Enjoy it now: Teams will look different next season

Updated: June 20, 2006, 5:10 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the "new" NHL, teams will be making more dramatic changes from year to year. The salary cap will force clubs to make tough decisions on players throughout their lineup. This year's finalists, the Hurricanes and Oilers, will have a bit of a different look when we drop the puck on the 2006-07 season.

Here's a look at some of the key unrestricted free agents on both sides of the just-completed finals; a good number of these guys will be wearing different uniforms next season.

Carolina Hurricanes

• Martin Gerber
He had a terrific regular season, posting 38 wins and a .906 save percentage. But after a poor start in the postseason, he was replaced by rookie Cam Ward. Gerber's value wasn't enhanced during the playoffs, but there are plenty of teams that need a capable goaltender. He likely will get a significant raise over the $1.064 million he earned in 2005-06. The Red Wings are among the likely suitors. Remember, Detroit coach Mike Babcock worked with Gerber when both were in Anaheim.

• Doug Weight
It will be interesting to see what Weight decides to do. The Hurricanes probably would like to have him back. However, GM Jim Rutherford doesn't want to overspend to keep a 35-year-old player. Weight earned $5.7 million in the final year of his contract. He will make nowhere near that amount in his next deal. Weight has expressed an interest in re-signing with the Blues, who dealt him to Carolina in February.

• Mark Recchi
A trade-deadline acquisition necessitated by the injury to star winger Erik Cole, Recchi likely will be returning to the Penguins in the offseason. The Canes can exercise an option on Recchi for next season at $2.2 million. That's too much for a winger on the tail end of his career. Recchi has a player option at $800,000 for next season. He likely would seek a little more in a new deal.

• Niclas Wallin
You have to think Rutherford will do what he can to keep Wallin, who distinguished himself during this playoff drive. Wallin earned $836,000 in 2005-06. The 31-year-old defender could more than double that on the free-agent market.

• Frantisek Kaberle
Here's another guy Rutherford might have trouble keeping in Carolina. He earned $1.292 million this season. He'll turn 33 early next season. With so few capable defenders on the market, Kaberle's value could exceed $2 million. He performed well during the Canes' playoff drive.

• Aaron Ward
An experienced and tough defender, Ward will have several suitors if he decides to test the market. Ward, 33, earned $1.52 million this season. Rutherford won't want to lose him.

• Matt Cullen
In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, Cullen came up with a great performance. In fact, he might have been the best player on the ice. Cullen was a huge bargain in 2005-06, earning $668,000. He will get a significant raise next season. The Hurricanes will try to keep him in the fold.

Edmonton Oilers

• Dwayne Roloson
Acquired from Minnesota on the day before the trade deadline, Roloson enjoyed a huge postseason. Sadly, it came to an end when he suffered a knee injury in Game 1 of the finals. He earned $1.672 million in 2005-06. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe will want to re-sign him, but what kind of money is Roloson seeking? If he hits the open market, he might be able to max out around $4 million. He'll be 37 in October. The smart money says he'll stay in Edmonton.

• Fernando Pisani
He picked a great time to have the playoff run of a lifetime. Pisani scored 14 goals during the postseason, including an overtime winner in Game 5 of the finals. He makes just $611,000. He's due a big raise. An Edmonton native, Pisani likely will get what he's looking for to stay at home. The 29-year-old winger will carry heavier expectations into next season.

• Michael Peca
Always a strong two-way player, Peca, 32, rediscovered his game near the end of the season. He earned $3.99 million in 2005-06 but won't see that kind of money in his next deal. Those close to Peca say he'd like to return to the Eastern Conference. In fact, he could return to Long Island to skate for former Sabres coach Ted Nolan. Chances are slim that he'll return to Edmonton.

• Sergei Samsonov
Another trade-deadline acquisition, Samsonov provided a little offensive boost in the playoffs, but on too many occasions, he could not be found. He made $2.774 million this season. If he wants to stay in Edmonton, he'll have to do it on the club's terms.

• Jaroslav Spacek
An under-the-radar pickup, Spacek played a key role in the Oilers' playoff run. Coach Craig MacTavish wasn't afraid to use him in all situations. He earned $2.25 million this season, and if he wants to stay, he can't expect to get much more than that. He might be wise to test the market. There are many teams seeking competent defensemen.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.