Where free-agent fantasies meet brutal economic reality

The retirement of Bobby Holik of the New Jersey Devils isn't just a moment to lament the decline of hulking Lindros-era centers and prominent uni-brows. It's also a reminder that free-agent signings can sometimes turn out to be poo-poo, as the New York Rangers will certainly testify.

Even though the Stanley Cup playoffs will finish sometime at the end of July, eyes are turning to free agency and what some of the big names available could command. Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe thinks Marian Hossa(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings could get as high as $8 million for as long as eight years; here's his take on three of the other free-agent stars:

Jay Bouwmeester(notes) (D) - The star backliner, whom Florida refused to deal at the March deadline, will turn 26 in September. With great wheels and size (6-4/212), he might squeeze out six years and upward of $40 million.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin(notes) (F) - The twins, who make up the core of Vancouver's attack, probably can land five-year deals and each average between $5 million and $6 million. The Canucks may have no choice but to pay it, provided the Sedins are willing to stay. If not, Montreal, Los Angeles, perhaps even the Wild (sans Marian Gaborik(notes)) could be bidders.

The question is: How much will these teams bid, and for how long, when the salary cap for the next two seasons is dropping like the Hurricanes' Cup chances?

Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger reports today that the cap could decrease by $2.5 million for next season from its current level of $56.7 million. That's manageable; the fact that the cap could fall to $50 million for the 2010-11 season could have a dramatic effect on this summer's free agency.

From Chere, in speaking to a prominent agent and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke:

"I think the cap might go down maybe a million dollars or thereabouts," said agent Don Meehan, who represents Devils unrestricted free agent Johnny Oduya(notes). "I don't think it will have a significant effect. I think next year is the year in question. Most teams, agents and players will be concerned where the cap is at in a year's time."

Of course, because of the fears for 2010-11, GMs are likely to be more cautious this summer.

"It could cripple you," Burke said. "Obviously, the best for all of us is if it doesn't go down, because that means the industry is stable. But if it does go down, part of our job as managers is we have to be prepared for that. So we are taking a real hard look at anything we do that impacts on the 2010-11 season."

One imagines we're going to see a ton of one-year contracts for players of a certain age, with their agents desperately battling for something more long-term.

It's going to be very interesting to see how the cap drop will affect the sort of long-term UFA deals you'd expect to see from Bouwmeester and Hossa (provided the latter doesn't fall short of the Cup and then signs a one-year deal with the Penguins for a ring ... oh, irony).

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