Uncertainty rules in NHL offseason

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Remember the term "cost certainty" coming out of the lockout to begin the 2005 -06 season? Sounded reasonable, even plausible.

Problem is, uncertainty has rampaged ever since, including revenue fluctuations and the unforeseen strategy of teams signing players to extraordinarily long contracts to amortize the annual cap hit. This summer's headlines surely indicate that the unknown has usurped the specter of the known. Take everything from John Tortorella rolling out the welcome wagon for DonaldBrashear mere months after the defender's vicious head-shot on Blair Betts to the league's ongoing desert drama with the Phoenix Coyotes ownership.

From coast to coast, every team seemingly has questions. The button-downed New Jersey Devils acted in good faith and released head coach Brent Sutter so he can tend to family matters, only to have him wind up coaching the Calgary Flames. The Chicago Blackhawks sign Marian Hossa to one of those fancy schmancy long-term deals and then have to backtrack when he went under the knife last week to repair a rotator cuff. Now, the 'Hawks aren't sure when they can expect a healthy Hossa.

Kind of takes the shine off the signing -- especially when you factor in next season's contract dilemma with both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane coming due after their three-year entry-level deals expire. In fact, uncertainty has reigned supreme in the Windy City since the heady stuff of last season, with GM Dale Tallon removed and replaced by Stan Bowman with the sordid details of failed qualifying offers never really sorted out.

Assistant GM Rick Dudley fled the chaos in Chicago and landed in Atlanta, where the Thrashers continue to wait and see what captain Ilya Kovalchuk will do in this, the last year of his current contract. In Columbus, the Blue Jackets had their captain in the same situation and Rick Nash opted to "remove any doubt of his commitment" by signing a long-term deal. The Thrashers are looking for Kovalchuk to follow suit, even if it is for a shorter term.

The question remains the same in both markets: Have the Thrashers done enough to show upward mobility with the addition of Dudley to the front office and the acquisition of Nik Antropov -- whom Kovalchuk helped sway -- and defenseman Pavel Kubina to appease their captain? And by mostly standing pat, are the Blue Jackets strong enough to make the postseason again?

A new twist on arbitration has some unwanted unknowns surfacing in Detroit. The case of Jiri Hudler goes to court this week and at stake is whether the NHL's arbitration process is in and of itself binding, or is a contract in hand from Russia's KHL valid, prior to a contract amount being determined for a on-year award in the NHL process. If Hudler walks, Ville Leino certainly can step in.

But that's hardly the point. The NHL doesn't want its own arbitration process to be a weak point -- one the KHL can exploit by poaching players. And from the Wings' standpoint, yes, they have the depth to weather an unfavorable ruling, but they prefer to control when their young players make the big club's roster.

It's just one of many examples of uncertain times impacting the NHL this summer. And I didn't even get to the economy...