The Detroit Red Wings, trying to go from Cadillac to compact car, began a busy week in the National Hockey League's buyout barn by eliminating the contracts of defenceman Derian Hatcher, left winger Ray Whitney and right winger Darren McCarty.
The contracts, all purchased at two-thirds the value of the deal, clears more than $9 million US to spend on free agents after Detroit had less than $7 million to play with under the new $39-million NHL cap.
It also adds Hatcher's name to a growing list of prominent free-agent defencemen, such as Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Gonchar and Adam Foote. Hatcher is expected to talk to the Dallas Stars, his first NHL team, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1999. McCarty was a three-time Cup winner and career Red Wing.
Niedermayer, the 2004 Norris Trophy winner, has been linked to the Maple Leafs, among others, but it's expected his destination of choice if he leaves the Meadowlands would be Vancouver, near his Edmonton birthplace and junior hockey roots in Kamloops.
The Canucks have about $28 million in cap room, but must sign a whack of restricted free agents and most importantly, get unrestricted captain Markus Naslund under contract.
Niedermayer would give them a reliable power-play quarterback, but many feel the money is better spent on a goaltender such as Nikolai Khabibulin, given Dan Cloutier's ups and downs.
A radio report had Khabibulin going back to his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes, when the free-agency signing period begins on Monday.
The Coyotes bought out forward Brian Savage yesterday, while the Montreal Canadiens did not pick up the option on defenceman Patrice Brisbois.