It has been nearly seven weeks since free agency opened and still a number of unrestricted free agents are awaiting deals, which could mean training camp tryouts will be the best option for those seeking NHL deals for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger remains unsigned by the Blackhawks. Could an offer sheet pry him away from Chicago?
With the start of NHL training camps a month away, a number of unrestricted free agents are still seeking contracts for 2015-16.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline compiled a roster of the best available players. The notables include forwards Martin Havlat, Olli Jokinen, Erik Cole and Brenden Morrow. Sadly, these players are all well past their playing prime. Some, like Havlat and Cole, face retirement as a result of injuries suffered during their careers.
Portzline also includes forwards Stephen Weiss, Curtis Glencross and Jiri Tlusty, along with defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Franson and Marek Zidlicky. As the start of training camp approaches, these free agents stand the best chance of landing new contracts.
The New York Rangers’ recent signing of center Jarret Stoll to a one-year, $800K contract indicates there are teams with limited cap space still seeking affordable depth. The Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets are among this group. Even rebuilding teams with plenty of cap room, like the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, could pursue cost-effective depth via free agency.
A marginal increase in the salary cap and a very shallow pool of free-agent talent forced NHL GMs to become more frugal this summer compared to previous years. Several are playing the waiting game in hopes that some of these UFAs lower their asking prices in the coming weeks.
That explains why Cody Franson, considered among this summer’s top free-agents, remains unsigned nearly seven weeks after the UFA period began. It’s also why Ehrhoff and the Columbus Blue Jackets remain locked in a contract stare down. Portzline reports the Blue Jackets made the 33-year-old defenseman an offer in late-July, but the Ehrhoff camp is waiting for a better one, either from the Jackets or another club.
Several UFAs face the possibility of signing professional tryout offers (PTO) in hopes of earning jobs for the upcoming season during training camp and pre-season play. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, 41, recently inked a PTO with the Pittsburgh Penguins. A report out of Calgary last week claimed right winger Devin Setoguchi will join the Toronto Maple Leafs in September on a tryout basis.
COULD KRUGER BE OFFER SHEET TARGET?
The Anaheim Ducks recent re-signing of left winger Carl Hagelin (four-years, $16 million) removed another name from this summer’s shrinking list of unsigned restricted free agents. Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau, New York Islanders center Brock Nelson and Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger are the only notables still awaiting new deals.
Kruger is waiting for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman to clear sufficient cap space to re-sign him. The 25-year-old is coming off a two-year deal worth an annual average salary of $1.325 million. He could seek a raise worth around $2-million annually on a long-term contract. It’s assumed wingers Bryan Bickell ($4 million) or Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million) could be dealt before the start of the regular season to free up room for Kruger’s new deal.
The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa recently suggested this would be a good time for a division rival to put the squeeze on the Blackhawks by signing Kruger to an offer sheet. Shinzawa suggests the Colorado Avalanche has the cap space to make this move.
An offer sheet is possible, but unlikely. For one thing, it’ll take a significant offer, perhaps over $3-million annually, to make it unmatchable for the Blackhawks. Few teams are going to waste remaining cap space at this point in the off-season on a fourth-line center.
The Avalanche certainly have the space (over $8.2 million) to sign Kruger, but they could be on a self-imposed cap ceiling. They’re also well-stocked at center (Matt Duchene, Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko and John Mitchell, plus Nathan MacKinnon can play center or right wing), so it makes little sense to pursue Kruger.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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