stuhackel
Friday July 1st, 2011

By Stu Hackel

Monday 1:30 AM -- The second trade completed Sunday was a big one, and also the second in nine days between the Wild and Sharks as Minnesota ships Martin Havlat to San Jose in exchange for Dany Heatley in a swap of top wingers. Unlike Sunday's earlier deal -- but like the June trade in which the Sharks got Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi, collegian Charlie Coyle and a first round draft pick (which became Zach Phillips) -- this looks to be more of a hockey trade than one motivated purely by the salary cap or any fiscal situations.

This trade is a move by both teams to improve their offensive chemistry, but in different ways. The Wild plainly need to score goals and Heatley is a goal scorer who, despite declining production, still has a lethal shot, good size and the ability to play well on the cycle. The Sharks need to improve their team speed among their top forwards and Havlat gives them that. He's an excellent skater who makes very creative plays and is responsible defensively. He'll likely take Setoguchi's spot on Joe Thornton's right wing.

Theoretically, Heatley could play on a potent top line with Setoguchi centered by Mikko Koivu, although one of those wingers would have to switch to the left side. Heatley is a lefthanded shot, but plays the right side, where Setoguchi took his spot on the Sharks' Big Three line with Thornton and Patrick Marleau. It could be they'll play on different lines in Minny but, in any case, with these deals GM Chuck Fletcher has moved to inject offense into his team that for its entire history has struggled to score goals.

A two-time 50-goal scorer when he played for Ottawa, Heatley clearly has had issues keeping pace in the ever-faster NHL as his production recently dipped from two straight years of 39 goals to 26; his meager playoff performance resulted in just three goals in 18 games last spring and a slide down the Sharks depth chart. The reason for the decline was said to be a broken left hand that Heatley reportedly suffered sometime during the season, although the details of that have never been spelled out. GM Doug Wilson said Sunday Heatley played with the bad paw for the last month and a half and didn't tell anyone about it, but that wouldn't explain his lack of production prior to that. He only missed two games during the regular season and they were the result of a suspension for an elbow to the head of Dallas' Steve Ott.

The risk for the Wild is whether Heatley's decline is irreversible. The risk for the Sharks is whether Havlat can stay healthy. He had a history of injuries earlier in his career but, in the last three seasons, he's only missed 14 total games.

It appears the Sharks may have initiated this deal. “Marty is a player that we have had an interest in for a long time,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said in a statement announcing the deal. “When we made the Brent Burns trade, we knew we still needed to address our speed up front and we think the acquisition of Marty does that." He later stated that the Sharks had traded some speed up front in Setochuchi when they made the Burns deal, so needed to get it back.

Havlat had to waive a no-movement clause for the deal to go through, and he did for the chance to play with a perennial playoff club. He's only been to the post season twice since the lockout and excelled both times. Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune tweeted tonight that Havlat and the Wild had discussed waiving the NMC for about a month, although Havlat said he didn't expect this deal. Heatley did not have a similar clause but he had a list of 10 teams to which he would not accept a trade and Minnesota, apparently, was not on that list. But David Pollak of The San Jose Mercury News tweeted tonight that he believes Heatley "didn't see it coming."

The finances of the deal read this way: Heatley has three years remaining on his deal that carries a cap hit of $7.5 million. Havlat has four years left and a cap hit of $5 million. The Sharks save $2.5 mil a year and gain an extra season. Both players are 30 years old.

And both these guys have a history of controversy, some of it coming at this time of year.

This will be the fourth team for Heatley, whose reputation, valid or not, is not among the best in the NHL. He began his career in Atlanta, but asked to be moved in the wake of his deadly automobile accident in September 2003 in which teammate Dan Snyder was fatally injured. He plead guilty to vehicular homicide. He was traded to Ottawa for Marian Hossa and Greg de Vries after the lockout in the summer of 2005. He later requested a trade from the Senators following the 2009 season, just one year into a new six-year contract that paid him an average of $7.5 million. Heatley was unhappy with his lack of power play time under Coach Cory Clouston. When GM Bryan Murray, who said he was "blindsided" by Heatley's request, negotiated a deal with Edmonton, Heatley invoked his no-trade clause and forced Murray to make a less favorable deal with the Sharks.

Havlat also has played for Ottawa (and he was Heatley's teammate there for one season) as well as the Blackhawks before moving to Minnesota as a free agent two years ago. The Senators traded him after the 2005-06 campaign when he informed them he only wanted a one-year deal so he could explore free agency at its conclusion. In Chicago, he was team MVP in 2008-09, but couldn't reach a long-term agreement on a new deal. The Hawks eventually pulled that proposal off the table, offering only a one-year extension, then signed Hossa as a free agent, forcing Havlat to sign with the Wild, a scenario Havlat blasted on his Twitter account, saying “I didn’t leave Chicago, it left me.” and "There's something to be said for loyalty and honor." He publicly blamed Hawks President John McDonough, who he accused of trying to subvert GM Dale Tallon, and shortly afterward, Tallon was dismissed as GM.

We'll continue adding to this post throughout the long weekend so keep checking back periodically for the latest updates. Enjoy the holiday.

Sunday 3:30 PM -- No free agent signings of real consequence so far today (unless you're a big Boris Valabik fan) but there has been a trade which has some connection to free agency. In the deal, the Predators shipped defenseman Cody Franson and center Matthew Lombardi to the Maple Leafs for defenseman Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney, an undrafted young minor pro. There are draft choice conditions in the trade as well.

Now, Lombardi is a very good player but in the second game of last season, he was concussed and has never gotten back in the lineup. The Predators eventually made a deal for Mike Fischer to be their second line center, and from all indications, it doesn't seem that Lombardi is anywhere close to resuming his career. He carries a $3.5 million salary and while that doesn't count against the cap as long as he's on the Injured Reserve list, it is still money the team must pay. And the Preds will have to spend in order to retain star RFA defenseman Shea Weber -- and they may need to pony up more money if Arbitrator George Nicolau rules that Nashville tendered their qualifying offers to seven other RFAs (including their top scorer Sergei Kostitsyn) past the deadline; at that point they would be declared UFA's and the Preds would have to bid on them against other teams.

But the Leafs have more money than perhaps any NHL team and they were happy to take that Lombardi contract off the Preds' hands -- for a price. And the price is Franson. Both Lebda and Franson are puck movers and neither is particularly physical or good defensively -- in fact, Lebda, though he has some Stanley Cup experience with the 2008 Red Wings, was probably the most derided  by fans among last year's Leafs. But Franson has a better offensive dimension to his game than Lebda and answers the Leafs' need for a second puck moving d-man behind newly-acquired John Michael-Liles. It's a good, opportunistic move by Toronto.

Now, if Lombardi ever returns, Toronto will add a very good center to their lineup and they'll have to surrender a 2013 fourth rounder if Lombardi plays 60 or more regular-season games in the next two seasons. If he doesn't, the Preds give the Leafs their 2013 fourth round pick.

There is another potential piece of this, and that is the rumored trade by the Leafs of Mike Komisarek. The former Canadiens shutdown blueliner, who has never been quite the same after injuring his shoulder in a 2008 fight with the Bruins Milan Lucic, signed a big five-year free agent deal averaging $4.5 million with the Leafs two years ago, and between more injuries and shaky play has dropped down the Leafs depth chart, now behind Franson. There are certainly some teams needing to get to the cap floor for whom Komisarek might potentially be destined, and the Leafs would like to shed that contract. But at the moment he's still Toronto property.

Sunday 1 AM -- Two more free agent signings of note came down on Saturday. The first was another very shrewd move by Capitals GM George McPhee, who inked Panthers UFA goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal for a mere $1.5 million. The 35-year-old, 13-year veteran was the top name among netminders available, and considered by many an elite goalie who had played on poor teams for much of his career. But he didn't go anywhere on Friday. Vokoun had been expected to sign with Colorado or perhaps Phoenix, both of whom sought starting goalies.

But, mysteriously. that didn't happen as the Avalanche opted for a trade with the Caps for RFA Semyon Varlamov, who had pretty much been beaten out as Caps starter and for whom the larcenous McPhee extracted a first round pick next year (and that could be a lottery pick) and either a second or third rounder in 2013; and the Coyotes signed Lightning UFA Mike Smith, Dwayne Roloson's backup for much of last year. Vokoun remained unsigned until late Saturday afternoon and the drop in demand for his services probably accounts in part for his salary. By comparison, the Avs signed Varly for three years at a cap hit of $2.833 mil and the 'Yotes signed Smith for two years with a cap hit of $2 mil.

The Caps positioned this as Vokoun taking less so he could finally play for a Cup contender, but he's coming off a four year deal that paid him $6.3 mil last season and carried a cap hit of $5.7 mil. Quite a comedown. But Washington now has the highest payroll in the NHL and a mere $544,000 in cap space remaining and they will probably have to trade some bodies so they can sign other players, including two important RFAs in defenseman Karl Alzner and newly acquired forward Troy Brower. So Vokoun wasn't going to get anything approaching his previous deal from McPhee.

For the Caps, adding Vokoun restores their depth in goal and he's an upgrade in consistency and durability over Varlamov, who has trouble staying healthy. Washington has two young netminders Vokoun can mentor, Michal Neuwirth, who was their playoff goalie last spring, and Braden Holtby, who played very impressively in call-up stints. His signing gives McPhee either a potential chip to play in trade talks for a goalie, or at minimum, provides Holtby another season of regular work in the AHL, although he certainly looked ready for the NHL last season. Getting Vokoun for a million and a half bucks, saving money not keeping Varlamov, and  the two high draft picks he picked up in return all make McPhee look like either the luckiest or smartest GM in the NHL. Probably a bit of both.

In the other interesting deal, the Red Wings, looking to replace Brian Rafalski as a puck moving defenseman,  signed Sharks UFA Ian White to a two-year deal with a digestible cap hit of $2.875 mil. Undersized like Rafalski, he's also got a great point shot and is a very good passer, but perhaps not as good a skater (Rafalski was terrific) and not as offensively productive. He's certainly not known for his physical play but he competes well, and White is pretty durable for a guy his size. He's also almost 11 years younger than Raflaski and, not having to be a go-to guy, should slot in very well into Detroit's system by just playing his game.

Combined with the signing of rugged UFA d-man Mike Commodore and holding on to Jonathan Ericsson, GM Ken Holland has done a good job of refreshing his blueline corps, which remains the real strength of that team.

Saturday 5 PM -- As almost everyone expected, Stars UFA Brad Richards signed a long term deal with the Rangers, who landed the biggest prize in this year's free agent market. It's a nine-year deal with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million. It's a lot of money, but one million less a year than they are paying Marian Gaborik, his putative winger on the Rangers' top line, and according to some reports, less than other teams offered him. If there was one single reason the Rangers wanted Richards, it is Gaborik, who can (when healthy) be one of the game's better goal scorers. But he's better when he has someone who can get him the puck and Richards is one of the best, most creative playmakers in the game.  It will also help that the Rangers coach, John Tortorella, was Richards' coach in Tampa Bay when the Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup and Richards was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. The two have a strong bond from that time and a good working relationship.

Richards signing will not only give the Rangers a formidable first line, it gives them depth up front for Tortorella to assemble a solid second line, probably centered by Artem Anisimov, and he won't have to use Brandon Dubinsky in the middle. Dubi is probably more effective as a winger. Torts now has a number of good wingers to draw from to make ups his lines besides Gaborik and Dubinsky, namely, Ryan Callahan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan (who can also play center). And Richards can also play the point on the power play, something the Rangers need badly. In fact, he and Fedotenko played together on the Lightning power play.

Of course, this raises the old charge that the Rangers are trying to buy a championship, as this video out of Toronto parodies...

...but, try as they might, buying a championship hasn't worked for the Blueshirts for almost two decades now. And, Richards doesn't fall into the over-the-hill category of so many big-name Ranger acquisitions over the last (well, going back to Howie Morenz) seventy-five years. In any case, this is probably the most home-grown Rangers team in four decades. That's not going to soothe the fans of 29 other teams, who will rightly charge the Rangers have the resources to bury Wade Redden in Hartford to get his $6.5 million cap hit off their books and buy out Chris Drury's for $3.7 million. And yet, as we've seen this past week, lots of teams have made very questionable fiscal decisions with their contracts and personnel. The Rangers are hardly the NHL's sole or leading culprit when it comes to bad decisions on players, even if their owner, for some reason, forgives their GM's mistakes.

In this case, however, Richards is not a mistake and, as Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika tweeted today, "In this market, the Rangers spending $60 million on the top free agent is relatively sensible." And in his column, he wrote, "The real madness is not in Manhattan, but in upstate New York and other places where above-average players are being paid like stars."

Does this make the Rangers an instant Cup contender? Well, they're better up front, they're very good in goal, but no one can say for sure how good they'll be until we see how their defense corps fares. They're young and improving, but still somewhat mistake prone and not particularly  physical, especially when you compare them to Boston.  They're not as experienced as Buffalo's revamped blueline.  They could use at least one stabilizing veteran player back there.

There were other signings today, and the Kings and Maple Leafs, who were in the Richards hunt, went to their Plan Bs. Los Angeles signed a two-year deal with 31-year-old Lightning UFA Simon Gagne, who is still an excellent all-around left winger, although often injured, for their newly reconfigured team. Gagne, of course, played in Philadelphia with new Kings center Mike Richards and for Coach Terry Murray and assistant John Stevens. The Kings didn't get much offense from their wingers last year and dealing both Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds created a huge hole that Gagne helps fill. It's a good signing at $3.5 million cap hit per season.

Toronto signed 30-year-old Sabres UFA Tim Connolly to be their Number 1 center, filling a void they've had since Mats Sundin left town. He'll partner with Phil Kessel on the Leafs top line and while he may not be as truculent as GM Brian Burke's ideal Maple Leaf and he's not very durable, he's smart, skilled and fast enough to bring the best out of Kessel, which is the main point of bringing him in. As long as he stays in the lineup, he'll give the Leafs some real offensive flair and punch.

Some other Saturday signings of note: The Panthers, who as we noted yesterday are massively renovating their team, signed veteran winger and Capitals UFA Matt Bradley, a sandpaper guy who still has good wheels and will bring some character, if not offensive production, to Sunrise. The Hurricanes, who lost Erik Cole in free agency yesterday to Montreal, signed another big right winger in Atlanta/Winnipeg UFA Anthony Stewart, and if Eric Staal does for him what he did for Cole, this could be a very good signing by Jim Rutherford. The Lightning, looking to upgrade on the blueline, signed Rangers UFA Matt Gilroy whose skating and shot are NHL caliber, but needs to improve his decision making and in defensive situations. Gilroy is good insurance, but may be ticketed for the farm.

Friday 11: 30 PM -- OK, back from an evening away from the computer and here's what has transpired. Brad Richards said his decision will come Saturday. Some believe he has made his decision and it is just too late to announce it. Others aren't so sure. The Lightning are out of that hunt as Richards rejected their offer, but the Kings and  Leafs are perhaps still in and it seems Calgary jumped strongly into the mix -- and that has been attributed in part to GM Jay Feaster's previous relationship with Richards when he was manager of the Lightning and, no doubt, a good chunk of money. Reports are that Jarome Iginla phoned Richards, and Richards would be Iggy's center. The Rangers still appear to be front runners, but the Flames have made an impression.

The Panthers continued to make a huge leap forward as they signed Sean Bergenheim for four years at $2.75 mil each. It's probably unrealistic to think they're getting the playoff edition of Bergenheim; he was an amazing goal scorer for the Lightning and had great chemistry with Dominik Moore and Steve Downie. But while he's a parlayed that into a good contract from a team that has to spend to reach the cap floor, he's still a very smart player, defensively sound, has a good shot and brings lots of energy and footspeed as a depth forward. If he has a new confidence and turned the corner this spring, all the better for Florida. This has been a very, very impressive day for their hockey department. Still not sure they are a playoff team -- as when any team undergoes a huge face-lift (think Canadiens two years ago), it may take at least a half-season to get the  chemistry right with a rookie head coach, but they have significantly upgraded their talent, and you don't know what they might accomplish if and when they jell.

The Rangers brought back Ruslan Fedotenko for one year, $1.4 million.

The Sharks signed center Michal Handzus for two years at $2.5 mil. and his faceoff work and penalty killing replaces what they lost last summer when Manny Malhotra left for Vancouver. Handzus also has a bigger offensive upside than Malhotra.

The Canucks lost Tanner Glass, who signed with the Jets but signed Andrew Ebbett.

The Blackhawks, who definitely have tried to build a more physical team with their recent acquisitions, signed ex-Flyer Daniel Carcillo -- and one expects his leash to be short.

The Bruins are still talking to Kaberle. No one has signed Tomas Vokoun.

Again, we'll be back periodically over the long weekend on this post to comment on whatever goes down.

6 PM -- OK That's it for our constant live blogging. We'll leave this post open, however, over the holiday weekend and comment a few times a day on the deals that go down. So check back periodically. Thanks for hanging in with us. Back with new posts on Tuesday. Happy Canada to all of you up north and Happy Fourth to all of you down south.

5: 49 -- CSN New England's Joe Haggerty tweeted "Peter Chiarelli has spoken w/Tomas Kaberle's representation 'several times' today and remains in negotiations along w/several other D-men" and EJ Hradek on NHL Live says he thinks Kaberle has lots of teams interested in him. And the deal between JS Gigeure and the Avs is done, as Adrian said it would be. It's a two year deal.

5:30 -- Things have slowed a bit, but it was frenetic between noon and 5 pm. The Brad Richards hunt will go into the evening and maybe into tomorrow. The guy thought to be the top goalie available didn't get signed while others did and you have to wonder if Tomas Vokoun overpriced himself. But the craziness started early with the money James Wisniewski got, the draft choices Colorado gave up for Semyon Varlamov and just the fact that the Flyers signed Jaromir Jagr. Benoit Pouliot to Boston was also a curious move.

Then there's the Panthers, who signed Tomas Kopecky and  Brian Campbell prior today and today inked Jose Theodore, Scottie Upshall, Ed Jovanovski, Marcel Goc and Tomas Fleischmann and traded for Kris Versteeg. This will be a team worth watching,  if only to see how it all works. The Sabres have also become a very serious team this week with the additions of Christian Ehrhoff and today Ville Leino.

No offer sheets on Steven Stamkos, or at least none that he accepted.

5:19 -- The Blues sign goalie Brian Elliot for a year, a two-way deal. And the Avs have signed Chuck Kobasew for two years, $1.25 cap hit.

5:12 -- The Blue Jackets sign backup goalie Curtis Sanford. One year, $600k if he plays in the NHL.  RDS's Renaud Lavoie tweets "Éric Bélanger 3 ans avec Oilers." That's three years for those needing translation. He'll average $1.75 mil.

5:02 -- Bob McKenzie tweets "FLA signs Tomas Fleischmann for four years, $18M." Then Mac amends it to say it's agreed but not yet signed. If it goes through it's a big from both a competitive and a fiscal standpoint. Dale Tallon and his assistant Michael Santos have really upgraded this team significantly in recent days. Don't know if they're a playoff team, but they'll be better. And the cap floor is getting closer. CapGeek puts them at over $44.5 million and that's just a few deals away from $48 mil.

4:55 -- TSN's show goes off at 5 pm, but we'll hang in for a while and checking other sources.  If you need a recap of what has been done so far -- and even if you don't -- here's a link to the SI.com file of all the stories on the confirmed deals and the SI.com Free Agent Tracker.

4:50 -- Tom Gulitti tweets he's spoken with Jamie Langenbrunner's agent and he's had discussions with some teams, although may not have a deal today.

4:45 -- Adrian Dater says while the deal isn't done, he believes J.S. Giguere will sign with the Avs. And the Sharks have signed Jim Vandermeer for one year, one mil. That's the 50th signing today, according to the TSN guys.

4:34 -- Duthie on TSN reports that Stars signed Sheldon Souray, who was exiled to the AHL by the Oilers last year and bought out of his huge contract yesterday. A one year deal for Souray at $1.65 mil. He got $3 million yesterday in the buyout.

4:33 -- Missed that the Coyotes signed Raffi Torres. Enjoy the dessert Raffi.

4: 20 -- The Canucks sign Marco Sturm, and he's insurance with Mason Raymond, who won't be ready at the start of the season, recovering from his broken vertebra suffered in the final. Sturm has had his own injury issues. And Carolina signs Alexei Ponikarovsky who will fill the spot vacated by Erik Cole going to the Habs.

4:14 -- Ville Lieno signs with the Sabres and that's a big signing for Buffalo. A real strong offensive player who many thought was the second best forward available in free agency after Richards. They are paying him a lot. 6 years, $27 million. It's a big payday for him and a big coup for Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier. Watch out for the Sabres, boys and girls.

4:11 -- Oilers trade Curtis Foster to Anaheim for Andy Sutton, which helps the Oil on D, something they need badly.

4 PM -- Scott MacArthur of TSN tweets "41 deals so far today, $161.865 million spent." And we can add to that the Panthers trade for Kris Versteeg. The Flyers get a 2nd and 3rd round pick and clear cap space while the Panthers get another ex-Blackhawk. And there are various reports the Bruins will sign Benoit Pouliot for one year, $1.1 mil. Will Claude Julien be able to unlock what every other coach Pouliot has had in the NHL has failed to unlock?

3:56 -- Kevin Allen of USA Today tweets "Told Red Wings not in any goalies at this time. Hmmmmm." Does this mean Osgood still in the picture?

3:45 -- If you need a recap of what has been done so far -- and even if you don't -- here's a link to the SI.com file of all the stories on the confirmed deals and the SI.com Free Agent Tracker.

3:43 -- Dallas Stars reportedly sign Michael Ryder 2 years, $3.5 mil a year. First defection from the champions.

3:40 -- Goalie Alex Auld returns to the Senators.

3:34 -- The Isles sign Marty Reasoner, two years, and Oilers get Cam Barker and Darcy Hordichuk.

3:32 -- McKenzie says the Canadiens have signed Erik  Cole four years, 18 mil and, if he doesn't vanish, he'll give them the size and production they need on the wing.

3:30 -- Dreger tweets "Owen Nolan played in the Swiss league last season. Wants a 1 year NHL deal and is said to be drawing some interest." Is he old enough to qualify for the Panthers?

3:23 -- The Caps sign Joel Ward four years, $12 million. He had a great playoff for the Predators, but he's not usually that productive. But a very good depth forward who works hard every shift. Reports also say the Caps have signed two thousand-year-old d-man Roman Hamrlik, who can be a very good signing if his minutes aren't too elevated. Two years, seven mil for Hammer.

3:13 -- TSN's Gord Miller says former Preds captain Steve Sullivan signs with the Pens, 1 year $1.5 mil. Good pickup for the Pens, who always need wingers since all their money is tied up with centers.

3:09 -- TSN's Dreger tweets the Habs are close to signing Erik Cole.

3:06 -- Mike Commodore, bought out by the Blue Jackets, signs with the Red Wings. One year, one million.

3:05 -- Mike Smith interviewed on TSN says he expects to be the starter for the Coyotes. If so, this isn't the spot for Vokoun.

3:02 -- Rangers sign Mike Rupp, three years, $4.5 million. Reportedly 10 teams chased Rupp, a useful and physical depth forward. Kenny Albert tweets Rupp had his only career hat trick against NYR. Only Kenny would know that. Well, Rupp might.

2:54 -- Canadiens sign Petr Budaj as their backup goalie. Two years. Goodbye to Alex Auld, who plays somewhere different every year. Some thinking this might not work well, that Budaj won't be happy playing too few games behind Carey Price. Budaj is among the more inconsistent NHL goalies. Two years, $2.3 mil for Budaj. Former teammate Ian Laperierre was quoted in a tweet saying "« c'est le parfait gardien auxiliaire, il a une très bonne attitude. »" Hope your French is good enough to read that.

2:52 -- Mike Zeisberger of Toronto Sun tweets, "Google maps lists distance from Flyers practice rink to Atlantic City casinos at 44.2 miles. Betting Jags already knew that."

2:48 -- Goalie Brian Boucher signs with Carolina, per Frank Seravalli of Philly Daily News. The Flyers don't get to sign everyone, I guess.

2:43 -- If you need a recap of what has been done so far -- and even if you don't -- here's a link to the SI.com file of all the stories on the confirmed deals and the SI.com Free Agent Tracker.

2:37 -- TSN's Gord Miller tweets "Hearing that Varlamov has signed with Colorado, a deal very similar to Carey Price's with Mtl (2 yrs, $5.5m)."  And Derek Meech signs with the Jets.

2:31 -- The Flyers stay at it. They sign Max Talbot. Those Pens-Flyers games? There will be blood. Five years, nine million dollars total for Max, say Darren Dreger.

2:28 -- McKenzie tweets the hearing on the Nashville players who say the Preds didn't qualify them properly won't be heard until July 8, which means the players'-- Sergei Kostitsyn, Spaling, Halischuk, Cal O'Reilly -- status is still RFA, at least for now.  Correction on that, according to Mac, these players have "no status." OK, whatever that means.

2:26 -- The Hockey News' Adam Proteau tweets -- "I'm imagining Paul Holmgren & Greg Sherman in separate cars at a stoplight, staring each other down before the 'who's crazier' race begins."

2:23 -- Larry Brooks of the NY Post tweeted, "Source: Rangers will get chance to match on (Brad) Richards at end of day."

2:20 -- Think I missed this one -- Leafs UFA depth forward Tim Brent signs with the Hurricanes.

2:14 --  Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos tweets "Hearing rumblings NHL teams presenting to Brad Richards are pitching 12.8M max offer in years 1 and 2. Crazy money out there." Guess so. Heard Bob McKenzie say today that Christian Ehrhoff's deal brings him $15 mil between salary and various bonuses in one calendar year.

2:09 -- Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record tweets the Devs have re-signed goalie Johan Hedberg. Tom's competition at the Star-Ledger Rich Chere says Hedberg's agent Jay Grossman has not confirmed the deal yet.

2:07 -- Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons tweets "Did this just happen? Did Colorado just trade a potential lottery pick for Washington's No.  3 goalie?" And Globe & Mail's David Shoalts tweets "Florida Panthers are going to be murder on the oldtimers circuit."

2:00 -- Looks like the Avs get their goalie. Or one of them. They need a few. They get Semyon Varlamov from the Caps in a trade for a first rounder next year and first or second 2013. Everyone is asking what will happen now with Vokoun? Well, who is the Coyotes goalie? They don't have a starter, do they? Is Mike Smith a starter?

1:59 -- Mirtle says the Panthers have signed Marcel Goc. The TSN guys say the Flyers sign D-man Adreas Lilja for one year and the Blues sign Cody Beach to an entry-level contract.

1:58 -- Sporting News Craig Custance tweets eight teams in the hunt for Ville Lieno and he's going to cash in.

1:55 -- Adam Proteau of The Hockey News tweets, "When Jagr is playing net for Philly in Game 2 of the Eastern conference semi-final, I hope Ed Snider is proud of himself."

1:51 -- Andrew Brunette signs with the Blackhawks.

1:48 -- The Avs sign Jan Hejda, four years, $3.25 mil. per season. Steve Zipay of Newsday tweets, "As expected, Ds cashing in."

1:46 -- The Flyers signed Jakob Voracek, who they got in the Jeff Carter trade. One year, $2.25 mil. The Flyers have less than $4.2 million in cap space left, tweets Frank Seravalli of the Philly Daily News.

1:40 -- James Mirtle tweets Dallas signs Radek Dvorak, Vern Fiddler and Adam Pardy and the Panthers bring back Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski's deal in FLA is $16.5M over four years.

1:33 -- TSN's Dreger tweets Jagr gets $3.3 mil for one year. This  may be the most discussed story coming out of the day.  It's a bit of a risky move by  the Flyers for lots of reasons, Jagr's age, his declining  play, his mercurial personality.

1:31 -- Blues re-up Matt D'Agostini and reports are that Boyd Gordon has signed in Phoenix.

1:22 -- Tweets coming in that Jagr has signed with the Flyers. Stay tuned. Apparently true. FLyers have tweeted it. "Per Flyers GM Paul Holmgren: The Philadelphia Flyers have agreed to a contract with free agent RW Jaromir Jagr." One year deal, no numbers yet.  He still has his hands, McGuire says on TSN and he'll help on the power play.  His skating is going to be questionable. McGuire thinks he'd be great with Giroux and van Riemsdyk. Their speed will insulate him, say McGuire. Mike Johnson says he's still got a great shot.

1:18 -- Gord Miller of TSN tweets Jeff Halpern returns to the Caps for one year, $825K.

1:16 -- Globe and Mail's James Mirtle tweets the Panthers have signed Scottie Upshall. TSN says it's four years, $14 million.

1:13 -- Tweet from the Flames says they have signed D Chris Butler to a two-year deal worth $1,250,000 a season. He arrived in the Robin Regehr deal.

1:11 -- TSN's Duthie says the Hawks have signed vet D-man Sean O'Donnell and everyone on the TSN panel gushes over the signing.

1:08 -- George Malik, great Red Wings blogger for Kukla's Korner, tweets about a report from Detroit TV guy Art Regner, who said: "Souces close to the team say Jagr's camp was just too slow and too flighty, which tested the Red Wings' patience. " Very telling.

1:04 -- McKenzie tweets "Lots of interest in Andrew Brunette from NYR, CHI, NSH, amongst others, but CHI may be frontrunner."

1 PM -- Dreger says on TSN that four teams are talking to Max Talbot, but he didn't' name the four.

12:58 -- Renaud Lavoie says Jose Theodore has signed with the Panthers (2 years, $3 mil total). That probably  means Vokoun is headed elsewhere.

12:51 -- TSN reports rugged Ben Eager going to Edmonton  and the Hawks sign Jamal Mayers. Both cut loose by San Jose. Mayers gets one year at $550,000. Eager three years, averaging $1.1 mil.

12:43 -- TSN's Dreger tweets " TB signs goalie Mathieu Garon to a two-year deal at $1.3M per year." What does that mean for Mike Smith? EJ Hradek tweets "I have to think G Mike Smith could land in Phoenix. They need a goalie. PHX coach Dave Tippett is very familiar w/him from Dallas.

12:35 -- Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record tweets "Andy Greene re-signs with Devils for 4 years." Helps the Devs on D and takes a good blueliner off the market. It's a four year deal. Gulitti -- "I'm told several teams called about Greene after he hit UFA market. Greene wanted to be a Devil."  Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger quotes Greene saying "I'm very excited. To tell you the truth the last 1 days were pretty nerve-racking because of possibility I wouldn't be back." Sporting News Craign Custance says Greene got calls from four teams around noon.

12:31 -- Reports say Drew Miller signed with the Wings prior to noon avoiding free agency.

12:29 -- Various tweets have Brad Richards meeting/getting presentations from various teams. again, Don't expect him to sign any time soon.

12:25 -- Johann Heberg and Andy Greene of the Devs couldn't reach agreeents and are UFAs

12:24 -- Adrian Dater says the Avs interested in Mike Rupp. Isles sign Kirill Kabanov to an entry level contract.

12:13 -- RDS's Renaud Lavoie tweets three teams in the hunt for Jose Theodore, Ottawa-Detroit-Phoenix.

12:11 -- Here's the official NHL Free Agent list.

12:08 -- CapGeek tweets "Penguins league-low cap space is down to $3.6m after the reported Tyler Kennedy signing"

12:06 -- Kevin Allen of USA Today tweets the Red Wings are now out of the Jagr sweepstakes. Who's left? Habs? Will he go back to Pens and take their offer?

12:04 -- McKenzie says on TSN that Penguins and Tyler Kennedy have a two-year deal worth $2 mil per year.

Noon - Release the hounds.

11:56 -- Canucks reportedly have signed Chris Higgins (2 yrs. $1.9 mil a year) but the Coyotes won't sign Radim Vrbata and he'll be free.

11:54 -- Reports are flying the Wild have re-signed goalie Josh Harding.

11:50 -- Frank Seravalli of Philly Daily News: "I am told the best Flyers were willing to do was 4 years, $12 million on Leino. If true, he can do better out there the way this is going. That doesn't mean Flyers are out of Leino race. I'm sure they will check back in after offers. Leino has always said he wants to be here."

11: 42 -- Details of Wings deal with Eaves, 3 years, $1.2 mil a year. Raise from $700,000 last year.

11:37 -- On NHL Home Ice Radio, they're saying Penguins GM Ray Shero has decided against signing Jagr, saying he had no intention of getting into a bidding war. It was said the Pens were offering less than $2 mil and they weren't going go budge off that. They have cap issues and can't. My friend Dave Stubbs of Montreal Gazette tweets: "Jagr still in play with #Penguins out but #Habs still covet Mats Sundin" Good one.

11:30 -- Lots of reaction to James Wisniewski's signing, most of it dumbstruck. Comparing his cap hit to Duncan Keith's cap hit; Keith's is just $38,462 more than Wiz's.

The Sabres have reportedly (from Brad May tweeet) re-signed Cody McCormick for three years at $1.2 mil a year.

Craig Custance of Sporting News tweets that he's learned the Sharks won't re-up Ian White, "one of the best available options on defense."

11 AM - Hello hockey fans and welcome to our live blogging of the opening of the NHL free agency season. And Happy Canada Day to those north of the border. I'm sitting here in my home office overlooking my yard and surrounded by the TV, computer, satellite radio and telephone and more hockey books and publications than I have space for (including the brand new Sports Illustrated Bruins Stanley Cup commemorative, available now in hardcover or magazine format -- a shameless commercial, I know). And we'll try to keep track of what will happen once the bell sounds at noon Eastern time. Hopefully, we'll be getting contributions from SI.com's Adrian Dater and Sarah Kwak as well to augment my dubious thoughts.

Here are some links worth checking: SI.com's Free Agent Tracker, which my pal John Rolfe, who produces the SI.com hockey page, will keep fresh. There's also CapGeek.com, the best resource on salary cap information. If you haven't seen them already, we put together a list of what we think each team might be seeking in free agency, and you can find the Eastern teams here and the Western teams here.

Here are the early morning headlines, prior to the opening of the floodgates: James Wisniewski has a deal the Blue Jackets: Six years, $33 million. Wow. Big raise for Wiz. He made $3.25 mil last year. The Red Wings retain Jonathan Ericsson for their defense corps at three-years, $9.75 mil, so he won't be hitting the UFA market. Sami Salo has reportedly re-signed with Vancouver (no details yet), so if that's true, they'll be bringing back everyone from their defense corps except Christian Ehrhoff, who signed a huge deal Thursday with the Sabres, the team that ended up with his pre-UFA negotiating rights. The Blackhawks signed Steve Montador late last night, and that's an interesting move, replacing at least some of Brian Campbell's minutes with a defensive defenseman. There are reports that Chris Higgins is talking with the Canucks and they hope to have a deal before noon. The Wings are supposedly nearing a deal with forward Patrick Eaves. There are reports the Red Wings are trying to trade Jiri Hudler.

And now, here's our theme song for the day.

Some random thoughts here: Obviously the focus is on Brad Richards, who is the only available UFA in the superstar category. But there is also Jaromir Jagr, although it remains uncertain whether he will even sign with an NHL team or he's just been using the Red Wings, Penguins, Canadiens and whoever else his agent has been speaking with to get a better deal for Jagr in the KHL.

There is also the possibility that a pair of superstar RFAs will get offer sheets -- Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty. It doesn't mean they will sign them or, if they do, that their teams (the Lightning and Kings) won't match. And there are some other players who could be changing teams. A few teams are looking for starting goalies and the Panthers Tomas Vokoun could be the top name on the market. But there are indications Florida is trying to get a deal done with him before noon and if he stays there, a few teams will have to go to their Plan B, whatever that is.

One under-the-radar guy who we like is Thomas Fleischmann, whose season was cut short last year by a blood clotting problem. He had a great stretch for the Avalanche, and has always been a high skilled player. It's uncertain whether his medical condition, which is now reportedly under control, will scare teams away, but he'd be a good pickup for a team looking for a strong second line center/winger.

Back to Brad Richards, according to TSN's Darren Dreger and a few others who have been in touch with his camp, Richards is not likely to be snapped up at 12:01. He'll probably have offers from lots of teams and he's going to go through all of them and that's going to take time. No one is quite certain what he's looking for, what combination of money, term, teammates, potential to win another Stanley Cup he is seeking, although much of the speculation has been on that last ingredient as pretty important.

Agent Alan Walsh tweeted that Mike Rupp will be going UFA. No deal with the Pens. And the Red Wings have tweeted their deal with Eaves is done. That might mean the end of Kris Draper in Detroit and the NHL (one of my favorite players; a great energy guy).

There are going to be lots of jokes about Wiz signing with the BJs and recalling this...

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