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'Hawks go on extreme spending spree

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Spector

At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector's NHL Blog on Yardbarker.com for NHL rumors and analysis.

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The National Hockey League's unrestricted free agent market opened on July 1 and the general managers have gone crazy. Despite a salary cap ceiling of $56.7 million for next season and a CBA supposedly designed to curb over-spending, some NHL teams on the opening day of this year's UFA market reverted back to the free-spending ways prior to the 2004-05 lockout. The Chicago Blackhawks signed Brian Campbell for a mind-boggling eight year, $56.8 million contract, which breaks down to $7.1 million per season against the Blackhawks cap. It was understandable why Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon targeted Campbell as he wanted to add an experienced offensive defenseman to his blueline, but he grossly overpaid for the privilege. In his final season with the Buffalo Sabres last fall, Campbell sought a five-year, $25 million contract, but now he's earning nearly as much per season as Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, the best defenseman in the NHL. Lidstrom is a perennial Norris winner while Campbell will never get close to a nomination. But Tallon wasn't done there, signing UFA goaltender Cristobal Huet to a four-year contract at $5.6 million per season. As with Campbell, this was an understandable move. Current Blackhawks starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, whom Tallon overpaid to sign in 2005, has struggled with injury and inconsistency, forcing a need for an upgrade between the pipes. Huet is a good regular-season goalie, but $5.6 million per season is paying far too much for a goalie who should've gotten at best $3.5 million per season. It's no wonder the Washington Capitals took a pass on re-signing Huet and went instead with a more affordable Jose Theodore for two years at $4.5 million per season. Theodore's salary is also expensive, but it's a cut from the $5.5 million he made per season on his last deal and, unlike Huet, has proven capable of winning a first-round playoff series. The New York Rangers were notorious in the pre-cap days for overspending on aging free agent veterans and, after spending relatively wisely on younger talent over the last three summers, have returned to over-paying over-30 players with a vengeance, signing 31-year-old blueliner Wade Redden to a six-year, $39 million contract. That breaks down to $6.5 million per season for the next six years, exactly the same salary per season Redden earned with the Senators over the last two years. Now this deal might've made sense if Redden were still at the top of his game, but over the last two seasons it was apparent his game was in decline. One couldn't fault the Rangers if they were willing to gamble $6.5 million per season on Redden for two more years, but six is just too much. If Redden's game continues to decline, the Blueshirts risk a salary cap headache in a couple of years. The Toronto Maple Leafs made headlines by buying out Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft and waiving Kyle Wellwood to clear some much-needed salary cap space. Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher, however, used the savings in two questionable signings: Defenseman Jeff Finger to a four year contract worth $3.5 million per season and winger Niklas Hagman to a four-year, $12 million deal. The 28-year-old Finger showed plenty of promise last season with the Colorado Avalanche in his first full NHL campaign but has yet to prove worthy of $3.5 million per season. Prior to 2007-08, Hagman never had a season with more than 34 points, but Fletcher is gambling that the 28-year-old Hagman's 27-goal, 41-point performance this past year is a sign of a late-blooming star. Finger and Hagman will be facing tremendous pressure to earn those salaries in one of hockey's most demanding markets and if they wilt, the Leafs could be facing two more contract buyouts in a year or two. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow bolstered his blue line by landing defenseman Mark Streit, but it took a five-year, $20.5 million contract to do it — quite the raise for a guy who made $600,000 last season. Snow's defense corps needed a good puck-moving defenseman to anchor the power play, and most of Streit's 62 points last season with the Montreal Canadiens came on the man-advantage. The Canadiens, however, had one of the best power plays in the NHL and Streit will be hard-pressed to match those numbers playing for an Islanders PP that was among one of the worst. Plus, $4.1 million per season is a lot of money to gamble on a 30-year-old defenseman with only one notable NHL season on his resume.
Tagged: Sabres, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Stars, Canadiens, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Avalanche, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Brian Campbell, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jose Theodore, Garth Snow, Wade Redden, Nikolai Khabibulin, Darcy Tucker, Cristobal Huet, Niklas Hagman, Andrew Raycroft, Jeff Finger, Kyle Wellwood, Mark Streit

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