The NHL’s unrestricted free agent market will open July 1 and while the star free agent talent isn’t as deep, there’ll be enough available to generate the usual frenzied signings once the market opens at noon.
Here’s a look at the top potential unrestricted free agents of 2008 and where they might end up.
Marian Hossa: Despite suggesting he’d take less than market value to remain with the Penguins, he’s opted to test the UFA market.
The Bruins, Rangers, Canadiens and Red Wings could be keen to sign him, but Penguins GM Ray Shero said his team remained at the top of Hossa’s list, meaning the Slovak winger could give Shero a chance to match the best offer he gets on the open market.
Mats Sundin: The Toronto Maple Leafs gave the Montreal Canadiens permission to negotiate exclusively with the big center, signaling Sundin’s long tenure with the Leafs may be over. While there’s no guarantee he’ll sign with the Canadiens - or even return to the NHL next season - expect Habs GM Bob Gainey to pull out all the stops to get Sundin under contract.
If Gainey is successful, he’ll have to send something back to Toronto, which could be a player under contract to make room for Sundin’s potentially expensive new deal or, as rumored, a first or second round pick.
Brian Campbell: San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson is reportedly still trying to re-sign Campbell, but he’s allowed other teams to contact the blueliner’s agent.
Campbell’s status as the best defenseman available on this year’s market means his asking price will be expensive, up to $8 million per season. If that proves too rich for the Sharks, it won’t be for the Rangers. The Flyers are believed to be interested as well, but they’d have to dump considerable payroll to sign him.
Jaromir Jagr: Rangers management hopes to meet with him prior to July 1 and won’t rule out signing him after that date.
It’s been speculated Jagr could sign with Russian club Avangard-Omsk, but personal reasons – specifically, his model girlfriend – could keep him in New York for another season.
Wade Redden: He won’t be returning to the Senators. While his stock has dropped over the past two seasons, he should still attract considerable attention on the UFA market.
The Panthers were rumored to be interested, but with their recent acquisition of two defensemen from Phoenix – Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard - in the Olli Jokinen trade, they’re now likely looking to bolster their offense. The Rangers, Flyers, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks are possible suitors.
Ryan Malone: With Hossa headed to unrestricted free agency, the odds may improve for Malone to re-sign with the Penguins, but that depends on the club’s willingness to meet his asking price, rumored to be $5 million per season.
The Blue Jackets are definitely interested in Malone and even tried to acquire his rights from the Penguins before he stated his intention to hit the open market. The Wild, Canucks, Panthers, Bruins and Rangers could also bid for his services.
Brian Rolston: He wants to remain with the Wild and GM Doug Risebrough is keen to re-sign him, but both sides apparently cannot agree on Rolston’s value.
The 35-year-old Rolston remains one of the best two-way forwards in the game, so if he doesn’t sign a contract by July 1 expect a lot of teams - including the Canucks, Panthers, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Penguins, Bruins (his former club) and Lightning - to line up for his services.
Markus Naslund: It was expected Naslund would re-sign with the Canucks when his former agent Mike Gillis became the team’s new GM, but Gillis recently hinted that might not be the case.
Still, the possibility of re-signing with the Canucks is a good one if Naslund would accept a significant pay cut. The Red Wings have also been cited as a possible destination and if the Penguins fail to retain Hossa and/or Malone, Naslund could become an affordable alternative.
Mark Streit: The Canadiens’ intense pursuit of an impact forward coupled with their recent acquisition of Alex Tanguay likely means Streit won’t return to Montreal.
His breakthrough performance this season could earn him more than $3 million this summer, making him an affordable alternative for teams like the Blackhawks, Flyers, Lightning and Hurricanes.
Olaf Kolzig: He’s been the forgotten man amongst UFA players, particularly goaltenders, but with Nashville’s Dan Ellis off the market and Jose Theodore and Cristobal Huet likely to re-sign with their current teams, the veteran Kolzig could become the best available goalie this summer.
The fact Kolzig lost the starter’s job this season to Huet will hurt his value, but teams seeking goaltending depth (Senators, Kings) could find Kolzig an attractive option.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.