New type of player on NHL block

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Teams were officially allowed to start window shopping yesterday for free agents.

The real fireworks won't start until July 1, but the next four days could be an enticing sneak peek as this could be the year teams delve into a market that has been taboo for nearly a decade: Restricted free agents.

There hasn't been an offer sheet given to a restricted free agent since Carolina tried to sign Sergei Fedorov away from Detroit in 1997 (the Red Wings, for the record, matched the Hurricanes' offer).

Now, under Exhibit 15 of the CBA, agents for restricted players are allowed to open discussions with teams.

That means players like Ottawa's Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza, Ray Emery and Peter Schaefer -- who all require compensation if they were to sign elsewhere -- are allowed to see if anybody might be willing to take a chance with a Group II offer.

This new twist in the CBA is there to try and entice owners into signing players as restricted free agents. In the past, teams were forced to give up five first round draft picks, but that's not the case anymore.

For example, if the Sharks wanted to sign Havlat as a restricted free agent in the neighbourhood of $4 million (all terms US) a season, all it would cost them is No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 draft pick.

Yes, it sounds like a lot, but in reality it isn't. In the case of the Sharks, it means they could keep goalie Vesa Toskala and not have to give him up in trade to acquire Havlat from Ottawa.

Of course, the team signing Havlat would insist that he accept a five-year deal because it doesn't make sense to give up all that and then let him walk away at the end of next season.

The Senators would also have the right to match any offer given to Havlat -- or any of their other restricted free agents for that matter -- but it might cost the club more than it wants to spend.

The Senators might not be the team to make the jump into the restricted free-agent fray, but there is nothing to stop clubs like the Leafs and Rangers -- who have lots of money to spend with the cap set at $44 million -- from making a pitch.

"It's only going to take one," said a league source. "If one team decides to take the leap and sign a restricted free agent, then it might be the kind of thing that opens the floodgates and gets more teams involved."

GETTING READY: 67's coach and GM Brian Kilrea will be looking overseas to get help in today's Canadian Hockey League European draft. The QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads have the No. 1 pick and are expected to take Czech C Jakub Vondracek from Kladno. He's not eligible for the NHL draft until next year, but he is interested in coming to North America. Ottawa has the 12th pick in the draft. Kilrea said he has the names of four players on the club's list -- two goalies and two forwards. For competitive reasons, he didn't want to name names. "I look at the goaltending and I believe that's an area where we'd like to be able to get some depth," said Kilrea. "We've got lots of depth on defence and I believe that we've got depth up front. I look at our goaltending and I wouldn't mind if we were able to add a guy there." The import draft has been kind to the 67's in the past, with Ottawa picking the likes of Fs Lukas Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek. "We were able to get players out of here before and we think we're going to be able to get something this time," said Kilrea.


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