Luongo's off the list, but there are other 2010 free agents to watch

September, 3, 2009

This past season, Jay Bouwmeester, Marian Gaborik and the Sedin twins dominated the rumor mill all year because of their impending free-agent status.

Would they stay or would they go?

Every NHL city they went to, that was the question posed to them. It's the kind of distraction teams and players try to avoid at nearly all costs. That's why you saw Rick Nash, Chris Pronger and Roberto Luongo sign contract extensions this summer; scratch their names off the 2010 unrestricted free-agent list.

So, where does that leave us?

Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 189 goals over four seasons since the lockout, is clearly the headliner entering the 2009-10 season, the top name who will be dogged by questions surrounding his future because of his free-agent status next summer.

Atlanta is doing its best right now to avoid that circus. GM Don Waddell lived it two years ago with Marian Hossa (whom he was forced to trade at the deadline). He doesn't want to live it again.

"We've had very, very constructive meetings and phone calls with Jay Grossman [Kovalchuk's agent]," Waddell told on Thursday. "Things are on hold right now. Ilya was getting ready for the Olympic camp in Russia. So it's on hold until he gets back here in the U.S. [next week]. Then we can have some face-to-face meetings.

"We've made an offer, and they've made a counter-offer. If you compare that to the Hossa situation, we made an offer and never got anything back. So, in this case, we're exchanging numbers, and to me, that's a positive sign."

Waddell has been at it since this past spring. He knows how distracting it would be for this to drag on all season.

"I don't think it's good for anybody if it doesn't get done, for us as an organization or the player even, because it's going to be the No. 1 question for all of us all year long," Waddell said. "Our goal remains very strong to sign him. If it gets to a point where we don't think it can happen, then we'll have to see what our options are like."

After Kovalchuk, there are other big names, such as Marc Savard in Boston. The talented playmaker will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"We have a number of players who want to get started on negotiations, including Marc, and Marc's been a very valuable part of our team," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told "We have to look ahead into unchartered waters right now with respect to the salary cap. So we're being very cautious in anything we do as far as committing future money. But otherwise, I don't comment on negotiations."

A contract year is always a nice carrot for a player to have a big season. In Savard's case, not being invited to the Canadian Olympic camp might make him even hungrier.

"As far as Marc not being invited to the Canadian Olympic camp, I think it's a shame, and I've expressed that to Marc," Chiarelli said. "I know he's going to build on it and be motivated by it."

But like many GMs, Chiarelli likely needs to wait until he has some sense of next season's NHL financial landscape before handing out extensions. The salary cap barely budged this season, but that's because most of the NHL's revenues were in the bank last September before the economic crash. Everyone is holding their breath to see what will happen this season.

In San Jose, where goalie Evgeni Nabokov and center Patrick Marleau are both UFAs after the season, the Sharks also must proceed with caution.

"They're homegrown people we have great respect for," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told "As we go forward this year, the key factor is to see with the economy and where the cap gets to next year."

Nabokov isn't the only veteran goalie who is UFA-bound after 2009-10. Marty Turco, who has played his entire NHL career in Dallas, is in a contract year and will try to bounce back after struggling at times this past season. But with a new coach and new GM, the Stars likely will wait to see how the season starts before doling out new deals.

"I want to get off to a start here and see where we're at," first-year Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told us. "It's not just Marty; we've got a number of guys we need to sign next summer."

Including defenseman Stephane Robidas, who likely is no longer under the radar after his surprise invite to the Canadian Olympic camp.

"Well, you know what, I don't think he was under the radar," Nieuwendyk said. "Everybody here in Dallas knows how important he is and how valuable he is. He's a guy you win with. We'd like to have Robie long term for sure."

The top defenseman on the 2010 UFA list (not counting Nicklas Lidstrom, who would never leave Detroit) is Sergei Gonchar. His agent, J.P. Barry, was slated to be in Pittsburgh on Friday to begin talks with the Stanley Cup champions.

"We'll just meet and see where we are. It'll be our first chance to get together," Penguins GM Ray Shero told us Thursday. "We'll compare notes and see where we are. He's been a really good player for us, on and off the ice."

But Shero has to fit Gonchar under the cap with a team already committing big dollars to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal, among others.

Paul Martin is another interesting blueliner headed into the final year of his deal. He's an underrated player on a New Jersey team that will miss him deeply if it can't sign him to an extension. Veteran Devils GM Lou Lamoriello never, ever discusses contract talks with the media, but he thinks highly of the potential U.S. Olympian.

"There's no question we want Paul to be a Devil as long as he wants to be," Lamoriello told "Other than that, whatever is discussed or not discussed [contract-wise], I just don't feel it's healthy to share [with the media]."

The Los Angeles Kings also have an important player who is UFA-bound in July: star forward Alexander Frolov. The Kings are on the rise with an impressive core to build around.

"It's all about fitting him in the big picture," said Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who will have a number of young players to re-sign over the next few years. "But we do intend to talk to him soon. We have had some dialogue and we want to continue that. This is on my to-do list."

Said Frolov's veteran agent, Don Meehan: "L.A. simply said to us that at some point we'll have discussions, but there's no time table on it."

In Calgary, the Flames are right up against the cap with a talented squad that added Bouwmeester during the offseason. Where that leaves UFA-bound Olli Jokinen remains to be seen.

"Management wants to see how the team plays early in the season and what role Olli has in that, and then we'll see how we proceed from there," said Jokinen's agent, Mark Gandler. "It looks like the changes the team made are positive changes, and it's the right team for Olli. I know Olli feels that way and the GM feels that way. So we'll see what happens."

And, finally, in St. Louis, veteran star winger Paul Kariya is entering his final year. Contract talks haven't started yet, agent Don Baizley said, as the Blues want to wait and see how the forward recovers from a pair of hip surgeries.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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