TORONTO - The rich got Richards, while the rest of the National Hockey League teams will soon begin closing their wallets now that two days of free agent shopping have concluded.
Once the New York Rangers won the Brad Richards’ bidding at $60 million US for nine years, runners-up such as Toronto and Los Angeles made their Plan B moves and 30 general managers paused to catch their breath and double-check their salary cap computations.
Other than Richards and Toronto’s two-year, $9.5 million deal for Tim Connolly, the most significant deal Saturday was the Kings reeling in left winger Simon Gagne for two years at $7 million. After a decade in the Eastern Conference, Gagne joins ex-Flyer teammate Mike Richards on a team that has let its draft picks mature the past couple of years and now seeks veterans to make them a playoff threat.
Gagne told the Los Angeles Times that the strong Philly connection on the team, from executive Ron Hextall and coach Terry Murray down to players such as Richards and Justin Williams was as much the deciding factor as a contract stalemate with Tampa Bay, where he’d rejuvenated with a long playoff run.
The great goaltending gyration continued into Sunday with Tomas Vokoun finding a new home in Washington. Vokoun didn’t move as quickly as thought on Saturday, then found his old job in Florida going to Jose Theodore before he finally found a spot with the Caps. With Semyon Varlamov traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a first rounder, the Caps will team Vokoun with second-year man Michal Neuvirth.
Vokoun has a .917 career save percentage, but the knock against him was failure to get the Nashville Predators out of the first round and later, give the Panthers a lift into the playoffs. He will get $1.5 million this season and a year to prove his critics wrong.
The Detroit Red Wings, who pride themselves on being able to squeeze more life out of elder defencemen, gave Ian White a shot with a two-year deal for $5.75 million. Now with his third team since being traded by the Maple Leafs in January of 2010, White’s strong two-way play with San Jose through the playoffs obviously attracted Detroit.
The lunchbucket team that GM Jim Rutherford and coach Paul Maurice are putting together in Carolina added the services of centre Anthony Stewart, who will stay in the south while the rest of his old Atlanta Thrashers head north to Winnipeg.
There should be a few signings on Sunday and then a lull for the July 4th holiday in the United States. Among those interesting UFAs still to be signed are centre Jason Arnott, defenceman Tomas Kaberle and goalie Ray Emery. Kaberle’s agent, Rick Curran, said prior to July 1 that there was interest from the Bruins to retain him in 2011-12.
Matt Gilroy, who once had a number of NHL teams chasing him at Boston U. such as Toronto and Vancouver, left the New York Rangers after two years to join the big defence Steve Yzerman has assembled in Tampa Bay.
“I think you’re going to see the market solidify,” said Dave Nonis, senior vice-president of hockey operations for the Leafs. “Teams are still looking out for bargains, but they also have restricted free agents to sign and some salary arbitration to take care of. “(The first two days) unfolded almost as exactly as I thought it would. There was that immediate frenzy where people wanting to spend the extra money they had in a 24-hour period. Then people began bargain shopping. Now they are looking for shorter-term deals and two-way contracts and other ways that can help them.
“I believe you’ll see some trades around the league now. If you look at new contracts and see you need some re-allocation, such as having too many defencemen and deciding to go for a forward. But it may take 30 to 45 days to decide on making those trades.”