Amid all the financial doom and gloom coming out of the GM Meetings in Naples, Florida this week, it seems like an appropriate time to look ahead to this summer's free agent market, when teams will be forced to make a lot of tough decisions.
Here's an early look at the unrestricted free agent market:
Marian Hossa, LW, Detroit - Signing a one-year deal with the Wings seemed a little risky at the time and seems that way even more with the prospect of a shrinking salary cap in years to come. Nevertheless, Hossa's done his part, scoring 34 goals in 61 games.
Jay Bouwmeester, D, Florida - A tough decision for the Panthers to keep Bouwmeester past the trade deadline in order to make a playoff push this season, with the risk that Bouwmeester will leave for a more hockey-friendly market in the summer. His price keeps going up, as he's having the best year of his career.
Martin Havlat, RW, Chicago - Would have been trade bait if he hadn't been a healthy and productive part of Chicago's best even-strength line with David Bolland and Andrew Ladd. Now, the Blackhawks are considering keeping him around.
Mike Komisarek, D, Montreal - Will be in demand as a big, physical shutdown defender and it will be interesting to see how much money the Habs are willing to commit knowing that, on one hand, they aleady have two D-men (Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik) earning more than $5-million per season. On the other hand, the Canadiens have a lot of free agents, so there will be money to spend this summer.
Alex Tanguay, LW, Montreal - Injuries have limited him to 38 games, but Tanguay has posted a solid 29 points and his plus-11 rating leads all Montreal forwards. Given his track record as a four-time 75-point scorer, he'll have no shortage of suitors.
Johan Franzen, LW, Detroit - Mule has proven that he's more than just a big-bodied workhorse, scoring some highlight-reel goals as he's set career highs with 27 goals and 43 points. With a cap crunch expected in Detroit, Franzen could be ripe for the picking.
Mike Cammalleri, LW, Calgary - Enjoying a superb bounceback season, tallying 70 points in 67 games, the Flames' leading goal-scorer is going to command lots of interest, not least of all because he turns just 27 this summer.
Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim - There's nothing wrong with the 45 points he's put up this year and could easily play next season at 36 years of age, but there ought to be some concern with his career-low minus-13 this season, a mark that ranks second-lowest on the Ducks, ahead of only Scott's brother, Rob.
Daniel Sedin, LW, Vancouver - Figures to be a package deal with The Twins, but that makes it all the more challenging for potential suitors to lure them out of Vancouver. It's tough enough to come up with, say, $6-million for a top line player; who has $12-million for two?
Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver - But, if the Sedins can produce in the postseason this year, someone ought to be willing to make that kind of lucrative offer for brothers who are still in their prime, turning 29 just before next season starts.
Alex Kovalev, RW, Montreal - Ridiculously talented, yet completely enigmatic, Kovalev turned his game around some after getting left at home for a crucial two-game road trip, but what does it say about a 36-year-old who still needs that kind of kick in the pants? Nevertheless, his talent assures that there will be interest.
Marian Gaborik, RW, Minnesota - Turning down a massive offer from the Wild last year sure looks like the wrong move now, as the oft-injured sniper has only managed to play in six games this season. That makes it difficult for other teams to commit to a long-term lucrative offer, so a short-term deal -- whether in Minnesota or elsewhere -- may be the best plan for the 27-year-old.
Mattias Ohlund, D, Vancouver - Will be 33-years-old before next season, but is big, strong and can handle big minutes, attributes that will ensure a substantial new deal, though it may require a move.
Rob Blake, D, San Jose - The 39-year-old has been rejuventated on a contender, playing well enough to assure that he should be back for another season.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Chicago - The Blackhawks couldn't give him away before the season started, then he suddenly turned into the team's best goaltender and is now vital to this year's playoff hopes. The 36-year-old has shown enough that this year to distract some team from his first three mediocre seasons in Chicago.
Mats Sundin, C, Vancouver - His much-ballyhooed return has resulted in uneven production (17 points, minus-1 in 25 games), but if he finishes the season strong and has a good playoff, that would seem to increase the likelihood of another season and -- ugh -- another summer, autumn, winter of waiting for his decision.
Saku Koivu, C, Montreal - A loyal Hab since being drafted in the first round in 1993, Koivu may be headed for a paycut this summer as his production (38 points, plus-4 in 51 games) wouldn't seem likely to garner offers over the $4.75-million he's earning this year.
Martin Biron, G, Philadelphia - Play has slipped some from last season and is clinging to the starting job in Philly ahead of Antero Niittymaki, but last year's playoff run gives Biron some credibility heading into the stretch run. Could very well be on the goaltender carousel in the summer.
Tim Thomas, G, Boston - Sure, he's unorthodox, but the soon-to-be 35-year-old is having the best year of his late-starting NHL career. His age will make it tough for him to get a monster contract, but a strong playoff run wouldn't hurt his leverage.
Erik Cole, RW, Carolina - The Edmonton Experiment was a disaster, but a return to Carolina could be just what Cole needs to regain his scoring touch. The 30-year-old has an enviable mix of size and speed, it just remains to be seen if he can do it somewhere other than Carolina.
Nik Antropov, RW, N.Y. Rangers - May not ever reach his potential, but the 29-year-old has a long reach and good hands (to help make up for a lack of speed); he'd make a nice complementary scorer on a good team.
Manny Fernandez, G, Boston - Re-established his value as Tomas' backup in Boston this year after injuries ruined his 2007-2008, so he'll make a good acquisition for a team needing a veteran backup or a 1A, 1B goaltending situation.
Antero Niittymaki, G, Philadelphia - 28-year-old Finn could be ready for starting duties and is having his best NHL season; now, if only he could stay healthy and prove it.
Brian Gionta, RW, New Jersey - It looks like his 48-goal season in 2005-2006 was an aberration, but Gionta is on pace for his most points since and is surely good enough to warrant interest from teams needing a scoring winger.
Petr Sykora, RW, Pittsburgh - Seems like he's been around forever, but is just 32 and has topped 20 goals for ten straight seasons; something that should make him attractive to the Penguins, who value his chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and others.
Johnny Oduya, D, New Jersey - 53 points, plus-52 over the last two seasons. Who couldn't use that on the blueline?
Mike Comrie, C, Ottawa - Will be 29 by next season and could really use a strong campaign to re-assert his value as a second-line scorer, but it will likely have to come at a discount from the $4-million he's getting this year.
Steve Sullivan, RW, Nashville - Considering he missed two years with back problems, it would be impossible to justify a long-term contract. At the same time, seeing as Sullivan has 16 points and a plus-7 rating in the last 20 games, he's shown the kind of offensive ability that can keep him playing for a few more seasons.
Bill Guerin, RW, Pittsburgh - It was hard to tell how much the 38-year-old had left in tank when he was with the Islanders, but if he finishes strong alongside Sidney Crosby this year, his services should once again be available to the highest bidder.
Mathieu Schneider, D, Montreal - Similarly Schneider, who will turn 40 in the summer, has been far more effective in Montreal. While his defensive play has definitely slipped, Schneider has enough value on the power play to keep going.
Jordan Leopold, D, Calgary - Hasn't materialized into the puck-moving power play quarterback that it looked like he would be when he came out of the University of Minnesota, but he's a solid top-four guy.
Sergei Fedorov, C, Washington - He's 39, but extremely effective and seems to be a good fit with his fellow Russians in D.C.; tough to say if his solid two-way play is worth another $4-million.
Jaroslav Spacek, D, Buffalo - Underrated 35-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his career, with 35 points and a plus-2 rating. A better fit as a number two or three, it would seem, but there should be teams interested if Buffalo isn't prepared to bring him back.
Niclas Havelid, D, New Jersey - Reliable shot-blocking veteran, who will be 36 by playoff time, will have a chance to show his stuff in a postseason run with the Devils.
Mike Knuble, RW, Philadelphia - Power forward will turn 37 in the summer, but has run his streak of 20-goal seasons to six. If the Flyers can't afford to keep him, he'll find a home alongside two skilled players.
Todd Bertuzzi, RW, Calgary - Has shown that his offensive skills haven't completely disappeared, and he seems to be a favourite of coach Mike Keenan, but the 34-year-old's defensive play and ability to stay healthy remain issues.
Craig Anderson, G, Florida - Has put up terrific numbers as a backup in Florida and this could be the summer that sets him up to challenge for a number one job somewhere else.
Ales Kotalik, RW, Edmonton - Owns a booming shot that seems to work on the power play and rarely in other situations (8 of his 13 goals this year are on the PP), but could enhance his value with a strong finish in Edmonton.
Tomas Kopecky, C, Detroit - A classic late-blooming free-agent sleeper, the 27-year-old power forward has been eased into the Red Wings' lineup and only recently has started to show that he can contribute offensively.
Dwayne Roloson, G, Edmonton - He'll be 40 in the opening weeks of next season, but Roloson has proven that he's still got it, so he would figure to have another opportunity to start, somewhere.
Nick Boynton, D, Florida - Tough veteran blueliner may be heading elsewhere, and he's a solid addition, but will anyone be looking to match or exceed the $2.95-million he's getting now?
John Madden, C, New Jersey - Selke-winning centre has actually been a minus player in three of the last four seasons and is on pace for his fewest points since 2001-2002.
Keith Tkachuk, LW, St. Louis - 36-year-old has earned raves for his leadership in St. Louis this year, but his 38 points and minus-12 rating don't make him attractive, especially if he's expecting more than the $4-million he's getting.
Jere Lehtinen, RW, Dallas - Injuries are the only thing slowing down this super-reliable two-way winger, who will turn 36 in the summer.
Jason Williams, C, Columbus - Has proven that he's a solid complementary scorer in the right situation -- Detroit, last year in Chicago and now in Columbus. Atlanta? Not so much.
Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Detroit - May be a product of the Red Wings' system, but the 32-year-old owns a big shot and can play in all situations.
Viktor Kozlov, RW, Washington - Career underachiever has slipped from his strong 2007-2008 season, but someone will likely still be enticed by his size and skill.
Steve Reinprecht, C, Phoenix - The Coyotes' second-leading scorer, though only with 34 points, Reinprecht is a solid, if unspectacular, veteran.
David Moss, LW, Calgary - Power forward has emerged this year with 19 goals, including eight on the power play. Only 25, he should be attractive on the open market.
Mike Grier, LW, San Jose - Veteran checker can still skate and hit, but at 34, how much more does he have left in the tank?
Ruslan Fedotenko, LW, Pittsburgh - A decent winger with good size and scoring touch, but has never scored more than 41 points in a season and is unlikely to this year despite spending time with both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D, Minnesota - Free-wheeling offensive defenceman can be both great and terrible, sometimes on the same shift, but he's having a good year (27 points, plus-2 in 57 games) with the defensively-responsible Wild.
Adrian Aucoin, D, Calgary - It might not be the fountain of youth, but Aucoin has definitely found the key to good health in Calgary, after two injury-plagued seasons with the Blackhawks. He'll be 36 in the summer, but still has a booming shot and can work on the power play. Another guy who could be facing a cut from the $4-million he's earning now.
Ian Laperriere, RW, Colorado - Highly sought-after at the deadline, the gritty 35-year-old may stick around with the Avs. While his production won't be great, he'll surely handle himself like a true pro.
Dennis Seidenberg, D, Carolina - Sturdy blueliner is playing more than 23 minutes per game for the Hurricanes, but his minus-14 rating is worst among the team's blueliners.
Paul Mara, D, N.Y. Rangers - Not yet 30 years of age, Mara has size and can move the puck, but it's been a few years since his best days.
Derek Morris, D, N.Y. Rangers - Hasn't seen much power play time this season, but the 30-year-old will have a chance to prove his worth down the stretch as he tries to help the Rangers in their quest for the postseason.
Dominic Moore, C, Buffalo - Was having far-and-away his best season while with the Maple Leafs, but couldn't come to terms on a new contract before the deadline and was dealt to Buffalo. In the right situation, could be a good third-line centre.
Richard Zednik, RW, Florida - It's been five years since he last scored 20 goals, but Zednik has played well in spots for the Panthers this season.
Chad LaRose, RW, Carolina - Engery guy who has career-highs in goals (14) and points (25).
Mark Recchi, RW, Boston - The end may be near for the 41-year-old, but if Recchi could put up 45 points in 62 games with the Lightning, he may have enough left to help someone again next season.
Doug Weight, C, N.Y. Islanders - The end could be near for the 38-year-old, who showed he still had some game with the Isles this year, scoring 35 points in 44 games.
Robert Lang, C, Montreal - Was leading the Habs with 18 goals when he suffered a season-ending, and potentially career-ending, Achilles injury.
Jeremy Roenick, C, San Jose - With just 10 points in 33 games, the 39-year-old may be coming to a TV studio near you.
Claude Lemieux, RW, San Jose - His comeback was entirely admirable, but there has to be more than one point and a minus-3 rating in 16 games to make it worth moving him past any of the Sharks' prospects for this spot.
Chris Chelios, D, Detroit - He's 47 and has played in only 21 games, yet he's still a plus-2.
Joe Sakic, C, Colorado - Injuries have taken their toll on Burnaby Joe, but he's been limited to just 15 games this year and it would seem to be a tall order to come back as a 40-year-old next season.
Sergei Zubov, D, Dallas - 38-year-old has only played ten games as hip problems appear to be driving him out of the game.
Mike Sillinger, C, N.Y. Islanders - Same goes for 37-year-old Sillinger, who has played just seven games this year.
Olaf Kolzig, G, Toronto - One-time workhorse in Washington only got in eight games with the Lightning before season-ending injury.
Curtis Joseph, G, Toronto - Got to finish his career in Toronto, but the 41-year-old no longer has what it takes, even for a backup role.
Brendan Shanahan, LW, New Jersey - The 40-year-old power forward could get another shot at a Stanley Cup with Devils this season and he's been a solid depth contributor with 10 points in 20 games.
Other Potential Unrestricted Free Agents:
Darryl Sydor, D, Dallas; Philippe Boucher, D, Pittsburgh; Karlis Skrastins, D, Florida; Miroslav Satan, RW, Pittsburgh; Travis Moen, LW, San Jose; Radek Dvorak, RW, Florida; Samuel Pahlsson, C, Chicago; Manny Malhotra, C, Columbus; Mathieu Garon, G, Pittsburgh; Bobby Holik, C, New Jersey; Ville Peltonen, LW, Florida; Matt Walker, D, Chicago; Steve Montador, D, Boston; Hal Gill, D, Pittsburgh; Aaron Johnson, D, Chicago; Rob Scuderi, D, Pittsburgh; Alexei Semenov, D, San Jose; Ken Klee, D, Phoenix; Ville Koistinen, D, Nashville; Marty Reasoner, C, Atlanta; Ty Conklin, G, Detroit; Mikael Tellqvist, G, Buffalo; Kyle Calder, LW, Los Angeles; Stephen Valiquette, G, N.Y. Rangers; Brian Boucher, G, San Jose; Brent Johnson, G, Washington; Greg Zanon, D, Nashville; Christian Backman, D, Columbus; Andrew Alberts, D, Philadelphia; Francis Bouillon, D, Montreal; Greg de Vries, D, Nashville; P.J. Axelsson, LW, Boston; Brendan Morrison, C, Dallas; Martin Skoula, D, Minnesota; Kent Huskins, D, San Jose; Teppo Numminen, D, Buffalo; Jassen Cullimore, D, Florida; Joel Ward, RW, Nashville; Chris Neil, RW, Ottawa; Patrice Brisebois, D, Montreal; Cory Murphy, D, Tampa Bay; Michael Peca, C, Columbus; Andy Hilbert, C, N.Y. Islanders; Stephane Yelle, C, Boston; Blair Betts, C, N.Y. Rangers; Mike Rupp, C, New Jersey; Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Buffalo; Taylor Pyatt, RW, Vancouver; Scott Nichol, C, Nashville; Ben Guite, C, Colorado; Radek Bonk, C, Nashville; Bret Hedican, D, Anaheim; Ossi Vaananen, D, Vancouver; Stephane Veilleux, LW, Minnesota; Rob Niedermayer, LW, Anaheim; Yann Danis, G, N.Y. Islanders Martin Gerber, G, Toronto; Kevin Weekes, G, New Jersey; Brad Winchester, LW, St. Louis Vernon Fiddler, C, Nashville; Jason LaBarbera, G, Vancouver; Dean McAmmond, C, N.Y. Islanders Ryan Bayda, LW, Carolina; Steve Begin, RW, Dallas; Shane Hnidy, D, Boston; Dmitri Kalinin, D, Phoenix; Mathieu Dandenault, D, Montreal; Marek Malik, D, Tampa Bay; Kurtis Foster, D, Minnesota; Donald Brashear, RW, Washington; Jason Strudwick, D, Edmonton; Curtis Sanford, G, Vancouver; Josef Melichar, D, Tampa Bay; Mike Weaver, D, St. Louis; Lasse Kukkonen, D, Philadelphia; Thomas Pock, D, N.Y. Islanders; Craig Adams, RW, Pittsburgh; Matt Pettinger, LW, Tampa Bay; Denis Gauthier, D, Los Angeles; Tyler Sloan, D, Washington; Rob Davison, D, Vancouver; Derek Armstrong, C, Los Angeles; Dan Hinote, C, St. Louis; Mark Parrish, RW, Dallas; Tyler Arnason, C, Colorado; Alexandre Giroux, C, Washington; Chris Conner, LW, Dallas; Todd Marchant, C, Anaheim; Daniel Tjarnqvist, D, Colorado; Eric Perrin, C, Atlanta; Brad May, LW, Toronto; Michael Zigomanis, C, Pittsburgh; Krystofer Kolanos, C, Minnesota; Dany Sabourin, G, Edmonton; Manny Legace, G, St. Louis; Andrew Raycroft, G, Colorado; Lawrence Nycholat, D, Colorado; Joey MacDonald, G, N.Y. Islanders; Jamie Lundmark, RW, Calgary; Christopher Minard, LW, Pittsburgh; Jason Jaffray, C, Vancouver; Ben Ondrus, RW, Toronto; Doug Janik, D, Montreal; Boyd Devereaux, RW, Toronto; Bryan Helmer, D, Washington; Landon Wilson, RW, Dallas; Colton Orr, RW, N.Y. Rangers; Andre Roy, RW, Calgary; Wade Brookbank, LW, Tampa Bay; Brad Staubitz, RW, San Jose; David Koci, LW, Tampa Bay; Josh Gratton, RW, Philadelphia
Restricted Free Agents will be addressed in a future edition of Backchecking.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Atlanta (4-1, 1.83 GAA, .948 SVPCT in last 5 GP)
Jaroslav Spacek, D, Buffalo (2-4-6, plus-5 in last 5 GP)
Christian Ehrhoff, D, San Jose (1-4-5, minus-2 in last 5 GP)
Blake Comeau, LW, N.Y. Islanders (3-4-7, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh (2-3-5, plus-3 in last 5 GP)
Valtteri Filppula, C, Detroit (4-1-5, plus-3 in last 5 GP
Brian Boucher, G, San Jose (1-4, 3.30 GAA, .883 SVPCT in last 5 GP)
Ed Jovanovski, D, Phoenix (0-1-1, minus-4 in last 6 GP)
Mike Green, D, Washington (0-2-2, minus-1 in last 6 GP)
Jason Pominville, RW, Buffalo (1-1-2, minus-5 in last 6 GP)
Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles (0-2-, minus-4 in last 5 GP)
Ales Kotalik, LW, Edmonton (0-0-0, minus-3 in last 6 GP)
"Our guys are trying, but they're not always trying the right way." - New Canadiens coach Bob Gainey
"I've never scored on a breakaway. I didn't know what to do." - Bruins D Aaron Ward.
"Look who we beat in the last three games. We beat Detroit, we beat Boston, we beat the hottest team in the NHL. It's hard. Every game is hard. There are no breathers." - Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock
"With the instigator rule, you have more cheap shots in the game than ever. Having a 10-minute misconduct won't stop that. They should look at helmets or whatever to make it safer, not more penalties." - Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque.
"This game was a lot more fun to coach, and I think if you went around the room, it's a lot more satisfying. It's the difference between potato chips and steak." - Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, after a 3-0 shutout against the Rangers.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca