Philly fills in defence

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The way the Eastern Conference is re-arming this week, facing Sidney Crosby is going to be the least of the Maple Leafs' problems on the schedule.

In a hectic day on the free agent front, the Philadelphia Flyers have once more bulked up, this time on the blueline with Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, both checking in at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. Hatcher, the most notable catch, signed for four years at $14.4 million US, choosing to leave Detroit after an injury plagued season to be with former Dallas Stars' coach Ken Hitchcock.

Hitchcock's former Stars' captain will make $3.5 million this season to go with a $3.1 million buyout from the Red Wings.

"He plays a lot of minutes (around 25 a night) and all of them are heavy minutes, not on the power play," Hitchcock said.

Rathje comes east after a decade in San Jose for five years at $17.5 million, while the Flyers re-signed Chris Therien for $500,000.

MARKOV TRADED

The Flyers traded ex-Leaf Danny Markov and his $2.35 million to Nashville for a draft pick to clear some room.

In more potential bad news for the Leafs, centre Bobby Holik is back with a good team, the Atlanta Thrashers, which plan to use him in a defensive role similar to the way he frustrated Mats Sundin as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Holik will get $12.75 million from the Thrashers, in addition to as much as $9 million from his former team, the New York Rangers, who bought him out after two mostly disappointing seasons.

The Rangers, by the way, are now being touted as a possible destination of the rumoured Peter Forsberg-Markus Naslund ticket. The two finalists for the 2003 Hart Trophy have been courted by their former teams, Colorado and Vancouver, but both have cap issues.

The two forwards would be re-tracing the steps of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two other major Swedish stars who came to Manhattan in 1978 and made the Rangers instant contenders. Another former Leaf and Ranger, Brian Leetch, is said to be talking to the Boston Bruins, as he searches for a team in the New England or New York area.

Boston filled in some of its generous cap room by keeping winger Glen Murray. The unrestricted free-agent winger agreed to a $16.6 million, four-year deal with the Bruins. He'll earn $4.15 million per season. The Bruins also signed free-agent winger Shawn McEachern to a two-year deal.

The Leafs also lost sight of two defencemen they had coveted, Adam Foote and Adrian Aucoin, but at least they wound up in the Western Conference. After dropping strong hints about staying in his hometown, the Toronto-born Foote decided on the Columbus Blue Jackets, four-time playoff failures since their National Hockey League inception.

He'll make $13.8 million in the next three years, while Aucoin ends up with the Chicago Blackhawks, for $14 million over four years.

Mike Modano was not quite ready to announce his intentions last night, but was mulling seven different offers to leave the Dallas Stars and is dissatisfied enough to likely take one.

Boston has been a long-rumoured location, though the Bruins were about to wrap up former Leaf Brian Leetch late last night.


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