By next Tuesday, July 1, the National Hockey League could very well have more than 200 unrestricted free agents.
Included on the list are Buffalo defenceman Teppo Numminen, Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, Calgary forwards Kristian Huselius, Craig Conroy, Owen Nolan, Daymond Langkow and Stephane Yelle, Calgary goalie Curtis Joseph, Colorado veterans Peter Forsberg, John-Michael Liles, Jose Theodore, Andrew Brunette, Adam Foote and Joe Sakic, Detroit defencemen Andreas Lilja and Brad Stuart, L.A. Kings defenceman Rob Blake, Rangers veterans Sean Avery and Jaromir Jagr, Ottawa defenceman Wade Redden, Pittbsurgh’s Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts and two Manitobans from the New Jersey Devils, Arron Asham and Bryce Salvador.
Roberts and Hossa have already made it clear they won’t be re-signing with the Penguins, a team that must get long-term deals done in the next couple of years with Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin.
Sakic won’t make a decision — and neither will the Avs — until Sakic becomes a free agent.
Jagr will probably sign with the Rangers, but Avery is headed to free-agency.
Calgary could be a completely different team season.
This coming season, the salary cap will rise to $57 million. That’s quite a significant number and proves that having salaries tied to league revenue is a concept that makes incredible sense (too bad that dummy Bob Goodenow didn’t understand it and we lost an entire NHL season). In fact, when the NHL gassed a season to get a collective bargaining agreement, the league paid out $1.2 billion in player salaries. In 2008-09, it will, potentially, pay out $1.71 billion in salaries. And Goodenow didn’t like this idea? One gets the sense that if Goodenow wasn’t a lawyer, he’d qualify for Special Olympics.
Still, with $57 million to work with (and, granted, not all teams will use all $57 million in available salary cap money), many teams are watching closely how they spend their cash. Some teams want to get younger. They’ll let high-priced veterans go elsewhere. Some teams feel they are on the verge of a Cup run, they might chase a Selanne, Sakic or Hossa.
Regardless, there are more than 200 free agents because teams are counting their dollars before they make offers and those 29 teams that didn’t win the Cup are figuring that the players they had weren’t good enough so it might be time to look at somebody else.
This week, the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed Mats Sundin to negotiate with Montreal, released goalie Andrew Raycroft and forward Kyle Wellwood and bought out veteran winger Darcy Tucker. The Leafs are breaking down before they re-build and the one thing Cliff Fletcher said he would do, is find the money necessary to take a serious look at what’s available on hockey’s version of e-Bay.
This year, there will be plenty of free-agent action. In fact, it will be more fun than the draft. But the reason so many players have come free is that so many teams want to make sure they have the cap money available to get better.
On Tuesday, we start the NHL’s second season and it might be more interesting the the first. We’ve come to this point because the league now has a salary cap and the salary cap, at least one tied to revenues, is good, not only for competitive hockey, but for the players wallets.
Now all the league needs to do is get some of those financially weak U.S. teams to re-locate to Canada and then everybody will be better off.