later this summer.
Since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup a month ago, Bowman has been forced to dismantle part of his roster with salary-dumping trades, most notably Dustin Byfuglien (Atlanta) and Kris Versteeg (Toronto). Bowman has about $3.6 million in available cap space and the expected demotion of goaltender Cristobal Huet and his $5.6-million contract for next season would push that available space to around $9 million.
Still, to re-sign Hjalmarsson would bite deeply into that space, and with restricted free agent goaltender Antti Niemi headed to arbitration (which prevents him from receiving an offer sheet) Bowman still might not have enough remaining space to re-sign Niemi and add another seven or so players to fill out the remainder of next season’s roster.
That situation could lead to choosing between Hjalmarsson or Niemi, or perhaps retaining both, but moving someone like Patrick Sharp, who was oft-mentioned in the June rumor mill as a trade candidate.
As for the Flyers, it’s widely believed winger Simon Gagne is a trade candidate. The 30-year-old has been hampered by injuries in recent years and has only one season remaining (at $5.25 million) on his current contract.
While Gagne denied reports he’d agreed to waive his no-trade clause, he didn’t rule out the possibility, which could become more distinct with the Zherdev signing.
If the Flyers move Gagne they might not be able to take much salary back as they’ll need to leave enough to re-sign Dan Carcillo (also headed to arbitration) and Darroll Powe and still leave sufficient cap space for additional minor moves next season.
While it remains to be seen what the Blackhawks and Flyers GMs will do, it’s clear changes to their rosters will be coming in the near future.
TURCO TAKING TIME
Heading into mid-July and approaching the second week of unrestricted free agency, veteran goaltender Marty Turco remains unsigned.
Late last week Turco told the Dallas Morning News via text message he currently had nothing going on with another NHL team.
It had been rumored the Flyers were interested in Turco’s services, but given the club’s recent Zherdev signing, plus its need to re-sign other restricted free agents, the Stanley Cup finalists might not have much interest unless, as the Morning News suggested, Turco accepts a one-year, $2-million contract.
BLUE JACKETS LOOKING FOR BLUELINE HELP
The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson was still in the market for a puckmoving defenseman and would like to add one via trade, but wasn’t in a hurry to turn a deal.
Howson told the paper nothing’s imminent and no trade talks were taking place, but he has put out feelers to several teams.
Possible trade partners include the Vancouver Canucks (who’re shopping Kevin Bieksa), Edmonton Oilers (who’d love to move Sheldon Souray) and Toronto Maple Leafs (who have entertained offers for Tomas Kaberle), but the Dispatch suggested it could take weeks for a trade to be made.
The Blue Jackets reportedly were close to a deal earlier in July for Bieksa with young winger Nikita Filatov rumored to be headed to Vancouver, but it’s believed that deal is shelved for the time being as apparently Canucks management is considering several other options.
SENATORS SEEKING SOURAY?
Speaking of Souray, the Ottawa Sun suggested he’d be a good fit with the Senators, who lack a rugged defenseman since Anton Volchenkov departed via free agency with Andy Sutton likely to follow.
The article suggested swapping Filip Kuba, who’s now become expendable with the recent addition of veteran Sergei Gonchar, as part of a package for Souray.
Certainly the Oilers would jump at such an offer, but it remains to be seen if Senators GM Bryan Murray would be willing to add an expensive, aging, injury-prone defenseman whom most Senators fans remember getting deked out of his jock by Jason Spezza during Souray’s days with the Montreal Canadiens.
With plenty of lingering uncertainties floating around the league, a stirring later half to an unhurried off-season could be in the mix.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.