This is a very important day for the 2007-08 Philadelphia Flyers. A very, very important day. July 1st is the first day that unrestricted free agents are free to sign with the team of their choice. GM Paul Holmgren and crew will have gameplan ready to go, but it could easily be blown up within hours.
Going into next season, the Flyers most important areas of need are a #1 center, and an offensive defenseman. With the trades the Flyers made this season and with the departures of UFAs-to-be Robert Esche and Mike York, the Flyers have considerable cap space to plug in their holes. But will the right players be available at the right price? Here's a look at the centers who might be available (teams can re-sign their own players from now until July 1st) come July:
The Top Tier
Daniel Briere (Buffalo Sabres) - Danny Briere has been a star even since he's donned a Sabres sweater. In a little over three seasons (225 games), Briere has posted 92 goals and 138 assists. However, prior to coming to Buffalo, Danny was immature and inconsistent. Is he just a product of a good Buffalo system, or has he finally just grown up and is finally playing to his potential? I say its more the latter than the former. Briere is likely to re-sign in Buffalo. His next contract? My guess is 5 yrs./$32.5 mil ($6.5 mil/yr.) with Buffalo.
Chris Drury (Buffalo Sabres) - Drury, aka Captain Clutch, has been a winner everywhere he's gone. And although he doesn't quite possess the scoring touch of teammate Briere, scouts and coaches dream about his intangibles. If Buffalo re-signs Briere, they probably won't be able to afford Drury as well. With his daughter living in California, look for Chris to head out west. His next contract? My guess is 6 yrs./$28.8 mil ($4.8 mil/yr.) with Anaheim.
Scott Gomez (New Jersey Devils) - Gomez is an ideal linemate for Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. He is a great playmaker with ideal vision and Forsberg-like passing skills, however he does lack in the physical aspects of the game. Obviously, New Jersey wants to re-sign Gomez, but they are pressed up against the cap. Many feel Lou Lamoriello will find a way to keep his top center, but I feel that Gomez is the Flyers best shot at landing a #1 center via free agency. His next contract? My guess is 5 yrs./$26.5 mil ($5.3 mil/yr.) with Philadelphia.
Peter Forsberg (Nashville Predators) - Once one of the greatest talents on the planet, injuries have derailed the latter half of Foppa's career. When he plays, his puck-handling and passing skills are still as dynamic as they come, but he hasn't played more than 60 games in a season since '02-'03 with Colorado when he played in 75 games. Most think there are four options for Forsberg: re-sign in Nashville, sign with Colorado (for one last season with Sakic), finish out his career in Sweden or just plain retire. It all depends on how well his foot is feeling. His next contract? My guess is 2 yrs./$10 mil ($5.0 mil/yr.) with Nashville.
The 2nd Tier
Viktor Kozlov (New York Islanders) - The big 6'5" Russian enjoyed a resurgent year where he posted a career-high 25 goals for the Isles. Kozlov, a two-time All-Star, is an imposing player on the ice and also has the ability to play either wing.
Michal Handzus (Chicago Blackhawks) - Handzus missed most of the '06-'07 season with a major knee injury. He doesn't possess a lot of speed nor does is he a scoring machine, but Handzus can line up against the other team's top center and play a great two-way game.
Dainius Zubrus (Buffalo Sabres) - Not a prototypical center, but definitely has great hands and a nose for the net. Has topped out at approximately 60 points two seasons in a row now and is probably typical of what to expect from this former Flyer who suffered from being brought to the NHL much too early.
Robert Lang (Detroit Red Wings) - This 36 year old has seen his scoring numbers drop the past two seasons, but has stilled stayed relatively productive. Could be a good one or two year pick-up for a team looking for a center that can score (especially on the PP) and that can play a sound positional game.
Tyler Arnason (Colorado Avalanche), Bryan Smolinski (Vancouver Canucks), Radek Bonk (Montreal Canadiens), Jozef Stumpel (Florida Panthers), Mike Comrie (Ottawa Senators), Nik Antropov (Toronto Maple Leafs), Eric Lindros (Dallas Stars), Michael Peca (Toronto Maple Leafs), Yanic Perrault (Toronto Maple Leafs), Patrick Stefan (Dallas Stars), Jeff O'Neill (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Tomorrow I will take a closer look at the defensemen that may be available...