The UFA pool this summer is rather weak and it loaded with old guys who are near to their decline phase. As a Thrashers fan I want to see this team get better and avoid adding another Todd White or decline phase Slava Kozlov.
Another possible option would entail making an offer to a RFA (Restricted Free Agent). Tyler Dellow (aka Mudcrutch) makes the case that you don't want to make a offer to a RFA that would cost your club a high 1st rounder, but losing a high 2nd or 3rd rounder for a young sure fire NHL player is actually a solid bet. (The draft pick compensation awarded to a team that losses a RFA is determined by the amount of money that players signs for.)
If I ran an NHL team that had money to spend, I would be scouring the second and third lines of the really good teams that are tight to the cap, looking for players who might be able to play bigger roles and teams that can’t afford to pay people for potential, because they’re busy paying people for performance. Washington might be a pretty good example of that. The Caps are currently at $36.7MM for next year with an awful lot of guys to sign, including Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr.
The Capitals are just one of several teams facing a real salary crunch as their players seek raises and the cap holds steady. Other teams on this list include Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and perhaps Montreal. He tosses out some more names that could be signed for amounts that would only cost a 2nd or 3rd rounder.
There are tons of these guys out there this summer - my non-exhaustive list includes Fehr, Andrew Ladd, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, James Sheppard, Josh Harding, Blake Wheeler, Marc Staal, Kris Letang, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, David Perron, Erik Johnson, Martin Hanzal, Wojtek Wolski, Rob Schremp and Ryan Kesler. I’m sure that some of these players, you simply could not get for the money and picks that are available. I am, however, convinced that there will be some opportunity, particularly if the salary cap doesn’t go up by too much.
I'm sure the Flyers, Bruins and Blackhawks will be dialing Don Waddell offering to dump some of their bloated contracts onto his roster. If Kubina doesn't return, I have the team payroll sitting at about $41-42 million after Atlanta's RFAs are re-signed. Rather than accept one of these fat contracts, the better route would be to make Chicago pay for their Campbell and Huet contractual errors by bidding up the price of their RFAs. Make them pay for their past free agents mistakes by pricing their own players out of their budget.
Taking such a route is unlikely to win any friends among fellow GMs in the league, but last time a checked none of these other GMs were doing the Thrashers any favors. It's a hyper competitive environment and only half the teams make the post-season and only 1 teams finishes on top. It's not a popularity contest. Do I think the Thrashers will take this approach? No. Would they be wise to take a hard look at making some RFA offers? Yes.