DETROIT -- The start of NHL free agency season used to resemble Christmas morning for the Red Wings.
Year after year, another high-priced, big-name star always landed under the Wings' tree July 1.
Because of the salary cap, salary commitments to current players and the need to sign their own unrestricted free agents this season, the Wings' July 1 stocking might be empty.
"We'd like to get our own free agents signed," said general manager Ken Holland, talking about defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, goalie Chris Osgood and wing Brendan Shanahan.
Then there's captain Steve Yzerman, who is undecided about playing another season or retiring.
"Those are key people for us and we're optimistic we can work something out," Holland said. "What happens with those players will have a large effect on how much we do (elsewhere), and how much we have to spend. With the salary cap now, you're trying to piece together a puzzle while going in different directions at the same time."
Holland said he has talked to Lidstrom's agent, Don Meehan, over the past few days and they are getting close to an agreement. Lidstrom isn't interested in testing the free-agent market. He said last week he was hoping to work out a deal with the Wings.
"We have to find a number that Nick has certainly earned, and what works for us," Holland said.
Holland said Osgood's agent, Rollie Thompson, is expected to let the Wings know today whether Osgood will accept the Wings' latest offer or test free agency. Talks with Shanahan's agent, Rick Curran, are going slower, Holland said.
Yzerman has yet to make a decision about returning. It's not known whether he'll decide before Saturday.
The NHL has raised the salary cap to $44 million -- from $39 million -- but that doesn't help the Wings much.
They have approximately $22.5 million committed to 11 players. Lidstrom, Shanahan, Osgood and Yzerman, if they were all to sign, would take another $12-14 million a season.
That would leave approximately $8 million to $10 million for six or seven players, one of whom needs to be a starting-caliber goalie.
So much for the glitzy free-agent signings -- remember Derian Hatcher, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek -- of Julys past.
"With the salary cap, you have a limit to spend, and we will spend to that limit," Holland said. "But, obviously, we can't go over that limit."
Acquiring a goalie is crucial for the Wings. The team told Manny Legace in early June it was not interested in re-signing him. Holland wants Osgood to return as a backup or to split time with the new goalie.
Free agents such as Dwayne Roloson, Martin Gerber and Ed Belfour have all been mentioned as possibilities.
Martin Biron of Buffalo, Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim, and Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala, of San Jose, are also trade possibilities.
"There are a lot of options out there, it's just a matter of what's the best fit," Holland said. "We'd like to have Chris back. He's a real good insurance policy. Then, it's a matter of how much do we want to put (financially) into the goalie position."
The Wings have said they'd prefer to get a goalie through free agency so they wouldn't have to give up any assets.
But, if the bidding goes too high, going after a goalie such as Biron, who recently accepted a $2.15 million qualifying offer from the Sabres, could become a viable alternative.
A physical defenseman is also on the Wings' wish list. Former Wing and current Hurricane Aaron Ward could fit the need and is within the Wings' salary range.
Ward, who will be an unrestricted free agent if he isn't signed by Saturday, still lives in the Detroit area. With the probable signing of Lidstrom, defensemen such as Zdeno Chara (Ottawa) and Ed Jovanovski (Vancouver), players in whom the Wings would be highly interested in the past, are now impossible to go after because of the salary cap.
You can reach Ted Kulfan at (313) 223-4606 or firstname.lastname@example.org