MONTREAL - Cell phones will ring and players will be wined and dined in efforts to be lured to a new team beginning July 1. That much we know. But which players should expect a call from Bob Gainey and the Canadiens on Sunday?
There's no shortage of talent in this year's unrestricted free agent crop. A handful of players will find themselves the center of attention.
Many Habs fans have had visions of Sabres speedster Daniel Briere dancing in their heads since word spread that he was in the final year of his contract last season. Briere responded by putting up a career-best 95 points for the Sabres in 2006-07, as he helped lead Buffalo to the President's Trophy and its second-straight Eastern Conference final. The 29-year-old Gatineau native hasn't called Canada his hockey home since he played his last game with the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the 1990s. Might he be ready for a long-overdue homecoming?
The Sabres may be a vastly different club once the 2007-08 season gets underway, with Briere's co-captain Chris Drury also headlining this summer's UFA crop. The versatile center only boosted his stock with a career-best 37 goals during the regular season, and a team-high eight playoff goals for Buffalo. A proven winner and clutch performer, Drury won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Lifetime Devil Scott Gomez will also draw plenty of interest. The 2000 Calder Trophy winner boasts a pair of Stanley Cup rings with his speed and playmaking ability making him a perfect fit for today's NHL.
After being the most coveted catch of this year's trade deadline, Peter Forsberg has seen the buzz surrounding him evaporate since the banged-up Swede failed to rescue the Predators' playoff hopes. With doubts about his health and even his possible retirement looming, Forsberg may slip under the radar this weekend and prove to be the steal of the free-agent frenzy should he return to form.
For those not in the market for filet mignon, there are juicy sirloins like the Islanders' Jason Blake on the market, which could be more palatable to many team's budgets. Since the lockout, few players have made greater strides than Blake, who followed up his career-best 57 point campaign in 2005-06 with a 40-goal, 69-point harvest this past season.
Other centermen hoping to attract new suitors include: Alexei Yashin, Robert Lang, and Dainius Zubrus, and Michal Handzus.
Teams looking for help on the wing can also find some tantalizing possibilities on the menu as of July 1. Following his gut-wrenching departure from the Oilers in February, Ryan Smyth already has several teams salivating for his in-your-face, gritty style and leadership. While Smyth won't come cheap, there's no questioning his heart.
As the exodus from Nashville continues, look for Paul Kariya to be a popular choice for any team looking to add speed and skill to their lineup. While his 50-goal days are likely behind him, Kariya's 85 and 76-point seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07 are nothing to sneeze at.
There are safer bets out there, but Todd Bertuzzi will nonetheless find several willing dance partners. Much like Forsberg, Bertuzzi's tender back may prove to be too much of a risk, but his hulking 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame could be impossible for some teams to resist.
Other options on the wing include: Teemu Selanne, Ladislav Nagy, Anson Carter, Petr Sykora, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Brendan Shanahan.
Time will tell who ends up where, but free agents everywhere can expect to see the 514 area code pop up on their call display come Sunday.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com