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Ryan Smyth is off to the Los Angeles Kings. (Jimmy Jeong/CP)
Ryan Smyth is off to the Los Angeles Kings. (Jimmy Jeong/CP)

Weekly notebook

Kings making their move Add to ...

AND FINALLY: No one can accurately predict next season's salary cap, although the early indications are that the drop may not be as dramatic as some had feared. For much of this past season, the expectation was that the cap would remain flat for 2009-10 and then drop - some estimates put it as high as 20 per cent - for next year. Naturally, that would put most teams, operating at or near the cap for the coming year, at a competitive disadvantage, and forced into making all sorts of unpalatable choices next season, if that were to occur.

Now, however, there is a new emerging sense that the NHL has been spared the larger effects of the slumping economy and that next year's cap - if it shrinks at all - won't be nearly as bad as originally thought. The early indications of how the economy might affect the NHL have been mostly positive. Playoff ticket sales were good and season-ticket sales are reportedly going well in most of the traditional markets.

One of the teams that may unexpectedly have some cap room next year is the Detroit Red Wings, who lost Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson as unrestricted free agents and may lose Jiri Hudler, a restricted free agent, to Russia's KHL.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland is one of the savviest in his job; and has mostly sat on the sidelines during the first 10 days of free agency. He gave big raises to two of his most important players, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, and that pretty much tied his hands for the rest of the summer.

"People want to know, 'Wat are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?'" said Holland, in an interview. "Well, we're just trying to keep our own players. Zetterberg went from a $2.6-million cap hit to a $6.1-million number and Franzen went from $900,000 to $4-million.

"But we believe they're core players, star players, players we want to build around, so we spent our money on our own players. If you're a cap team, it's a race to $40-million. You need to be between $40- and $45-million for eight to 12 players. Then you fill it out the best you can."

Last year, the Red Wings made a big splash by signing Hossa to a one-year, $7.45-million contract. The reason they didn't go longer on the term was Holland's awareness that Zetterberg and Franzen needed raises.

"The days that you go into free agency every year are over," said Holland. "We were a big-market team, a big-revenue team and coming out of the work stoppage we signed a lot of guys who were looking for work - Chris Osgood and Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson and Andres Lilja. A year after, we brought in Dominik Hasek, a year after that, Dallas Drake.

"You were just trying to find guys who fit in. For us, this year, those spots are being filled by kids. I don't think we're going to score as much. Obviously, we've lost 60 goals out of Hossa and Samuelsson. With (Ville) Leino on the team, we're hoping to get a few of those back and maybe Cleary and (Valterri) Filppula will chip in a few more. We've got to be better defensively.

"I don't think it's goals-scored that's so important, it's the differential between goals for and against. We scored 50 more goals for than against. We're not going to be there again; but you need to be 30 plus - more goals than goals against - to be a playoff team."

Because of the depth of Detroit's player development system, they do have some NHL-ready players prepared to step in the line-up next season, most of whom got a baptism under fire in last year's playoffs, when injuries forced Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Leino and Justin Abdelkader into important roles.

"It's becoming more and more obvious all the time, the importance of drafting and developing and moving kids on to your team - because they play cheap," said Holland. "If you want to have a team with high-end, high-salaried players, they've got to be surrounded by players making less than $1-million. It's simple math.

"We know in the summer of 2010, if we keep our team together, we've got $12-million coming off the cap. Every summer, you get to free agency and you assess your commitments and you assess your space.

"Some years, you're in a position, where you can be active in the market. Some years, you sit on the sidelines and it is somebody else's turn."

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