Teams go into spend mode on Day One of Free Agent season

TSN.ca Staff
7/2/2011 1:42:14 AM
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Day One of the 2011 NHL free agent season showed a variety of different approaches as teams tried to buy themselves a brighter future.

While the catch of the day - Brad Richards - remains unhooked, most teams were quick to snatch up other pieces that could immediately improve their rosters.

The Philadelphia Flyers may have made the biggest splash of the day, landing Jaromir Jagr after he seemed destined for their cross-state rivals in Pittsburgh. They were able to outbid teams like Pittsburgh and Detroit, inking him to a one-year, $3.3-million deal.

The Flyers, who have drastically re-shaped their team in the past week thanks to dealing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, wouldn't stop there. They would then sign one of the Penguins' biggest role-players in gritty forward Maxime Talbot to a five-year, $9-million deal.

"It could be a very good fit," said TSN hockey analyst Darren Pang. "They have a group of high-end, highly skilled defencemen that can get him the puck in the right places, he can be effective on the power-play and there's lots of power-play time to be had right now without Mike Richards or Jeff Carter."

All the Flyers' additions came at the expense of one of their key contributors from last season.

Backed by new owner Terry Pegula, Buffalo flexed its newfound financial muscle and scooped Philadelphia's fifth-leading scorer from last season, Ville Leino.

After years of losing key players to the open market, Buffalo found itself dropping big money - $27 million over six years - and luring one of the bigger names available this off-season.

"It's been long overdue," said TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. "Now they actually get to keep their own players, trade for some bigger players and make their team better."

The big spending was kicked off before the clock even struck noon, however, as the Columbus Blue Jackets made James Wisniewski Canada Day's big winner. After acquiring his negotiating right from Montreal on Wednesday, Columbus locked the tough defender in to a six-year, $33-million deal.

"This really puts an identity into the Columbus Blue Jackets," Pang said. "Now your top line's going to be Jeff Carter with Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger. The Central Division's awfully tough, but the Blue Jackets made a real good step here."

The Canadian teams, meanwhile, took vastly different approaches.

Montreal opted to drop some big bucks of their own, adding big winger Erik Cole. He didn't come cheap, at $16-million over four years, but the Canadiens added a key piece to their attack in Cole.

"They really had to address their lack of size up front and their lack of speed with big people up front," said McGuire "Now they (have that) with Erik Cole".

The party line in Vancouver, meanwhile, was tinkering with the line-up in hopes of turning themselves from number-one contenders into champions.

They would keep a couple core pieces in Sami Salo and Christ Higgins, while adding veteran forward Marco Sturm.

"I think they identified - as the playoffs wore on - that you need to have depth," Pang said. "You need to have guys that can slide into top-nine, top-six roles. I think they've done a nice job of re-tooling for next year."

Their roster would not go untouched, however, as they lost agitator Tanner Glass just a day after Buffalo locked Christian Erhoff into a mammoth 10-year, $40-million deal.

Edmonton added some grind to its forward ranks, signing Eric Belanger out of Phoenix and San Jose's Ben Eager.

Edmonton went a slightly less conventional route in shoring up its back end. On the same day he was bought out by Minnesota, Edmonton would snatch up former top-three pick Cam Barker to a one-year, $2.25-million deal.

"The defence is getting better, but they're still a long way away," said McGuire. "They still need to make some major upgrades back there."

Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary would make small moves of their own.

Ottawa inked back-up keeper Alex Auld. Calgary would lock down recently-acquired blue-liner Chris Butler. Winnipeg, meanwhile, added depth with its first unrestricted signings in Tanner Glass and Derek Meech.

The Leafs, though, would keep silent throughout Day One. Going all-in in their pursuit of a number-one centre, they dedicated all their efforts on trying to lure Brad Richards north.

"They made their pitch to Brad Richards, and that's the risk you run when you put all your eggs in that basket," said former NHLer Mike Johnson. "While you wait for Brad Richards to make that decision, you're on the backburner for a lot of other guys, potential other free agents you might want to sign."

With a decision from Richards not expected until Saturday, the effectiveness of the Leafs' Day One strategy remains to be seen.

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