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Second wave of free agents await their chance to find new NHL team

After a flurry of activity in the first two weeks of NHL free agency, where the bigger names all found new homes with rich, long-term contracts, a number of unrestricted free agents are now hoping to get their names on deals. "All things being equal, it would probably be nice to have a contract at this point but I think you have to understand where you stand and what teams are doing," free-agent winger Mike Johnson told The Canadian Press on Monday.

"You just have to be patient and wait for the right team and the right situation."

Now that the first wave of free agents has come and gone like a blur, the league as a whole takes a deep breath and regroups for the second wave.

The signings will come in dribs and drabs over the rest of the summer.

"The first week of free agency is 100 miles per hour," said agent Pat Brisson, who got Daniel Briere a big payday with Philadelphia on July 1. "After that you see a little decline. Things slow down a little. Some GMs may wait a little on some needs, see if the price comes down. On the flip side as a player, you have to be patient.

"And sometimes that pays off."

Johnson is among a group of unrestricted free-agent forwards that also still includes Michael Peca, Eric Lindros, Alexei Yashin, Jason Allison, Anson Carter, Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Josef Vasicek, Denis Arkhipov, Peter Bondra, Patrik Stefan, Petr Nedved, Martin Gelinas, Arron Asham, Chris Simon, Nils Ekman, Ronald Petrovicky, Ville Nieminen, Travis Green, Jeff O'Neill, Jan Bulis, Adam Hall and Dimitri Afanasenkov, among others.

And don't forget about veteran free-agent stars Peter Forsberg and Teemu Selanne, who have yet to decide whether or not they'll play again next season.

"Nothing new on either of those fronts," the agent for both players, Don Baizley, told CP on Monday.

Either way, there's a lot of names still out there.

"I suppose if you were the last person out there and you saw all the jobs kind of disappearing, then it would be more of a concern," said Johnson, who doesn't appear headed back to Montreal. "But there's a lot of great players still left to be signed. And teams need to fill up their rosters. There's lots of opportunities still available.

"You have to be patient, it's only been 15 days. We'll just see how the summer progresses."

Peca, a valuable penalty killer and faceoff man, could still find his way back to the Toronto Maple Leafs although it's believed the New York Rangers are also interested in the 33-year-old.

Danny Markov, meanwhile, is arguably the top defenceman left on the unrestricted market. Others available include Andy Sutton, Brent Sopel, Brad Ference, David Tanabe, Patrice Brisebois, Bryan Berard, Janne Niinimaa and Nolan Pratt.

Markov, who turns 31 at the end of the month, was plus-25 in 66 regular-season games with Detroit last season, while also putting up 16 points (4-12). His camp is in talks with three or four teams.

"We may make a decision in the early part of this week," said agent Jay Grossman.

The Red Wings remain interested.

"I've been in touch with Markov's agent, on and off, since the end of the season," said Wings GM Ken Holland. "We've made him an offer. He knows our position. Certainly I understand that Danny is exploring the market and he has to do what makes best sense for Danny."

In goal, veterans Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour remain available, as do David Aebischer, Robert Esche and Alex Auld.

"We're talking to several teams, and hope within the next five days we'll get something done," said Aebischer's agent Kurt Overhardt.

Esche won't be back in Philadelphia.

"Just trying to see who might have a need," said Esche's agent, Stephen Bartlett. "Obviously the goalie fraternity might be a little tight in terms of numbers. We're waiting for an opportunity."

The Phoenix Coyotes are crying out for help in goal and are believed to be keeping an eye all on their free-agent options, while also knowing that Ilya Bryzgalov remains available on the trade front from the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

The Los Angeles Kings had serious interest in star goalie Tomas Vokoun before he was dealt from Nashville to Florida last month and now it appears they'll stick with what they've got instead of dipping into free agency.

Jason Labarbera, 27, will likely get the chance to run with it after being stuck in the AHL last season due to CBA issues. Oft-injured Dan Cloutier will complete the tandem, at least to start the season.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi knows what's left on the free-agent front but wants to see what Labarbera can do.

"I'm better off giving Jason a well-deserved shot that he so richly deserves after the year he had last year and the way he conducted himself," Lombardi told CP. "And then see if Cloutier can bounce back."

Yashin, meanwhile, remains without a new team after being bought out by the New York Islanders. His camp is unimpressed with the low-ball offers they've received.

"If we don't like what we hear over here, he may very well play a season back in Russia," agent Todd Diamond, who represents Yashin along with Mark Gandler, said Monday.

Don't expect a quick decision, meanwhile, from Forsberg.

He continues to see doctors about this troubled foot and won't rush into anything.

"It'll be dictated by what the medical professionals advise," said Baizley. "Until a timeline emerges on the health side of things, there's no other timeline that's going to emerge."


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