Slim Pickings After Busy Start To NHL Free Agency
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By John Wawrow, AP Sports Writer
Jaromir Jagr is still available. So is goalie Tim Thomas, who continues exploring whether to make a comeback after taking a season off.
Mikhail Grabovski, anyone?
Otherwise, many of the available impact players were swept up in the first few hours after the NHL’s free-agency opened Friday.
A total of 60 players were signed in deals involving 26 of the league’s 30 teams, according to a list posted on NHL.com. They included Columbus landing Nathan Horton to a $37.1 million, seven-year contract and Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa for a one-year deal in Detroit. Toronto signed David Clarkson to a $36.75 million, seven-year deal, while Jarome Iginla signed a one-year deal with Boston, the team he jilted for Pittsburgh earlier this season.
And then another nine were traded, with the biggest move involving the Senators filling the void Alfredsson left by acquiring Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan in exchange for two forwards and a first-round draft pick.
At the rate players were being signed and swapped, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was relieved to have addressed most of his team’s needs before the market officially opened.
“I didn’t think the defense market was as strong as centers. The better ones went right away,” Holmgren said, while formally announcing the team had signed captain Claude Giroux to an eight-year extension worth over $64 million. “I think we were fortunate to jump in on Mark when we did.”
Holmgren was referring to defenseman Mark Streit, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders before Philadelphia locked him up to a four-year, $21 million contract last week. Holmgren also could have mentioned Philadelphia getting Vincent Lecavalier – this summer’s most prized free agent – to agree to a five-year deal on Tuesday.
That didn’t stop Holmgren from signing goalies Ray Emery and Yann Danis on Friday to shore up what remains an unsettled position.
Beyond that, it’s a wonder anyone’s still available.
Former Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s still on the market. So are two ex-Detroit teammates, Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary. As for defense, there’s Toni Lydman.
And then there’s Teemu Selanne, who usually takes his time in free agency. Ducks general manager Bob Murray is scheduled to contact Selanne next week to see whether the Finn is close to making a decision on returning for one more year.
Many players came to much quicker decisions.
Alfredsson was driven to the Motor City by the opportunity to win a championship, and was joined, soon after, by center Stephen Weiss, who agreed to a five-year, $24.5 million contract.
“It’s all about trying to get the Stanley Cup,” Alfredsson said.
For others, it was the lure of finding the right fit.
Horton was willing to give up big-city living in Boston, for the chance to raise his family in a more collegiate environment such as Columbus.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and my family to be in a house and for it to be a little more quiet,” Horton said, while noting he is also eager to help transform the Blue Jackets into contenders. “I want to be in the playoffs and everybody else does (here), and we’ve got the team to do it. That’s why I’m so excited.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs, coming off their first postseason appearance since 2004, also made a statement by signing Clarkson and keeping first-line center Tyler Bozak with a $21 million, five-year deal.
Tampa Bay reached a $25 million, five-year deal with 29-year-old center Valtteri Filppula to essentially replace Lecavalier.
Ottawa wasn’t expecting Alfredsson to bolt.
“It was a devastating conversation, a disappointing one, hard to swallow,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray acknowledged. “But I understand a veteran player that hasn’t won and wants to win and sees a better opportunity.”
The Senators, though, got younger and perhaps better up front by acquiring Ryan. Ottawa sent forwards Jakob Silfverbeg, Stefan Noesen and its first-round pick in next year’s draft to the Ducks for the four-time 30-goal scorer.
A lot of other teams also made moves to jockey for position in the parity-filled league:
-The Phoenix Coyotes, with a new owner, signed forward Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract.
-The New Jersey Devils signed forward Ryane Clowe to a five-year, $24.25 million contract, and forward Michael Ryder to a two-year, $7 million deal.
-The Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks re-signed defenseman Michal Rozsival, forward Michal Handzus and gave 40-year goalie Nikolai Khabibulin a one-year deal to replace Emery.
-The Pittsburgh Penguins reunited with defenseman Rob Scuderi by giving him a four-year $13.5 million deal.
-The New York Islanders re-signed goalie Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year, $3.25 million deal and defenseman Travis Hamonic to a seven-year, $27 million contract, and signed free-agent forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard to a one-year, $2 million contract.
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