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Brodeur's future among top free-agent questions

by Dan Rosen

The wooing period is almost over. A lot of money is about to change hands.

Unrestricted free agents can start fielding official contract offers from NHL teams at noon ET July 1. If history is a guide, many of them will do quite well.

In preparation for the frenzy that is the NHL free-agent market, here are nine questions that likely will be answered in the coming days. The answers will shape the future of many players and teams.

1. Is there a market for Martin Brodeur?

The answer is probably yes, but it's thin and the 42-year-old goaltender won't get what he wants, which is a promise for playing time on a Cup-contending team. If Brodeur signs anywhere it will be as a backup. He had a .901 save percentage last season and hasn't been better than .908 since 2009-10.

It would be a shock if he re-signs with the New Jersey Devils. They realize it's time to move on without him and make Cory Schneider the unquestioned No. 1 goalie. Brodeur has said he doesn't want to stand in the way of that.

The Toronto Maple Leafs would be in the market for a backup goalie if they trade James Reimer, who is a restricted free agent.

The Minnesota Wild have a surplus of goalies but no certainty with them. The Vancouver Canucks are likely in the market for a veteran, but they're probably looking for a No. 1, which Brodeur is not anymore. The Boston Bruins may not be bringing back Chad Johnson, but they have salary-cap restraints. The Calgary Flames need someone, but they're rebuilding.

The Washington Capitals could be it as they search for a backup to Braden Holtby. However, Tomas Vokoun wants to play again after sitting out last season with blood clots, and he has a history with the Capitals and their new goalie coach, Mitch Korn.

2. Is there a significant market for Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller?

Vancouver is the most obvious spot for either goaltender. Other markets might develop, but not before subsequent moves are made.

If Miller wants to go to Vancouver he might have the slightest edge on Hiller because of Miller's history with Canucks general manager Jim Benning. He was the Buffalo Sabres director of amateur scouting when they selected Miller in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Draft.

Benning first has to extend Miller an offer. There have been no reports of communication by the sides.

Miller has to self-analyze his worth -- something he has probably been doing since the end of the season -- to determine the contract length and value he thinks he should receive. His expectation and the offers may not match up.

He was supposed to be the final piece of a championship puzzle for the St. Louis Blues, but instead had an .897 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average in a six-game Western Conference First Round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Hiller could be a cheaper option than Miller for the Canucks or any team that might be in the market for a No. 1 goalie. So far there aren't many. Hiller knows the Pacific Division having played the past seven seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He also has something to prove after a disappointing end to last season.

3. Did Anton Stralman play well enough to price himself out of New York?

Stralman's traditional stats are not overwhelming, but his advanced stats tell a better story about his value.

He was one of the New York Rangers' most important defenseman in their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He had a team-best 56.5 Corsi-for percentage, according to He played second-pair minutes with Marc Staal but might have been the Rangers' second-best defenseman behind Ryan McDonagh.

Stralman checks off all the boxes for what a team looks for in an unrestricted free agent defenseman.

He's 27 years old. He's a right-handed shot. His possession numbers are strong. He has a good first pass. He can skate. He can move the puck. He can jump into the play. He's a quiet guy. He will not be a disruption in any way. He's a team-first player.

The Rangers have five forwards signed, 11 free agents in total, and approximately $23 million in salary-cap space. As much as the Rangers want Stralman back, they might not have the cap flexibility to make it happen.

Paul Stastny
Center - COL
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 60
SOG: 150 | +/-: 9
4. Will the Colorado Avalanche lose Paul Stastny?

They don't know. Nobody does, because Stastny is expected to test his value on the open market and double-back to the Avalanche before making any final decisions.

If his new contract lands in the neighborhood of $6 million per season, Colorado might have a chance to retain its No. 2 center behind Matt Duchene. If Stastny commands a higher average annual value, the Avalanche might have to refrain.

The Avalanche also want to re-sign forward Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Lady Byng Trophy. They can put a price range on what O'Reilly is going to cost them, probably between $5 million and $7 million per season, but that might not be settled until the case goes to arbitration.

5. Are the Chicago Blackhawks going to get a second-line center?

Stastny might be a perfect fit in Chicago to play behind Jonathan Toews, but the Blackhawks are worried about their salary-cap structure beyond this season with Toews and Patrick Kane expected to each sign a contract that could come with a cap charge as high as $12 million. Stastny might be too expensive for them right now.

The Blackhawks are trying to get a No. 2 center. They were involved in trade talks with the Canucks for Ryan Kesler before he was traded to the Ducks.

Jason Spezza would be a good option because he has one season left on his contract. The Blackhawks could get him for a year and not worry about how he would impact their salary cap going forward.

Chicago might decide to address the issue from within, using either rookie Teuvo Teravainen or Andrew Shaw in the role.

6. Will any restricted free agent receive and sign an offer sheet?

Using history as a guide, the answer is probably no.

The offer sheet is a tool that general managers rarely use because many believe it is bad for future business, for themselves and the market, for many reasons, including:

1) The theory is, if they sign another team's player to an offer sheet it could ruin the relationship with that team and disrupt any future dealings they may have.

2) GMs operate under the assumption it might not be worth their time to extend an offer sheet because the team that holds the rights of the player is likely to match the offer.

3) The offer sheet could create problems in the market because for a RFA to sign, it has to be a significant contract, perhaps above his market value. When a team offers a player more than his market value, it has a domino effect and can drive up the price on comparable RFAs.

4) The draft-pick compensation for acquiring a RFA through an offer sheet can be steep, with the maximum four first-round draft picks going to the team that used to employ the RFA.

There are several RFAs who are worth taking the chance on with an offer sheet, including Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, but odds are none will be extended. Subban, for example, could command a contract with an average annual value that requires the team signing him to an offer sheet to give up four draft picks, including two first-round selections.

The Canadiens likely would match any offer for Subban, like the Nashville Predators did for captain Shea Weber and the Avalanche did for O'Reilly.

7. How big a raise will Matt Niskanen get?

Let's just say it'll be big, if not massive.

The defenseman carried a $2.3 million salary-cap charge the past two seasons. He was priced about right in the 2012-13 season but was a steal last season when he scored a career-high 46 points in 81 games, taking advantage of the opportunity for a bigger role with Kris Letang sidelined for more than half the season.

Niskanen couldn't have picked a better time to go into free agency. The supply of quality defensemen is thin, but the demand is great. He's 27 years old. He's coming off his best season. He's a right-handed shot. He will get a big contract and likely will have several offers.

8. How will the Rangers address their 11 free agents?

GM Glen Sather was clear Saturday when he said New York's 11 free agents have to come down in their asking prices. He wants to bring them back, with the exception of RFA defenseman Justin Falk, who reportedly was not given a qualifying offer, but Sather knows that's not realistic.

The Rangers have given qualifying offers to RFA forwards Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider and defenseman John Moore. They are likely to be re-signed, but the Rangers favor bridge deals for RFAs. Brassard and Zuccarello are one year away from being eligible to become a UFA.

The bigger question is: What will happen with the Rangers' UFAs, particularly Stralman and forwards Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot?

Stralman might be gone because of what he'll command on the open market. Boyle and the Rangers have a difference of opinion on what his role should be. Boyle thinks he can do more, but the Rangers want him back as a fourth-line grinder and penalty-killer.

Moore and Pouliot played on a one-year contract last season, but each played a significant role and could be seeking a multiyear contract.

Sather also was clear when he said a player, including Boyle and Pouliot, has to ask himself if he wants to win in an environment he knows and is comfortable in, or does he want to go elsewhere for more money and a bigger role?

It sounds like Sather will be a shrewd negotiator. This will be an interesting time for the Rangers.

9. Are the Canucks going shopping?

The Canucks' motto is "Change is coming." Benning followed through on that at the draft with trades that should point them to becoming younger and cheaper.

Benning traded Kesler and defenseman Jason Garrison to get center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa, right wing Derek Dorsett and the No. 24 pick. Benning then acquired 22-year-old center Linden Vey from the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round draft pick.

Benning won't call those trades the beginning of a rebuild in Vancouver because he acquired some NHL players and has several veterans under contract, including forwards Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alexandre Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins and defensemen Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis. The GM saved approximately $4 million in salary-cap space in those trades and has approximately $17.75 million available with 16 players signed and six who are restricted free agents, including Vey.

Benning almost certainly will go after a goalie, possibly Miller or Hiller. He might look to bolster the Canucks' depth. Perhaps he attempts to add a front-line forward on a big contract. He has the options, and odds are he will be active in the free-agent market.


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