NHL market crashers

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

The biggest names were the biggest winners on the NHL's lucrative free-agent market yesterday.

The Rangers made the biggest splash on Day 1 of free agency, signing New Jersey centre Scott Gomez to a seven-year, $51.5-million (all terms US) deal and then snapping up Buffalo centre Chris Drury with a five-year, $35-million deal.

The first big name to cause a ripple effect was Daniel Briere, who inked an eight-year, $52-million deal from the Flyers.

Then there was a waiting game as Ryan Smyth, Gomez and Drury waited to pick their spots.

While Smyth was believed to be close to a deal with the Avalanche late last night, the Leafs reached a five-year, $20-million deal with winger Jason Blake of the Islanders.

Reports indicated Toronto was also in the hunt for Atlanta forward Slava Kozlov, who had 80 points last season.

But it was Briere who set the tone with a deal that will pay him an average of $6.5 million per season -- $10 million this season.

It's believed Briere was offered a six-year, $42-million deal by the Canadiens, but the Gatineau native decided to join his old Buffalo buddy Martin Biron with the Flyers.

"There were 10 or 11 teams, but I always like Philadelphia from the start," Briere said last night. "I could have had more money elsewhere. We wanted to give everyone a chance to let us know they were interested and we didn't act too quickly.

"But, for some reason, Philadelphia was always at the top of my list. I don't know how to explain it. I was a little afraid that they may not be interested in me, but when we started to look at the different options, with the pros and cons, it came back to Philly. It just seemed like it was the right fit for me."

The Flyers weren't done there as they dealt defenceman Joni Pitkanen and forward Geoff Sanderson to the Oilers in exchange for forward Joffrey Lupul and defenceman Jason Smith.

By acquiring Pitkanen, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe will no longer be interested in Senators blueliner Wade Redden.

There was a lot of talk that Gomez would land with the Rangers, but it was the decision by Drury to go to New York that came as a bit of a stunner. Drury had serious discussions with San Jose and Los Angeles and there was a strong indication he wanted to move West.

The biggest shock may have come on the blue line with moves by the Ducks and Wings. Anaheim signed Detroit's Mathieu Schneider to a two-year, $11.25 million contract.

Ducks GM Brian Burke admitted he received a call from veteran Scott Niedermayer before the market opened.

"Scott Niedermayer told me he is leaning towards retirement," said Burke.

That meant the Wings had to go on a spending spree themselves. They are still trying to get goalie Dominik Hasek under contract, but brought in New Jersey blueliner Brian Rafalski with a five-year, $30-million deal. There was a belief Rafalski would return to the Devils, but he decided to move on.

Of course, as a result of yesterday, the Sabres are going to look vastly different.

"I have nothing bad to say about the Sabres," said Briere. "They decided they wanted to go in a different direction. That's okay. In my mind, it was clear in the last 7-10 days that we were going to split."


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