If the Phoenix Coyotes dip into the deep free agent market next week to further fortify their team, which big names are likely to be at the top of their shopping list?
• Tony Amonte? Forget it. Three years after signing Amonte to a $24 million free agent contract — and less than two years after dumping that deal on Philadelphia — team sources confirm they have no interest, no matter what Amonte’s reduced, postbuyout lockout price becomes.
• Nikolai Khabibulin? Highly doubtful. Privately, the Coyotes would love a reunion with "The ‘Bulin Wall,’’ but coming off a Stanley Cup season as the most sought-after goalie in free agency, Khabibulin’s asking price that will start north of $5 million will eliminate most teams — with Tampa and Detroit among the limited destinations.
• Mike Modano? Wait and see. The 35-year-old, life-long Star wants to remain in Dallas but isn’t hearing the term (three or more seasons) or amount (at least $4 million) that would keep him there.
He’s already expressed an interest in reuniting with Phoenix’s Brett Hull, a duo that produced a Stanley Cup in 1999, but the Coyotes don’t want to be used as leverage to get Modano a better offer. The first call won’t be theirs.
• Ray Whitney? Maybe. The Red Wings bought out his contract and will pay the 33-year-old $1.78 million this season. Whitney has a home in Phoenix, still has good speed, is versatile (has played wing, center and even the point on power plays) and the price should be right.
There are red flags, like health (back problems), strength and defense (a career plus/minus of minus-85), But some deficiencies may be hidden better in the new NHL.
•Sean Burke? Another possibility. The Coyotes are likely to extend a qualifying offer to Brian Boucher ($1.52 million) but may not pick up the team option on Brent Johnson ($760,000) and are reluctant to rely on young David LeNeveu heading into camp.
Burke, soon to be 39, has had more than a year to rest and recuperate from surgeries and is known league-wide for staying in excellent shape. Up to five teams could be interested in Burke, but he lives in Scottsdale and might give the Coyotes a hometown discount — with performance incentives.
With a glut of NHL talent (14 forwards) under contract, the Coyotes are also in a position to make multiple deals or a two- or three-for-one trade in order to bolster a position.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Coyotes likely won’t release their list of restricted free agents who will receive qualifying offers until the weekend, but Boucher, defensemen Derek Morris (2.66 million) and Paul Mara ($1.1 million) are assured of being retained while forwards Jeff Taffe (two-way deal) and Daniel Cleary ($304,000) are good probabilities. Defenseman Brad Ference ($1 million) won’t return. . . .
The Coyotes released their eight-game preseason schedule on Tuesday. Six games feature a home-and-home series with the usual suspects from the Pacific Division (Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose). The preseason begins with a Sept. 16 visit to Glendale Arena by Minnesota. . . .
The Coyotes continued negotiations with former North Dakota defenseman Matt Jones on Tuesday. The two sides have until 2 p.m. Thursday to reach an agreement before he goes back into Saturday’s draft. It appears unlikely that two 2003 picks, center Tyler Redenbach and winger Ryan Gibbons, will be signed. . . .
Charlie Simmer, who has been with the Coyotes as a radio and television analyst since the team moved to Phoenix in 1996, was not fired by the team. Simmer, in Europe and unavailable for comment, left to pursue non-hockey business interests in Calgary.