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Let the silly season begin

Win-now teams to jump on mediocre free-agent crop

Posted: Saturday June 30, 2007 10:43AM; Updated: Sunday July 1, 2007 5:05PM
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The Flyers gave former Sabres forward Daniel Briere $52 million over eight years when free agency opened Sunday.
The Flyers gave former Sabres forward Daniel Briere $52 million over eight years when free agency opened Sunday.
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I'm not sure who coined the term "silly season" to describe the NHL free agency period, but I sure like it. How else to explain teams lining up to hand over enough cash to choke a mammoth to a player like Daniel Briere, who was such a gamebreaker a couple years ago that he was placed on waivers? Or a defenseman like Sheldon Souray, who can be handy in the offensive zone but has just a passing acquaintance with his own goalie?

Despite all the buzz, this year's crop of unrestricted free agents is a middling lot at best, headlined by Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Smyth and Scott Gomez. Good players all, but hardly standard bearers. And while there are sure to be several eye-popping deals handed out, the truly smart money will lay off until next season, when legitimate superstars like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa could be in play.

Still, there are always teams with a win-now philosophy, and with the salary cap set at an astonishing $50.3 million -- we lost a year of hockey for this? -- several big market clubs are likely to flex their financial muscles when the signing period starts Sunday at noon.

Who will be active? The Kings have more money than anyone, and desperately need to make some kind of splash to avoid irrelevancy in a market now dominated by the Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. The Flyers have both cap space and motivation -- they were humiliated by last season's performance and already have made several moves indicating a desire to return to prominence this season. The Maple Leafs need support for Mats Sundin, and clearly signaled their philosophy with the Vesa Toskala deal on draft day. The Avalanche have been quiet about their intentions (there's a shock, eh?), but they should be a Day One player. Dallas always seems to be in the mix, and they desperately need secondary scoring. After trading for Tomas Vokoun, Florida's likely in the market for veteran defense. Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe has promised to be active, but he's unlikely to attract any of the high-end candidates.

Meanwhile, a few teams are likely to be quiet, including Nashville where, last we heard, GM David Poile was in his office making calls to sell the Predators' skate sharpener, Jacuzzi and team bus.

Predictions are brutally tough to make this time of year, but what fun is life without a few risks, right? Here's a look at the big names, and their most likely landing spots.

The Big Four: Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Ryan Smyth

The Flyers wasted no time in landing what may be the prize of the free-agent crop, signing Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract Sunday afternoon. A number of other teams have the cap space and the need for a No. 1 or 1A-type pivot. San Jose is thought to have cleared space with the draft day Toskala/Mark Bell deal specifically to target Drury, a player whose intensity and competitiveness would be the perfect companion to Joe Thornton's laidback production. Gomez would be an ideal fit in Philly or New York, but might be tempted by a West Coast club that would allow him to be closer to home. Smyth is the fiery playoff competitor that every legitimate contender covets -- and the ability of a suitor to compete over the next several years may play a bigger role than numbers in landing the veteran winger. Predictions: Drury to the Sharks, Gomez to the Kings, Smyth to Detroit

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