Resolutions at this time of year usually involve losing weight, quitting smoking or downsizing the debt. But for NHL general managers, resolutions involve a different kind of problem, those created by their key pending free agents.
Once upon a time, the suits only had to worry about players who were about to become unrestricted free agents and whether they could be re-signed or needed to be moved by the deadline in order to avoid losing them for nothing. But in the NHL's current salary-capped world, there's the added challenge caused by the real possibility that restricted free agents might be lost to offer sheets that almost never came in the past.
It's enough to cause a lot of headaches in several front offices in the weeks and months ahead. Here's a look at 10 situations most likely to do so:
1. Alexander Ovechkin: It's hard to imagine the Washington Capitals will let their franchise face go under any circumstance, but Ovechkin has already reportedly rejected a deal worth $7.5 million annually and will almost certainly get an offer sheet approaching the maximum $10 million per season if he hits the open market. Ovechkin will be a restricted free agent, so Washington will get the chance to match any bid, but the 22-year-old Russian superstar hasn't been afraid to complain about the dearth of talent surrounding him in the past. The Caps don't spend much on payroll to begin with, and if it takes 20 percent of their budget room to get him back, chances are it will create a situation that won't leave anyone involved happy.
2. Marian Hossa: Hossa, who turns 29 next week, is one of the NHL's most electrifying players and good for about 40 goals per season when he's healthy. But he's also now a $7 million-a-year player who will be expecting a raise and one who doesn't seem too anxious to get it from the Thrashers. Hossa came to Atlanta from Ottawa in a trade after the lockout, leaving his original organization and one that was a perennial contender. That's not the case in Atlanta, and although the Thrashers have plenty of available cap room to get him under contract, Hossa seems to be more interested in going somewhere where title hopes are realistic. That means the Thrashers have a tough decision to make by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. They're on the playoff bubble now, and if they stay in contention, it will be hard to justify moving such a key component. But it won't be any easier losing him for nothing if he bolts next summer.
3. Brian Campbell: The Sabres got burned last summer, losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency because they didn't extend them when they had a chance early in the season. Buffalo is risking the same fate with defenseman Brian Campbell, one of the league's best puck movers from the back end and an integral component of the team's attack. Campbell is only 28 and earns only $1.75 million, so he's due a big raise, and if the Sabres don't find a way to get him under contract before July 1, he'll test the market and certainly get it some place else.
4. Corey Perry: The Ducks lost young forward Dustin Penner to an over-the-top offer sheet from Edmonton last summer and are trying to avoid the same situation this time around with Perry. He's younger and a better all-around player than Penner and will draw lots of interest if he gets to July 1 without a contract, even if he is a restricted free agent. Anaheim needs to find the cap space to get a deal done, a situation that was complicated when Scott Niedermayer decided last month that he really wasn't ready to retire. Ducks GM Brian Burke is a shrewd operator and has dumped some salary since then to clear payroll space, but not enough to get a deal done yet with Perry, who is finishing his first three-year NHL contract that pays him less than $650,000 annually.
5. Dion Phaneuf: Few people deliver as much punishment with their hits while putting up the kind of point totals Phaneuf does. He's only 22 and should spend the next decade or so as a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, which is why the Flames want to lock him up as soon as possible. Easier said than done. Phaneuf is finishing his rookie contract and earning about $785,000 a year, but there should be more than a few teams willing to pay him eight times that if he gets to the market as a restricted free agent. The Flames probably will be able to match any offer sheet, but they already have about $38 million in salary commitments for next season and will have several other roster spots to fill as well.
6. Jay Bouwmeester: The Florida Panthers defenseman got a lot more attention when he was a junior superstar in Canada, but if he's flying under the radar these days, it's because of where he is, not because his game has slipped. Bouwmeester is one of the league's best skaters at any position and an elite defenseman who is stuck on a team that always seems to be going nowhere. There is some very good young talent in Florida, and several of those players have been locked up for long terms, but at 24, Bouwmeester hasn't seemed to be in a rush to join them. He's making $2.25 million this season, is a restricted free agent when it's over and will probably end up equaling or surpassing the highest salary on the Panthers if he stays.
7. Wade Redden: The Senators essentially chose him over Zdeno Chara a couple of years back and more often than not, they seem to have regretted giving him a contract worth $6.5 million a season. The 30-year-old defenseman hasn't been a bust, but the feeling in Ottawa is that he hasn't lived up to the elite status of someone being paid the way he is. He's an unrestricted free agent after the season and has been mentioned in several trade rumors as a result, something that will likely continue until the deadline. Redden has hinted he might be willing to take a hometown discount to re-sign, but it will probably have to be a steep one for the Senators to bite again.
8. Mike Ribeiro: The Montreal native was run out of his hometown when he played with the Canadiens, but he's been a revelation in Dallas, where he has turned into the team's most prolific producer over the last two seasons. In fact, he's in the midst of a career year. That costs teams money, and the Stars will have to come up with a lot more than the $2.8 million they're paying Ribeiro now to keep him from testing the market as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
9. Shea Weber: There are some folks around the league who would take Weber right now over Dion Phaneuf. They're both the same age and at the same stage of their careers, but the situation is a lot more tenuous for Nashville even though the new ownership group is officially in place. The Predators have one of the NHL's lowest payrolls, and while the new owners got a sweetheart lease deal from the city, they haven't really given an indication of how much money they're willing to sink into payroll. Nashville lost several key players in a fire sale while the team was on the market and is facing free-agent situations with more than a half dozen players including key young restricted ones like Weber, Ryan Suter and Martin Erat.
10. Jeff Carter: The Philadelphia Flyers' situation with Carter and R.J. Umberger is similar to that of Nashville's, only at the other end of the scale. For Philadelphia, the issue isn't whether it has the money to pay these young and desirable pending restricted free agents but if it has the cap room. The Flyers have already committed nearly $50 million in salaries for next season. Both Carter and Umberger are coming off their first contracts that paid each about $1 million a season. They're due raises, but the Flyers might not be able to offer either or both enough to keep them from getting poached by someone else.