UFA Thornton could still be worthy addition

Shawn Thornton. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

The rising salary cap is one reason why a number of unrestricted free agents are still floating around out there. If it goes as high as $71 million — and some say it will rise another $6 million again next season — you’ll see more teams holding on to more players.

Traditionally, general managers prefer to sign players they know. Even though you might say that a rising cap should entice players to market, it’s our belief that the trend to lock up your own will win the day. “The devil you know,” said one front office type.

Here’s a pile of notes and thoughts after a day spent on the phone:

It was in one of his first interviews as the president of the Canucks, on Hockey Night in Canada, that Trevor Linden referenced Shawn Thornton unprompted.

“Look at the Boston model,” Linden said. “Thornton, a fourth-line guy, but such an important guy on that team. That’s what makes teams.”

Well, on Monday Bruins GM Pete Chiarelli announced that Thornton, who turns 37 in July, would not be coming back.

“I informed him we wouldn’t be re-signing him,” Chiarelli told the Bruins in-house website. “It was nice to rehash his time; it was sad to tell him he won’t be back. I’m sure he’ll have success with his next team.”

Could his next team be Vancouver? Or Calgary? Or Toronto? Or Edmonton? Or Montreal? Any team with some roster room that lacks size and is looking to add from a winning culture in Boston could be a candidate.

There isn’t a lot left in Thornton. But two years on a building team, protecting and showing the young stars a few things? Why not?

At age 32, Mike Cammalleri must decide between seeking one last shot at a Stanley Cup and taking financial security in Calgary. As a 26-goal scorer on an offence-starved team last season, his number should come in around the $6 million mark. Term will be the issue when agent Ian Pulver and GM Brad Treliving get down to talking.

“[Cammalleri is] the biggest priority,” said Treliving of his free agents. “The hardest thing to do in this league is score. That’s the hardest job – to score goals. And Mike has scored goals.”

Speaking of Calgary, word is the new management team doesn’t exactly share the opinion of the old management team on certain players. Word is the Flames may be willing to sell high on Jiri Hudler, who gave them 54 points last season in Year 2 of his four-year, $16-million deal. Dennis Wideman can certainly be had, but that’s a Flames pipe dream with three years remaining and a cap hit of $5.25.

There are likely only two true untouchables in Calgary: Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan. The rest of the roster would be considered to refuel the rebuild.

The second and final compliance buyout window opened on Monday and closes on June 30. After that, all buyouts count against a team’s cap.

When the window opened, 26 teams had one buyout remaining, while 16 teams have two at their disposal. The first one to fall on Monday was defenceman Aaron Rome, who will be bought out by Dallas. With six seasons and $27 million in actual cash remaining on Brad Richards’ deal with the New York Rangers, he’s likely next. Richards skipped his duties with the media on the Rangers’ final media day of the season Monday.

Mike Richards, however, was riding in a Stanley Cup parade in Los Angeles when word leaked out of L.A. that he will not be bought out by the Kings. Buffalo’s Ville Leino, after Richards, is the most obvious compliance player, in these eyes.

A popular sentiment is that you can rule out any Jason Spezza-to-a-rebuilding-team rumours, for a couple of reasons. One, Spezza has a modified no-trade, so he gets to make the call to a large extent. Two, a lot of the rebuilding teams are in Canada, where Spezza is leaving partially because he’s tired of the spotlight in Ottawa.

Spezza will water down the market for Ryan Kesler, and they are the best two centremen on the trade market right now. Kesler is a better defensive player, but Spezza is better offensively. With perhaps the richest prospect pipeline in hockey, Anaheim will choose between the two, we believe.

“Remember,” said one front office voice, “if Spezza is playing behind Getzlaf, he won’t be going up against Anze Kopitar’s line when they play L.A., or see the top defensive pairing much. He’d be able to put up some points in that role.”

Anaheim has Ottawa’s 10th overall pick in the coming draft (from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan deal), plus their own at No. 24. A first and a prospect will get either Spezza or Kesler.

The Oilers signed 22-year-old Finn Iiro Packarinen — pronounced “Eeroh Puckarinen” — on Monday. He’s the guy who capitalized on Tyler Myers’ giveaway to score the winner that knocked Canada out of the recent world championships. He sounds like an Oilers version of Leo Komarov, schooled in the ways of a Finnish defensive forward.

Speaking of Edmonton, they won’t re-sign Ben Eager, whose career has fallen off markedly. He’ll have trouble finding a one-way deal this summer after an eight-point season in Oklahoma City. Concussions could be Eager’s downfall.

Paul Stastny has been on record saying he’d take a pay cut to stay in Colorado, which at first blush seems like an impressive commitment. Considering he’s been overpaid at $6.6 million for the past five years, however, perhaps the 28-year-old is being more realistic than magnanimous.

As such, talks are delicate with the Avalanche right now, because neither side would have a lot of experience with renewing a contract with the numbers going south. How badly does Stastny wish to stay with a team clearly heading in the right direction under Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic? What would he be worth on the UFA market, coming off a 25-goal, 60-point season? We’re betting he re-signs on a shorter term, say, two years for less than $10 million.

Michal Handzus will hit the free agent market after it was reported Monday that the Blackhawks simply don’t have the cap room to re-sign the 37-year-old centreman. They’ve got RFAs Ben Smith, Antti Raanta and Jeremy Morin to deal with this year. Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger are all RFAs after next season, and of course Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane become UFAs after next season as well. Hawks GM Stan Bowman must clear some space for that duo.

The question is, do NHL people see enough left in Handzus that he could find a one-year deal somewhere? Or does the big Slovak find his final contract with Slovan Bratislava of the KHL?

Said one scout: “He was running on fumes at the end of the L.A. series.”

You may remember Toews passed big Zeus the Cup last year. He was held in very high regard inside the Hawks organization.

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