Plenty of options remain

MACKENZIE LIDDELL, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:18 PM ET

TORONTO -- Nearly a month after the doors to NHL free agency opened, the auction for the best up-for-grabs players has come to a screeching halt.

On the first day of the highly anticipated off-season extravaganza, owners opened up their checkbooks and dished out close to $230 million over 78 years for 33 new players ... just slightly above Ilya Kovalchuk's most recent offer.

While that might be an exaggeration in regard to Kovalchuk, the drop-off in player movement since then is not.

Since July 1, the biggest names who have found a new home are Matthew Lombardi and Pavel Kubina. Most of the other moves have been small in scale, and centred around depth players and minor-leaguers.

Although this isn't an unusual phenomenon, as the cream of the yearly crop is generally scooped up as quickly as possible, there are still several quality players looking for work.

Teams looking for a veteran presence have plenty to choose from with players such as Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano, Doug Weight and Bill Guerin all awaiting a phone call.

Although these players represent hockey of a previous era, they would still be able to contribute effectively to a team in need of leadership or playoff experience.

Next up are the "goal scorers".

Leading this list are Russian snipers Maxim Afinogenov followed by former Maple Leafs Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak.

Based on his stats from last season, it would appear Afinogenov is in for a big raise. The speedy winger notched 24 goals and 61 points for the Atlanta Thrashers after signing a one-year $800,000 deal a year ago.

Afinogenov is certainly worthy of a raise, but after slumbering through two injury-shortened seasons in Buffalo prior to signing with the Thrashers, leery GM's might be hesitant to fork over the dough for a player with a battered past.

Stempniak had the most goals of the bunch, with 28 a season ago, although half of those came in an 18-game span after the Phoenix Coyotes acquired him at the trade deadline.

Despite his outlandish production post-trade deadline, it's unlikely Stempniak will cash in big with just over a month to go before training camps open up.

The biggest detriment to Ponikarovsky's value is his playoff performance in Pittsburgh after the Penguins traded for him at the deadline.

He put up five points in 11 games, but was also a healthy scratch twice. That said, he's been a consistent 20-goal scorer since the lockout and could compliment any team looking for scoring depth.

Several other players such as Marty Turco, Raffi Torres, Andy Sutton and Willie Mitchell should garner attention as well, but likely at reduced rates.

With younger players cracking the big leagues on entry-level contracts and budding stars signing lifelong deals, the once abundant and exciting free agent period has become a victim of salary cap-era management.

While free agency will always remain an option for teams looking to add a few pieces to the puzzle, the impact it once had on the league and the players involved has vanished temporarily.

For how long is anybody's guess.


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