What about the rest of the NHL's free agents?

billguerin.jpgWhile we’re all consumed with what is going to transpire in the situation with Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils, there’s a host of other free agents out there feeling lonely and looking for a new home. One guy that might be off the market as soon as today is Alexander Frolov who is rumored to be close to signing a deal with the New York Rangers. The Globe And Mail’s James Mirtle got asking around about what’s going on with the other 84 unrestricted free agents on the market and why they haven’t landed jobs anywhere.

Unlike past seasons under the salary cap, when the majority of the established free agents signed contracts in the first week of July, this summer has seen a huge number of teams balk at the asking price for second- and third-line players.

In an informal poll Monday, agents around the league agreed the market for depth has eroded to the point where many general managers are unwilling to pay much more than the league minimum ($500,000) for the bottom eight to 10 players on their roster.

“So many teams are taking the position that they’re going to pay third- and fourth-line guys $1-million or less,” said Tacopina, who is getting calls daily from European clubs hoping to sign NHL-calibre players. “I think we’re going to see a watering down of talent in the league if it continues on this path.”

One of the holdups this summer has been Kovalchuk, who finally signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils last week, only to have the deal rejected by the NHL the next day. Once his status is finally resolved, many agents said they felt their clients will finally get closer looks from teams waiting out the market.

The monkey wrench in that thought, as Mirtle mentions after this, is that there just isn’t the kind of money out there to be had. In what’s mostly a down-ish off-season for free agents with just one really big prize to be had in Kovalchuk, many teams are finding that this is the summer of reckoning when it comes to their budgets. I’m sure the Bruins would love to add more scoring depth to their team that doesn’t have to come via trade. I don’t imagine that adding Colby Armstrong to their forward unit was the only move the Maple Leafs would’ve made in free agency if they could help it, but alas, there’s just no money to be had there.

As for the teams that are well below the salary floor and will need to add money to compete, they’ll do so, but it won’t happen right away. Not to mention that some teams are dealing with an internal salary cap that won’t let them wantonly add salary just to fill out ranks. It makes you think of the days without a salary cap where the line between the big spenders and the thrifty teams was definitive.

In this case, according to Cap Geek, you’ve got three teams under the salary floor of $43.4 million (Islanders, Avalanche, Thrashers) with the Predators just hovering above the line. There are seven other teams that are less than $5 million above the salary floor. Whether those teams are just waiting things out and looking to spend smart or if they’re done really poking around for the summer remains to be seen, but in cases like the Carolina Hurricanes, they’ve made it clear they’re not going much higher than where the salary floor is at.

If you’re a guy like Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky or Paul Kariya and still waiting for a job… The harsh reality of life in the cap world is settling in and if you want to play in the NHL, dropping your demands to an acceptable level is what will have to be done to get another job. Taking a shot in the wallet and in your pride makes it twice as difficult.

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    After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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    This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

    Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

    And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

    Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

    Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

    Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

    It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

    From The Columbus Dispatch:

    Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

    “Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

    While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

    Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

    That’s a nice raise.

    Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

    Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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    This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

    Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

    While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

    His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

    It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

    “It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

    All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

    The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

    When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

    Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

    Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

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    Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

    “I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

    His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

    Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

    “I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

    Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

    Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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    We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

    That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

    “I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

    Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

    Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

    He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

    Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr