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Buyouts strengthen depth of free-agent pool

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

The compliance buyouts still are rolling in and constantly changing the landscape of what teams can expect the unrestricted free agent market to look like when it opens at noon ET on Friday.

The picture will remain foggy at best until the compliance buyout window closes at 5 p.m. ET Thursday, but it is abundantly clear now that the market will be deeper with defencemen because of these compliance buyouts.

Already there are seven veteran blueliners who otherwise wouldn't be unrestricted free agents Friday if not for the compliance buyout option available to all 30 teams.

Jeff Schultz cleared unconditional waivers Wednesday, giving the Washington Capitals the ability to use a compliance buyout on the little-used defenceman, who has played 399 games in seven seasons.

The Minnesota Wild confirmed they put Tom Gilbert on unconditional waivers with the intent of using one of their two compliance buyouts on him provided he clears Thursday. Gilbert would become an unrestricted free agent.

Keith Ballard (Vancouver Canucks) and and Carlo Colaiacovo (Detroit Red Wings) reportedly were placed on unconditional waivers Wednesday.

Provided they clear Thursday, which likely will happen, they will be issued a compliance buyout so they can become unrestricted free agents.

Steve Montador (Chicago Blackhawks), Tomas Kaberle (Montreal Canadiens) and Mike Komisarek (Toronto Maple Leafs) are the other defencemen who will become UFAs on Friday because of compliance buyouts.

Though none of the seven bought-out defencemen are considered top-two, or even top-four, players right now, they have added to what was expected to be a thin free-agent market for blueliners.

Andrew Ference (Boston Bruins) and Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles Kings) headline the defencemen expected to be available Friday. Combined, Ference and Scuderi have won the Stanley Cup three times and appeared in the Stanley Cup Final five times. They're good buys for any team, especially contenders that need veteran help on the blue line.

Ryan Whitney (Edmonton Oilers), Marek Zidlicky (New Jersey Devils), Ron Hainsey (Winnipeg Jets), Toni Lydman (Anaheim Ducks), Douglas Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Michal Rozsival (Chicago Blackhawks) are some of the other top names among defencemen likely to be available Friday.

Rozsival is an example of a player who can reignite his career with the right fit. He platooned with Sheldon Brookbank as the Blackhawks' sixth defenceman for most of the 2012-13 season but was elevated to their No. 5 in the playoffs and went on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

The forward market shrunk by one Tuesday when Vincent Lecavalier agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers, but Nathan Gerbe is expected to add to the market Thursday when he is bought out by the Buffalo Sabres. Gerbe, who has one year left on a contract that carries a $1.45 million salary-cap charge, reportedly was put on unconditional waivers Wednesday.

Darren Dreger of TSN reported Wednesday that forward Sergei Kostitsyn was put on unconditional waivers, so should the Nashville Predators use a compliance buyout on him, that would put another skilled forward on the market.

If the Sabres use a compliance buyout on Gerbe, it could mean they're freeing up a roster spot and some salary-cap space to sign Danny Briere, who recently was bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers and will become an unrestricted free agent Friday.

Briere played 225 games for the Sabres from 2003-07 and had three seasons of 25 or more goals, including 32 in 2006-07. He signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with the Flyers in the summer of 2007.

Ilya Bryzgalov and Rick DiPietro are the goalies who have been issued a compliance buyout. They didn't come cheap: The Flyers will pay Bryzgalov $23 million over the next 14 years to stay out of their crease, and the Islanders have to pay DiPietro $24 million for the next 16 years to not play for them. Each will be an unrestricted free agent Friday.

The New Jersey Devils will have to figure out what to do with goalie Johan Hedberg, who has one year and $1.4 million left on his contract. He could be bought out, but the more favorable option for Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello appears to be going the trade route, though Hedberg would have to waive his no-trade clause.

Hedberg is 40 years old and strictly a backup at this stage of his career. There are younger goalies with potential No. 1 ability -- Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov, Ray Emery and Jose Theodore -- ready to hit the market Friday.

It's hard to say now if DiPietro can be a No. 1 in the NHL, but the 31-year-old has been given a clean bill of health and hasn't put too many miles on his goalie skates over the past five seasons.

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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