There are those who still can't get their heads around how late the hockey season ends, yet no one seems to complain when Christmas comes to the NHL on July 1.
The day the annual free-agent market opens is arguably the most anticipated on the league calendar, a wild free-for-all despite the restrictions imposed by a salary cap after the lockout. Growing revenues that have increased the payroll limits -- this year's cap is going to be $56 million -- help, of course, but so do the remnants of a business mindset among owners and general managers that says you have to spend to win.
Sometimes that works, but not always or right away. In the first three seasons under the current CBA, the free-agent market has produced some $10 million annual salaries, a bidding war on previously avoided restricted free agents and protectionist action by teams that created the first nine-figure deal in NHL history.
But no one involved in those headline-making deals has won anything. Still, the law of supply and demand has always ruled, and it will be no different when the 2008 class hits the market Tuesday.
A dozen unrestricted free agents to watch next week:
Marian Hossa: He's an elite offensive player who increased his value with the best postseason of his career. But Hossa also priced himself out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' budget in the playoffs, and perhaps those of a few other teams as well. Hossa should be worth about $7.5 million a year but has hinted he might take less to hook up with a perennial contender. How much less and on what kind of term is unknown. The Penguins have several players to re-sign this year and next, so their room is limited, and in Detroit, another team that is thought to be interested, it's unlikely the Red Wings will give him more than the $6.7 million Pavel Datsyuk makes. Look for Hossa to land with either Montreal, the Rangers or Boston.
Brian Campbell: When the Sharks picked up Campbell at the trade deadline, they looked like they pulled off the deal of the day, getting a puck-moving defenseman who made them nearly unbeatable with him in the lineup. Campbell was brilliant down the stretch and seemed to be headed for a major payday, but his star lost some shine in the playoffs, and that could keep him from getting to the top salary tier for defenseman. His continuing struggles in the postseason raised questions about how effective he could really be in the more physical Western Conference. The Sharks seem to want him back, but the deal would have to be too good to pass up, because Campbell has personal reasons for being on the East Coast.
Brian Rolston: Rolston has been quiet about whether he wants to remain in Minnesota, but his agent isn't returning Wild phone calls about a contract extension, which tells you something. Maybe that's because Rolston could end up being one of the prize signings of the summer. He's usually good for around 30 goals, a nice addition to any offense. Rolston is also one of the league's most versatile forwards, able to play either wing or center, kill penalties and man the point on power plays. He has a booming shot, and, at age 35, is thought to be thinking reasonably -- about $4 million per season -- in terms of his contract expectations.
Mats Sundin: He's going to the Hall of Fame, sooner rather than later if he actually calls it quits now. That's the big question for the Maple Leafs captain, who had a strong individual season for hapless Toronto and proved he still can be an impact player. Sundin, 37, has seen his negotiating rights offered conditionally to Montreal and the New York Rangers in advance of the market opening but is leaning toward waiting for the official bidding begins before making any decision. If he decides against retiring, several other teams will get in on the action. Toronto might still be in the mix as well, although his recent history with the club makes a reconciliation unlikely.
Ryan Malone: The Pittsburgh native got a lot of exposure during the playoffs, and for good reason. His hard-nosed (and often broken-nosed) play came to symbolize the gritty determination of the young Penguins while raising Malone's profile even more than his breakout 27-goal season did. What that means is Malone is going to get someone to overpay for him on the open market. The Penguins want him back, but they won't be able to match offers that will likely go beyond doubling his salary. And that actually makes Malone a gamble. He's a good player who brings intangible qualities, but he won't be on a line with Evgeni Malkin anywhere else.
Jose Theodore: The former Hart and Vezina winner seemed to resurrect his career with a great second half in Colorado, but whether he convinced anyone that he is really back will become clear pretty quickly. There are not many goalies available, so that could work to his advantage. Theodore's time with the Avs was spotty, even though he was among the top earners in his position. Colorado expected him to take a significant cut from his $6.5 million salary, but Theodore and his aggressive agent, Don Meehan, seem to think it won't have to be that steep some place else.
Jaromir Jagr: The aging Rangers captain says he would like to continue his career in New York. But the team has not been in a hurry to get a new deal worked out, and a lucrative offer to play for the new Russian-driven league in Europe lurks in the background. Money is obviously an issue for Jagr. He was the highest-paid player in the league not that long ago and showed how effective he can still be during a great, if limited, playoff run this season. He's probably looking for about $5 million a season for a couple of years, The Rangers seem to be headed in a different direction, but at that price, Jagr's presence could be attractive to some teams -- maybe even old buddy Mario Lemieux's Penguins, especially if they have to replace Hossa's output.
Wade Redden: The Senators realized they erred in choosing Redden over Zdeno Chara after the lockout but felt he still contributed enough to be kept at the right price. However Redden didn't want to slice his salary in half, and now will find if other teams think he or the Senators had the right fix on his true value. He's only 31 and still can move the puck, but he has made a lot of mistakes at bad times over the past two seasons. He's probably a better fit as a No. 3 defenseman than a No. 1 but is looking to be paid like a top guy and has enough of a reputation that he probably will.
Ray Emery: This one is worth watching. Only a few months after taking the Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals, Emery became a lightning rod for controversy in Ottawa. He was largely blamed for everything that went wrong, including the midseason firing of a coach, and was bought out as promised as soon as the rules allowed it. But Emery is a talented if idiosyncratic goaltender and is the ideal candidate for a new start. The Senators are paying him $1.5 million for the next four years, so he won't be that expensive either.
Sean Avery: You either love him or hate him, and in most places, it seems to be the latter. But Avery has become a really big fan favorite at Madison Square Garden and an intangible factor for the Rangers considering the serious gap in their success rate with and without him in the lineup. Avery is the most notorious agitator in the NHL, but he can play the game and has a good skill set. The issue is the value of that. Avery wants about $1 million more per season than the Rangers want to give him, and he might be hard pressed to find anyone who will pay more. Worth noting is that Avery might be best suited for New York, where his play seems inspired from becoming a fixture on the city's gossip and nightlife circuit.
Mark Streit: Streit kind of hit the lottery in his contract year, when he was one of the league's lowest paid players with the Montreal Canadiens. He had a career season with the Northeast Division champions and was widely lauded for his work quarterbacking the league's best power play. That was a big concern before last season in Montreal because of Sheldon Souray's free-agent departure. But Streit broke out offensively and filled the void on the point despite being one of the league's lowest paid players at $600,000. He could get five or six times that next week.
Brooks Orpik: Orpik made his mark with four heavy hits during one incredible Stanley Cup Finals shift for the Penguins, underlining his reputation as one of the most physical young defensemen in the league. But he had already opened a lot of his eyes in the playoffs and could have several teams lining up for him if he gets to the market. Orpik will be 28 when the season begins, and his overall defensive play has improved noticeably in the last couple of seasons under Michel Therrien Orpik was rumored to have some issues with the coach during the playoffs, but he hasn't ruled out staying with the Penguins either.
Where do you think these players will go?
I am a huge Kings fan, so I am hoping a good player will sign with the Kings. Realistically I know that none of these players will sign with the Kings, but you never know
My guess is Hossa re-signs with Penguins, and if he doesn't sign then I think Penguins will take a shot at signing Jagr. All of the other players are up for grabs, but I see them staying on the east coast.