When the doors to free agency finally opened, NHL general managers went charging into the marketplace like bargain-hunters on Boxing Day.
They might not have been throwing around as many long-term deals as in years past, but there was still plenty of July 1 spending being done. Almost every NHL team made at least one signing and a few made huge ones — the Rangers landed Marian Gaborik, Minnesota inked Martin Havlat, Vancouver locked up its coveted Sedin twins and a massive 12-year deal saw Marian Hossa blow into Chicago.
Despite concerns about the financial landscape, GMs weren’t hesitant to open their wallets.
“I’m not surprised,” Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Wednesday night. “Everybody’s talking about the economy and so forth, but everybody’s got needs to fill on their hockey team. I’m not surprised by how many deals were made today.”
Hossa landed the most surprising contract and may have seen his hockey odyssey end in the process. He signed a US$62.4-million, 12-year deal with the Blackhawks — the fourth team the talented winger has skated with in three seasons.
It’s the second straight year that Chicago GM Dale Tallon has been a major player on the opening day of free agency. He signed Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet to long-term contracts last summer and admitted then that “you always overpay on July 1.”
The deals came at a dizzying rate this time around.
It all got started when twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin agreed to matching $30.5-million, five-year contract extensions with the Canucks, just prior to becoming unrestricted free agents. A face-to-face meeting with GM Mike Gillis in Sweden this week helped bridge the gap in negotiations.
“We really like it in Vancouver and that’s where we wanted to stay,” said Henrik.
The 28-year-old Sedins have scored 70 points or more the past four years and each had 82 points last season.
Gaborik earned the most money outside of Hossa by signing for $37.5 million over five years. The oft-injured forward now takes his act from Minnesota to the bright lights of Broadway.
The Wild quickly replaced Gaborik, signing winger Havlat to a six-year contract.
Havlat led the Blackhawks with a career-high 77 points in 81 games last season. He has 396 points (169 goals, 227 assists) over 470 NHL games with Ottawa and Chicago.
Hossa spent last season with the Detroit Red Wings, where he had 40 goals and 71 points before watching his former Pittsburgh teammates lift the Stanley Cup.
Canadiens GM Bob Gainey was busy Wednesday, rebuilding a roster left full of holes by free agency. One day after trading for former Ranger Scott Gomez, he added more offence by signing diminutive snipers Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta to five-year contracts. Those players will cost Montreal a combined $11 million per season.
The Habs also beefed up their blue-line by acquiring veteran defencemen Jaroslav Spacek (formerly of Buffalo) and Hal Gill (Pittsburgh).
“I like the quality and character of the players we got,” said Gainey. “I think we beat some teams to the punch. Those players had opportunities to go other places and they chose Montreal.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed former Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek to a $22.5-million, five-year deal. In another move, GM Brian Burke sent defenceman Pavel Kubina and minor-leaguer Tim Stapleton to the Atlanta Thrashers for defenceman Garnet Exelby and forward Colin Stuart.
The Leafs also manned up by signing six-foot-three 222-pound tough guy Colton Orr, who had one goal, four assists and 193 penalty minutes last season. Only Daniel Carcillo of the Coyotes and Flyers and Shane O’Brien of the Canucks spent more time in the penalty box.
While the Canucks kept the Sedins, they lost veteran defenceman Mattias Ohlund, who left for Tampa Bay and a US$26.25-million, seven-year contract. Ohlund spent the first 11 years of his career in Vancouver.
Ohlund, 32, was one of the most sought-after defencemen available through unrestricted free agency. The Lightning also signed Matt Walker to a $6.8-million, four-year deal.
They join a blue-line bolstered by the acquisition of fellow Swede Victor Hedman, who was drafted second overall last weekend.
“This signing accomplished two primary goals for us,” GM Brian Lawton said in a statement. “First, we have added the top-two defenceman we coveted to lead our blue-line and second, we have found a leader and a mentor for Victor Hedman as he prepares to play in the NHL this fall.”
On the goalie front, the New York Islanders picked up some insurance for Rick DiPietro by signing former Oiler Dwayne Roloson to a $5-million, two-year deal.
Edmonton quickly filled the void in goal by signing 36-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin to a $15-million, four-year contract. Khabibulin is coming off a fine season in Chicago, where he went 25-8-7 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
St. Louis secured a backup for Chris Mason by signing Ty Conklin, who played in 40 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season. Steve Mason has a new backup in Columbus in Mathieu Garon, who got a two-year contract worth $2.4 million.
Goalie Scott Clemmensen, formerly of New Jersey, landed in Florida on a $3.6-million, three-year deal.
And Colorado hopes it solved some of its goaltending woes by signing for Panthers netminder Craig Anderson to a $3.6-million, two-year contract.