NHL teams quickly snatched up the best players available in free agency, giving Paul Stastny, Jarome Iginla and Ryan Miller new homes in the league.
When the market opened Tuesday, teams tried to make a splash to improve their rosters and fire up fans.
Stastny cashed in, signing a $28 million, four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, leaving the Central Division rival Colorado Avalanche.
”It’s a tough decision, (but) I was in a good position,” Stastny, a St. Louis native, told the Blues’ website. ”You almost have to take a step back and take all the emotions out of it and try to realize what’s best for me hockey-wise. Not just next year, but two or three or four years down the road.”
The Avs found someone to score in Stastny’s place, picking up an aging player who has proven he’s still got it.
Iginla was given a three-year, $16 million deal on Tuesday, his 37th birthday. The wing had 30 goals to tie for the most in Boston last season.
The Avs also acquired a veteran defenseman, Brad Stuart from San Jose. Colorado had quite a turnaround last season thanks in part due to 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, the Calder Trophy winner as top rookie.
After trading away Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, the Vancouver Canucks gave goaltender Miller a three-year deal worth $18 million.
”I like to think that this team can get its mojo back, have a good attitude and push forward,” said Miller, 33. ”From the top down I think they have the right attitude in place. I think it’s going to be exciting to play hockey here.”
The Washington Capitals also made a big splash – or at least spent the most money on a pair of players.
The Caps bolstered the blue line behind superstar Alex Ovechkin and gave defense-minded coach Barry Trotz the pieces he sought to build a winner. Washington signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract soon after sealing a $27.5 million, five-year deal with defenseman Brooks Orpik. The Capitals also took a couple key players off the roster in Pittsburgh, a Metropolitan Division rival.
Pittsburgh signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, forward Blake Comeau and goaltender Thomas Greiss to one-year deals.
The Minnesota Wild signed forward Thomas Vanek to a $19.5 million, three-year deal, two summers after investing a lot in free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Dallas got a jump on the competition before free agency began, acquiring high-scoring forward Jason Spezza in a trade with Ottawa, taking advantage of having space under the salary cap.
”A lot of the teams that are up against the cap, they can’t do anything,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. ”We had lots of room. This worked out well for us. I look forward to Jason Spezza being a Dallas Star for many years.”
The 31-year-old Spezza, set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, had asked for a trade and previously turned down a deal that would have sent him to Nashville.
Calgary got veteran goalie Jonas Hiller, an Olympic star for Switzerland, with a two-year, $9 million deal. Calgary also came to terms with tough defenseman Deryk Engelland, who received a significant pay raise in a three-year deal worth $8.7 million, and forward Mason Raymond (three-year, $9.5 million contract).
Some franchises, though, stayed out of the fray and allowed other teams to perhaps overpay for the best players available.
The Buffalo Sabres, who had the fewest points in the NHL last season, and Florida Panthers, who were next worst, were very aggressive.
Florida invested tens of millions on free agents, adding centers Dave Bolland ($27.7 million, five years) and Jussi Jokinen ($16 million, four years), along with Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Willie Mitchell ($8.5 million, two years).
Buffalo infused its roster with veteran talent, giving forward Matt Moulson $25 million over five years and forward Brian Gionta a $12.75 million, three-year contract.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray said he was ”excited,” about the number of quality players interested in signing with the franchise.
”I’ve thought that all along, but you’re never sure until the clock hits 12,” Murray said.
”One of the more desperate days of the hockey season,” Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos lamented. ”A lot of our brethren are out running around trying to see how much money they can spend, and when the dust settles they’ll figure out whether or not they have a hockey team.”
Columbus, Toronto and Detroit invested a lot one year ago in some of the top free agents – Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss, respectively – and each team probably wishes it had spent that money on other players.
”There’s a lot of things that happen on free agency day that some teams look back and wonder why they did it,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. ”There will be a time and place for us to be active in the free agent market, but it’s certainly not now while we’ve committed to our younger players, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning also were active, landing veteran defensemen Anton Stralman and forward Brian Boyle to give the team more grit after it was swept in the first round of the playoffs. Both helped the Rangers make the Stanley Cup finals, as did center Brad Richards, who signed with Chicago.
Tampa Bay also added goaltender Evgeni Nabokov after not having a backup capable of playing well when Ben Bishop was hurt in April.
The Rangers made up some of their losses after reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in two decades by signing veteran defenseman Dan Boyle, a highly coveted player with a right-handed shot from the point.
New York also added defensemen Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.
Mike Cammalleri signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, giving them a desperately needed offensive boost. They also brought back former Devils goaltender Scott Clemmensen and forward Martin Havlat.
Ottawa re-signed veteran forward Milan Michalek to a three-year contract worth $12 million.
Some notable players still available: Dany Heatley, Mike Ribeiro, Daniel Alfredsson and Martin Brodeur, the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie.
The Detroit Red Wings tried to add some of the top defensemen available, and settled for re-signing Kyle Quincey for $8.5 million over two years. They also signed restricted free agent forward Riley Sheahan to a $1.9 million, two-year contract.
While Detroit tries to improve its roster, the franchise awaits 41-year-old Alfredsson’s decision whether to retire.
”If his back feels good in August, we’ll talk about a one-year deal with him,” general manager Ken Holland said. ”He’s not going to sign a deal with anyone else.”