Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Free-agent market set for big signings by middle of week


Eric Lindros joined the free-agent market on Wednesday when the New York Rangers declined to pick up the US$10.25 million option in the oft-injured center's contract.

When the hockey shopping season opens on Thursday, the 31-year-old Lindros will be free to sign with any club. It is unlikely that Lindros will return to the Rangers, with whom he played the past three seasons after being traded by Philadelphia.

Clubs had until midnight EDT Wednesday to make qualifying offers to restricted free agents to keep their rights and prevent them from becoming unrestricted. Normally players need to be 31 before becoming unrestricted, but any not given qualifying offers are free to sign anywhere.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were busy on Wednesday, signing potential free agents Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, and Aki Berg.

Belfour, Nieuwendyk and Roberts could have become unrestricted free agents, while Berg would have been restricted.

"These guys are integral contributors to our club and it's great to have them back for at least one more season," general manager John Ferguson Jr. said.

The market is expected to be slow with teams trying to slash payrolls in anticipation of a new financial landscape in the NHL. The league's collective bargaining agreement with the players association expires on Sept. 15, and a lockout that could threaten next season is a distinct possibility.

The NHL is seeking "cost certainty," which the union believes is a synonym for a salary cap -- a solution the players association refuses to accept.

The sides have met a handful of times since October, but no progress has been made on the key issues. The NHL wants to cut the percentage of revenues that go toward player salaries.

But many big-name players are expected to be available come Thursday.

The unrestricted free-agent class could include Alex Zhamnov and Mark Recchi, who helped lead Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference finals; Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, who after disappointing seasons in Colorado are back on the market; Dominik Hasek; Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman of Detroit, Alex Kovalev and Peter Bondra.

Los Angeles made deals with two veterans Wednesday night, longtime fan favorite Luc Robitaille -- who is in his third stint with the Kings -- and defenseman Stephane Quintal, whose rights were acquired from Montreal last weekend.

"We are pleased that Luc has re-signed with the Kings," general manager Dave Taylor said. "He remains one of the most popular players ever to wear a Kings jersey.

"We hope that he eventually retires in a Kings uniform."

That seems to be Robitaille's wish, as well. He has played 13 of his 18 seasons in Los Angeles.

"I am both happy and excited to return to the Kings," said Robitaille, who has the most career goals and points among NHL left wingers. "This is where I started my career and this is where I believe I will end my career. This is where I belong. This is my home."

But the Kings cut ties with forwards Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh and Anson Carter by declining to make qualifying offers. Allison and Deadmarsh missed all of last season because of concussions.

To keep their rights, the Kings would have had to make an US$8 million qualifying offer to Allison and a US$3 million offer to Deadmarsh. Carter, traded by both the Rangers and Washington Capitals last season, would have been qualified at US$2.8 million.

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