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The calm before the storm

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It's relatively quiet around the NHL (unless you live in Nashville, Kansas City or Hamilton). That will all change in about 48 hours, when the NHL free agency period officially begins. You can bet your Ron Francis rookie card that GMs around the league have already been involved in informal talks with the hot free agents.

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The salary cap hasn't been set yet, but is supposed to be finalized today (or is it tomorrow?). Either way, all indications are that it will be up from the existing $44 million mark - perhaps all the way up to $51 million. No matter what the final number is, there's going to be lot of money flying around after Sunday. Daniel Briere just turned down a $5 million per season offer from the Sabres. Ryan Smyth reportedly turned down a lot of money thrown at him by the Islanders. Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen have already received big raises from the Flyers, and lots of other guys will be following suit shortly.

Despite what Eklund wants you to believe, it's impossible to predict where everyone is going to end up. The Avalanche have room for a defenseman and a forward or two. Assuming Marek Svatos signs his qualifying offer and a cap of $50 million, the Avs have $16.7 million to spend on 3 or 4 players. I expect them to pursue two top-tier guys with that sort of room - Smyth and Chris Drury, for example. I don't really know what they are planning on defense. Sheldon Souray has been mentioned, but that would make our defense weaker, not stronger. Scott Hannan is the web favorite, but I just don't see him worth the cake. I could see JF Giguere signing a Roman Hamrlik or maybe even a Mathieu Schneider if the Wings can't re-sign him. I don't know that I'd be jumping up and down for either player, but it could be worse (read: Souray).

I've said this before, but this is a key summer for the Avs. They have a good nucleus and a roster full of cap-friendly salaries. Get it right, and they could contend. Get it wrong, and...well, let's not get it wrong, JF. One season out of the playoffs is all we can stand!

EDIT: Cap is set to $50.3 million. That leaves the Avs with about $17 million in cap room to add 4 players (assuming Svatos signs his QO).

It is also worth noting that 20 of 30 NHL teams had payrolls under $50.3 million in 2003-04 - the season before locking out the players screwing over the fans to get "cost certainty".