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The shrinking '11 free agent crop

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The San Jose Sharks’ recent re-signing of star center Joe Thornton to a multi-year contract removed yet another big star from next summer’s unrestricted free agent market.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sunreported Sunday that the Thornton signing, as well as the Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara deals earlier this month in Boston, could leave teams seeking free agent talent next summer “shopping in a shallow pool of talent.”

Garrioch listed Dallas’ Brad Richards, Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, Colorado’s Craig Anderson, Montreal’s Andrei Markov and Ottawa’s Chris Phillips as the most notable free agents currently available, followed by “a mixed bag” that includes Buffalo’s Tim Connolly, Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski, Tampa Bay’s Simon Gagne, Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen and New Jersey’s Jason Arnott.

He suggested potential restricted free agents such as New Jersey’s Zach Parise, L.A.’s Drew Doughty and Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux might become targets for offer sheets from rival teams if still unsigned by July 1.

That UFA pool could grow even shallower in the coming months if Anderson, Markov and Phillips are re-signed by their respective clubs.

As for the RFAs, it’ll be surprising if Doughty isn’t re-signed before next July. And while New Jersey and Philadelphia will have limited cap space for next season, it’s a good bet their respective GMs will find a way to free up the necessary cap space to retain Parise, Carter and Giroux.

ANDERSON EXTENSION?

Speaking of Anderson, Adrian Dater of the Denver Postwondered if the overworked goalie might consider a “hometown discount” to remain with the Avalanche or test the UFA market in search of a big contract. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun wondered what was taking the Avs so long to re-sign the netminder.

Budget is likely the primary reason. For the past two seasons, the Avs’ payroll has been amongst the lowest in the league as they continue to rebuild from within.

GM Greg Sherman got Anderson via free agency in 2009 for the bargain price of $3.625 million over two years and gave him the opportunity to prove himself as a starting goalie. But Sherman probably wants to ensure Anderson can continue his strong play before opening contract talks to avoid the risk of overpaying to keep him.

Sherman would also need to have some idea how much money he’ll have to work with for next summer’s budget, which isn’t likely to be known until mid-season at the earliest.

NO BLUE JACKET FOR SOURAY

It doesn’t appear Edmonton Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray will end up playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace reported Friday the window for acquiring Souray “is for all practical purposes, closed,” as he’d now have to pass through re-entry waivers where another team would likely land him before the Blue Jackets.

GM Scott Howson won’t comment on why he didn’t try to acquire Souray via trade when he apparently had the chance, leading Arace to suggest the Oilers sought a player that Howson didn’t want to part with.

More likely, Howson probably didn’t want to pick up Souray’s $5.4 million per season cap hit for the next two years.

BERGERON IN WAIT-AND-SEE MODE

Teams seeking help on their power play should keep an eye on free agent defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery similar to that of Montreal’s Andrei Markov.

RDS.ca recently reported that Bergeron’s agent said the phone has been quiet so far, but he expects to get some interest in his client in November, when the blueliner should be ready to return to action.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 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.

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