Fire sale for remaining free agents

Former Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe (left) is one of a handful of unrestricted free agents...

Former Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe (left) is one of a handful of unrestricted free agents who have yet to sign with an NHL team for the 2011-12 season. (GETTY PHOTO)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:32 PM ET

Brian Burke indicated not quite two weeks ago that he was finished with signing free agents and itís not hard to see why.

Itís mostly an aging group of unrestricted free agents who remain without a contract as the calendar chugs toward the end of July.

Burkeís to-do list has on it the re-signing of defenceman Luke Schenn, who is a restricted free agent. The Maple Leafs general manager is on vacation until next week, and itís believed no talks with Don Meehan, Schennís agent, will start in earnest until Burke returns to work.

While he takes some time off, itís unlikely Burke is poring over the list of players who are looking for a home and wondering whether any can help.

Thereís something else to consider. Chances are good that if a free agent is going to help a team in the playoffs, he has been signed by that team by now.

There were some serviceable parts signed by clubs from mid-July onward a year ago, but few made large impacts. Forward Alexander Frolov moved to the New York Rangers from the Los Angeles Kings, but had just 16 points in 43 games on Broadway. Alexei Ponikarovsky was a bust in Tinseltown, scoring five goals in 61 games after hitting 20 goals in four of the previous five seasons. That didnít stop the Carolina Hurricanes from signing Ponikarovsky to a one-year deal this month.

Marty Turco and Mike Modano both left the Dallas Stars to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings respectively, but neither could get a solid footing in his new uniform. The Minnesota Wild signed centre John Madden, who had won the Cup with the Blackhawks, and he had 25 points in 76 games.

The Leafs got lucky, in that the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from Clarke MacArthurís arbitration award of $2.4 million US. A month later, the Leafs signed MacArthur to a one-year, $1.1-million deal. It turned out to be one of the best signings of the summer, as the Leafs got quite a return on their relatively inexpensive investment when MacArthur finished with career highs in every offensive category (62 points on 21 goals and 41 assists in 82 games). MacArthur was headed for arbitration again this summer, but the Leafs wisely nipped that in the bud when they signed the 26-year-old to a two-year pact worth $6.5 million.

Incidentally, it will be intriguing to see whether any teams thumb their noses at arbitration awards in the coming weeks. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin on Wednesday when Lauri Korpikoski of the Phoenix Coyotes and Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning are slated to have their cases heard. There had been 20 players headed for arbitration, but seven, including Brad Richardson of the Kings and Brian Boyle of the Rangers, have signed. Of the 13 remaining, keep an eye on two: Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber, whose date is Aug. 2, and New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise, who is scheduled to go before an arbitrator a day later. Can you imagine either of the Predators or Devils showing up to the hearings and trying to disparage these players?

Back to those who we know are still out there. Most, we think, will wind up finding jobs. There are at least four clubs ó the New York Islanders, the Predators (who will be adding salary with Weber), the Colorado Avalanche, the Phoenix Coyotes ó who still have not reached the salary floor of $48.3-million. So there is money to be spent.

But no one who is looking for work will get a raise, and itís probable they will be looking at significant pay cuts. And, in most cases, it will be buyer beware. If a guy remains unemployed now, itís debatable how much he will be able to help in crunch time.


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