In a final push to keep his best offensive players, Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis flew to Sweden late Sunday night for a Stockholm summit with looming unrestricted free agents Daniel and Henrik Sedin Monday.
As the hours count down to the start of the NHL's free-agency period, which begins at noon EDT Wednesday, Gillis was to personally present the NHL club's final offer to the Swedish twins, who form two-thirds of Vancouver's top forward line.
Gillis and assistant general manager Laurence Gilman were on the same flight as J.P. Barry, the Sedins' agent who has indicated a willingness to be flexible on contract structure, and the meeting was expected to determine whether the eight-year veterans reach the open market or stay with the Canucks.
The Sedin saga is just one storyline as the free-agency period begins. Forwards Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik, and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, are also considered among the big prizes amid an uncertain marketplace, vulnerable to the global recession and questions about the league's salary cap.
The cap will be $56.8-million (all currencies U.S.) next year, but some teams are preparing for a 10- or 20-per-cent drop in 2010-11 as the lagging effects of the recession come home to roost.
On the open market, the Sedins could be subject to a bidding war between Canada's three largest franchises.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke drafted the Sedins when he ran the Canucks. Burke's chief deputy in Toronto, Dave Nonis, nurtured their careers on the West Coast as they became point-a-game players.
The Leafs, who need top-six forwards, have the financial wherewithal and cap space to be among the big shoppers Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey is also keen to sign the Sedins - although he is reportedly still pursuing a trade for Tampa Bay centre Vincent Lecavalier - and has plenty of cap room to do it.
Gainey has told several of his team's 10 impending free agents, Alex Tanguay among them, that he isn't going to be offering new contracts until after July 1, presumably to let the dust settle around the Sedins' situation and a prospective Lecavalier deal.
Fan sites in Montreal are already salivating at the prospect of the Sedins lining up with winger Alexei Kovalev, who has been offered a contract by the Canadiens. Gainey confirmed the offer yesterday.
Citing concerns about the cap, Gillis has not budged off $5.5-million annually, and is hoping the Sedins' oft-cited desire to remain in Vancouver will result in a hometown discount.
He has offered three- and five-year packages, but is fearful of committing money beyond six years. Vancouver has about $34-million committed for next season.
The Canucks prepared, but did not table, a counteroffer at the NHL's draft last weekend. Gillis and Gilman, who did not return calls yesterday, were to return home today.
Barry has said his clients recognize Vancouver's desire to leave cap room and are willing to compromise. He has also said that the twins would agree to hometown discounts, which have been reflected in their proposals.
The Sedins have asked for 12-year deals worth $63-million ($5.25-million a season) and five-year pacts that average $6.5-million a year. Should they sign elsewhere, Gillis will heavily pursue free-agent replacements.
Hossa, 30, and Gaborik, 27, will be handsomely rewarded later this week, but both could lose out after gambling last summer.
Hossa signed a one-year, $7.45-million deal, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins and joining the Detroit Red Wings to improve his Stanley Cup odds. When the Penguins upset the Red Wings in seven games, it meant the prolific winger was on the losing end of two successive Cup finals while on different teams.
Detroit is tight to the spending limit, and GM Ken Holland said Saturday he doubted a long-term deal could be reached with the seven-time 30-goal scorer.
Gaborik, who is expected to bolt the Minnesota Wild, reportedly purchased a house in West Vancouver, but his agent denied that to ESPN.com yesterday. He turned down an extension worth nearly $8-million last fall, yet only played in 17 games after hip and groin injuries.
Bouwmeester's rights, meanwhile, are held by the Calgary Flames after a Saturday trade with the Florida Panthers.
The Flames surrendered a third-round draft pick for the exclusive right to talk to Bouwmeester, 25, for about four days. Flames GM Darryl Sutter met with him yesterday.
Bouwmeester, an Edmonton native, wants to play for a contender, preferably in Western Canada, after never making the postseason in Florida.