The Bear Cave

July 19, 2009 8:52 AM

Attention Shoppers: NHL All-Stars Could be Yours!

Nearly three weeks have passed since the market opened for teams to be able to sign free agents. In that time, dozens of players have found new homes, while others felt happy right where they were. However, there are still just as many names that don't have contracts listed next to them for the 2009-10 campaign. Some players may create a challenge, as quite a few teams are beginning to approach the cap. Others will be forced to wait a little while longer, as they could be some of the final puzzle pieces added to clubs prior to training camp.

Beginning with the unrestricted free agents, the highest salary from last season can be crossed off of the list, as Joe Sakic has officially announced his retirement from the game of hockey. That leaves defenseman Mathieu Schneider as the current leader, after bringing in $5.75 million a year ago. Despite being 40 years old, Schneider can still be viewed as a starting blueliner for a good amount of teams in the league.

The mystery of Mats Sundin is second on the list. Sundin made approximately $5.63 million last season, despite missing most of the year while trying to figure out where he wanted to play. Sundin was able to register 28 points in 41 games with the Vancouver Canucks, and could prove to be a valuable signing for a team in search of a top center. However, one does have to wonder how long it will take the Swedish forward to sign on the dotted line this time around.

The third highest contract on the unrestricted market is Alex Tanguay. Tanguay ran into injury troubles last season, forcing him to miss 32 regular season contests as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. The 29-year old was successful while he was in the lineup, producing 16 goals, 25 assists, and 41 points in 50 games. Despite having a high price tag attached to him, Tanguay's age could make him one of the better buys, as a team can confidently sign him to a multi-year deal.

The final player in the $5 million category is defeseman Sergei Zubov. Zubov pocketed $5.35 million last season, despite playing in just ten games with the Dallas Stars. The 38-year old is getting up in age and experience, which could lead to a retirement in the near future. If Zubov decides to return, 2009-10 could be his final season in the NHL.

Moving further down the list is former Bruins' goaltender Manny Fernandez. With Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, and Dany Sabourin all under contract, Fernandez will be looking to suit up for a new club this season. The 34-year old made $4.75 million this past year, while going 16-8-3 in 28 appearances with Boston. Fernandez will likely see his pay take a hit, but he can still be a reliable fit between the pipes.

Those are the five highest contracts from this past season for players currently in the category of unrestricted free agents. Other significant players in that category include: Maxim Afinogenov, PJ Axelsson, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin Biron, Kyle Calder, Mike Comrie, Niclas Havelid, Dmitri Kalinin, Viktor Kozlov, Manny Legace, Dennis Seidenberg, and Brendan Shanahan. There are plenty of others that don't appear on this list, but are in the same category in terms of ability and value.

The restricted market also has quite the collection of names. However, this group of players creates a challenge, as said player's current team has the opportunity to match any qualifying offer presented by another club. Forwards Nikolai Zherdev, Tuomo Ruutu, and Tomas Plekanec are coming off of the highest paid seasons on this list. Zherdev took home $3.25 million from the New York Rangers, Ruutu made $2.25 million with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Plekanec's contract was worth $1.8 million from the Montreal Canadiens. They are followed by defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who made $1.5 million for his services with the Edmonton Oilers. The highest paid goaltender on the restricted market is Ottawa's Brian Elliott, who made a strong entrance to the NHL, despite only earning approximately $758K.

Restricted free agents are the most complicated to figure out, as only nine of the remaining players made over $1 million last season. That will likely drastically for some, as players such as Phil Kessel, Drew Stafford, and Travis Zajac more than earned significant increases in pay. The main reason for most of these salaries being so low is that the majority of those players were on entry-level deals. For example, John Tavares recently signed his first contract with the New York Islanders, but was only able to sign for $900K with that rule in place.

Bargains will be tougher to come by in the restricted market, because of the original teams' abilities to match the deals offered. However, if the team putting the offer on the table has some extra cap room against a team with little cap room, they might just be able to land the player they are looking for.

The start of training camp is still a little less than two months away, meaning teams and players still have a significant amount of time to secure deals. The contracts are beginning to slow down, so now might be the perfect time to land an impact player or two.

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