Free-agent frenzy deals some surprises

Michael Leighton, Olli Jokinen and Derek Boogaard were among the surprises that occurred during the...

Michael Leighton, Olli Jokinen and Derek Boogaard were among the surprises that occurred during the NHL free agency on July 1, 2010. (QMI Agency File Photos)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:25 PM ET

Day 1 of NHL free agency saw some sanity return to the marketplace.

Well, unless you were in Calgary where apparently the Flames' think tank thinks it's still 2006.

Olli Jokinen, Part Deux?

Really?

They usually only make sequels of a show people can't get enough of, don't they?

The lineup of people ready to drive Jokinen to the Calgary airport when he was shipped off to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline might have backed up to Red Deer.

And what would a free-agent frenzy be without the New York Rangers checking in with another "Crazy Uncle Bill" moment with the signing of tough guy Derek Boogaard to a four-year deal that pays the hulking enforcer $1.65 million a year?

First thought is if he has a goal-scored bonus since he has exactly none since the 2005-06 season.

Or, for that matter, the Philadelphia Flyers not taking a flyer on any of the goaltenders out there, opting instead to re-sign Michael Leighton for two more years at $1.55 million a year.

For the most part, this was a much more subdued free agent day with teams not shelling out those eight- or 12-year deals that looked like the budget for security at the G20.

In the first four years of free agency under this CBA, we saw the top deals on the first day top $7 million a year and there was better than $300 million shelled out on the first day, including a record $383 million last year, according to TSN.

There was "only" about $208 million handed out Thursday, thanks in part to the diminishing quality of the free agent pool. Since this CBA with a salary cap went into effect for the 2005-06 season, teams have been locking up all the premier players to those long-term deals. The result has been the free-agent pool has not been restocked with a lot of elite players each year as they remain under contract.

The other thing is with the cap going up 50% since the first year and the floor being about $43 million (the first cap was about $39 million) more and more teams are operating on budgets now.

The top contract Thursday was awarded to defenceman Sergei Gonchar who left the Pittsburgh Penguins and was scooped up in a deft move by Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray who made the first splash. Gonchar got $5.5 million a season on a three-year deal to set the bar for the day.

There were fewer instances where it looked like general managers were just at the bar.

Of course, the big catch in this year's free agent pool -- forward Ilya Kovachuk -- is still out there, so it's expected we will see a deal break well into that $7-million range when somebody -- maybe like the Los Angeles Kings, one of the few teams left with the cap room -- locks him up.

There was some talk the New Jersey Devils, with which Kovalchuk finished last season, might be in the running for his services, but they added former Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov to the fold (six years, $4.25 million a year) and Henrik Tallinder (four years, $3.375 per) and are now within $1 million of the approximately $59-million salary cap.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is still out there, too.

The Montreal Canadiens had traded for the rights to goaltender Dan Ellis -- who wound up in Tampa after there was no real effort by the Habs to sign him -- and the Canadiens opted for the much-traveled Alex Auld as their second man, which should send the message Carey Price is the clear No. 1 heading into next season.

An unspectacular day, but thanks to the Flames and Rangers, it had at least of a couple of welcome slap-head moments.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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