Free agency will hardly be dull

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:09 AM ET

When a 50-goal scorer, a 300-win goalie and a bunch of ever-popular big veteran defencemen all come on the open market at once, it canít really be a free agent shop íní flop at noon EST Thursday.

Consider that Ilya Kovalchuk could be a King before the smog rises in Los Angeles, while Evgeni Nabokov, who back-stopped the best team never to win the Cup in San Jose, might come East to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton, Willie Mitchell, Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek donít stack up to Norris Trophy finalists such as Duncan Keith and Mike Green, but they could be the missing blueline ingredients on some contending clubs.

All eyes will be on Kovalchuk, whose short and inglorious tenure as a Devil is set to end. Keep in mind he has turned off many GMs after alienating the Atlanta Thrashers by snubbing generous offers of $101 million US over 12 years, more than $70 million in seven years. He did get some points in his short stint in Jersey, but the team didnít get out of the first round.

Thus cost-conscious Jersey boss Lou Lamoriello didnít leap to bring Kovalchuk back in the window open to him. The general manager also knows any big ticket he gives to a player some call ďOvechkin LightĒ could impact favourite son Zach Pariseís new deal next year. Lamoriello also wants to keep unrestricted free agent Martin, too, and the feeling is mutual.

But the West Coast is abuzz with Kovalchuk rumours, having not had a true marquee name in L.A., since Wayne Gretzky. Lamoriello has said itís not true that he was approached by the Kings earlier this month to acquire exclusive negotiating rights with Kovalchuk, but L.A. would be a good fit for both star-struck parties.

With homegrowns such as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Brayden Schenn the symbol of their internal rebuild, the Kings are sitting on something like $15 million in cap room to bring in a game breaker. Just to be safe, itís believed Kovalchuk has a three-year KHL offer in his back pocket from a team in St. Petersburg.

Neighbouring western teams with a few bucks to throw around include Anaheim, though it has to get young Bobby Ryan locked up, it hasnít decided on Teemu Selanne and must replace the retired Scott Niedermayer.

The Colorado Avalanche took their lumps last year, but are said to be interested in getting back into big-league spending. They will likely take a look at everyone from Kovalchuk to Lee Stempniak, who will not be retained by Phoenix.

There were some other attempts by GMs to get a jump on the best free agents by trading for their rights in the past few days. Goalie Dan Ellis joined the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday from Nashville, but there is nothing firm about a contract, yet.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was trying to get both incumbent Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuisí name on the dotted line. Hamhuis already went from Nashville to Philly, which failed in the same signing exercise before moving his rights to the other end of the state. Yet, many believe Hamhuis wants to end up with his home province Vancouver Canucks.

Thatís due in part to the Canucks deciding they wonít risk another big contract with Mitchell, even though GM Mike Gillis said the mean-streak bluelinerís absence was a reason the Canucks couldnít get past Chicago in the playoffs.

Nabokov was saddened to be leaving San Jose after more than a decade, but someone will take him before long. Most figure Philadelphia is at the top of the list, even though they brought back Michael Leighton on Wednesday for two more years.

Displaced Dallas Star Marty Turco could still wind up there, too, after disputed reports heíd already said no to a two-year offer from the Flyers.

ICE CHIPS

Lamoriello did ink one of his wandering defencemen this week, RFA David Clarkson, to a three-year contract ... Martin Skoula, a Leaf for about five minutes on trade deadline day before Toronto channeled him from Pittsburgh to Jersey, is going to play in the KHL ... If Glen Metropolit leaves the Canadiens as a UFA in the next few days, it will be the sixth time he has changed clubs since the start of 2006-07 and possibly his eighth different NHL address since í01 (Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia and Montreal).


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