Free-Agent Frenzy Begins Now

After 18 long summer days, Ilya Kovalchuk has finally signed a contract with a NHL club.  The free-agent excitement may not be over just yet.

Just a few hours after Kovalchuk signed a reported 17-year contract with the New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers moved one of their most prolific forwards.  Simon Gagne was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for former Blue Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick in next year's draft.  Because the biggest free-agent forward is off the market and Gagne has finally gotten the trade he has asked for, other forwards are now able to see what kind of money they can demand.  Because of this, the once-available forwards are quickly becoming available.

But who is left?

Lee Stempniak is available at the moment.  Making $3.50 million in 2009-10, the right-winger ended the season with 14 goals in 18 games after being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline.  With Kovalchuk signed, does that mean that Stempniak now knows how much money he can ask teams for without his asking price being too high?

Stempniak has expressed his plan already to Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News.

“ this point I'm just sort of waiting.” Stempniak said.  “I'm sitting back, trying to be patient, exploring all the options and trying to make the right decision."

Another free-agent that many teams may want to consider would be Alexander Frolov.  After coming off a season where his role was greatly diminished, the 28-year old Russian winger has reportedly not been taking offers from the KHL, meaning he wants to stay put in the NHL.  His commitment to a good work ethic was questioned by Kings head coach Terry Murray last October, when he said that Frolov had displayed “turnovers” and “careless play.”  But, Murray said it himself, Frolov does display much talent when he is working his hardest.  After all, Frolov did put up 35 goals, 36 assists and 71 points in 2006-07.  The guy can flat out skate and has hands to go along with it.  All he may need is a change of scenery to shine the way he has in the past.

With Kovalchuk signed in New Jersey, there may be options aplenty in the Garden State.  Its believed that the Russian winger's salary cap-hit will be around $6 million, so the Devils will be a few million over the allowed salary cap of $59,400,000.  Rumors have been circling that Zach Parise, who has just one year left on his contract, may be on his way out of New Jersey.  The young American forward is coming off two spectacular seasons, racking up 176 points in 163 games.  It would take quite the offer to take Parise away from the New Jersey roster (one that would most likely have to involve draft picks), but the upside would be worth it to almost any team in the league.

The next few weeks should be interesting in the NHL.  Just because early July is over doesn't mean that there won't be anymore fireworks.

Let's hope that St. Louis isn't done lighting up the sky for the summer.

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