With less than 24 hours remaining until the annual summer rite known as ‘Free Agent Frenzy,’ every NHL team has started the countdown with a plan of attack.
For the Panthers, the attack will very much depend on what happens before free agency kicks off Wednesday at noon.
“How active we’re going to be will depend on getting some of our (unrestricted free agents) signed,” said Randy Sexton, the Panthers assistant GM. “Obviously, if we’re able to come to terms with those guys, we probably won’t be very active. If we’re not, we’ll probably need to be more active than we otherwise would have been.”
The Panthers had nine unrestricted free agents. But Richard Zednik and Janis Sprukts will play overseas next season. Jay Bouwmeester’s rights were traded to Calgary. The Panthers are not interested in pursuing Nick Boynton and are not prepared at this time to commit to Jassen Cullimore.
That leaves forwards Radek Dvorak and Ville Peltonen, defensemen Karlis Skrastins and Jordan Leopold (rights acquired in Bouwmeester deal), and goaltender Craig Anderson.
For Sexton, like every other GM, this year’s free agency will be a balancing act. There’s no room for error with so many teams hard against the salary cap and that cap likely to go down next season.
So what do the Panthers do with Dvorak ($1.6 million last season), Peltonen ($1.2 million), Skrastins ($2.4 million) and Leopold ($1.5 million)?
Sexton said Monday the Panthers would like to have Peltonen back and, yes, Peltonen would like to come back. “But we’re not able to have a meeting of the minds on his salary yet,” Sexton added.
The Panthers would like to have Skrastins back, but only “if we can get him back at the right price and right term,” said Sexton, who added he’s spoken to Dvorak’s and Leopold’s agents over the last several days.
Dvorak had 15 goals last season (36 points), including four short-handed goals in 81 games, and Peltonen had 12 goals (31 points) in 79 games. Both killed penalties. Skrastins produced the best offensive numbers of his NHL career last season, with 18 points (four goals) and was a plus-9. After injuries curtailed his previous three seasons, Leopold played in 83 games last year between Colorado and Calgary and had 24 points (seven goals),
Anderson ($575,000), 15-7 with a .924 save percentage and 2.87 goals against, had the best season of his career. But the Park Ridge, Il., native has made it clear he’d like a shot at being a No. 1 goalie.
It’s clear Sexton will be working the phone the next day trying to close deals with unrestricted free agents as well as restricted free agent and leading goal scorer David Booth.
“We’re focused on the things we have to get done between now and Wednesday and then take it from there,” he said.
No one really seems to know how active teams will be come Wednesday due to the cap and economic climate. Vancouver’s GM Mike Gillis is in Sweden trying to negotiate a deal to keep Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who some believe could command $7 million a season each.
The Senators are trying to deal disgruntled Dany Heatley before a $4 million bonus payment is due Wednesday, the Flames are trying to work out a deal with Bouwmeester, and there’s questions about how much Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik are worth.
Meanwhile, there’s dozens of players available beneath what some have billed the Fab Five of Free Agency. Do teams take a shot with older veterans like Robert Lang, Mike Knuble, John Madden
, Mark Recchi, Steve Sullivan, Sergei Zubov and Rob Blake? And how much should you pay for Nik Antropov, Paul Mara, Ian Laperriere, Rob Scuderi or Mattias Ohlund?
The countdown begins.