There is no way to know with unadulterated certainty how different those contract policies might be, if at all, once this stalemate is solved. But that solution needs to arrive at some point, after which the NHL’s 30 member teams can get back to signing and renewing contracts with new or returning players.
Many general managers made the most, or at least came close to making the most of the 11-week period between the July 1 release of free agents and the Sept. 15 work stoppage. Yet the majority of them will likely participate in a scramble for leftover commodities when and if the 2012-13 season gets the official go-ahead.
Granted, the pool of remaining UFAs and RFAs is too quantitatively and qualitatively shallow for all franchises to address the remainders of their respective to-do lists. But that will only make the scramble between the eventual announcement of a new CBA and the start of the next season more stimulating, won’t it?
Here is what every team will most likely pursue, if anything, in hopes of perfecting its 2012-13 puzzle.
Even though it looks like Teemu Selanne plans to return if and when the 2012-13 season actually commences, his age makes him as rust-prone as they come. There is the risk that his game might hit a wall and crash, and/or that he might pull a Brett Hull and abruptly retire only a short while into the next campaign.
The Ducks may similarly lose the valued input of another Finnish veteran in Saku Koivu if the lockout takes too long to resolve. In turn, they could use some second-line insurance and could seek it through the remaining pool of free agents.
If they could just cast away the cap hit of the voluntarily inactive Tim Thomas and/or the long-injured Marc Savard, the Bruins could stand to add one more NHL forward with their 12 presumptive regulars.
There is, however, no guarantee that the NHL team with the least spare space ($1,332,024) will find that requisite breathing room.
In late August, the Sabres cut into the Shane Doan derby with a reported head-turning offer. Since that did not pass muster, they will probably seek an alternative acquisition, unless they are ready to leave a hefty portion of the upfront workload in the hands of youngsters like Tyler Ennis and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Corey Crawford is likely to stick around for the long run, but who will be pushing him for crease time and pushing him to improve?
Ray Emery could certainly be back for the remaining year of his contract, although the Blackhawks were reportedly in the mix for an upgrade in the form of Martin Brodeur. Since that will not happen, they might settle for another veteran rental along the lines of a Ty Conklin or a Brent Johnson.
If anything free-agent related is still to be done between now and the next time the Blackhawks convene at the United Center, that is the area most likely to be visited.
Hard to imagine much more overhaul after the Blue Jackets made the blockbuster Rick Nash trade the mere nucleus of their offseason activity.
Nash, defenseman Marc Methot and possibly Aaron Johnson are their main NHL-caliber exports of note. Meanwhile, either through a trade or free agency, they have reeled in a full starting lineup in Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Adrian Aucoin, Tim Erixon and Curtis McElhinney.
The Jackets also have yet to run through a full season with the services of elite two-way defenseman Jack Johnson. So odds are the only other moves they might make in the foreseeable future would primarily affect the farm system, which may just as soon be left as it is as well.
The Stars stirred a good share of free agency winds between July 1 and Sept. 15, landing defenseman Aaron Rome, and forwards Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr.
At least one of those moves might be for naught if the speculation surrounding Jagr, a la that which has hovered over Selanne in Anaheim, comes true and the lockout spells the end of his NHL days.
There may be nothing to worry about and Jagr will join his fellow forty-something Whitney in giving Dallas at least one shortened year’s worth of a booster. However, if they do lose one of their would-be veteran acquisitions, the Stars will simply need to take the cap space they still have and find another top-six winger, if they can.
Bottom six, bottom six, bottom six.
If the Panthers are serious about staying relevant in the Southeast Division and not letting 2011-12 become a one-year wonder, they will keep pace with their rivals and try to lasso in a few more decent depth forwards.
Especially in light of the lockout offering a silver lining in that they will be less subject to post-Cup hangover, the defending champs are hard to envision making any moves of real note, if any moves at all.
The only conceivable exception might be if the Kings find they must relinquish Jonathan Bernier, who was a trade talk topic in the heat of the summer.
In that event, the solution to finding a backup for Jonathan Quick would either be calling up Martin Jones from Manchester or reaching out for an import.
If nothing else, changing P.K. Subban’s status from “restricted free agent” to “under contract for X-number of years” is an absolute must for the Canadiens. Realistically speaking, fans can assume that will come to fruition with relative comfort.
Forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov are nowhere to be found on Nashville’s scrolls after they infamously sullied the storyline of the team’s latest playoff by violating team rules in the middle of a series.
While relinquishing those two was a shrewd decision, the Predators still need a boost in offense. If they can find any specimens of it on the market, they ought to pick up a player that is at least just as competent, but more committed than Radulov or Kostitsyn.
Having bled substantial scoring prowess in the form of a Minnesota-bound Zach Parise and a Winnipeg-bound Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Devils would serve their interest best by trying to replenish some offensive presence. Or at the very least, ensuring that they change veteran Petr Sykora from a free agent to a re-signee.
After trading for Nash and signing Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt, the Rangers may not need to do anything else after addressing their most pressing need for more offense. However, after losing a former 13-goal scorer in Brandon Prust, it might not hurt to seek an extra fourth-liner who can score a little more than Arron Asham or Mike Rupp.
Regardless of whether or not Ryan will be available, only one of a likely multitude of interested teams can have him. Therefore, Ottawa’s better bet may be to pursue a free agent forward to shore up the top six or top nine.
As promising as the pair of rookies in Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad are, it would not hurt for the short-term future to have another winger in handy. That way, the younger players will not be rushed or overly pressured and the Sens can keep focusing on building upon their foundation from 2011-12.
The Flyers’ shortcoming in the epic Shea Weber footrace they waged against Nashville now yields a test of general manager Paul Holmgren’s resolve and perseverance.
In the days leading up to the lockout, there was chatter about the Flyers possibly rebooting their offer sheet tactics, this time targeting Subban from Montreal. They could resuscitate that project once normal business resumes, or they could settle for a lower-profile free agent defender to pad their blue line.
Any action that cultivates a pick-up would be more desirable than accepting the painful status quo, which is low-lighted by the uncertainty of Chris Pronger and the loss of Matt Carle to Tampa Bay. Whether or not Holmgren’s efforts are actually rewarded this time will be another matter.
Unless they decide that rising rookie Brandon Gormley is ready and that his addition along with Michalek will be enough, they may page through the blue line section of the free-agent market.
While some of its younger talent on the blue line and the bottom six of the offense continues to season itself for full-time roles, the Penguins would serve their best interest with a couple of short-term additions in both areas.
Naturally, like their in-state rivals, the Pens could stand to quantitatively and qualitatively revamp the defense a touch. But they would also benefit from have a seasoned, hungry, still decently productive winger along the lines of a Brian Rolston pitching in for one season.
After subsisting on a dynamic goaltending tandem and a balanced set of skaters en route to an improvement from 6-7-0, to Central Division champions under midseason replacement head coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues could not be expected to ruffle their roster too much.
They have since padded on one spare skater for offense and defense in Andrew Murray and Jeff Woywitka, respectively, and essentially substituted the veteran Jason Arnott with the flashy prospect Vladimir Tarasenko.
It would be most surprising if they did not stop there.
A combination of trades and free agent moves has allowed the Lightning to spruce up a little bit of every position, from lower-tier scoring (Benoit Pouliot) to defense (Matt Carle and Sami Salo) to goaltending (Anders Lindback).
Consider the Bolts another one of the NHL’s more likely teams to stand pat and let the roster they compiled between June and September jell as it is right now.
The buzz about a possible trade for Roberto Luongo persists, even though one could argue that the Leafs ought to be happy going forward with the netminding tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
Yet the summer speculation was not confined strictly to Luongo. At least one report held that the Leafs, like the Blackhawks, were interested in nabbing Brodeur.
In turn, if the Leafs were to try to claim Luongo but found Vancouver’s asking price unreasonable, it is feasible that they could look into whatever is left among free-agent stoppers.
An addition like that will give Vancouver a more comfortable breadth of resorts if and when players like the Sedins are not clicking, as well as give them proven veteran presence to help their cause in the postseason.
Shortly before free agents were turned loose over the summer, Washington Post beat writer Neil Greenberg noted that the Capitals’ export of Wideman “opens up a slot for a right-handed defenseman.”
So far, no established NHL-caliber blueliner with a decent offensive pedigree has been brought in. If that remains the case, it will be a sign that the Caps are ready to go forward with the still-burgeoning Dmitry Orlov, even though he is a left shot.