The NHL’s free-agent market hasn’t been this thin in years.
“I haven’t seen it this bad in a long time,” says a league executive.
While the arrival of July 1 will trigger a bidding war for the top unrestricted free agents, there’s not much in the way of forwards. Teams will have a tough time finding a quick fix.
GMs have traditionally used the market to fill empty spots and even change the face of a franchise. But this UFA market lacks big names and impact players. There won’t be the same drama.
San Jose’s Patrick Marleau, New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec lead the forwards who are set to hit the market. Nashville’s Dan Hamhuis, Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar and Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov are the top blueliners.
“If you want to remake your team, the ability to do that isn’t there this year,” said the executive. “There just isn’t the depth that you’ve had in past years.
“Sure, you could go out and sign a guy like Tomas Plekanec to a contract worth $4.5 million (all terms US) per year, but then you’re going to hate yourself every day after that happens.”
The biggest names available will likely be in net — San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov, Dallas’ Marty Turco, St. Louis’ Chris Mason and Nashville’s Dan Ellis. And there are plenty of teams looking for goaltending help, including Tampa and Washington.
“You’re still going to see money spent. There’s no question,” said the executive.
Eyes are focused on Montreal, where GM Pierre Gauthier is looking to sign goalies Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, who are both pending restricted free agents. One could be dealt before July 1.
Indications are Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has held talks with Montreal about Price. The Habs have to be careful — they already have $45 million committed in salaries and could be hit with an offer sheet on Halak.
It appears the Habs will have to choose a goalie. If they deal either, they will want scoring in return. Tampa could offer winger Martin St. Louis.
“It’s going to be tough for the teams that finished out of the playoffs to make major changes,” said the executive. “You’re going to be better off to try to deal for guys and move money than give guys who may not make an impact more than they deserve.”
TOP OF THE FREE-AGENT CROP
1. Patrick Marleau, C, San Jose: If he moves, it won’t likely be far. Marleau a desire to stay on the West Coast. Los Angeles is a strong possibility.
2. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, New Jersey: Dealt at the deadline by Atlanta, he didn’t make a big enough impact on the Devils. Big question: Can you build a team around him and win? Kovalchuk could head home to play in the KHL.
3. Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim: Will or won’t he retire? It’s the perennial off-season question. New Jersey and Washington are looking for blueliners, and could make a pitch. The 36-year-old Niedermayer could be enticed into one more Cup run.
4. Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal: If he leaves, some team will overpay. His 25 goals and 70 points made for a great season, but can he do it consistently? Edmonton or Columbus might bite.
5. Evgeni Nabokov, G, San Jose: The Sharks are torn on whether to bring him back. They will likely turn the page after another playoff disappointment. Nabokov will get interest from Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tampa.
6. Dan Hamhuis, D, Nashville: He didn’t move at the deadline, but the much-coveted blueliner will move soon. Hamhuis is strong at both ends of the ice.
7. Anton Volchenkov, D, Ottawa: He won’t be returning. The Rangers and Sharks are both looking for shot-blocking blueliners. The Caps say forget it. Volchenkov, who made $3.2 million (all terms US) this past season, will score $4.5-$5 million per year on a new deal.
8. Alexander Frolov, LW, Los Angeles: The Kings have toyed with trading him for the last year. He will likely move on. The 28-year-old hasn’t always been consistent, but does contribute.
9. Sergei Gonchar, D, Pittsburgh: Nobody would be surprised if the Caps brought him back to Washington. The Pens would love to keep him, but might be hard-pressed to fit the veteran under the salary cap.
10. Marty Turco, G, Dallas: Lost his No. 1 job and hasn’t played up to expectations. But he does have experience. Some team looking for help in goal — possibly St. Louis — will sign him.
OTHER NOTABLESTeemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim: If he returns, he’ll likely stay with the Ducks.
Matt Cullen, C, Ottawa: Showed versatility in the playoffs. Minnesota will try to sign him.
Zbynek Michalek, D, Phoenix: The 28-year-old is a sought-after shot-blocker.
Vaclav Prospal, LW, Rangers: Will help a team looking for scoring. Vancouver is a possible destination.
Olli Jokinen, C, Rangers: The trade from Calgary didn’t work out. A return to Florida might.
WILL FIND WORK
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Pittsburgh; John Madden, C, Chicago; Frederik Modin, LW, Los Angeles; Paul Martin, D, New Jersey; Andy Sutton, D, Ottawa; Derek Morris, D, Phoenix; Pavol Demitra, C, Vancouver; Mark Recchi, RW, Boston; Toni Lydman, D, Buffalo; Henrik Tallinder, D, Buffalo; Ray Whitney, LW, Carolina.