Many expect a lot of action before the market opens

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

If Julien BriseBois knows his level of confidence regarding the possibility of extending the contracts of striker Ondrej Palat and defender Jan Rutta, he does not want it to appear.

« I’m still working on that, » the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager said. It is still too early to tell.”

He’s also right when he says it’s too early to tell exactly what the free agent market will look like when it opens on Wednesday. The Colorado Avalanche, who defeated the Lightning in the Finals, are hoping to sign forward Valeri Nichushkin. He is one of many players who could sign a new contract before the market opens, like Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux.

“We are not yet at July 13, recalled BriseBois. Several of them could be under contract by then.

A few star players have already decided to extend the adventure with their team: defenseman Kristopher Letang signed a six-year contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, while forward Filip Forsberg extended his contract for another eight seasons with the Nashville Predators. Teams have until midnight Tuesday — 12 hours before the free agent market opens — to give a player they own an eight-year contract extension, otherwise the maximum is seven seasons.

Even that limit still seems a long way off in the world of hockey, where the majority of off-season activity is concentrated within a few weeks.

« We still have time, » Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said of negotiations with his players who could benefit from full autonomy. We know we won’t be able to keep everyone. But we made a list of priorities. I believe some players will want to test the market and know their options before choosing to return. We will see over time.”

In addition to Nichushkin, the Avalanche could see forwards Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Darren Helm and Nico Sturm leave and defensemen Josh Manson, Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray leave via free agency.

Kadri is the least likely to return as he expects a big pay rise after the most productive campaign of his career.

« I think we’re in the same waters with some players, » Sakic said. I don’t want to say who, but we’re hoping to make a few announcements and not see them all reach the market open on Wednesday. »

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving also expressed optimism about the future of Gaudreau, who set career highs with 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points.

« You have to think about all the options, but we’re focusing on plan A until it’s impossible, » Treliving said.

The situation seems to be the same for the Florida Panthers and Giroux, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers before the trade deadline. The Boston Bruins are awaiting news of Patrice Bergeron, who could return for a 19th season with the team.

« He’s sent us signals that point in that direction, but we’ll wait until he clearly announces his plans, » Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said.

Some teams can’t wait until Wednesday to take action as they need to clear space under the salary cap. After a goaltending spree over the weekend, Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin expects the market to be active before the free agent period even begins.

« There are teams that will try everything to reduce their payroll and there could be a lot of action, » said Guerin.

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