Free-agent center next on list: Gomez? Briere? Drury?

When the NHL free-agency period opens at noon Sunday, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren will be in his office and on the phone shopping for a top-line center.

Since the end of the most dismal of seasons, Holmgren has been promising to land a top free-agent center. Having already landed the promised puck-moving defenseman (Kimmo Timonen) and a top winger (Scott Hartnell), it's time for Holmgren to deliver a center.

And everybody is watching.

"Oh my God, the pressure, the pressure," Holmgren said, keeping the subject of what the Flyers will do this weekend as light as possible. It's only the linchpin to the upcoming season, after all.

"We're going to be aggressive," he said. "We'll be on the phone."

The three big available players are New Jersey's Scott Gomez and Buffalo's Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

The Sabres are believed to be right up against the salary cap, but reportedly made recent offers to Briere and Drury. Briere's offer was said to be 5 years for $25 million, and his agent told the Buffalo News that he rejected the offer last night. Briere is expected to pursue free agency. The team also was said to have made Drury an offer.

Gomez is rumored to be headed to the New York Rangers or Islanders.

In the meantime, the Flyers declined to tender a qualifying offer to forward Dmitry Afanasenkov, which means he will become a free agent. Claimed on waivers from Tampa Bay in December, he had 11 goals and 10 assists last season, and a plus-minus of minus-25.

"Just a dollars-and-cents thing," Holmgren said. "From where we see him and where he fits in on our team, it was just one of those things where the qualifying number just didn't fit the role we saw him playing on the team."

Another player whose future is uncertain is defenseman Joni Pitkanen. The Flyers have opted to take him to arbitration, but are quietly making him available in a trade.

Holmgren said there haven't been offers and added that rumors of a deal among Edmonton, Carolina and the Flyers are not accurate.

"I really don't know where that is coming from," he said. "There is absolutely nothing to that one."

Forsberg surgery reported

Peter Forsberg is having another round of surgery to try to fix his misaligned left foot, according to a report in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

The newspaper said Forsberg quietly arranged the surgery and did not comment. The superstar center forced a trade from the Flyers to the Nashville Predators in February because he could not commit to playing again next season due to the foot problem; he was unable to find a way to stabilize it in a skate.

Forsberg, who turns 34 next month, has said he will make no decision on retirement or playing again until the end of summer. *