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NHL free agents facing job shortage, tight money

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero might have been pushing things a little by gushing over the free agent signing of Arron Asham a few days ago.

The former Flyers forward generally is a third- or fourth-line player, although Asham made his presence known during the playoffs at times for Philadelphia, but the modest raise he got from Pittsburgh on the one-year deal brings his new salary to only $700,000. Not exactly an earth-shaking signing, so when Shero told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review that he couldn't believe someone like Asham was still available this late into the market, it seemed like a stretch. What sounded more plausible though was what he added.

Arron Asham's deal may not have have been the bargain the Pens imagined. (US Presswire)  
Arron Asham's deal may not have have been the bargain the Pens imagined. (US Presswire)  
"For whatever reason, there are really good players still on the market," Shero said.

But not all of them will find jobs. In this economy, NHL jobs are becoming as tough to come by as those in the real world. And the ones that may be available probably won't pay what a lot of guys were hoping for, which is why some already have read the tea leaves and taken jobs overseas.

Others have to be patient because few teams have much available cap space and those that do are trying to limit payroll. And with so many players still available less than a month before training camps open, veterans with impressive resumes and role players probably are getting a little antsy.

Here's a look at some of notable players who remain without a contract.

Antti Niemi: Talk about miserable timing. Niemi wins a Stanley Cup as a rookie and in his contract year, which should be a great thing. Only it comes as conventional wisdom about a good goalie's monetary value is changing. Niemi's salary was tripled by an arbitrator, but even $2.75 million was too much for the Blackhawks to afford, so they let him walk. The salary still is less than what the budget-conscious St. Louis Blues gave Jaroslav Halak, who had a spectacular playoff run for Montreal, but most teams have their goaltending situations relatively settled.

Paul Kariya: Kariya, 36, is coming off a three-year, $18 million contract with the Blues that saw him generally fail to live up to expectations. He was among the league's top players a decade ago and had his best days for the Anaheim Ducks, the first of his four teams and the one that now seems most interested. But at what price? Anaheim re-signed Teemu Selanne for a $4.5 million cap hit (including performance bonuses) and he had a much better season than Kariya. But much depends on what kind of deal the team makes with rising star Bobby Ryan, a restricted free agent Anaheim desperately wants to keep.

Bill Guerin: Pittsburgh hasn't ruled him out, but the Penguins want to take a look at a couple of inexpensive youngsters for forward spots, so Guerin will have to take less than the $2 million he earned last season to stay with the Penguins. Or likely to go anywhere else. Guerin is one of the top American-born scorers of all time, but he'll be 40 in November.

Jose Theodore: Theodore went through some difficult personal trials last season and still put up his best numbers in years. He was nearly unbeatable in the second half of the schedule behind the very good Washington Capitals as he was finishing the two-year, $9 million free agent contract. But since the lockout, Theodore has strengthened the contention of those who believe he was little more than a one-hit wonder when he won the Vezina and Hart trophies in 2002 for Montreal. He didn't help himself by losing his starting job with Washington in the playoffs for the second season in a row.

Lee Stempniak: He was a goal-scoring machine after the Coyotes picked him up in a late-season trade with Toronto, scoring 14 times in 18 games for Phoenix. But Stempniak has shown only flashes of offense in his limited NHL career and he disappeared in the first-round loss to Detroit. Word around the league is that Stempniak has been offered a lot less than the $2.5 million he made last season.

Willie Mitchell: In most years, Mitchell would be a sought-after defenseman because of his physical, stay-at-home style. But Mitchell was done last January because of a concussion and didn't get medical clearance until earlier this month. He made $3.5 million last year and is only 33, but the concussion is an issue. Still because of the time he missed, Mitchell is eligible to sign a contract with big bonus incentives and a low base salary.

Miroslav Satan: Satan didn't have a job until midseason when the Boston Bruins were desperate enough for some scoring that they signed the veteran. But Boston got very lucky because Satan signed a minimum-wage type of deal and gave the Bruins a decent offensive boost for the rest of the season -- and an even better one through the playoffs. But Boston still has to cut to get down to the salary cap, so they couldn't bring back Satan even at a reasonable price.

Mike Comrie: The Edmonton native started his career at home a decade ago and ended up back there last season stints with four other teams. He's never lived up to the hype he had with the Oilers early in his career but he has had some decent goal-scoring seasons and he'll only be 30 this season. Comrie was paid $1.25 million last season when he scored 13 goals, but money shouldn't be an issue now he has married actress Hilary Duff.

Key restricted free agents: Bobby Ryan, Anaheim; Marc Staal, NY Rangers; Carey Price, Montreal; Patric Hornqvist, Nashville; James Neal, Dallas; Chris Stewart, Colorado.

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