The NHL version of dominoes is finally under way.
The players: Rick Nash, Matt Carle, Bobby Ryan, Shane Doan, Jay Bouwmeester and, most interesting of all, maybe Shea Weber.
Once forward Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter decided to make the Minnesota Wild the big winners Wednesday in this year's free-agent auction, the other tiles in the domino game are now finally in play, three days after the free-agent bidding started.
Nash, Ryan and Doan are now the best forwards available, although Doan will not make a decision until Monday. That is the day it may be known if the approval of an arena lease will be put to a public referendum in November, which would imperil Greg Jamison's attempt to buy the Phoenix Coyotes.
Unlike Doan, neither Ryan nor Nash are free agents but both have been up for trade, although the action was not going to pick up until Parise made his decision. Nash, 27, has been on the block since February, when he told Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson he wanted out. Ryan, 25, was put on the market in late June by the Anaheim Ducks.
But all eyes may shift to Weber now that Suter decided to leave the Nashville Predators for Minnesota. Predators GM David Poile, who once hoped to sign goaltender Pekka Rinne, Suter and Weber to long-term contracts, only has Rinne nailed down. Now he is under the gun to keep Weber after Suter decided to take a 13-year, $98-million (all currency U.S.) contract from the Wild.
"Our attention turns to our captain Shea Weber and the player we want to build our franchise around," Poile told The Tennessean newspaper Wednesday.
However, Poile was clearly angry Suter left his team. He said he was not given a final chance to match the Wild offer and that Suter, a Wisconsin native, told him the move was for family reasons.
Weber, 26, is one of the five best defencemen in the NHL and is now a restricted free agent. If Poile cannot sign him to a long-term contract now, he may have to trade him, creating another frenzy this summer, rather than lose him for nothing as a free agent one year from now.
But Weber has something to consider as well. The collective agreement expires on Sept. 15 (bargaining sessions are set for Thursday and Friday) and no one knows what will happen in the next contract.
At present, a player can become an unrestricted free agent seven years after he signs his first NHL contract. That means players as young as 25 can cash in on a market that, as the Parise and Suter signings showed, allows good players to sign for superstar money.
However, it is possible the age of unrestricted free agents could rise in the next agreement. That would leave Weber with an extra year or more before he hit the open market, so a long-term contract may not be in his best interest.
Poile will probably pursue Carle now that he lost Suter, since the former Philadelphia Flyer plays the same kind of offensive game with a dose of grit that Suter does. But he will be facing competition from the Detroit Red Wings, who pursued Suter long and hard because they lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement.
Neither Carle, nor Suter for that matter, can come close to being the kind of player Lidstrom was but they are the best of this year's free-agent market.