NHL free agency: Western Conference preview
It's a Canada Day tradition on par with fireworks, barbecues and trips to the cottage: the start of NHL free agency.
The big names hitting the open market this year include Red Wings forward Marian Hossa, Wild sniper Marian Gaborik, Canucks playmakers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Blackhawks speedster Martin Havlat.
Big-money deals are a given, though some teams may tread more carefully in the midst of a shaky economy. The salary cap will increase by only $100,000 US for next season after ballooning by more than $17 million over the previous three years, and more clubs may choose to leave their cap space vacant as they ride out a tough financial period.
Here's a look at every Western Conference team's pending unrestricted free agents (UFA), restricted free agents (RFA), estimated available cap space* and key decisions leading up to the big day on July 1.
Detroit Red Wings
UFA: F Marian Hossa, F Mikael Samuelsson, F Tomas Kopecky, D Chris Chelios, G Ty Conklin.
RFA: F Jiri Hudler.
Estimated cap space: $5.5 million
Outlook: Short on cap room, GM Ken Holland is "not optimistic" he can re-sign Hossa. With the 40-goal man asking $6-7 million per year, the Wings' only hope is convincing him to take less salary in exchange for a longer-term deal and the perks of playing for a winner.
UFA: F Martin Havlat, F Samuel Pahlsson, D Matt Walker, D Aaron Johnson, G Nikolai Khabibulin.
RFA: F Troy Brouwer, F Ben Eager, F Colin Fraser, F Kris Versteeg, D Cam Barker.
Estimated cap space: $21 million
Outlook: The up-and-coming Blackhawks look to be in great shape with a talented young roster and plenty of cap space. But GM Dale Tallon has to be careful with cornerstones Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane anticipating big raises as they enter the final year of their rookie deals.
St. Louis Blues
UFA: F Dan Hinote, F Brad Winchester, D Mike Weaver, G Manny Legace.
RFA: F Brandon Crombeen, D Roman Polak, D Jeff Woywitka.
Estimated cap space: $12.5 million
Outlook: With the big salaries of veterans Paul Kariya ($6 million), Keith Tkachuk ($2.15 million) and Jay McKee ($4 million) coming off the books next July, GM Larry Pleau can be aggressive if he wants to improve on the Blues' surprise playoff appearance.
Columbus Blue Jackets
UFA: F Chris Gratton, F Manny Malhotra, F Mike Peca, F Jason Williams, D Christian Backman, G Wade Dubielewicz.
RFA: F Jiri Novotny, D Marc Methot, D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
Estimated cap space: $17.2 million
Outlook: The defensive-minded Jackets may want to add more firepower in an effort to convince 40-goal star Rick Nash to stay beyond the end of this season, when his contract runs out. A capable backup goalie would also be a good pickup for GM Scott Howson, just in case Calder winner Steve Mason turns out to be a one-year wonder.
UFA: F Radek Bonk, F Vernon Fiddler, F Scott Nichol, F Steve Sullivan, F Joel Ward, D Greg de Vries, D Ville Koistinen, D Greg Zanon.
RFA: F Ryan Jones, F Antti Pihlstrom.
Estimated cap space: $23.2 million
Outlook: The Predators need scoring help (J.P. Dumont's mediocre 65 points led the team) but GM David Poile's hands may be tied by the cash-strapped club's budget concerns.
UFA: F Taylor Pyatt, F Daniel Sedin, F Henrik Sedin, F Mats Sundin, D Rob Davison, D Mattias Ohlund, D Ossi Vaananen, G Jason Labarbera, G Curtis Sanford.
RFA: F Janik Hanssen, F Kyle Wellwood, D Shane O'Brien.
Estimated cap space: $23.0 million
Outlook: Priority No. 1 for GM Mike Gillis is signing the Sedin twins, who shared the team lead with an identical (naturally) 82 points. Vancouver would also like to lock up franchise goalie Roberto Luongo, who can become a free agent next summer. The injury-prone defence could also use a facelift, making the likes of Jay Bouwmeester, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek potential targets.
UFA: F Todd Bertuzzi, F Mike Cammalleri, F Andre Roy, D Adrian Aucoin, D Adam Pardy, D Rhett Warrener.
RFA: F Dustin Boyd.
Estimated cap space: $4.5 million
Outlook: GM Darryl Sutter showed where he wanted to spend his available cash when he dealt for the rights to coveted unrestricted free-agent defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, and struck a five-year deal with a reported cap hit of $6.6 million annually. Though Cammalleri's 39 goals topped the team last season, the winger is a good bet to head elsewhere.
UFA: F Marian Gaborik, F Stephane Veilleux, D Marc-Andre Bergeron, D Kurtis Foster, D Martin Skoula.
RFA: F Kyle Brodziak, F Dan Fritsche, F Benoit Pouliot, G Josh Harding.
Estimated cap space: $14.0 million
Outlook: New Wild GM Chuck Fletcher appeared to offer an olive branch to Gaborik by hiring up-tempo coach Todd Richards to replace defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire. But the talented winger may command offers that Minnesota deems too steep for someone so prone to injury.
UFA: F Ales Kotalik, D Jason Strudwick, G Dwayne Roloson.
RFA: F Liam Reddox, D Denis Grebeshkov, D Ladislav Smid.
Estimated cap space: $10.9 million
Outlook: Most of the young Oilers roster is already set, with one glaring exception: veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson, who nearly carried Edmonton into the playoffs by shouldering a remarkable workload for a 39-year-old. While it would be nice to reward Roloson, GM Steve Tambellini must be careful not to pay based on past performance.
UFA: F Tyler Arnason, F Ben Guite, F Ian Laperriere, F Joe Sakic, F Brian Willsie, D Lawrence Nycholat, D Daniel Tjarnqvist, G Andrew Raycroft.
RFA: F David Jones, F Cody McCormick, D Kyle Cumiskey.
Estimated cap space: $10.7 million
Outlook: New GM Greg Sherman is still waiting on captain Joe Sakic to decide whether he'll play next season. While Sakic is in the twilight of his career, he could serve as a mentor to No. 3 overall pick Matt Duchene on the West's worst team.
San Jose Sharks
UFA: F Mike Grier, F Claude Lemieux, F Travis Moen, F Jeremy Roenick, D Kent Huskins, D Alexei Semenov, G Brian Boucher.
RFA: F Ryane Clowe, F Marcel Goc, F Torrey Mitchell, F Tomas Plihal.
Estimated cap space: $7.0 million
Outlook: On the heels of another premature playoff exit, some have called for GM Doug Wilson to blow up his Presidents' Trophy-winning roster. Wilson, though, may be leaning toward a more conservative approach after re-signing defenceman Rob Blake for $3.5 million. The next moves could involve bringing in some fresh forward depth to surround top centres Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
UFA: F Todd Marchant, F Rob Niedermayer, F Brad Larsen, D Scott Niedermayer, D Francois Beauchemin, D Bret Hedican.
RFA: F Mike Brown, F Troy Bodie, D James Wisniewski.
Estimated cap space: $21.1 million
Outlook: GM Bob Murray, who inherited a terrible mess from predecessor Brian Burke, bought himself some breathing room by dealing Chris Pronger and his $6.25-million salary to Philly. Murray, though, undercut the cost-cutting benefits of that move by taking on the bulky contract of Joffrey Lupul (four years, $17 million) in return. The next job is re-upping franchise defenceman Scott Niedermayer, who made just under $6.75 million last season.
UFA: F Steve Begin, F Chris Conner, F Joel Lundqvist, F Brendan Morrison, F Mark Parrish, F Landon Wilson, D Darryl Sydor, D Sergei Zubov, G Stephan Tobias.
Estimated cap space: $14.6 million
Outlook: With so many unrestricted free agents, new GM Joe Nieuwendyk can put his own stamp on the team right away. However, the $7.8-million salary of Brad Richards could hamstring Nieuwendyk for a couple of years, as might the tenuous financial situation of owner Tom Hicks. But re-signing Jere Lehtinen cost Nieuwendyk only $1.5 million against the cap.
UFA: F Brian McGrattan, D Dmitri Kalinin, D Ken Klee.
RFA: F Nigel Dawes, F Joakim Lindstrom, F Enver Lisin, F Scottie Upshall, F Daniel Winnik, D Keith Yandle.
Estimated cap space: $26.3 million
Outlook: The good news: no one in the West has more cap space. The bad news: no one else is bankrupt and potentially on the move at any time. At this point, Siberia could be a more attractive free-agent destination (literally, perhaps, with a few KHL teams now located in the wintry Russian region).
UFA: F Derek Armstrong, F Kyle Calder, F Denis Gauthier.
RFA: D Jack Johnson.
Estimated cap space: $17.0 million
Outlook: With most of the roster signed, there's plenty of cap room for improvement. But GM Dean Lombardi should resist moves like the trade he nearly made to land Chris Pronger from Anaheim. The Kings are more than a high-priced veteran or two away from playoff contention.