Amid the euphoria expressed by hockey fans in Winnipeg over the return of the NHL to their fair city, questions have arisen over what the roster of the former Atlanta Thrashers will look like when it debuts in the Manitoba capital next season.
CapGeek.com's Matthew Wuest broke down Winnipeg's current roster and salary cap situation, noting it will have 15 players under contract for next season at a cap hit of $35.9 million.
Assuming the salary cap ceiling increases to $62 million as expected, that would leave a little more than $10 million Winnipeg would have to invest in payroll to exceed the mandated cap minimum of $46 million.
If True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman is willing to spend up to the cap ceiling, his team would have around $26 million to work with, but as Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette recently noted, Winnipeg fans shouldn't get their hopes up for any big free-spending moves.
Chipman has stated his club's philosophy will be to build through the draft and he's also suggested his team's payroll will stick close to the mid-way point, which will be roughly $52-$54 million.
Forget about the possibility of Brad Richards or other big-name unrestricted free agents signing with Winnipeg this summer.
That doesn't mean Winnipeg won't sign any UFAs, but it will likely look for affordable talent. The main focus will be re-signing its own key free agents.
Topping the list is 25-year-old captain and RFA left winger Andrew Ladd who, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, has arbitration rights. If he remains unsigned by July 1 and neither he nor the club has filed for arbitration, Ladd would become an offer sheet target.
He made $2.35 million this season and was reportedly close to re-signing before the club moved from Atlanta, but McKenzie claimed they couldn't agree on some final terms.
As both team captain and the club's leading scorer (with career highs in goals (29) and points with (59)), Ladd could see a raise to around $4 million per season.
Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press called for Ladd's re-signing to be “the first order of business.”
Ladd isn't the only key free agent to be re-upped. Right wingers Blake Wheeler and Anthony Stewart, plus promising defenseman Zach Bogosian are also restricted free agents. Of those three, Bogosian would be an offer sheet target.
Management must also decide if it'll offer new deals to UFAs such as right winger Radek Dvorak and defenseman Freddy Meyer.
FREE AGENT DECISIONS IN DETROIT
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland is reportedly set to open contract talks with several of his UFAs, including left winger Drew Miller and right winger Patrick Eaves. He also hopes to continue talks with pending-UFA defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
Holland indicated he'll decide later in the month if he'll extend contract offers to center Kris Draper and backup goalie Chris Osgood, both veteran UFAs.
The Detroit Free Press reported the Wings are interested in re-signing the 27-year-old Ericsson to a multi-year extension, but he rejected an offer around Christmastime and might decide to test the open market.
In a season-ending interview last month, however, Ericsson indicated his first priority was to remain with the Red Wings, though he acknowledged the possibility he’d earn more elsewhere.
GIGUERE’S FUTURE IN TORONTO UNCERTAIN
Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press recently wrote goaltender J-S Giguere is at a crossroads in his career.
Having recently recovered from a second sports hernia operation, Giguere acknowledged he doesn't know where he'll be playing next season.
An unrestricted free agent, the veteran netminder would prefer to return with the Toronto Maple Leafs, though it would have to be at a significantly reduced salary from the $6 million he earned this season.
Leafs GM Brian Burke admitted to Johnston via email Giguere remains an option for his team, but wanted to wait and see how well the goalie progressed in his recovery. Giguere, meanwhile, has extended the lease on his Toronto home until August, believing he'll know by then if he'll be returning with the Leafs or playing elsewhere.
Though he's no longer amongst the league's elite goaltenders Giguere, when healthy, would be a capable backup who could tutor promising youngster, James Reimer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 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 News.