Just when the slowing global economy figured to put a crimp in spending for NHL free agents, Marian Hossa hit the open market again.
And instead of taking a discount on a one-year deal to take a shot at a Stanley Cup title, Hossa cashed in a megadeal with the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.
A few hours after the NHL free-agent season was open for business, the Blackhawks said goodbye to Martin Havlat and set their sights on Hossa. It didn’t take long to come to terms on a 12-year, $62.8 million contract.
It was the headline move on the typically busy first day of free-agent shopping.
The New York Rangers landed the second biggest prize of the day, signing high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik away from the Minnesota Wild with a five-year, $37.5 million contract. That deal came together once the Rangers couldn’t complete a trade with the Ottawa Senators for disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.
Heatley was still in limbo late Wednesday night, and was due a $4 million bonus payment from whatever team he was a member of at midnight.
The NHL salary cap rose only $100,000 from last season to $56.8 million. With concerns that the financial crisis could strike the league harder this season, and force the 2010-11 cap to drop, the belief was teams would be more cautious about entering into long-term deals.
The Blackhawks didn’t seem too concerned, and will absorb a $5.23 million cap hit on Hossa’s contract.
“We haven’t used the (unrestricted free-agent market) that often because it’s when you get the most onerous contracts with the most unfavorable term,” San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “I’ve used the term irrational exuberance that takes place at this time of year.”
Hossa left the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins last summer to join the defending champion Detroit Red Wings — saying he believed that gave him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. But the Penguins dethroned the Red Wings last month in the rematch, leaving Hossa in second place again.
“Now I don’t have to worry about dealing with it year to year. I’m set for 12 years. That will make it easier and I can focus on hockey,” Hossa said.
Hossa is joining the Blackhawks, his fourth team since 2008, and their stable of young stars headlined by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
It ended the Chicago tenure of Martin Havlat, who hadn’t found a new home by Wednesday night. The Blackhawks also let goalie Nikolai Khabibulin go, watching him sign a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
“We were just unable to get a deal done with Marty,” Chicago general manager Dale Tallon said. “It was 11:01 and we decided to go in a different direction. The important thing we’re doing is to keep the core together. So this deal was important to get done at this term to help us in the future solidify that core group. … I wish Marty and Nik all the best. We’re turning the page and moving forward.”
The action got started even before noon (EDT), when teams were first allowed to negotiate with free agents from other teams.
After marathon negotiations in Sweden, the Vancouver Canucks finally reached matched deals to retain identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin — the team’s leading scorers last season with 82 points.
Right before the pair reached the open market, they each signed five-year, $30.5 million contracts.
“We really like it in Vancouver and that’s where we wanted to stay,” Henrik said.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund couldn’t say the same as he left the Canucks after 11 seasons to sign a seven-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 32-year-old native of Sweden played in 770 NHL games with the Canucks and is the team’s career leader in goals by a defenseman with 93. The Sedins are now the longest-tenured players with Vancouver.
The Montreal Canadiens were busy for a second straight day, signing former Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri to a five-year, $30 million deal, and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill. Spacek left the Buffalo Sabres for a three-year, $11.5 million contract, and Gill was lured away from the Penguins by a two-year contract worth $4.5 million.
They completed their spending binge by nabbing forward Brian Gionta from the New Jersey Devils with a five-year, $25 million contract.
Combined with Tuesday’s six-player trade that brought center Scott Gomez to the Canadiens from the New York Rangers, Montreal is on the hook for contracts worth $107.8 million. Gomez, a former teammate of Gionta’s in New Jersey, has five years left on his deal with a cap charge of $7.35-million per season.
However, the Canadiens didn’t retain defenseman Mike Komisarek, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto also added much-needed toughness by agreeing to terms with former Rangers enforcer Colton Orr on a four-year, $4 million deal. New York wasted little time in replacing him with former Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear, the NHL’s most-feared fighter.
In other moves:
—Star defenseman Scott Niedermayer made his return to the Anaheim Ducks official by agreeing to a one-year, $6 million deal plus bonuses.
—The Florida Panthers reached a six-year contract extension with young forward David Booth, who was a restricted free agent, and inked former New Jersey Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen to a three-year deal.
—The New York Islanders pried 39-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson away from the Edmonton Oilers, giving them an experienced backup who could step into the top spot if Rick DiPietro is still injured. Roloson received a two-year, $5 million contract.
—Steve Begin left Dallas Stars and joined the Boston Bruins.
—Forward Erik Cole re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes for two years, $5.8 million.
—Defenseman Andy Greene stayed with New Jersey, signing a two-year contract worth $1.475 million. But forward Mike Rupp left the Devils and agreed to a two-year, $1.6 million contract with the Penguins.
—Forward Steve Sullivan re-signed with Nashville for two years, $7.5 million.
The Capitals filled the void created by Viktor Kozlov’s departure for Russia, by signing former Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Knuble to a two-year deal worth $5.6 million. He can take Kozlov’s spot on the wing alongside star forward Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom.
“I know what I do well,” Knuble said. “I complement players. I’ve been able to be successful and they’ve been able to be successful.”
Philadelphia moved to replace him by signing rugged forward Ian Laperriere away from the Colorado Avalanche. The Flyers also brought back goalie Brian Boucher, who is expected to back up newly acquired Ray Emery.