Free agency less than month away

June, 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL's free-agent market opens in just less than a month, so we thought we'd check in with a few GMs after their meeting Wednesday to see what was up on several fronts.

New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils have two very prominent players headed for unrestricted free agency July 1: defenseman Paul Martin and winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has begun talks with both camps.

"We certainly continue to talk, and whatever can be done will be done," Lamoriello told "But certainly things have to be realistic and the concept of the overall picture. But Paul we'd like to keep. Kovalchuk, in all fairness to him, did a great job for us. We'll see what happens."

Translation: The focus will be on trying to re-sign Martin, while Kovalchuk appears market-bound.

The defensemen

The Sens would hate to lose shut-down blueliner Anton Volchenkov to unrestricted free agency; but, right now, it looks like it's going to be the case.

"I know what they're asking for, and they know what I've offered," Sens GM Bryan Murray told "We haven't talked for a while, and for the moment, it doesn't seem like I can find the dollars to make it happen."

Veteran forward Matt Cullen also will be a UFA, but he's on the back burner while Murray focuses on Volchenkov, or perhaps Volchenkov's replacement.

"Matt indicated that there's interest on his part, but I guess I've been holding him off because I'm trying to use some of the money for a defenseman," Murray said. "So I'll just have to wait and see what happens there."

Volchenkov, Martin, Sergei Gonchar of the Penguins and Dan Hamhuis of the Predators headline the UFA blueliners, although others include Johnny Boychuk of the Bruins; Zbynek Michalek, Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris of the Coyotes; Pavel Kubina of the Thrashers; Dennis Seidenberg of the Bruins; Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder of the Sabres; Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Canadiens; Mike Mottau of the Devils; Brian Pothier of the Hurricanes; Andy Sutton of the Senators; Jordan Leopold of the Penguins; Niclas Wallin of the Sharks; Carlo Colaiacovo of the Blues; Kurtis Foster of the Lightning; Willie Mitchell of the Canucks; and Joe Corvo of the Caps.

We're not counting Scott Niedermayer, who also is a UFA but likely would play only in Anaheim if he decides to return for another season. Niedermayer's agent, Kevin Epp of Titan Sports Management, told on Monday night that he remains undecided about his playing future right now.

While Gonchar's agent J.P. Barry had a lengthy meeting with Pens GM Ray Shero last week in Toronto (the two sides hope to speak again soon), it doesn't sound promising on the Hamhuis front in Nashville.

"We're going to have some conversations obviously before July 1," Preds GM David Poile told reporters after the GMs' meeting. "That would be my first priority, to re-sign him. Is it likely to happen with where our budget is? It's going to be difficult."

An option would be to trade his rights, like Florida did with pending UFA Jay Bouwmeester at last year's draft.

"If I'm not going to sign him, I would love to do that," Poile said. "That's hard to do. I don't think there's been too many deals; last year, Bouwmeester went for a third-round pick. They're hard to do. You've got to find a very motivated team and the player has to be very willing to play for that team, so that's a hard scenario to work, but it's certainly a possible situation. But I won't be by myself trying to do that [during the] last week of June, either."

In the meantime, one situation to keep a close eye on is that of Nashville's No. 1 defenseman, Shea Weber, who is entering the final year of his contract in 2010-11. While he would still have one more year of restricted free agency starting in July 2011, Poile confirmed to that approaching him this summer to sign an extension makes sense in order to avoid the kind of drama Atlanta faced with Kovalchuk this season.

"I haven't had any discussions yet, but it's certainly something that we'd like to do sooner rather than later, maybe this summer or the beginning of the season," Poile said. "I don't want to put a timetable to it, but that's all part and parcel of how you have to operate these days."

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks have some big decisions to make before July 1 when it comes to pending UFAs Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov. GM Doug Wilson would not comment Wednesday. But with pay raises due for both restricted free agents Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi, we're not sure how Wilson can keep both Nabokov and Marleau. One maybe, but not both.

Meanwhile, we suspect future Hall of Famer Rob Blake will retire, which would force Wilson to replace him with a top-four blueliner.

Dallas Stars

In Dallas, the Stars await the decisions from pending UFAs Jere Lehtinen and Mike Modano on their playing futures.

"I've met with him; he's still taking the time [to mull over his future]," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told regarding Lehtinen. "There's no doubt he can play. His body has let him down I think in the last few years, but he's such a good player and competitor. We'll see."

On Modano, Nieuwendyk said, "He's kind of in the same boat."

St. Louis Blues and Kariya

The St. Louis Blues haven't yet decided what to do with forward Paul Kariya and Colaiacovo, both UFAs.

"We haven't really had any discussions yet," said Doug Armstrong, who officially takes over as GM on July 1. "We're going to get through our amateur meetings, get through our pro meetings. We've got a good three weeks between now and the entry draft. We're going to reconvene and talk to everybody, get a finalization where we want to go on player salaries internally, and then I'll get back to those guys [Kariya, Colaiacovo] and let them know of the situation moving forward."


The headline forwards who are eligible UFAs are Kovalchuk, Marleau, Ray Whitney of the Hurricanes, Tomas Plekanec of the Canadiens, Alexander Frolov of the Kings and Olli Jokinen of the Rangers. Not a deep class for the elite, first-line forwards this season. We're not counting Teemu Selanne, since he will either play for the Ducks or retire.

Other UFA-eligible forwards include Saku Koivu of the Ducks; Maxim Afinogenov and Slava Kozlov of the Thrashers; Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan of the Bruins; Raffi Torres of the Blue Jackets; Craig Conroy, Christopher Higgins and Eric Nystrom of the Flames; Adam Burish and John Madden of the Blackhawks; Marek Svatos and Darcy Tucker of the Avalanche; Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom of the Red Wings; Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani of the Oilers; and Glen Metropolit and Dominic Moore of the Habs.

Rounding out the forwards list are Rob Niedermayer of the Devils; Doug Weight of the Islanders; Vaclav Prospal of the Rangers; Arron Asham of the Flyers; Robert Lang, Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak of the Coyotes; Matt Cooke, Bill Guerin and Alexei Ponikarovsky of the Penguins; Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol of the Sharks; Kyle Wellwood of the Canucks; Brendan Morrison and Scott Walker of the Caps.


There is a long list of UFA-eligible goalies, led by Nabokov. There's also Marty Turco of the Stars, Michael Leighton and Ray Emery of the Flyers, Chris Mason of the Blues, Jose Theodore of the Caps, Dan Ellis of the Preds, Martin Biron of the Islanders, Antero Niittymaki of the Lightning, Johan Hedberg of the Thrashers, Patrick Lalime of the Sabres, Manny Legace of the Hurricanes, Vesa Toskala of the Flames, Peter Budaj of the Avs, Wade Dubielewicz of the Wild, Alex Auld and Steve Valiquette of the Rangers, and Andrew Raycroft of the Canucks.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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