MONTREAL - What do you get when you cross a truckload of unrestricted free agents with a salary cap that has been bumped up to $44 million? Bob Gainey and all 29 of the league's other GMs are dying to find out.
Once midnight strikes on Friday, the floodgates will officially open, giving teams the chance to make their sales pitch to the free agents of their choice. Like every summer, the list of available players is a long one, but not necessarily at all positions.
While there are tantalizing forwards on the menu to be had like Patrik Elias, Marc Savard and Jason Arnott, defensemen definitely make up the bulk of this year's unrestricted free agent buffet. From all 6-foot-9, 260 pounds of Zdeno Chara, to Canucks anchor Ed Jovanovski, teams looking to bolster their blue line will find ample options to suit their shopping needs.
With the big names likely not sitting on the shelves for very long, there are other lesser-known rearguards out there who can certainly lend a helping hand to any defensive corps in the NHL.
Accustomed to battling in the trenches, longtime Sabres defenseman Jay McKee is likely way up on the wish lists of not only GMs, but especially goalies league-wide, with the 12-year veteran having just led the NHL with a staggering 241 blocked shots.
Flying under the radar like McKee is bruising blue liner Brendan Witt. After spending the first 11 years of his career with the Capitals, Witt finished the 2005-06 in Nashville and is now set to test the open market. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, the former Washington captain isn't afraid to throw his weight around. Witt ranked among the league leaders with 191 hits on the season, while sitting second behind only NHL bad boy Sean Avery with 209 penalty minutes.
Mature Subject Matter
If Year 1 of the new NHL proved anything, it's that speed kills. With the pace of the game at a tempo not seen in over a decade, young legs would seem to be the foundation on which championship teams will be built moving forward.
That being said, Rod Brind'Amour made it clear that the date on his birth certificate was not going to stand in the way of him finally winning his first Stanley Cup. The soon-to-be, 36-year-old centerman enjoyed his best season since 1997-98, with 70 points and 31 goals before igniting Carolina's impressive playoff run. Rewarded with a brand new five-year deal by the 'Canes, Brind'Amour's apparent discovery of the fountain of youth might be good news for a handful of grey beards that will be floating in the free agent pool this summer.
After battling through an injury plagued season in his first year in Los Angeles, 36-year-old Jeremy Roenick would like nothing more than to do his best Brind'Amour impression for a new team in 2006-07. Now almost headlining the dubious list of players to have yet to win a Stanley Cup, Roenick has made it clear that he is prepared to cross the border for the first time in his 18-year career and even take a considerable pay cut in pursuit of hockey's ultimate prize.
While he's quite comfortable in the Stanley Cup department with three rings to his credit, Brendan Shanahan may be another veteran not ready to skate off into the sunset quite yet. The 37-year-old did, after all, hit the 40-goal mark, with his 81 points marking his highest total since his first year with the Red Wings in 1996-97. Should Shanahan end up leaving Motown, there will not be a lack of possible suitors for the seasoned left winger.
Potentially lost in the shuffle of the upcoming free agent frenzy will be a group of older players, who now find themselves a phone call away from either continuing or having to end their NHL careers. On that list are a number of former Canadiens including: Eric Desjardins, Brian Savage, Donald Brashear, Lyle Odelein, Eric Weinrich, Trevor Linden and Mark Recchi.
Anyone trying to reach Gainey on his cell phone over the next few days shouldn't be alarmed to wind up getting his voicemail. He'll probably just be on the other line.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.