Habs fitted for cap

 

The National Hockey League salary cap for the 2009-10 season will be revealed next week, but one thing is already certain - the Canadiens have more money to spend on free agents than any other team.

 
 
 
 
 

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The National Hockey League salary cap for the 2009-10 season will be revealed next week, but one thing is already certain - the Canadiens have more money to spend on free agents than any other team.

But it remains to be seen whether this is a blessing or a curse.

For the first time since the lockout, the salary cap won't rise. But it is expected to be in the $54 million-$56 million U.S. range, and the Canadiens have 11 NHL players under contract with a commitment of only $23.5 million.

General manager Bob Gainey gave himself a great deal of flexibility by finishing the season with 10 players who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1 as well as three restricted free agents. But there is also the potential of gaping holes in the roster.

For starters, Gainey must make decisions on which of his own potential UFAs to keep, and hope that the keepers also decide they want to stay in Montreal.

Once that task is completed, the next step will be to assess the available free agents and hope he can lure some of them to Montreal. This has proved to be a difficult task in the past, but money shouldn't be a problem.

The wild card in the Canadiens' offseason planning is Vincent Lecavalier. The Tampa Bay Lightning faces a decision on the future direction of the franchise, and dumping the Ile Bizard native's $7.227-million cap hit could give the team some flexibility of its own.

The main UFAs on the current Canadiens roster include defenceman Mike Komisarek and top-six forwards Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang. If Lecavalier does land in Montreal, that would end speculation about Koivu's future and he'll move on.

While the acquisition of Lecavalier would solve the Canadiens' need for a big centre, it would create holes elsewhere. The Lightning's greatest need is on defence, and reports from Tampa suggest Andrei Markov would have to be part of any deal.

Gainey wasn't interested when Lecavalier was being shopped around last winter because he felt the price was too high. But it's inconceivable that a new owner could place a higher value on the homegrown Lecavalier.

The Canadiens are trying to reach a deal with Komisarek, but all the signs indicate he will wait until July 1 and test his market value.

Here's a look at the other teams in the NHL as they approach the free-agent market:

MONEY TO BURN

Los Angeles (39.9 million, 19 players): The Kings had trouble reaching the cap floor last season. They have $39.9 million committed to 19 players. They are reportedly looking for a big-name attraction, but at the same time seem willing to trade RFA defenceman Jack Johnson. They also need an NHL-calibre goalie.

New York Islanders ($32.4 million, 17 players): They have lots of room, despite a cap hit of more than $3 million for the Alexei Yashin buyout. The Islanders could be the team that overpays for local product Komisarek. They also need goaltending insurance if oft-injured Rick DiPietro doesn't bounce back, but the most important addition will be the No. 1 draft choice, either John Tavares or Viktor Hedman.

Atlanta ($33.3 million, 15 players): The Thrashers need scoring to support Ilya Kovalchuk and convince him there's a future before he bolts after next season. A young defence promises to get better, but the team needs a healthy Keri Lehtonen in goal. He's an RFA with arbitration rights.

Florida ($38 million, 13 players): The Panthers will have to reload on defence. They have only three defencemen under contract and will have to replace Jay Bouwmeester and Nick Boynton.

Nashville ($33 million, 13 players): The Predators have nine UFAs, but none of them are irreplaceable. The best of the lot is comeback kid Steve Sullivan, who will turn 35 next month.

Chicago ($34.5 million, 11 players): The Blackhawks will miss Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Havlat, but their departures free up nearly $13 million. Chicago has nine RFAs, including rookie-of-the- year finalist Kris Versrteeg, who's due for a raise after earning $491,667 last season.

Vancouver: ($33.8 million, 13 players): The Canucks will eat up much of their cap space signing the Sedin twins or replacing them.

Columbus ($42.9 million, 19 players): There's enough here for the Blue Jackets to bolster their defence in front of Calder Trophy-winning goalie Steve Mason.

WILLING TO DEAL

St. Louis: ($46.2 million, 19 players): Keith Tkachuk is the only notable UFA for the Blues. They are well-stocked, but the word is that they are ready to wheel and deal to reach the next level.

Dallas ($39.5 million, 19 players): The Stars are in a good position with cap room and captain Brendan Morrison as the only notable UFA. But don't be surprised if new GM Joe Nieuwendyk shakes things up. There's room for improvement after missing the playoffs and firing coach Dave Tippett.

THE COMFORT ZONE

Detroit (51.2 million, 16 players): The only challenge for the Stanley Cup finalists is a way to keep Marian Hossa.

Pittsburgh ($46.835 million, 14 players): Miroslav Satan and Peter Sykora may be too rich for the Stanley Cup champions, who will use their cap space to keep Bill Guerin and shore up the defence.

Calgary ($45.4 million, 15 players): Cap issues prevented the Flames from dressing a full roster at the end of the season. With Adrian Aucoin, Mike Camallieri and Todd Bertuzzi leaving through free agency, there will be some room for Darryl Sutter to move.

San Jose ($46.7 million, 13 players): The departure of defenceman Rob Blake gives the Sharks some room. The roster won't change unless someone asks why this team can't win with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

Buffalo ($46.5 million, 15 players): The Sabres don't figure to be big players in the free-agent market, but will need to sign defenceman Jaroslav Spacek or find a replacement.

Edmonton ($42.8 million, 19 players): Goaltender Dwayne Rolson and RFA defenceman Denis Grebeshkov have to be signed, but UFA Alex Kotalik is gone.

Washington ($44.6 million, 15 players): Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and, possibly, Michael Nylander) are moving, and the Capitals will be hoping goalie Simeon Varlamov continues to improve.

Carolina ($42.3 million, 15 players): After going to the Eastern Conference final, the Hurricanes will concentrate on keeping Erik Cole and Chad LaRose.

New Jersey ($40.4 million, 14 players): The Devils would like to sign defenceman Johnny Oduya, who is an attractive UFA (he earned $600,000), but as long as Marty Brodeur is in nets and the new head coach likes to trap, the Devils will be able to fill in the missing pieces.

IN LIMBO

Phoenix ($32.2 million, 15 players): The Coyotes' No. 1 need is an owner. They are young, but have seven unsigned RFAs and no cash.

Tampa Bay ($40.2 million, 17 players): Can cash-strapped owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie afford to trade Lecavalier? They may not have a choice with the team rebuilding around Steve Stamkos and either Viktor Hedman or John Tavares.

Colorado ($44.8 million, 15 players): The last-place club in the West has room if Joe Sakic doesn't return. The Avalanche desperately needs an upgrade in goal.

Anaheim ($38.9 million, 17 players): Will Scott Neidermayer be back? If he is, the Ducks may be moving Chris Pronger. Todd Marchant should be back, but Francois Beauchemin will get good offers from other teams.

Minnesota ($43.6 million, 15 players): Marian Gaborik appears to be going, which will hurt because he might have enjoyed the change from Jacques Lemaire to Todd Richards as coach. This could be Saku Koivu's new home if he and the Canadiens part.

UP AGAINST THE CAP

Philadelphia ($51.4 million, 17 players): The Flyers would like to add an impact defenceman like Jay Bouwmeester, but will have to move someone like Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne or Jeff Carter to make room, which is unlikely. The Flyers have added Ray Emery, which means the goaltending is still suspect.

Boston ($51.29 million, 16 players): The Bruins will have a difficult time meeting Phil Kessel's demands without clearing cap space. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is ready to play in the NHL, but can the Bruins afford to add a $3.2-million backup? Ottawa ($50.5 million, 20 players): The Senators will get some relief when they move Dany Heatley.

Toronto ($44.5 million, 17 players): Brian Burke would like to get the Sedin twins, but he has to clear some space. The Leafs still need goaltending - Vesa Toskala and his $4-million salary don't fit the bill.

New York Rangers ($38 million, nine players): At first glance, there's plenty of money, but the Rangers have only nine NHL players signed and are only set in goal.

 
 
 
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