What will the new NHL look like?
Here's a look at where the 30 NHL teams stand heading into what promises to be a wild and woolly summer of player buyouts and free-agent signings.
The committed dollars figures refer to players who spent a minimum of 90 days with an NHL club in 2003-04 and do not include prospects who might be signed and expected to be part of the NHL roster in the coming season. The figures are from the NHLPA's proposal of December 2004 and club sources and reflect the 24 percent rollback on all existing contracts.
9 players under contract totaling $20.5 million
At $5.2 million, Sergei Fedorov is the centerpiece of the Ducks' arsenal and is their biggest star. Given the uneven play of former playoff hero J.S. Giguere and the strides taken by Russian netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, new GM Brian Burke might be tempted to cut Giguere and his $3.99 million salary loose and look for a cheaper proven netminder to share duties with Bryzgalov. Don't be surprised if Burke makes a play for his old captain -- and unrestricted free agent -- Markus Naslund. Longtime Duck Paul Kariya, expected to be an unrestricted free agent, will be looking for a new home after a one-year stint in Colorado and would be a nice fit in Anaheim. Burke is likewise familiar with Alexander Mogilny from their days in Vancouver. The gifted playmaker would make a dynamic tandem with countryman Fedorov.
12 players under contract totaling $14.4 million
The Thrashers are one of the perennial sellers who will look to become buyers in the new NHL. And this is a team chockablock with potential starting with Finnish super-prospect Kari Lehtonen in net, hulking Braydon Coburn on defense and Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk up front. Both Heatley and Kovalchuk are restricted free agents. The team remains thin down the middle but ownership is believed to be willing to spend into at least the middle limits of the cap to add pieces to what it hopes will be the Thrashers' first playoff team. The Thrashers were interested in former Chicago center Alexei Zhamnov before he signed with the Flyers in 2003-04, and Zhamnov is once again a free agent. Although he might be outside their price range, soon-to-be-bought-out Ranger Bobby Holik would give the team much-needed edge at the position, as well.
4 players under contract totaling $2.9 million
Bruins GM Mike O'Connell might as well be sitting in at the local rotisserie draft given the handful of parts with which he'll be starting. Chief among O'Connell's tasks will be convincing restricted free agent Joe Thornton things will be different in Beantown. The Bruins' captain and franchise cornerstone was unhappy with criticism of his play in the Boston media during a first-round collapse against Montreal during the '04 playoffs and was reportedly unhappy the Bruins didn't sign more players before the lockout. Assuming the Bruins can ink 2003-04 rookie of the year netminder Andrew Raycroft, a restricted free agent, and defenseman Hal Gill along with Thornton, there's a pretty good base from which to start. O'Connell claims notoriously stingy owner Jeremy Jacobs is prepared to spend to bring a champion to Boston for the first time since 1972, but that ranks right up there with "the check's in the mail" and "my dog ate my budget." The first test will be whether Jacobs can sign unrestricted free-agent defenseman Sergei Gonchar -- whom the Bruins brought in at the '04 trade deadline -- or a reasonable facsimile. Thornton's linemate Glen Murray, who scored 111 goals in less than three seasons in Boston, is an unrestricted free agent and represents another interesting test case for O'Connell.
9 players under contract totaling $9.1 million
The Sabres are nicely positioned to make a run at the Eastern Conference elite with a core of players that includes Chris Drury, Dmitri Kalinin, Derek Roy, and restricted free agents Miroslav Satan and Daniel Briere. Goaltending, a source of constant concern since the Sabres dealt Dominik Hasek in July 2001, might be stabilized by the emergence of Ryan Miller as a potential No. 1 NHL netminder who can challenge incumbents Mika Noronen and Martin Biron. The Sabres have long played a tight-checking, defense-first style under Lindy Ruff. Can Ruff make the adjustment to a wide-open style? Can GM Darcy Regier bring in the players to play such a game? New owner Tom Golisano is banking on the fact they can.
11 players under contract totaling $12.9 million
In Calgary, it's not so much who is under contract as who isn't, namely Jarome Iginla. One of the NHL's top players and most valuable public relations assets, Iginla will set the salary standard for premier NHL players when the restricted free agent signs, presumably with the Flames. Playoff hero Miikka Kiprusoff also will be a priority for GM Darryl Sutter. With a talented, young squad in place the Flames won't be spending much past the salary floor but will nonetheless enter the fray well-positioned to solidify their position as a top-end Western Conference team. Sutter remains the only man to hold both GM and head coaching duties in the NHL. Assistant Jim Playfair has long been rumored to be head coach in waiting, although Sutter told reporters in Calgary recently that he expected to be behind the bench.
7 players under contract totaling $11.9 million
The Canes are one of those small-market teams looking to use a dramatic makeover to help prove their trip to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals was not a once-in-a-lifetime happening. The Canes will build around top prospect Eric Staal, who had a full year of seasoning at the AHL level. If GM Jim Rutherford decides he needs to shed Rod Brind'Amour's $3.8 million salary through buyout (the veteran is also due $5.32 million the next season) Rutherford will need to find a suitable veteran to help tutor Staal. Look for former playoff stars Josef Vasicek and Erik Cole to assume bigger roles with the Canes. Injury-plagued but talented center Jason Allison, an unrestricted free agent, has been mentioned as a possible addition. Goaltending should be solid if unspectacular with former Mighty Duck Martin Gerber sharing duties with Cam Ward who had a terrific year in the AHL. The assumption has been that impeccable Ron Francis ("Ronnie Franchise" to those in Carolina) would retire, but with a full year of rest, the 42-year-old playmaking specialist might be primed to benefit from rules designed to enhance the game's flow. Look for former Islanders coach Peter Laviolette, now the Canes' bench boss, to lobby to add defenseman Roman Hamrlik or Adrian Aucoin -- both might be on the move from the Island as unrestricted free agents.
8 players under contract totaling $10.2 million
New GM Dale Tallon and new coach Trent Yawney, a former Hawks defenseman, will be saddled with trying to salvage the reputation of this once-proud Original Six franchise. There are lots of pieces but many questions. Assuming the Hawks re-sign goalie Jocelyn Thibault, coming off injury, netminding shouldn't be a problem. There's lots of young talent up front in Kyle Calder, Tuomo Ruutu, Matt Keith, Mark Bell and Pavel Vorobiev, along with injury-prone veteran Eric Daze. Cam Barker, the third pick in the '04 draft, is a keeper and will benefit from playing with Cup winner Jassen Cullimore, lured to Chicago from Tampa before the lockout. Jim Vandermeer and Anton Babchuk are also part of a young, promising blue line corps. But even with the addition of veterans Matthew Barnaby and Curtis Brown, the misery will continue in Chicago -- unless dinosaur owner Bill Wirtz allows Tallon to spend up and add a quality scoring forward to replace Steve Sullivan, traded at the '04 trade deadline.
11 players under contract totaling $22.8 million
It's magic trick time for superlative GM Pierre Lacroix. Assuming unrestricted free agent Peter Forsberg does return to Colorado, Lacroix will have three players -- Forsberg, captain Joe Sakic and All-Star defenseman Rob Blake -- eating up about $16.5 million of the team's cap. Then there's the matter of talented restricted free agents Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk, a must if the team is to remain a Western Conference power. All that means Chris Gratton and Steve Konowalchuk, both under contract at $1.9 million, could be buyout casualties. Lacroix also will have to find goaltending help even if he does re-sign David Aebischer and Philippe Sauve. Lacroix always seems to find a way to build a formidable squad, and ownership will allow him to spend to the upper limits of the cap, but for a team that has depleted its farm system in recent years in pursuit of another Cup championship, this new world represents a daunting challenge.
14 players under contract totaling $19.1 million
GM Doug MacLean will have some interesting problems, considering his team is pretty much in place once he signs restricted free-agent star Rick Nash. At $2.5 million and $2.47 million, Geoff Sanderson and Todd Marchant likely are overpriced for the new market. But speedy Marchant is a locker-room leader and Sanderson has potential to be much more productive in a more streamlined NHL. MacLean will also be looking for a solid goalie to share duties with Marc Denis, who has been deluged with rubber since arriving for the club's first season in 2000. Up front, MacLean will build around Nash, the youngest player to lead the NHL in goal scoring, and Russian sniper Nikolai Zherdev. Look for MacLean to concentrate on defensive help. Any one of Aucoin, Hamrlik and New Jersey free agent Brian Rafalski would be a big step up.
8 players under contract totaling $22.6 million
The Stars definitely will be taking advantage of the buyout option to dispose of Pierre Turgeon and his $3.9 million salary and might think long and hard about whether Bill Guerin is worth $6.7 million for the next two seasons. Likewise, consummate two-way player Jere Lehtinen looks expensive at $3.6 million coming off an injury-plagued 2003-04 season. Expect GM Doug Armstrong to return franchise lifer Mike Modano and up-and-coming Brenden Morrow, but unless Jason Arnott is ready to take a big pay hit, the team might have to walk away from the restricted free agent to stay under the cap. This is a team that has underachieved over the past couple of seasons and does not have a rich farm system on which to rely. Owner Tom Hicks spent outrageously under the old system, so it will be interesting to see what tack he will take under the new cap system.
16 players under contract totaling $38.2 million
The Red Wings will have to shed big dollars to get under the cap and ice a full roster. Curtis Joseph and his $6.08 million club option are already gone, and Ray Whitney ($2.66 million) won't be far behind. Even if owners Mike and Marian Ilitch spend to the cap's limits (and they will), the big question is whether GM Ken Holland can justify having more than $12.5 million dollars tied up in two defensemen (Nicklas Lidstrom and Derian Hatcher)? Lidstrom is a given, but Hatcher -- who's on the hook for $4.94 million this year and next -- might be expendable. Regardless, the Wings will have a solid defense that includes Jiri Fischer and AHL defenseman of the year Niklas Kronwall. Up front, unrestricted free agent Steve Yzerman will return, although at a greatly reduced price, joining a veteran group that includes Tomas Holmstrom, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Frank J. Selke Trophy winner Kris Draper. Holland also will have to ink unrestricted free agents Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the team's two most important young players. Manny Legace looks to inherit the No. 1 goaltending job previously held by Hasek and Joseph -- by economic default.
12 players under contract totaling $13 million
In theory, the Oilers should be the poster team for the new NHL. GM Kevin Lowe should be able to keep this exciting, young roster together as well as bring in top-notch offensive help. There would be some delicious irony if former Oilers Doug Weight, Guerin or Arnott returned to the Oilers' fold after being dealt ostensibly because the team couldn't afford to keep any of them. Although the Oilers will spend moderately under the cap, they will have enough room to land a couple of big name free agents and could even make a pitch for Scott Niedermayer, a western Canadian boy who is the cream of the defensive players on the open market.
7 players under contract totaling $6.4 million
"Mad" Mike Keenan has the opportunity to remake the Panthers in his own image. The question is whether he should. Keenan must re-sign his best players, unrestricted free agents Jay Bouwmeester, Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen, then add some veteran leadership that will help a young team brimming with potential step into the playoff hunt in the Southeast Division. The key is whether unpredictable Keenan can build the right chemistry. How about a beachside reunion of Keenan and Eric Lindros? OK, never mind. It's more likely Keenan would try to coax Hall of Fame-bound Mark Messier to the beaches for one last hurrah. Sergei Zubov, who won a Cup in New York under Keenan, is also an unrestricted free agent. With oodles of cap room, it's possible the Panthers will get into the bidding for Niedermayer, who would be the consummate role model for Bouwmeester.
12 players under contract totaling $15.6 million
GM Dave Taylor tried to lock up unrestricted free agent Ziggy Palffy before the lockout but couldn't. If he can't do it post-lockout, Taylor will have to bring in a scoring forward to fill that void. Murray, a revelation in Boston the past three years, is a familiar face, as is Allison, who will be looking to prove to someone that he's still an elite center. West Coast golf nut Mogilny also might be an option, depending on his nagging hip injury. Is Mathieu Garon ready to be a Hollywood netminder? Maybe. Maybe not, meaning Taylor will need some veteran help between the pipes. Former Canadian junior sensation Mike Cammalleri had a breakout year in the AHL, finishing second in scoring to Ottawa's Jason Spezza, and could assume a significant role as a third- or fourth-line scorer.
10 players under contract totaling $13.8 million
A solid core of players -- starting with Marian Gaborik, who should benefit from the new rule changes -- makes the Wild an interesting case study. Most will assume the team will have to engage in a dramatic makeover from boring pluggers to a more up-tempo squad but the Wild used deceptive speed and a strong work ethic to march to the Western Conference final in 2003. There's no reason to think GM Doug Risebrough won't be able to build a competitive team for 2005-06. With a good fan base, will ownership spend up to the cap? Not likely. But the brass might not need to.
8 players under contract totaling $14.5 million
Once the Habs dispose of Patrice "Paris" Brisebois and his unsightly $3.42 million salary, the picture looks a little better for GM Bob Gainey, who must sign the team's foundation: Jose Theodore, Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder, Mike Ribeiro and Andrei Markov, all unrestricted free agents. The Canadiens have a terrific farm system, and unrestricted free agent Alex Kovalev has indicated an interest in returning to Montreal. All things considered, the Habs might be poised to make a dramatic jump in the Eastern Conference standings even without flashy free-agent signings.
9 players under contract totaling $10.4 million
Unless there's a dramatic turn of events in Nashville the Preds likely will be happy to sneak in under the salary minimum, maintaining their status as the league's most frugal team. That said, there are shiny pieces in Music City -- including defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who enjoyed an important year of development in the AHL along with future U.S. Olympian Ryan Suter. The playoffs are a possibility, especially if GM David Poile gets the OK to add some scoring punch up front to complement Sullivan, brought in at the trade deadline in '04. Landing a big-name star, let's say Eric Lindros for the sake of a name, will be crucial to the team's profile in a town that will have to re-learn hockey all over again. It's not really the Predators' way but this is, after all, a whole new game.
10 players under contract totaling $15.4 million
No one will know the new CBA better than Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who helped build it as part of the league's bargaining team. Now can he keep his perennial Cup-contending team together under the new system? Defenseman Scott Stevens will return if he's healthy enough, but getting Niedermayer, the best unrestricted free agent defenseman on the market, and Rafalski under contract will be a challenge. With Patrik Elias' health a concern (he contracted hepatitis A playing in Russia and is almost certain to miss training camp), Lamoriello might need to find offensive reinforcements from the free-agent pool. If Joe Nieuwendyk can't come to terms in Toronto, no doubt Lamoriello would love to have him back in New Jersey, where he helped the team win the Cup in 2003. Likewise, Holik was a fan favorite and a crucial part of the team's Cup wins in 1995 and 2000. If Mogilny is healthy, he also would be an option.
4 players under contract totaling $15.6 million
Buying out Alexei Yashin would be financially crippling (it would cost almost $28 million), so he'll remain an Islander, but that's about it. GM Mike Milbury (the other Mad Mike on the NHL frontier) will be hard-pressed to return unrestricted free-agent defensemen Hamrlik and Aucoin, leaving Janne Niinimaa as his lone defensive anchor unless Kenny Jonsson un-retires from Sweden. Still, there are bright spots on the Island, including netminder Rick DiPietro, who was sensational at the World Championships, captain Michael Peca and rookie of the year finalist Trent Hunter. Because ownership is unlikely to spend to the upper cap limits at least until a new arena is built, look for Milbury to fill in the holes with lower-level players. Former Islanders defender Darius Kasparaitis should be available at a greatly reduced price.
6 players under contract totaling $21.7 million
Kiss Holik ($6.7 million this year and next) and Kasparaitis ($3.3 million) goodbye, which leaves Jaromir Jagr and whole bunch of empty jerseys. Even if the Rangers do spend to the upper limits of the cap, it'll still be a long, lean season (again) at Madison Square Garden. It would be a major surprise if Lindros or Messier returns, although Kovalev might look good back in Broadway blue if he doesn't return to the Habs. Look for netminder Mike Dunham to be available on the open market as the team goes young between the pipes with Henrik Lundqvist and AHL star Jason Labarbera. If there is a nod to the Rangers' past, it's possible Brian Leetch could return after a brief sojourn in Toronto.
10 players under contract totaling $23.6 million
The Sens look to be in as good a position as any team, with crucial building blocks netminder Dominik Hasek, captain Daniel Alfredsson and defensive anchors Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden already under contract. A little tinkering by GM John Muckler, who should be given latitude to spend at least toward the top of the cap, should see the Senators return once again as preseason Cup favorites. If Keenan can't persuade Messier to head south for one last go, there's a strong connection with Muckler, and Messier could provide the dressing room leadership that seems to have been absent in recent years. Muckler also has a connection with Lindros, an Ontario native.
13 players under contract totaling $33.8 million
It will cost owner Ed Snider a bundle, but it's entirely possible he will divest himself of John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who are owed more than $16 million this season alone. Roenick might stay because he remains the team's most visible presence (or noisiest presence, depending on your perspective). The Flyers will spend to the cap's limits, and they are chock full of terrific young talent, including AHL netminding sensation Antero Niittymaki, defenseman Joni Pitkanen and '03 draft picks Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. By locking up captain Keith Primeau, the single-best player in the '04 playoffs, and acquiring Boston sniper Mike Knuble, GM Bob Clarke has once again done a masterful job of making the Flyers a Cup contender before the first puck is dropped.
21 players under contract totaling $28.4 million
The joke is that GM Mike Barnett will take his vacation once the new CBA is ratified because his team is set. Unfortunately for him, the team remains the Phoenix Coyotes. Yes, the desert dogs (emphasis on dogs) underwent a major overhaul before the lockout, bringing in Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Sean O'Donnell. But questions abound about Hull, who will be 41 when training camp opens, and Nedved's consistency is always a question mark. Shane Doan has emerged as a team leader, and Ladislav Nagy is a talent. But the Coyotes remain a team without a bona fide No. 1 goaltender. Unrestricted free agent Nikolai Khabibulin is a former Coyote, but he's a long shot to return to the desert, so look for Barnett to scour the landscape for a top-flight netminder to help cover up the mistakes this team is bound to make. In the absence of Khabibulin, Joseph might be a good fit, given that he thrives in an underdog role. Oh yeah, Phoenix likely will have a new coach, one named Wayne Gretzky, which should be worth the price of admission on its own.
7 players under contract totaling $5.5 million
Looking for a team poised to make a jump from pre-CBA doldrums to playoff contender? Look no further than the Penguins. The team had a strong second half of the 2003-04 season (in fact, it likely cost them the first pick in the '04 draft), and that was without a healthy Mario Lemieux and point machine Mark Recchi, who comes over from Philadelphia. GM Craig Patrick has indicated he will bring in more recognizable talent to join an interesting mix that includes Toronto castoff Ric Jackman, who blossomed along the Pittsburgh blue line. Kovalev would be a nice fit back in Pittsburgh, as would injury-prone Martin Straka, an unrestricted free agent who might not fit into the Kings' economic plans. Throw in the second pick in the 2004 draft, Evgeni Malkin, and there's something interesting brewing in Pittsburgh.
San Jose Sharks
10 players under contract totaling $13.5 million
If GM Doug Wilson is able to return crucial restricted free agents Mike Rathje, Marco Sturm, Patrick Marleau and Brad Stuart, he might even have a few coins left over to bring in a veteran scorer/leader to fill the void left by Ricci's departure. It's not that big a stretch to imagine former captain Owen Nolan returning to San Jose, where he would be able to share the spotlight with new leaders Marleau, Stuart and Alyn McCauley. Although the Sharks will remain near the bottom of the NHL payroll scale, they'll also remain one of the Western Conference's new powers, building on their trip to the Western Conference finals in '04 with speed, tenacity and terrific goaltending.
St. Louis Blues
13 players under contract, totaling $23.9 million
The Blues were the poster team for wild spending that yielded absolutely no results. Although it'll cost the Blues close to the individual maximum to sign restricted free agent Chris Pronger, they'll do it. As for Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight who are due a combined $13.3 million this season, that's another story. The team is for sale, so they can't burn it to the ground but it's unlikely GM Larry Pleau can afford both. Weight is the better dressing room presence but Tkachuk is more talented and his $7.6 million price tag this season drops off to a manageable $3.8 million next year. Pavol Demitra is an unrestricted free agent and bound to be headed elsewhere, leaving the team with gaps in scoring. There is little depth in the farm system. The Blues' string of 25 straight years in the postseason will be in serious jeopardy unless Patrick Lalime turns in a Vezina Trophy-worthy performance between the pipes.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Nine players under contract, totaling $15.7 million
If Tampa GM Jay Feaster thought building a Cup winner was a challenge, how about keeping one together in the new NHL? The word is ownership wants to keep the finances toward the middle of the cap range, but Feaster remains hopeful he can return the big pieces, Vincent Lecavalier, league MVP Martin St. Louis and defensive star Dan Boyle. Netminder Nikolai Khabibulin seems to have found a home in Tampa. Although he's an unrestricted free agent, he is likely to sign for less to stay with the Bolts. Opponents hoping Tampa Bay is flash in the pan are in for a disappointment. Look for this team to emerge from the lockout darkness pretty much in tact and ready for a solid championship defense. Even creaky, ageless Dave Andreychuk could return for the Cup defense at age 42.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Eight players under contract, totaling $27 million
You know the one about the crows coming home to rooster? They're wearing blue and white and perched on the top of the Air Canada Center. Although he wildly overpaid for netminder Ed Belfour (the 40-year-old with a wonky back is due $4.6 million) GM John Ferguson Jr. will keep him because he represents the ticket to a seventh straight playoff appearance. Gifted Alexander Mogilny, an unrestricted free agent, is likely gone. The question is whether he's gone from the game with his bad hips or just gone from Toronto. Fellow unrestricted free agent Brian Leetch is likewise gone. Boyhood chums Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts are unlikely to leave their Toronto homes but will have to take a big pay hit to make it work with the Leafs. Center Jason Allison, whose cottage is north of Toronto, has had discussions about joining the Leafs. There will be pressure for the Leafs to get younger, but their farm system is shallow at best, which is why the Leafs hired former 'Canes coach Paul Maurice to lead their AHL team. Any true youth movement is still a few years off. Naturally, the Leafs will spend every last dollar available to them. Look for them to at least explore possibilities with longtime NHLer Dmitry Yushkevich who had a strong year in the Russian elite league and would be a nice fit along the Leaf blue line at possibly a bargain price.
Six players under contract, totaling $11.8 million
Now we'll see just how important GM Brian Burke was to the Canucks' rise to prominence as a Western Conference power. New GM Dave Nonis will have to woo unrestricted free agent captain Markus Naslund back to the fold and then ink restricted free agents Brendan Morrison, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo. If the Sedin twins Daniel and Henrik continue to develop, the team should improve its scoring balance beyond the Naslund-Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi trio. That's assuming that Bertuzzi is reinstated by commissioner Gary Bettman (he will be) and he can return to form as one of the top power forwards in the game (that's a little less certain). There's also the obligatory question about whether goaltender Dan Cloutier, a restricted free agent, is the man for the job. He has yet to prove he is and depending on his price tag, the Canucks could make the bold move of walking away and trying to fill the void on the free agent market with a guy like Mike Dunham, Curtis Joseph or even J.S. Giguere if he doesn't fit in to the Mighty Ducks' plans.
Four players under contract, totaling 7 million
Of all the teams, the Caps' prospects look absolutely no better now than they did before the lockout. Such is the sorry state of this franchise. The team will spend as little as possible to try and erase the mistakes of the past -- chief among them Jaromir Jagr, a player for whom they are reportedly still paying a portion of his salary in New York. The team is short on veteran leadership, scoring and defense. In the absence of a big pay check with which to lure free agents (the Caps' big spending days began and ended with the Jagr experiment) there is precious little attractive about this situation. Top pick Alexander Ovechkin is making noises about staying in Russia, but even if he does come to Washington, spare parts and untested youngsters await perpetually upbeat coach Glen Hanlon, not to mention another gruesome season in the U.S. capital.
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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