As Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and a plethora of lawyers plod on through Saturday's Memorandum of Understanding sessions, the rest of the league awaits the green light for a torrent of weekend activity.
Once the MOU is signed, the 2013 season schedule will be released. A few dozen general managers, held paralyzed for four months, will be given the reins to unleash a cascade of transactions.
Roberto Luongo trade rumors aside, a number of free agents who went unsigned before the Sept. 15 beginning of the lockout now have a second opportunity to find a team for the 2013 season.
Veterans like Petr Sykora, Jason Arnott and Daymond Langkow will all receive plenty of interest in the coming days, but others in this unusual January UFA market may have already chosen their suitors.
Their contracts aren't official yet, but these three NHLers are reportedly just hours from inking new deals.
The longtime Buffalo Sabre and 35-year-old center will return this winter to upstate New York after going unsigned when his prior contract expired last July, per Sportsnet's Chris Nichols:
Hecht is an eight-time 40-point scorer, including as recently as 2009-10, when he tallied 21 goals and 21 assists. He scored just 29 points in 2010-11, conversely, and then merely eight points last season while missing 60 games with a concussion.
The Germany native racked up an impressive 13 points in six games with Adler Mannheim, his former junior hockey squad, during the lockout.
Upon Hecht's arrival, the Sabres will be loaded with 13 forwards and eight defensemen on one-way contracts. As trade negotiations potentially heat up over the coming week of training camp, Buffalo could be a willing seller.
A former first-round pick and 230-game veteran of the Washington Capitals, Eric Fehr is reportedly set to return to D.C. after a one-year detour to Winnipeg, per the Washington Times' Katie Carrera:
The Capitals have invited Fehr to training camp with the intention of signing him to a prorated one-year, $600,000 contract once he passes a physical, according to a team source.
[GM George] McPhee wanted to give the Capitals some more forward depth and Fehr, who is already quite familiar with the organization...was a good fit.
Fehr most recently played for the Caps in 2010-11, when he scored 20 points in 52 games. He managed a woeful three points in 35 appearances for the Winnipeg Jets last year, however, and has never played more than 69 games in a single NHL season.
During the lockout, the 27-year-old tore up Finland's SM-Liiga, scoring 25 points in 21 games for the Hämeenlinna-based team HPK.
Including Fehr and two-way contract holder Marcus Johansson, the Caps now have at least 14 NHL-caliber forwards and should host some of the NHL's more compelling training camp battles this week.
Former Nashville Predators dual-starter goalie turned netminding journeyman Dan Ellis may be on the verge of landing with his fourth franchise in just as many seasons.
Ellis, 32, has been playing on a professional tryout contract with the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, this fall. It is expected that he will sign an NHL deal soon after the lockout officially ends, and it may well come with the 'Canes themselves.
Said Carolina GM Jim Rutherford in a Thursday press conference (via the team's website):
We do have more depth in goal now, as far as giving Cam [Ward] a strong partner, Rutherford said, not counting out the possibility of a roster move. There are a lot of options there. The good news is, with the way Ellis has come in and played, it gives us a lot more depth at that position.
Ellis is 8-7-2 with a .922 save percentage and 2.46 GAA in 18 games for the Checkers so far. The 32-year-old is 72-57-15 lifetime in the big leagues with a .911 career save percentage.
If signed by the 'Canes, he'll have to compete for an NHL job with longtime Carolina prospect Justin Peters (13-6-1, .915 save percentage for Charlotte this season) and last year's backup, Brian Boucher, who is coming off a terrible 2011-12 campaign and offseason surgery.
Up-and-coming defenseman Cody Franson, 25, is anticipated to re-sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend after spending the lockout as a restricted free agent. That's according to TSN's Bob McKenzie (via Twitter):
Once lockout is over, I expect TOR to announce a 1 year deal with defenceman Cody Franson. Likely for a shade over $1M. #tsn— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 12, 2013
Franson scored five goals and 21 points in 57 games for the Leafs last year; he was acquired by Toronto the summer before last from Nashville.
The 6'5", 214-pound defenseman will join free-agent signing John-Michael Liles on a Toronto defensive unit that's beginning to come together.
The Philadelphia Flyers, badly in need of defensive depth with Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros sidelined with injuries, are set to unheralded offensive defenseman Kurtis Foster. CSN's Tim Panaccio fills us in with this tweet:
SOURCE: Once this drawn MOU ends ... Kurtis Foster will sign with the Flyers.— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) January 13, 2013
After coming up through the Atlanta Thrashers system and then playing four injury-plagued seasons in Minnesota, Foster exploded into the spotlight with 34 assists and 42 points for Tampa Bay in 2009-10.
In Philadelphia, however, he's now joining his sixth different team since that breakout campaign. The 31-year-old had a hectic 2011-12 year, scoring two points in nine games for Anaheim, one point in two games for Syracuse (Anaheim's AHL affiliate), 12 points in 28 games for New Jersey and, finally, zero points in 14 games for Minnesota.
It's hard to know which side of the Ontario native the Flyers will get in 2013, but his addition to a banged-up Philly defense will be happily welcomed nonetheless.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. He has written more than 445 articles and received over 800,000 reads.
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