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Still some big names left on free agent market

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NHL free agent season started with such a flurry of activity that it's easy to forget that there is still some quality talent left on the market.

It's been 1 1/2 months since the league's free agency period began, and most of the coveted players were snatched up early by teams eager to improve their station. Daniel Briere went to Philadelphia, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez signed with the New York Rangers, and Brian Rafalski inked a deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

However, there are a handful of players who have not signed yet, whether it's because teams have not made the right offers, haven't shown interest at all, or because the player is considering retirement. Whatever the reason for their availability, it must be reassuring to teams that there is still skill left to be acquired.

While significant free agents remain, the amount of teams able to compete in the free agent market at this point of the summer has certainly dwindled. That's because many of the early participants in this year's shopping period have little room left on the $50.3 million salary cap. Also, the teams with available salary-cap room are unlikely to be prime destinations for a marquee free agent.

Still, one team that somehow has space left to make another big signing is the Rangers, who are reportedly close to bringing veteran center Michael Peca into the fold. The 33-year-old Peca is a two-time Selke Award winner as the league's top defensive forward, but is coming off a fractured tibia in his right leg that caused him to miss most of last season with Toronto. Still, a healthy Peca will be a tremendous addition to the already formidable Blueshirts.

Michael Peca
Michael Peca is a two-time Selke Award winner as the league's top defensive forward.
While Peca is seemingly close to joining a club, there are even bigger names out there without a team to call their own.

Among the remaining superstars are a pair of former league MVPs in Peter Forsberg and Eric Lindros, players who spend as much time on the injury list as they do in uniform these days. Forsberg, 34, is the more intriguing of the two because he can still approach the top of his game when healthy, whereas Lindros, also 34 years of age, is only an average player at this stage of his career.

Both players may choose to retire, but it seems Lindros is closer to that option than Forsberg. The "Big E" has been working closely with the NHL Players Association and he could be seeking a permanent position with the NHLPA.

Forsberg, meanwhile, is still battling foot problems, but hopes his latest surgery will get him back near 100-percent. The Swedish legend has stated that if he returns he would like to play for MODO Hockey in his home country or any of his three previous NHL clubs (Colorado, Philadelphia, Nashville).

Teemu Selanne is another offensive superstar who remains a free agent. The 37- year-old "Finnish Flash" has scored 90-plus points in each of his last two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and helped that franchise win its first ever Stanley Cup title back in June. He hinted strongly at retirement after the playoffs, but has never made it official. If Selanne does return, it will likely only be to play for the Ducks.

Another scoring threat is on the market, as centerman Jason Allison is still without a team. The 32-year-old has battled various injuries and has played in just 165 contests since registering 95 points in 2000-01 for Boston. He last played with Toronto in 2005-06 and posted 60 points in 66 games.

In terms of goaltenders and defensemen, the list of notable names is a very short list. Ed Belfour, 42, is still interested in being a starting netminder in the NHL and was solid enough in 58 games with Florida last year that some teams should be interested. However, Belfour played for peanuts with the Panthers and is seeking a pay increase this season. Strange, one would think the guy who once offered a police officer "one BILLION dollars" to release him from custody would not need the extra cash.

Danny Markov is in a similar situation as Belfour, as the 31-year-old defenseman is still available only because he wants too much money. The Russian is a tough presence on the blue line, but is pricing himself out of many teams' budgets, including most clubs with a serious chance at winning the Cup.

It's still a mystery where most of these players will wind up, and the NHL preseason is less than a month away. Sure, most of the guys left on the table are either injury-prone, past their prime or both, but for the right price they could add experience and cachet to a number of NHL clubs.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo