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THN.com Blog: Pens, Wings face different off-season challenges

There's no guarantee RFA goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be back with the Penguins next season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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There's no guarantee RFA goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be back with the Penguins next season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings hold their Stanley Cup parade today – like Montreal, they’ll take the usual route – and GM Ken Holland will be able to enjoy the festivities without too many contract worries hanging over his head.

Contrast that situation with Ray Shero in Pittsburgh. As the Penguins clean out their lockers today, Shero has all sorts of difficult decisions to make about the future of his team.

Holland first, though. With a roster as close to set as you’re going to find in today’s NHL and a lot of cap room to work with, Holland has it relatively easy. His most immediate concerns will be signing Valtteri Filppula and Brad Stuart before free agency starts July 1. Stuart should not be overly difficult, but Filppula might present a problem.

Filppula played well in the playoffs and enhanced his value. Should he become a restricted free agent July 1, there’s a good chance he’d be poached by another team and the Red Wings would either lose him or be forced to match the offer.

Beyond that, Holland has to make decisions on unrestricted free agents Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios, Andreas Lilja, Dallas Drake, Aaron Downey, Mark Hartigan and Darren McCarty, all of whom are easily replaceable. Should Chelios be willing to be the team’s seventh defenseman and sign for reasonable money, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it can’t get done.

On defense, the Red Wings have prospect Jonathan Ericsson – himself a restricted free agent – and could use Jimmy Howard to replace Hasek in goal.

In Pittsburgh, however, Shero has to come to a decision on UFAs Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Brooks Orpik, Jarkko Ruutu, Adam Hall, Pascal Dupuis, Mark Eaton and Ty Conklin and restricted free agent Marc-Andre Fleury.

The first thing the Penguins have to decide is whether or not they’re going to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap next season. There seems to be a sense they want to keep Hossa after his strong playoff, but then they run the risk of tying too much cap room to too few players, which can be a recipe for disaster.

So, too, would offering Malone the rumored $5 million long-term salary he’d be able to get on the open market.

With respect to Fleury, it looks as though Shero is going to have to play a game of chicken with his goaltender. Fleury gains RFA status July 1 and if the Penguins don’t sign him before then, the days following will be crucial.

Fleury will have to decide by July 5 whether or not to take the Penguins to arbitration. If he does, Pittsburgh will almost certainly opt for a two-year deal and Fleury’s arbitration comparables don’t really favor him.

Should Fleury not elect to go to arbitration, the Penguins can take him to arbitration by filing July 6. That would guarantee a one-year award and, more importantly, would prevent any other team from signing him to an offer sheet.

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If neither side files, Fleury runs the risk of being out on the open market with no takers, which would seriously diminish his bargaining power with the Penguins. The Penguins, on the other hand, risk either losing Fleury or being forced to match an offer if one comes his way.

Any way you look at it, Shero’s mettle as a GM is about to be seriously tested.

BALSILLIE WATCH
Bob McCown of The Fan 590 radio in Toronto reported Thursday that Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has cut a deal with Nashville Predators minority owner William Del Biaggio about purchasing his interest in the franchise. THN has confirmed the two have had discussions, but not that a deal is done.

A source close to the situation said Balsillie and Del Biaggio have discussed the possibility of Balsillie purchasing a minority interest in the Predators. Given Balsillie’s insistence that Canada should have at least one more NHL team, the situation has the potential to be an interesting one.

McCown also speculated Del Biaggio, a former minority owner in Pittsburgh and San Jose, could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as early as today. To be sure, Del Biaggio has endured his share of financial and legal troubles lately.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Friday that a San Francisco firm has notified 10 of its clients that Del Biaggio could have used their accounts as collateral for millions of dollars worth of loans.

San Jose boutique bank Merriman Curhan Ford is already being sued by three lenders who claim Del Biaggio used four trading accounts that were not his at the bank as collateral for loans to raise the money to buy his interest in the Predators.

WHEELER WATCH
Blake Wheeler, the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, will become an unrestricted free agent Sunday and there will be no shortage of teams bidding for him.

It marks the first time a player drafted that high has either gone back into the draft or become an unrestricted free agent.

Wheeler opted for a little-used provision in the collective bargaining agreement that stipulates once a player of a certain age and experience level leaves school, the team that drafted him has 30 days to sign him.

Wheeler has already informed the Phoenix Coyotes he has no intention of signing with them and will test the free agent market.

Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, was at Game 5 in Detroit. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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