And so, the die has been cast.
Scott Gomez is the first big-name unrestricted free agent to announce he will test the market this summer.
"We have gone this far, it would be foolish not to see what's out there," Gomez told the Associated Press last week as he and his fellow New Jersey Devils cleaned out their lockers for the last time at Continental Airlines Arena.
Declaring free agency, Gomez cautioned, "doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean I am leaning one way or I don't want to be here. I have talked to all the guys that have played here and gone through this. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
General manager Lou Lamoriello has serious cap issues to confront this summer. The team was already over the $44 million limit this season. Even if the cap rises to as much as $49 million, Lamoriello has far too many players to re-sign and fit under the Devils' new roof in Newark next fall.
Among the UFAs are Gomez ($5 million this past season), Brian Rafalski ($4.2 million), and Brad Lukowich ($1 million), who played exceptionally well in the playoffs.
Did we mention the restricted free agents? Under the CBA, Mike Rupp ($450,000), Cam Janssen ($450,000) and Johnny Oduya ($505,000) will all automatically get 10 percent raises. Then there is the tricky part of re-signing Zach Parise ($703,000) and Paul Martin ($2.0 million). Lamoriello only has to qualify Parise at a 5 percent raise and Martin at his same salary. Both might want more.
Lou knows there simply isn't enough Monopoly money to go around the board.
"I have been fortunate to win here," Gomez said. "I have grown up here. I don't know anything else. I got two Stanley Cups. I learned how to win. I learned commitment."
Now he can learn free agency.
In that quest, both Gomez and suitors will have a lot to weigh.
For instance, let's just assume the Flyers go after silky forward Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. They still could have enough dollars left to bring in Gomez, although they might go after two defensemen and one forward.
The Flyers have $27.5 million in salary commitments for next season. If the cap hits $49 million, that gives them about $21.5 million to play with.
"Guys who have gone through it think it's 'this big party,' " Gomez said of free agency. "You want it to end as quick as possible."
Like Briere and Chris Drury, Gomez will be gone within the first few days of free agency.
The Flyers intend to have at least one player on their wish list locked up within the first couple hours of free agency.
Question is, who will it be?
During a first-period break in Monday's Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals between Detroit and San Jose, Versus ran a promo on the New Jersey Devils' quest for the Cup, encouraging fans to follow the Devils' run on Versus and NBC. Does anyone at Versus check these spots to see whether they are outdated? The Devils had been eliminated two days earlier.
Unhappy that local media did not send reporters to Moscow for the IIHF World Championships, in which five players from the Capitals were participating, Caps owner Ted Leonsis did something rather unprecedented: he sent two members of the organization and two fans who blog regularly on the team overseas to cover the tournament. "Our local media - either because of lack of interest or lack of budget due to declines in circulation, ad-revenue decreases and newsroom layoffs - are not covering the World Championships of Hockey in Moscow," Leonsis wrote on his blog, Ted's Take, which later appeared on E-Media Tidbits on Poynter Online. "The tournament is big news around the world, so we have decided to invest and send four people to cover the event and then put all coverage on the Web for free. We will share the news with new and traditional media outlets and syndicate it far and wide. Web 2.0 makes it possible for us to get our coverage out to millions and millions of people, promoting our sport, our team and our players."
Pretty savvy on Ted's part.