Veterans Peter Bondra and Vincent Damphousse headline the list of unrestricted free agents still looking for work but the real action these days is with the restricted free agents, where NHL stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have yet to re-sign with training camps just around the corner.
Kovalchuk, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy as top NHL goal-scorer with 41 in 2003-04, can be an unrestricted free agent in July 2008 so Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell would like to get the 22-year-old sniper under contract for more than three years.
But that will come at a price, likely around $6 million US a season.
"I've spoken to Don Waddell pretty extensively about it and we will continue to have our conversations and hopefully it will be something that gets resolved in time for camp," Kovalchuk's agent Jay Grossman said Tuesday, not wanting to shed any more light on talks.
One restricted free agent who appears close to signing, according to sources, is New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro. He's set to sign a short-term deal in the next day or so, sources said.
That wasn't the original plan. Sources confirm GM Mike Milbury had toyed with the idea of a shocking $60-million, 15-year contract for the 23-year-old goalie - a deal worth $4 million a season - but the concept, which was well received by the DiPietro camp, was dropped mainly because of insurance issues. Milbury has been down this road before, signing centre Alexei Yashin to a $90-million, 10-year deal.
Other notable restricted free agents who need new deals are Ryan Smyth in Edmonton, Adam Hall in Nashville, Nick Boynton and Andrew Raycroft in Boston, Olli Jokinen in Florida, Jay McKee in Buffalo, Mark Parrish with the Islanders and Michael Ryder in Montreal.
Smyth, his agent Don Meehan and the Oilers have a basic agreement on a one-year contract but were trying to work out a long-term deal. That hasn't worked out at this point and all signs point to a one-year deal, which would bring the 29-year-old star winger to unrestricted free agency next summer.
There aren't many options for restricted free agents other than sit at home when camps open around the league next week. The new collective bargaining agreement does stipulate, however, that they must be re-signed by Dec. 1 or else they can't play in the NHL this season.
Or perhaps Europe gives some leverage.
Datsyuk, 27, signed a deal with Russian club Avangard Omsk, a one-year contract apparently worth $6 million. If the deal includes an out-clause, and it would be a shock if it didn't, then he remains free to re-sign with the Detroit Red Wings but GM Ken Holland can't dish out that kind of money. He only has about $7 million under the $39-million cap and has to re-sign Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
Holland, who spoke to Zetterberg's agent last Thursday, hoped to resume talks with the Swede's agent this week.
As for Datsyuk, who has been unsigned since last summer, Holland had long feared this would be a difficult process.
"I negotiated from May 2004 to early September 2004 with them and we were so far apart at that point in time that I guess I was figuring if we picked up where we left off we were a long ways apart," Holland said Tuesday. "We'll see what happens."
The situation with Datsyuk could have an impact on the 37-year-old Bondra, who has 477 NHL goals on his resume.
"We've got two or three teams in the mix, and maybe four if Detroit is interested," said Bondra's agent Ritch Winter. "Ken and I have talked numerous times about Peter but he doesn't have the funds that would allow him to do what we would like him to do."
But if Datsyuk is out of the mix, the Bondra camp could come calling.
As an NHL veteran over 35, Bondra can sign a deal that includes bonuses. Those bonuses are allowed to surpass the salary cap by 7.5 per cent but would then count against next year's cap. That could give some short-term flexibility to teams with little cap space now.
On the unrestricted side, Vincent Damphousse, 37, is close to making up his mind on joining an NHL club.
"I may have something to announce later this week," he said Tuesday.
Defenceman Bryan Marchment, 36, would like to return to Toronto.
"I'm hopeful that Toronto will recognize their need to fill a certain dimension on their team and they'll be able to sign him," his agent Rick Curran said Tuesday.
Scott Stevens, 41, took his name off the free-agent list Tuesday when he announced his retirement after 22 NHL seasons.
"What he's given to this organization, you can't even put into words," New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "We respect his decision."
Decisions are also expected in the next little while from fellow future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, 44, Ron Francis, 42 and Al MacInnis, 42. Francis and MacInnis are likely going to retire, but Messier remains a mystery.
Wouldn't it be nice to see Messier end his career in Edmonton, where he began his NHL career in the fall of 1979?
Either way, the NHL lockout not only robbed fans of an entire season and a Stanley Cup champion, but also possibly the chance to see those players retire in style.
"But I'm not one to look for a final year to say goodbye to everyone, that's not my style, I'm a private person," Stevens told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
"I guess I've been dragging my feet on this. But I think it was time to let everyone one and let the Devils move on."
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