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Cup finalists will have busy off-seasons

Brad Stuart is one of eight UFAs the Red Wings will have to deal with this summer. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Brad Stuart is one of eight UFAs the Red Wings will have to deal with this summer. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As the Stanley Cup final draws to a close, both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins will soon turn their attention toward their respective off-season plans.

Like the other 28 NHL teams, the priority for both clubs will be determining which of their impending free agents – particularly the unrestricted ones - to retain.

The Wings have eight players of note – goaltender Dominik Hasek, defensemen Chris Chelios, Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja, and forwards Dallas Drake, Aaron Downey, Darren McCarty and Mark Hartigan – eligible for UFA status this summer.

Hasek and Drake could retire, while Downey and Lilja might not be retained. GM Ken Holland has expressed a willingness to re-sign Chelios and Stuart, and McCarty’s comeback this season might earn him a new contract.

Chelios will likely accept another affordable one-year deal around $1 million, but Stuart is expected to seek a multi-year deal worth at least as much as the $3.5 million he earned this season.

Stuart signed that contract with the L.A. Kings last summer and resurrected his faltering career after the Red Wings acquired him at the trade deadline.  He might be willing to accept a slightly lesser salary to secure a long-term contract to remain with Detroit.

The Wings have two restricted free agents of note in forward Valtteri Filppula and goalie Jimmy Howard.

Filppula has made steady improvement over the past two seasons and his 19 goals and 36 points in 2007-08 could earn him double his current $733,333 average salary.

With Hasek likely to retire and Chris Osgood now firmly entrenched, again, as the Wings starting goalie, Howard should be retained as Osgood’s backup.

Holland presently has around $40 million committed to 15 players for next season and it could take another $10 million to retain more of his free agents. With the salary cap expected to reach $56 million for next season, it would leave him ample space to pursue additional depth via free agency.

Recent media speculation claimed the Wings would be among the front-runners for the services of Mats Sundin if he decides not to re-sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but to afford his rumored asking price (two years, $16 million) Holland would have to either re-sign his other free agents for considerably less or allow a potentially expensive veteran like Stuart to walk.

Holland also has to look beyond next season with his cap space before committing long term to an expensive UFA like Sundin.

Forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson are eligible for UFA status in July 2009.

Zetterberg is already an established superstar and could command more than $10 million per season on next summer’s open market. Franzen is the leading goal-scorer in this year’s playoffs and could stand to triple his money next summer if he carries that post-season scoring touch into next season. Samuelsson has carved a niche as a strong checking forward who can also chip in offensively and could earn twice the $1.2 million he’ll make for 2008-09.

Should Holland decide to extend those three this summer rather than risk negotiations becoming a distraction throughout next season, he might be less willing to pursue expensive free agents seeking long-term deals this summer.

Regardless of Holland’s potential moves, his roster for 2008-09 will be nearly similar to this season’s, boding well for another potential run for the Stanley Cup next spring.

The same, however, cannot be said for the Penguins, whose roster will likely have a whole new look thanks to free agency.

Nine noteworthy Penguins – goalie Ty Conklin, defenseman Brooks Orpik and forwards Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Jarkko Ruutu, Adam Hall and Pascal Dupuis – are eligible for UFA status, while goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is a restricted free agent eligible to receive offer sheets from rival teams.

It’s been reported the Penguins ownership is willing to spend far more over the next two seasons on payroll, absorbing any potential losses while awaiting the opening of a new, larger arena for the 2010-11 season.
Presently, Penguins GM Ray Shero has a payroll for 2008-09 sitting around $33 million for 12 players, but even if he were to spend close to the anticipated $56 million cap ceiling for next season, Shero won’t have enough cap space to keep this current roster intact.

Hossa is unlikely to accept anything less than $7 million per season. Malone expressed his desire to stay, but not for a “hometown discount” and could get bids of nearly $5 million per season on the open market. Orpik apparently clashed at times with head coach Michel Therrien and his physical game would attract several suitors this summer. It’s possible Ruutu and Roberts could move on if their salary demands prove too expensive.

Fleury’s strong performance since returning from a high ankle sprain and the possible threat of offer sheets could push his value into the $5 million per season range. 

Moreover, young Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Maxime Talbot are eligible for RFA status next summer. Malkin and Staal won’t be cheap to retain as the former could seek more than $9 million per season, while Staal could be in line for a payday in the $3 million range.

It’s believed Shero will focus his attention on locking up the young stars like Malkin, Fleury and Staal to long-term deals at the expense of most of the veteran UFAs.

That makes sense for the future, but in the short term it could significantly gut the Penguins’ roster for next season, leaving Shero scrambling to fill the gaps with affordable, lesser-talented players.

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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