Meet the big buyers
With the cap rising $6.4-million and some teams like the Penguins with as many as 10 unrestricted free agents, there is an incredible amount of cash available to be spent.
Consider the numbers: Ten teams have $20-million or more to spend under the cap. Three — Los Angeles, Columbus and Atlanta — have $30-million or more. The average team, at this point, has 18 players signed and spent $41-million, with approximately $16-million in cap space available.
Including restricted free agents, there are still 150 notable players without a home, meaning as much as 20 per cent of the league will be up for grabs beginning at noon tomorrow.
Here are my predictions as to who will be the biggest buyers:
N.Y. Rangers: Even after inking Scott Gomez and Chris Drury last July 1, New York has plenty of holes to fill and $20-million to do so. GM Glen Sather has yet to re-sign free agents like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan and Michal Rozsival and needs two more NHL defenders and a whole lot of help for Gomez and Drury up front. If Jagr doesn't return, they're in the market for the big fish — and Mats Sundin's at the top of that list.
Columbus: It isn't going to be easy being GM Scott Howson. With R.J. Umberger and Pascal Leclaire waiting on contracts, the Blue Jackets have a paper thin roster and about $32-million available to spent — although don't expect them to bump right up against the cap. Columbus desperately needs a playoff drive to keep interest alive in central Ohio, and the Jackets have only three NHL defencemen signed and need some big shooters at all positions to help out captain Rick Nash. Because of the team's lack of success, it's possible Howson has to overpay to bring in some help. (That shouldn't be a problem given he needs to spend about $15-million to get to the salary floor.)
Vancouver: Another non-playoff team with a new GM anxious to make his mark, the Canucks also have boatloads of cap space ($20-million) should Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison not return. Mike Gillis has had a tough time making a deal with other GMs to this point and free agency might be the only way he finds a taker for his dollars. Vancouver's holes are all at forward, where they have little beyond the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.
Pittsburgh: For all the talk of their salary cap crunch, the Penguins still have a ton of cap space available next season: $26-million, with only a contract to Marc-Andre Fleury to come in arbitration. GM Ray Shero may not have any luck given that cash away to Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik, but he's going to sign someone to fill the holes given Petr Sykora is the team's lone veteran winger. He's got some depth to work with on defence, but expect Pittsburgh to add a blueliner, too.
Minnesota: The Wild have some serious cash to spend after being spurned by veteran Brian Rolston, whose rights were dealt to Tampa Bay, and need considerable help up front through free agency. GM Doug Riseborough will likely spent close to the cap to get a top line centre and some help on the wings, and he'll have nearly $20-million even after getting Pierre-Marc Bouchard's name on a contract.
Chicago: The Blackhawks have $13-million burning a hole in their pocket, and we've heard in the leadup to tomorrow that Brian Campbell's name is on a big hunk of that cash. GM Dale Tallon already has the majority of his roster intact, but with key cogs like Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews on entry-level deals through 2009-10, he can afford to add a top-end defender and another scoring forward to replace Jason Williams.
Montreal: The Canadiens want to make a play for Sundin, but beyond that, there might not be the cash available to buy huge given GM Bob Gainey needs to sign five RFAs in the near future. Even still, the former Maple Leafs captain is going to cost a pretty penny — reportedly $15-million over two years — and they're willing to pay.
Other teams that could spend: Atlanta, Toronto, N.Y. Islanders, Ottawa
Teams with potential cashflow issues: Philadelphia, Calgary, Anaheim, Dallas
Labels: free agency