New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise recently said contract negotiations between his agent and Devils management still haven't begun, but he expected they'd start at some point in the off-season.
Parise also claimed he was open to re-signing a long-term contract extension, but didn’t know if he would have to accept an arbiter-awarded one-year deal, which would make him eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
It's possible Devils GM Lou Lamoriello will file for salary arbitration to make Parise ineligible to receive offer sheets from rival clubs. This option would likely leave Parise with a one-year extension if the two sides fail to come to terms on a different deal first.
The Devils could re-sign Parise to an expensive extension, but with about $52 million committed to 17 players next season it would take a big bite out of their limited cap space.
Among the players they have to re-sign or replace is backup goaltender Johan Hedberg, who posted good numbers relieving starter Martin Brodeur this season (14-12-2 in 33 games, 2.39 GAA, .912 SP, three shutouts), but like Parise, Hedberg has yet to be contacted by management about a new contract.
Hedberg earned $1.5 million this season ($1 million in base salary plus $500,000 in bonuses) and might be willing to accept the same money again next season, though on a longer term.
Brodeur is hopeful Hedberg will be back, but that of course will depend on Hedberg’s salary demands and how much cap space the Devils have.
Another key free agent is defenseman Andy Greene, who's been a workhorse on the Devils blueline, but who will seek a substantial raise over the $737,500 cap hit he commanded this season. His numbers will earn him around $2 million on the open market, but he'd have to accept less than that to remain a Devil.
Further complicating matters is the Devils’ obvious need for at least one skilled puck-moving defenseman.
Several good ones will be available via free agency unless they re-sign before July 1. The notables include: Tomas Kaberle, Andrei Markov, Joni Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski and Bryan McCabe, but given the Devils’ limited cap space they're unlikely to be able to land any of those players.
Lamoriello will have to consider going the trade route, which has led to speculation he’ll trade Parise later this summer if unable to re-sign him to a long-term extension.
It remains to be seen if the Devils GM would go that far, but if he re-signs Parise, he'll have to at least consider the trade market to land a quality blueliner.
To make that happen Lamoriello would have to give up a quality player in return and, if not Parise, it would mean moving Travis Zajac or David Clarkson, though the latter's $2.66 million per season salary over the next two years will make him less attractive on the trade market.
This summer is shaping up to be another difficult one for Lamoriello, though Devils fans can at least take some comfort in Parise's belief his contract negotiations won't take as long to sort out as Ilya Kovalchuk's did last summer.
HEJDUK HUNGRY FOR COLORADO RETURN
Colorado Avalanche right winger Milan Hejduk doesn't know if he'll be returning to the club next season, but indicated to the Denver Post he'd be receptive to a new contract.
While it's possible Hejduk will sign elsewhere, the Post noted his children are used to the schools in the Denver area plus he considers himself a loyal Av.
Hejduk made $3 million this season on a one-year deal and has rewarded the Avs with 54 points in 69 games as the season draws to a close.
That performance may earn him another one-year, $3 million extension. The Avalanche, with a little more than $30 million invested in 14 players next season, can easily afford this option, even if they wish to continue to keep their payroll close to the league minimum.
Given Hejduk's skill, experience and willingness to return for another season, the odds he’ll return to the Avalanche appear to be good.
SHOULD MAPLE LEAFS PURSUE A BIG-TICKET FREE AGENT?
With the Toronto Maple Leafs officially eliminated from the 2011 post-season the focus of Toronto fans and media naturally turned to management's off-season plans.
CBC.ca columnist Tim Wharnsby noted the Leafs have plenty of available cap space to work with this summer, with $36.9 million committed to 13 players next season. That will give them sufficient cap space to pursue a big name free agent such as Brad Richards, though it remains to be seen if Richards is interested in coming to Toronto.
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star doubts the Leafs are at the point in their rebuild where they should be targeting an expensive, veteran free agent and instead suggested turning to the trade market to land a younger core asset.
Cox offered up Colorado's Paul Stastny as an example, noting his expensive contract ($6.6 million cap hit) only has three years remaining, which would avoid tangling up too much money and term into an expensive free agent asset.
GM Brian Burke has a penchant for big trades and given the depth in young assets he now has it wouldn't be surprising if he targeted teams looking to get out from under expensive contracts, especially if those players are in their 20s.
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.