Free agency: fast and furious

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

The mean streets of the Northeast Division look a bit brighter for the Maple Leafs today after a wild first day of National Hockey League free agent shopping.

Toronto, which had an awful record of 11-16-5 in vital division games last year, will still have to wrestle Zdeno Chara eight times this season, but the Big Z has jumped from the Ottawa Senators to the rebuilding Boston Bruins in a five-year, $37.5-million US deal that headlined yesterday's activity.

Chara was close to a deal with the Los Angeles Kings, but chose less money to head to Boston with outgoing Sens' executive Peter Chiarelli, who takes over as Bruins' general manager this month. The last-place Bruins also picked up 97-point centre Marc Savard, who had eyed the Leafs for family reasons, but couldn't generate interest here.

Ottawa also lost No. 5 defenceman Brian Pothier to the Washington Capitals, but improved in goal with Martin Gerber of the Hurricanes, who was usurped by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward in the playoffs.

The Buffalo Sabres lost defenceman Jay McKee, always a thorn in the side of the Leafs, gone out of the conference after joining the St. Louis Blues. The Montreal Canadiens re-signed defenceman Francis Bouillon, but were otherwise quiet.

There were some big-name defencemen changing addresses in the West, with Ed Jovanovski heading from Vancouver to Phoenix and Rob Blake going "home" to the Kings from Colorado.

Not all available free agents moved, as winger Patrik Elias agreed to a seven-year $42 million deal to stay in New Jersey. He was considering crossing the Hudson River and joining the New York Rangers.

Centre Jason Arnott, expected to be pursued by the Leafs, apparently had many suitors, possibly including the Devils, and had not moved as of late last night. He reportedly has turned down four years at $16 million from the Blues.

The conservative Minnesota Wild made three significant late signings last night, adding defencemen Kim Johnsson and Keith Carney and winger Mark Parrish.

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger is no closer to being traded, but he is closer to speaking. Reports said he will address the media this week to refute a number of rumours surrounding his professional and personal life that supposedly sparked his trade request.


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