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What about the rest of the NHL's free agents?

Jul 27, 2010, 9:45 AM EST

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billguerin.jpgWhile we’re all consumed with what is going to transpire in the situation with Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils, there’s a host of other free agents out there feeling lonely and looking for a new home. One guy that might be off the market as soon as today is Alexander Frolov who is rumored to be close to signing a deal with the New York Rangers. The Globe And Mail’s James Mirtle got asking around about what’s going on with the other 84 unrestricted free agents on the market and why they haven’t landed jobs anywhere.

Unlike past seasons under the salary cap, when the majority of the established free agents signed contracts in the first week of July, this summer has seen a huge number of teams balk at the asking price for second- and third-line players.

In an informal poll Monday, agents around the league agreed the market for depth has eroded to the point where many general managers are unwilling to pay much more than the league minimum ($500,000) for the bottom eight to 10 players on their roster.

“So many teams are taking the position that they’re going to pay third- and fourth-line guys $1-million or less,” said Tacopina, who is getting calls daily from European clubs hoping to sign NHL-calibre players. “I think we’re going to see a watering down of talent in the league if it continues on this path.”

One of the holdups this summer has been Kovalchuk, who finally signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils last week, only to have the deal rejected by the NHL the next day. Once his status is finally resolved, many agents said they felt their clients will finally get closer looks from teams waiting out the market.

The monkey wrench in that thought, as Mirtle mentions after this, is that there just isn’t the kind of money out there to be had. In what’s mostly a down-ish off-season for free agents with just one really big prize to be had in Kovalchuk, many teams are finding that this is the summer of reckoning when it comes to their budgets. I’m sure the Bruins would love to add more scoring depth to their team that doesn’t have to come via trade. I don’t imagine that adding Colby Armstrong to their forward unit was the only move the Maple Leafs would’ve made in free agency if they could help it, but alas, there’s just no money to be had there.

As for the teams that are well below the salary floor and will need to add money to compete, they’ll do so, but it won’t happen right away. Not to mention that some teams are dealing with an internal salary cap that won’t let them wantonly add salary just to fill out ranks. It makes you think of the days without a salary cap where the line between the big spenders and the thrifty teams was definitive.

In this case, according to Cap Geek, you’ve got three teams under the salary floor of $43.4 million (Islanders, Avalanche, Thrashers) with the Predators just hovering above the line. There are seven other teams that are less than $5 million above the salary floor. Whether those teams are just waiting things out and looking to spend smart or if they’re done really poking around for the summer remains to be seen, but in cases like the Carolina Hurricanes, they’ve made it clear they’re not going much higher than where the salary floor is at.

If you’re a guy like Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky or Paul Kariya and still waiting for a job… The harsh reality of life in the cap world is settling in and if you want to play in the NHL, dropping your demands to an acceptable level is what will have to be done to get another job. Taking a shot in the wallet and in your pride makes it twice as difficult.

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