Here are four key figures to keep in mind as the NHL's silly season officially commences on July 1:
All four will be big players as teams decide
The Habs revere their history more than any other team in the NHL, and justifiably so. Given the chance to commemorate a milestone like a centennial, you know they're going to go big. They've already got the All-Star Game and the Entry Draft set for the Bell Centre in 2009, but those events pale next to their most important pursuit. The Canadiens are very, very serious about competing for a 25th Stanley Cup to make the most of their centennial, and that means a big free agent splash is part of the plan.
In the aftermath of the offensive meltdown that derailed this season's playoff run, GM
That's why the Habs arranged a contingency deal with the Maple Leafs for exclusive negotiating rights to impending free agent
But Sundin, about to sign his last pro contract, is going to play it smart and wait until after July 1 to consider his options. That means the Leafs could come up empty-handed -- assuming Sundin doesn't shock everyone by re-signing in Toronto -- but not necessarily the Canadiens. Could be he finds them the best fit after taking stock of his situation, although Detroit and the New York Rangers could make otherwise compelling cases.
Sundin's agent approached the Leafs about giving the Rangers early negotiating rights (the request was denied, but it speaks loudly about his interest in the team), and the Wings seem like an ideal fit for a Swedish player looking for something good short term.
If it's not Sundin, Gainey will find another way to improve the Habs. Even after adding Tanguay's $5.25 million salary, their cap hit is in the vicinity of $42 million for 16 players. That leaves plenty of room to fill out the roster, even after the addition of a top-end player at $7-8 million.
Barring either of those two, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Habs add a less flashy, but still useful forward like
Who else is in a shopping mood? A short-term acquisition like Sundin makes ideal sense for the Wings. Although they have almost $16 million to spend next year, they can't afford to be tied down by a deal like the one Hossa is said to be seeking. Detroit has both
But it'll require a neat trick for Boston to take on the kind of salary, upwards of $6 million per on a long-term basis, that Campbell would demand. The B's already have nearly $50 million in commitments next season and have yet to re-sign key defenseman
The Blackhawks are another team with plenty of cap room that could be in pursuit of Hossa and Campbell, with
Looking for darkhorse free-spenders? Keep an eye on the Thrashers, Blue Jackets and Islanders. All three appear to have massive cap space (anywhere from $15-$20 million), and while they don't offer the competitive advantage that some UFAs will require, their ability to throw mountains of cash may cover up their shortcomings. Plus, all three teams will need to make some additions in order to hit that $40.7 million salary floor.
And while all this is going on, several teams need to address their own restricted free agents or risk exposing them to the type of offer sheets to that led to
The most noteworthy target could be Anaheim's
Other notable RFAs include