Free agent free-for-all?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

Will there be real fireworks or merely just a small spark?

With the entry draft now in the rear-view mirror, NHL teams point their focus toward free agents starting today, as GMs roll up their sleeves and begin laying the groundwork for the opening of training camps in September.

Depending on who you believe, teams are either going to come charging hard out of the starting blocks at noon today, or they're going to take a cautious approach with a $39-million (all figures US) salary cap now in place.

"I know I'm going to test the market," said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean. "I don't know if I'm going to be successful, but I'm certainly going to try. But I don't have any read for what any other players are going to do."

There are plenty of big names: Colorado's Peter Forsberg, Vancouver's Markus Naslund, Dallas' Mike Modano, St. Louis' Pavol Demitra, New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer and Detroit's Derian Hatcher, to name a few.

If you believe what you read, there will be plenty of movement. Forsberg and Naslund are rumoured to be part of package to either go to the Avs or possibly the New York Rangers, because they want to play together.

There's also been talk Niedermayer is going to leave the Devils to seek $7.8 million from the Philadelphia Flyers, while the Calgary Flames and Atlanta Thrashers are also expected to make a push.

And the talk doesn't stop there. The Flyers and Stars are also expected to chase Hatcher. Each needs a big-time blueliner and Hatcher is the perfect fit because he might not demand nearly as much after a big buyout from the Wings.

Had enough already?

Oh, there's more. The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to sign the whole league, it seems, but first they're expected to make a pitch for Colorado defenceman Adam Foote.

FIGURING OUT CAP

"I don't know if you're going to see the flurry of activity that everybody is expecting," said a league executive yesterday. "Teams are kind of in the mode where they need to make sure they don't spend a lot of cash and everybody is trying to figure out where they are at (with the salary cap).

"Let's say you drop $7.8 million on one of these free agents. You are really going to be limiting yourself in other areas and you've got to proceed with caution because of this guy doesn't work out, it's going to end up costing some people their jobs."

But the free-agent market can be a quick fix. Look at a team like the Boston Bruins, which has virtually nobody under contract and needs help everywhere. Defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who was supposed to spend last season with the Islanders, might be just what the doctor ordered for the Bs.

As for Modano, he has started discussions on a new deal with the Stars, but has expressed an interest in joining old buddy Brett Hull with the Phoenix Coyotes. The word is the Minnesota Wild would also like a No. 1 centre and Modano might be a good fit for the spot. But Dallas still might be the best fit for him.

The Penguins are also expected to spend some cash and they'd like to upgrade in every area. They're going to make a pitch for winger Shawn McEachern, as will the Islanders, Bruins and Flyers.

Many don't expect teams to go crazy right away -- or at all.

"There is only going to be action if the first couple of big guys get (signed)," said agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey. "Everybody is going to see what Niedermayer does and who is going to spend and who doesn't. It's going to take a couple of days for the momentum to build and to get going,"

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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