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Stars, Flyers face uncertain summer

Mike Modano will likely return for his 18th NHL season in 2008-09. (Photo by: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Mike Modano will likely return for his 18th NHL season in 2008-09. (Photo by: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

For the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars, the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs were a success. The Flyers were only one season removed from missing the post-season, while it had been three seasons since the Stars advanced past the first round.

By advancing to the conference final both clubs now face heightened expectations from their fans to follow up on this year’s success.

The Stars have wasted little time in their preparations for next season, re-signing co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson and head coach Dave Tippett to three-year contract extensions.

Long-time Stars forward Mike Modano said he’ll return next season, but the futures of several of his teammates remain uncertain.

Veterans Stu Barnes and Mattias Norstrom are slated to become unrestricted free agents this summer and may also be considering retirement. Should they both opt to return, the Stars could place more emphasis on re-signing Norstrom.

Other potential UFAs include forwards Niklas Hagman, Antti Miettinen, Toby Petersen and Brad Winchester and backup goalie Johan Holmqvist.

The most likely to be retained are Petersen and Holmqvist. Hagman and Miettinen struggled offensively in the post-season, which could factor into any potential decision by management to re-sign them.

With just over $43 million committed to payroll next season the Stars have the cap space to re-sign restricted free agents Loui Eriksson and Trevor Daley to affordable new contracts and still have enough to retain their key UFAs and perhaps add scoring depth via the unrestricted free agent market.

The Flyers, on the other hand, face more difficult decisions.

GM Paul Holmgren would like to re-sign restricted free agents Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger and Randy Jones, but with over $47 million already committed to next year’s payroll, Holmgren probably won’t have enough cap space to retain the three even though the upper limit is expected to rise to around $56 million next season.

Holmgren also has to consider whether to retain any of his unrestricted free agents. Vaclav Prospal, Jason Smith, Jaroslav Modry and Jim Dowd fall into that category and if speculation in the Philadelphia media is anything to go by, Holmgren will cut those players loose and focus on re-signing his younger talent.

But not retaining his impending UFAs won’t solve Holmgren’s cap problem; he’s going to have to consider other options.

He could get $3.5 million freed up for next season if veteran blueliner Derian Hatcher retires, but that’s not a guarantee as Hatcher has stated he wants to return and play out the final season of his contract.

Another possibility is if forward Simon Gagne is still hampered by post-concussion symptoms that sidelined him for most of this season. If Gagne has to stay on long-term injury status throughout next season it’ll free up $5.25 million, but recent reports suggest he could be returning to the Flyers lineup next season.

Holmgren could dump some salary via trades, which would give him cap space for Carter, Umberger and Jones, but he also has to address his blueline’s lack of mobility. After re-signing his key RFAs there likely won’t be enough cap space left to get a puck-moving defenseman on the free agent market, though.

What he could do is trade one or two forwards in cost-cutting deals to free up salary so he can re-sign his key players and perhaps shop another forward for a mobile defenseman.

Potential trade bait includes Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul or Scottie Upshall, although at nearly $7 million in combined salaries, there still won’t be enough cap space to fully address all Holmgren’s needs, unless Hatcher’s salary can also be taken out of the equation.

Since taking over as the Flyers’ GM early last season Holmgren has earned justifiable praise for his wise moves that turned the Flyers from an also-ran into a conference finalist within a year. However, the decisions he’ll face this summer will be the biggest test of his management skills to date.

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.

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