All signs point to frenzy

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

Let the bidding begin.

At high noon today, NHL general managers everywhere will be able to shop on the lucrative free-agent market and with the league's salary cap now set at a whopping $50.3 million (all terms US), there will be plenty of money to throw around.

Winger Ryan Smyth is at the top of a list of players available starting today. Others who will garner heaps of attention include centres Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.

If the Philadelphia Flyers have any say, one of them will be wearing orange and black next season.

"We will be very, very aggressive," said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

With the clock ticking, here's the latest gossip:

RYAN SMYTH: As many as 10 teams -- including Dallas, Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose, the New York Rangers, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto -- are expected to make a pitch for Smyth, who has already turned down a four-year, $25-million offer to re-sign with the Islanders. The belief is Smyth wouldn't mind playing in Toronto, giving the Leafs a good shot at him for possibly $5.5 million per season. If Smyth signs with the Leafs, don't be surprised if he brings C Mike Comrie with him. The pair of former Oilers are determined to play together again.

CHRIS DRURY: He gave the Sabres every chance to re-sign him, but they waited too long to table a five-year, $30-million deal. Now, Drury is looking forward to testing free agency. San Jose, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and the Rangers are going to make the biggest pitches as they've got money to spend. But don't be surprised if Carolina, Boston and Edmonton also put in a bid. The Kings have $22 million in cap space and they want to make a splash.

DANIEL BRIERE: The Canadiens desperately want to bring the Gatineau native back to Canada. Sources say he'd like to play for the Habs, but he's concerned about the effect it might have on his family because of the intense pressure on a French Canadian player in Montreal. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Edmonton and San Jose are all going to offer a contract. If the Sharks do get involved in any of the insanity, look for the club to deal C Patrick Marleau, who will make $4.5 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer. San Jose is going to need to get rid of salary in a big way if it signs either Drury or Briere.

SCOTT GOMEZ: The Rangers are going to go hard after the former member of the archrival Devils. They desperately want to take a player right out from under New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello's nose. New York was close to signing Patrik Elias last season, but the team wasn't willing to give him a no-trade clause. Gomez, however, will also be at the top of list for Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Naturally, there's going to be plenty of action around the league today.

One source said with the high-priced players -- including Sheldon Souray and Paul Kariya -- getting snapped up quickly, players like Bill Guerin, Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, Jason Blake, Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan and Comrie may also cash in.


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