- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Have a hole or two on your roster that need to be filled? Free agent shopping season begins today in the NHL and instead of it being a Neiman Marcus market with upscale pricing as in years past, it promises to be more of a discount sale at Wal-Mart.

With the Oct.5 season-openers barely two months away, the tightly packed NHL calendar continues to relentlessly unfold. Yesterday was the deadline to extend qualifying offers — the Washington Capitals sent out 14 — with the free agent market opening at noon today. Players electing to take their salary demands to arbitration have until Aug.10 to notify teams and the league. Clubs wishing to file arbitration claims, a new element in the CBA, have until Aug.11 with hearings beginning Aug.22.

There will be hundreds of free agents available, some of them potential Conn Smythe winners, others stop-gap pluggers. But there is a huge difference this year. The new CBA includes a salary cap. All clubs will have one eye on available personnel and the other on available cap space.

Some teams, and Washington is a prime example, have loads of cap space but are in no hurry to spend money. The CBA is so new — it was signed less than two weeks ago — that some teams are cautious about full-scale commitments until the ramifications are completely known. For that reason, a player who thought he was worth $5million just a few months ago might be lucky to get an offer for half that amount today.

Welcome to the new NHL.

The list of players the Caps extended qualifying offers to yesterday, plus the names of the 10 players already under contract, provides an excellent peek at the roster the team will put on the ice this season. Many of those who are now tied to the team might end up with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey league.

The following Caps players have received qualifying offers — centers: Jared Aulin, Jeff Halpern, Brian Sutherby, Graham Mink; right wings: Stephen Peat, Brian Willsie; left wing: Matt Pettinger; defense: Josef Boumedienne, Jakub Cutta, Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn, Brendan Witt, Nolan Yonkman; goalie: Maxime Ouellet.

Center Dainius Zubrus and goalie Rastislav Stana are not under contract but are bound to the team because they were previously extended qualifying offers they chose not to accept.

The following Caps players are already under contract — centers: Jakub Klepis, Brooks Laich; right wings: Eric Fehr, Owen Fussey, Boyd Gordon, Jonas Johansson; left wings: Tomas Fleischmann, Alexander Semin; goalies: Maxime Daigneault, Olie Kolzig.

Names missing from the lists include center Trent Whitfield, a 28-year-old veteran, and defenseman Jason Doig, who is a Group V free agent.

Obviously, many of these players are not ready for the NHL (a third of them have played none or less than 10 games in the league), leaving plenty of openings for free agents. The club already has said it will pursue free agents to fill openings but plans to have a payroll between $21.5million, the salary cap floor, and $25million.

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