Sens play match game?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:06 PM ET

COLUMBUS -- It's in the Senators' best interests to get Ray Emery to sign on the dotted line before July 1.

Otherwise, it could prove costly.

While the Senators have sent Emery a qualifying offer for next season worth $971,250 (all terms US), there was talk after Saturday's portion of the NHL draft that a couple of teams may be poised to make a Group II offer to the 24-year-old.

Because of his age, Emery might be the only attractive restricted free agent out there. Should Emery be offered a contract worth less than $4.5 million per season, all it would cost the team making the offer is a first-, second- and third-round draft pick in 2008.

If you think that's a high price to pay, think again.

That's pretty much what the Toronto Maple Leafs gave the San Jose Sharks to get goalie Vesa Toskala before the first round of the draft on Friday at Nationwide Arena.

Conversations between agents and teams for restricted free agents can begin today, but no offer sheets can be tendered until July 1. There are plenty of teams -- including St. Louis, Boston, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay -- looking for goaltending help.

Should one of those teams make an offer to Emery, the Senators would have the right to match it, but it might force GM Bryan Murray to pay more for a goalie than he wants.

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, whose Bruins made a big splash last Canada Day when they signed former Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara, is desperate to make a move involving a goalie and is a big fan of Emery.

Tampa Bay needs help, too. GM Jay Feaster chose to spend most of his salary cap on players who can put the puck in the net -- Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier -- instead of a guy who can keep the puck out of the net. He may try and fix that error.

The Lightning signed Marc Denis to an $8.6-million, three-year deal shortly after acquiring him from Columbus last off-season, but he was a disappointment last season, going 17-18-2 with a 3.19 goals-against average while splitting time with Johan Holmqvist.

The Blues and Kings could also be in the running.

St. Louis signed Manny Legace to two-year, $4.3-million deal in February, but may still be looking for an upgrade. Same goes for Los Angeles, which was forced into claiming 40-year-old Sean Burke off waivers from Tampa Bay mid-season after losing its top two goalies -- Dan Cloutier and Mathieu Garon -- to injury.

Neither team can afford to keep building for the future and need to address their goaltending now.

Naturally, teams like the Bruins, Kings, Bolts and Blues also have the option of making a deal. It's believed the Bruins looked at getting Ilya Bryzgalov from the Anaheim Ducks, but neither side was able to get a deal done in Columbus.

FERNANDEZ AVAILABLE

Manny Fernandez, who is slated to make $3.7 million, is also available but the asking price is high. Wild GM Doug Risebrough wants teams to give up more than just draft picks.

Another concern for the Senators should be Emery's ability to file for arbitration. The 15-year deal that Rick DiPietro signed with the New York Islanders was wacky, but the $4.5 million he's making is almost certain to be used as a comparable by Emery's agent J.P. Barry.

The three-year, $8-million deal signed by Carolina's Cam Ward is likely closer to what the Senators can expect to pay Emery, but they're going to have to move backup goalie Martin Gerber and his $3.7-million salary if that's the case.

At this point, there's only been a mild interest in Gerber.


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