Chris Drury, left, and Daniel Briere are two of the most coveted unrestricted free agents. (Don Heupel/Associated Press)
NHL GMs prepare to open pocketbooks
Last Updated Sat., June. 30, 2007
Now that the National Hockey League has announced a $50.3-million US salary cap for the 2007-08 season, it's time for general managers to rev up their engines for the free-agent derby.
Buffalo's Darcy Regier probably will be among the busiest leading up to the start of the free-agent season at noon ET Sunday, with standout forwards Daniel Briere and Chris Drury eligible to hit the open market.
Even with the rising salary cap up from $44 million US last season the popular belief is that Regier can only afford to ink one of Briere and Drury.
"Obviously, it's a sensitive time for us, and we feel that saying anything at all would be a hindrance to the negotiating process," Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn told the Buffalo News this week. "I'm sure it'll be an interesting weekend."
According to the News, Briere's agent Pat Brisson rejected a reported five-year, $25-million US offer from Regier.
Briere, who topped Buffalo with 95 points in 81 games last season, has joined Brisson in Southern California to evaluate any future offers from the Sabres or the 29 other NHL clubs.
"It's exciting," Briere said of free agency. "I've never been through it before. If it gets there, I just want to be around where it's going to happen and where my agent's going to be, so we can deal with it directly and not over the phone."
Philadelphia, Nashville, Montreal, Washington and Los Angeles are believed to be interested in the 29-year-old Briere, one of the quickest and most offensive-minded players in this year's free agent pool.
Drury, on the other hand, could be headed back to the Colorado, where he broke into the NHL in 1998. The Avalanche drafted the seven-time 20-goal scorer in the third round of the 1994 entry draft.
The Denver Post reported GM Francois Giguere should have about $10 million of cap space to lure free agents. It's expected Drury, coming off a 37-goal regular season and strong playoff (13 points in 16 games), could command a salary in the $6 million range.
Those GMs who lose out on the bidding for Briere or Drury could turn their attention to other skilled forwards such as Scott Gomez, Paul Kariya, Ryan Smyth, Slava Kozlov, Jason Blake, Brendan Shanahan, Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Yashin.
Joseph, Belfour among top available goalies
Curtis Joseph posted 18 wins and a 3.19 goals-against average for the Phoenix Coyotes last season. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
On defence, the list of potential unrestricted free agents includes Sheldon Souray, Brian Rafalski, Mathieu Schneider, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Roman Hamrlik and Brent Sopel.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere would have been the most attractive goaltender but he re-signed with the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks for four years and $24 million on June 21.
That leaves veterans Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour along with David Aebischer as the top available netminders.
Canada's six NHL teams are expected to pursue free agents with Smyth linked to his old team in Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.
Yashin could be reacquired by the Ottawa Senators, with whom he spent seven seasons and twice reached the 40-goal plateau.
Here is a breakdown of the Canadian squads and the potential plans for each:
2006-07 record: 43-29-10
96 points, 8th in Western Conference
Team payroll (as of May 9): $43.5 million US
Unrestricted free agents: RW Tony Amonte, LW Jeff Friesen, RW Darren McCarty, C Byron Ritchie, D Brad Stuart, D Roman Hamrlik, D Brad Ference, G Jamie McLennan
Outlook: General manager Darryl Sutter has said he likely won't make big splash in free agency after trading for veteran defenceman Adrian Aucoin on June 22 ... Top priority is re-signing Stuart, 27, who was acquired at February trade deadline and is a good complement to Robyn Regehr.
2006-07 record: 32-43-7
71 points, 12th in Western Conference
Team payroll: $40.9 million US
Unrestricted free agents: C Petr Sykora, C Petr Nedved, D Daniel Tjarnqvist, D Jan Hejda, G Jussi Markkanen
Outlook: Top scorer Sykora (53 points in 82 games) wants to return ... General manager Kevin Lowe said at recent NHL draft that he will target a backup goalie other than Markkanen ... Could reacquire defenceman Dick Tarnstrom, who played last season for Lugano of the Swiss League ... Have been linked to Scott Gomez, whom Lowe reportedly would flip to Philadelphia in a trade, possibly for blue-liner Joni Pitkanen ... Might be interested in 40-goal man Jason Blake, centre Mikael Nylander or any number of defencemen, including Brian Rafalski, Mathieu Schneider and Brad Stuart.
2006-07 record: 42-34-6
90 points, 10th in Eastern Conference
Team payroll: $43.2 million US
Unrestricted free agents: C Radek Bonk, C Mike Johnson, D Sheldon Souray, D Janne Niinimaa, G David Aebischer, G Yann Danis
Outlook: Would love to re-sign top defenceman Sheldon Souray (career-best 26 goals, 64 points last season) but recent signing of Andrei Markov to annual $5.75 million salary probably signalled his departure ... Reports suggest general manager Bob Gainey could take a run at Briere, a native of Gatineau, Que. ... Essentially need a new forward line with Alexander Perezhogin bolting to the Russian Elite League and Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson UFAs ... Could be interested in Chris Drury, Jason Blake, Todd Bertuzzi or Alexei Yashin.
2006-07 record: 48-25-9
105 points,4th in Eastern Conference
Team payroll: $43.6 million US
Unrestricted free agents: C Mike Comrie, D Tom Preissing
Outlook: Big talk in Ottawa is that restricted free-agent goaltender Ray Emery could receive an offer sheet. Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles might be in the market for a goalie ... Looking to shed payroll with backup netminder Martin Gerber and his two-year, $3.7 million US salary topping the list ... Reports suggest Preissing will not return ... Alexei Yashin's representative told the Ottawa Sun recently that they will contact the Senators about a possible return.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2006-07 record: 40-31-11
91 points,9th in Eastern Conference
Team payroll: $44.3 million US
Unrestricted free agents: C Mike Peca, RW Jeff O'Neill, C Yanic Perreault, LW Bates Battaglia, G Jean-Sebastien Aubin
Outlook: General manager John Ferguson reportedly has set aside at least $6 million for free agents, but has hinted he may be more active on the trade front this summer ... Ferguson wasted little time upgrading goaltending and forward positions, trading for former San Jose netminder Vesa Toskala and forward Mark Bell prior to recent NHL draft ... Potential UFA Mike Peca has said he isn't optimistic about returning ... Rumoured to have interest in notable free agents Chris Drury, Paul Kariya, Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth and Slava Kozlov.
2006-07 record: 49-26-7, 105 points, 3rd in Western Conference
Team payroll: $44.3 million US
Unrestricted free agents: C Bryan Smolinski, C Trevor Linden, LW Jan Bulis, D Brent Sopel, D Rory Fitzpatrick, G Dany Sabourin
Outlook: Re-signed potential UFA forward Jeff Cowan to two-year deal on June 28 ... General manager David Nonis opened contract talks with Linden this week, according to the Vancouver Province. Nonis has plenty of decisions to make with no less than nine UFAs ... At $2.4 million, Canucks are unlikely to bring back Sopel, who had five points in 20 games after February trade from Los Angeles ... Said to be interested in forwards Scott Gomez, Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth and Paul Kariya.