The Nashville Predators parted ways with Dan Ellis via free agency and Jason Arnott via trade this summer. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s the middle of July, which means two things: one, millions of hockey fans are looking wistfully at any and all arenas they happen to pass by; and two, much of the important off-season roster shuffling among NHL franchises has been completed.
This year, though, there appears to be some significant unfinished business. Big-name free agents such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Marty Turco have yet to sign with a team; and certain organizations have over-stocked themselves in a particular area, leading many to presume those teams are preparing for more transactions to come.
Let’s take a brief look at five teams that are virtually set to start the season with their current complement of players – and five teams that very likely will make more moves before September rolls around.
More to Come:
If the Kings fail to reel in Kovalchuk, there are no indications GM Dean Lombardi & Co. will simply settle for the team L.A. has right now. Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle has been linked to trade talks with the Kings – and that may continue regardless of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. And the team’s evolution is such that Lombardi is in position to move young players for a veteran acquisition or two in order to make the post-season jump Chicago made last spring.
After the signing of former Red Wings blueliner Brett Lebda, Leafs GM Brian Burke told THN, “You don’t get through a season without depth on D.” But who’s kidding who? Kaberle is going to be traded for much-needed help up front and even after that, Leafs fans still could see a couple veteran forwards brought in on one-year deals.
According to the indispensable capgeek.com, the Flyers are $1.4 million over the cap limit – permissible in the off-season – and still haven’t signed Daniel Carcillo or Darroll Powe to new contracts. Simon Gagne is the leading candidate to be dealt, but don’t be shocked if Philly GM Paul Holmgren looks at alternative solutions to his cap crunch.
When he signed Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million offer sheet last week, Sharks GM Doug Wilson made it clear he was not going to look for an internal replacement for the retired Rob Blake. Should the Hawks match the offer for their restricted free agent blueliner, look for Wilson to aggressively pursue Kaberle.
Everybody knows the Bruins would move Tim Thomas and Marc Savard this minute if they could, but – especially in Thomas’ case – that’s much easier said than done. The Bruins have $1.7 million in available cap space, but they’ve also got to re-up RFA Blake Wheeler. Something’s got to give.
Done And Done-er:
The Flames have just $650,000 of available salary cap space – and still need to re-sign RFA defenseman Ian White, who filed for arbitration. Calgary GM Darryl Sutter had best hope a European team can take Ales Kotalik off his payroll, or he may be forced into other moves. But, other than a few possible minor tweaks, this seems to be the group Sutter will go to battle with.
Give GM George McPhee credit: he said he wasn’t going to throw money around in the off-season – and unlike Rangers Emperor-For-Life Glen Sather, he followed through on promises of fiscal prudence. Once McPhee signs RFA Tomas Fleischmann, he’ll probably have about $5-6 million in unused cap space – and 20 players signed for next season – yet all indications are McPhee values having cap flexibility to make moves during the year.
GM Ken Holland knew the cap crunch would whittle down Detroit’s impressive talent base, but he’s done yeoman’s work in softening the blow. With less than $4 million in cap room, though, this is as soft as the blow gets. The Wings will be hoping for a couple depth signings of players willing to take less money to contend for a Stanley Cup, but they’re basically done.
Few teams understand the NHL’s now-unavoidable off-season player carousel better than the budget-conscious Predators, so it was no surprise to see GM David Poile bid farewell to veterans Jason Arnott, Dan Ellis, Dan Hamhuis and Dustin Boyd this summer. The Preds likely will sign a veteran backup goalie and a depth defenseman – and bump up the pay grade of Patric Hornqvist – but the majority of their nearly $17 million in cap space will remain unused.
The Canadiens have $5.6 million to spend, but new deals for RFAs Carey Price and Maxim Lapierre will eat up most of that money, leaving GM Pierre Gauthier to pick through the scraps of free agency to fill out his roster.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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