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(Mark Humphrey)
(Mark Humphrey)

Devils, Preds teams to watch in summer roster shuffle Add to ...

Since there is still another day until the NHL has a playoff game - and isn't it nice to watch something other than four guys strung along their own blue line or falling down to block shots? - it is time to amuse ourselves with this summer's roster shuffling.

We all know the major names expected to change employers - Roberto Luongo, Rick Nash, etc. - but if we throw a little wrinkle in our thinking there are some tantalizing scenarios. Put yourself in the predatory shoes of an NHL general manager and look around. There must be someone to exploit who is beset by the double whammy of poor finances and too many player mouths to feed.

Number one on your list should be the New Jersey Devils.

General manager Lou Lamoriello is in a tough spot. His owner, Jeff Vanderbeek, has until the day after the last playoff game to find someone to bail him out of his enormous financial problems or his lenders will move in for the kill. People in the business of buying and selling sports teams say Vanderbeek has no chance of finding new partners or a buyer.

There are some folks interested in buying the Devils but only after its enormous debts and lease obligations to the city of Newark are flushed away by a bankruptcy. Then they can pick up the team for a song (relatively) and negotiate a new deal with Newark.

But no matter how it's done, there will not be a lot of cash for next season's player payroll. While most GMs will be worried about what exactly the 2012-13 salary cap will be with a new collective agreement coming in, Lamoriello will be most concerned with trying to limit the damage of losing players in the wake of the Devils' run to the Eastern Conference final.

Lamoriello is keeping a brave face, saying he expects to keep centre Zach Parise, who will be the biggest prize if he becomes an unrestricted free agent, as expected, on July 1. However, the timing of some of the Devils' contracts has Lamoriello caught in a vise.

At the same time as Parise and goaltender Martin Brodeur become unrestricted free agents, star winger Ilya Kovalchuk's contract will be poised to take a huge bite out of the Devils' payroll. When Kovalchuk was handed that 15-year, $100-million (all currency U.S.) deal in 2010 - at the command of Vanderbeek many believe - it called for a relatively modest $6-million salary in the first two years.

Now, just as Lamoriello has to try and keep one of the most dynamic players in this year's playoffs in the fold, Kovalchuk's salary is going to jump $5-million this fall. His salary-cap hit remains a palatable $6.66-million but that is not the problem. Lamoriello has to find another $5-million in a bare cupboard just to pay Kovalchuk. And it won't get easier over the next five years, as Kovalchuk's actual salary will go from $11.3-million up to $11.8-million and then down to $10-million by 2017-18.

Keeping Brodeur will be the easy part of this equation. He is 40 years old, entrenched in New Jersey and probably will not bolt for another team in the unlikely event a multi-year contract is offered.

But Parise is going to attract most of the bidding if Lamoriello can't get him signed before July 1. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, for example, may be a disciple of Lamoriello but he should be all over this, waving his great big cheque book, considering his need for a No. 1 centre.

The second team on the radar for GMs looking to exploit the cash-strapped is the Nashville Predators. Ryan Suter, 27, is headed for unrestricted free agency and the Predators surprise upset at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes leaves them in a state of uncertainty. GM David Poile also needs to deal with his other star defenceman, Shea Weber, and there may not be enough money for both.

Suter is taking a couple of weeks to let the emotion of the playoff loss recede before talking seriously with Poile about his future. But in a brief appearance with the media Suter did not sound like someone who put down roots in Nashville.

"Wherever I sign I want to be there for the rest of my career, and that affects my family, my wife, my kid, if we have more kids," he said. "Everything plays into it."

With the Detroit Red Wings expected to be an aggressive bidder if they lose both Nicklas Lidstrom (to retirement) and Brad Stuart (to free agency), it is not going to be a fun summer for Poile, either.

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