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Yashin, Ryan, Hartnell, will be interesting free agents to follow

Some clubs will have to dip into the B pool, which brings us to Alexei Yashin, the much-maligned centre who was bought out by the New York Islanders last week and is now available to the highest bidder.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to be in my future. We'll see what happens," Yashin told The Canadian Press on Tuesday, while not wanting to comment any further.

The 33-year-old Russian didn't exactly do much for his market value when he ended the playoffs on the Isles' fourth line, once again bringing into question his moxie come playoff time.

Still, his 50 points (18-32) in 58 regular-season games last season will no doubt attract some suitors. And he does have 781 points (337-444) in 850 career regular-season games.

"You can bet a few teams will try to latch onto him, no question," an NHL GM, who requested anonymity, said Tuesday.

His agent Mark Gandler must find Yashin a new home. Montreal, Edmonton, Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Ottawa - yes Ottawa - are among some of the many teams he may contact.

A return to the Senators seems far-fetched given everything that transpired there earlier in his career - including a one-year suspension in 1999-2000 for not honouring his contract and essentially forcing a trade to the Islanders in 2001.

But Yashin would apparently do it.

"Alexei would be highly intrigued to play in Ottawa," Gandler said Tuesday. "He has no issues coming back there, regardless of having been booed there in the past, regardless of what transpired there in the past."

Still, it's believed the Senators have absolutely zero interest in going back down that route.

Other clubs, meanwhile, will look for the diamonds in the rough. This year it could be Michael Ryan. The Buffalo Sabres were too deep up front to make room for him this season. Now they may pay the consequence.

The 27-year-old forward is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1. He's in the rare Group 6 category, which states any skater who is 25 or older who has completed more than three professional seasons (including minors), whose deal has expired and played less than 80 NHL games can become unrestricted.

Usually Group 6 players are nothing more than minor-leaguers. But Ryan, who has only 19 NHL games under his belt, will attract some attention to be sure. He had 28 goals and 23 assists in 50 games with AHL Rochester this season and had three goals and two assists in 19 games with the Sabres.

The youngest Group 3 unrestricted free agent on the market will be Scott Hartnell, unless of course the 25-year-old winger re-signs with the Nashville Predators.

"At the end of the season, in Scott's exit meeting with (Preds GM) David Poile, David said they would definitely approach him and make an offer before July 1," Hartnell's agent Allan Walsh said Tuesday. "I think that's the only thing that Scott's focused on right now. We're waiting for Nashville to come to us with something."

But given the uncertainty with the Predators' ownership situation, Poile's hands may be tied. Should Hartnell hit the market July 1, it will be interesting to see how rival GMs react to having a chance at signing such a young player, one with 47 goals over the past two seasons.

Will Brendan Shanahan be on the market? The potential unrestricted free agent has yet to officially decide whether he'll back for another season - although the betting money is that he'll return for another season, and probably return with the New York Rangers.

"I think he certainly has a lot of hockey left in him," his agent Rick Curran said Tuesday. "And my sense is that he'll want to continue playing. As long as he can continue to play at the level of performance that satisfies he himself, then you can be well-assured that he'll be back."

Free agency isn't the only answer for NHL clubs in the off-season. Some of the bigger trades happen in the summer, such as Roberto Luongo's acquisition by Vancouver last June.

Some of the buzz around the hockey world right now is whether the San Jose Sharks are finally willing to move one of their two top-notch netminders - Evgeni Nabokov (who has a no-trade clause) or Vesa Toskala.

"It's not up to us. It's nothing we can control," Toskala told CP from his off-season home in Tampere, Finland. "Of course I'd like to stay in San Jose, it's a great organization to play. But I really don't know what's going to happen. ...

"We both can play as a No. 1 and I know we both want to play. But neither of us can control the situation. We just have to wait and see what's going to happen."



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