Latest on Derek Stepan, Cody Franson, Jaroslav Halak and Simon Gagne, plus a look ahead at next summer’s UFA market.

TSN.CA: Darren Dreger reports the contract talks of New York’s Derek Stepan and Toronto’s Derek Stapan Cody Franson remain at an impasse. Stepan isn’t expected to be in the Rangers lineup for their season-opener on October 3. Dreger suggests the Leafs are content to wait out Franson unless their hand is forced by an offer sheet.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As I noted in yesterday’s Rumor Mill, if both clubs weren’t squeezed for cap space these two would’ve been under contract long ago. Their respective asking prices ($3.5 million for Stepan, $3 million for Franson) are why they remain unsigned.  These standoffs could stretch into the regular season.

Jaroslav Halak must prove himself as the Blues starter.

Jaroslav Halak must prove himself as the Blues starter.

ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun expects the Maple Leafs to offer Mason Raymond a contract before the end of training camp…The St. Louis Blues consider Jaroslav Halak their starting goalie, but if he hasn’t inspired management confidence by the March trade deadline, the Blues could look toward the trade market (Ryan Miller?) for help. Halak is eligible for UFA status next summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It certainly seems at this point Raymond has earned himself a roster spot on the Leafs. The Blues could also shop Halak (given his UFA status) if they feel he’s not the guy to carry them deep in the postseason. They also have Brian Elliott on their roster and Jake Allen in their system, but Elliott hasn’t proven himself reliable in the playoffs while Allen lacks experience.

TVA SPORTS: UFA winger Simon Gagne isn’t panicking over his situation, remaining hopeful of being signed by an NHL team. However, he could “make a decision” if he’s still unsigned by December.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That decision could be retirement.

SPORTSNET.CA: Luke Fox lists what he considers the top 30 players eligible for UFA status next summer. Among them: Henrik Lundqvist, Phil Kessel, the Sedins, Joe Thornton, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Miller, Ryan Callahan, and Jonas Hiller.

NHL.COM: Dan Rosen looks at the “seven big storylines” involving next summer’s potential UFAs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As I recently noted, many of the big name potential UFAs could be re-signed by their respective clubs well before next July. Even so, it will still be a deep market, much better than this summer’s. There will be a number of notable players available come July 1, and given the anticipated increase in the salary cap ceiling, there could be considerably more activity – and excitement – in next summer’s market compared to this summer’s.