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With this team, money well spent

Tuesday, 06.29.2010 / 3:09 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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With this team, money well spent
NHL.com's Brian Compton looks at the best signings by position during free agency.
Some teams spend their money more wisely than others when it comes to free agency -- it's a fact that's impossible to argue when you take a closer look at the contracts that have been signed over the years.

As the free-agent market is set to open on Thursday at noon ET, NHL.com takes a closer look at the top six signings, by position, since the 2005-06 season:

Goaltender


Craig Anderson, Colorado Avalanche -- He never received an opportunity to become the No. 1 goaltender with the Florida Panthers, but Anderson proved to be an unbelievable bargain when he signed a two-year deal worth $3.6 million on July 1, 2009. All Anderson did was set new franchise records for games played (71) while going 38-25-7 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.

"I was just looking for an opportunity somewhere," said Anderson, who appeared in 40 fewer games with the Florida Panthers in 2008-09. "To be able to come to a winning organization like Colorado, it was kind of a match made in heaven. I think they were looking for a guy to kind of battle for the No. 1 spot. For me, it was a good opportunity to battle. That's what I did."

Defense

Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks -- After winning three Stanley Cups in 12 years with the New Jersey Devils, Niedermayer headed West in the summer of 2005 and was provided an opportunity to play with his younger brother, Rob.

"This was a no-brainer," said Brian Burke, who was GM when the Ducks signed Niedermayer. "We are following our blueprint of stressing skating ability, size and character. And this is a big piece of the puzzle."

It couldn't have worked out better for Anaheim. In the second year of a four-year, $27 million deal with the Ducks, Niedermayer put another ring on his finger in 2007 when Anaheim beat the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Final. The elder Niedermayer – who was named captain less than two months after the deal was struck -- won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of that postseason.

"I was a Devil from the time I was a teenager to a father of three," Scott told the New York Times after signing with the Ducks. "It might not make sense to people, but there was no reason to leave. With Anaheim, there were just reasons to go there, if that makes any sense."

Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings -- Looking for the perfect complement on the blue line alongside Nicklas Lidstrom, GM Ken Holland found his man on July 1, 2007.

Rafalski, a Michigan native, agreed to leave New Jersey and return home as he signed a five-year deal worth $30 million to play for Detroit. He set a new career-high in goals the following season (13) and helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008. Detroit returned to the Stanley Cup Final a year later, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. He had 8 goals and 34 assists last season before tallying 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 12 playoff games.

"It was a difficult decision leaving New Jersey, the only team I've known, but I'm coming home to play for the team I grew up watching," Rafalski said after signing with the Wings. "To have this opportunity, is a dream."

Left Wing

Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens -- One of the best snipers in the game, the Habs snagged Cammalleri on the opening day of free agency in 2009 with a five-year deal worth $30 million.

The move paid immediate dividends for the Canadiens, who surprised everyone by ousting the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

A point-per game player in 2008-09 with the Calgary Flames (39 goals, 43 assists), Cammalleri had 26 goals and added 24 assists in just 65 games for the Habs during the regular season. He was sensational during the playoffs, going 13-6-19 in 19 games during Montreal's remarkable run.

"To end up in Montreal, I couldn't be happier," Cammalleri said.  "You think of a place where a hockey player would like to play, and Montreal is right there."

Center

Marc Savard, Boston Bruins -- Looking to add to a crop of young talent that already included Phil Kessel, Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm, the Bruins struck gold when they signed Savard to a four-year, $20 million deal on July 1, 2006 – the same day they also agreed to terms with defenseman Zdeno Chara.

"I felt all along that if we could get Chara to sign, some other things would fall into place and players would realize that the Bruins are serious about winning," said Jeff Gorton, who was the club's interim GM at the time.

All Savard did in his first season was finish third in the League with 74 assists and pace the Bruins with 96 points. He racked up 166 points over the next two seasons before a concussion limited him to just 41 games in 2009-10.

"When Chara signed, it helped out a lot for sure," Savard said. "But before he signed, I was excited about the Boston situation. I had offers from other teams, but I think when he signed it really helped make my decision easier."

Right Wing

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks – Two years, two different teams, two losses in the Stanley Cup Final.

The third time was the charm for Hossa, who signed a 12-year contract worth $62.8 million with Chicago on July 1, 2009. Hossa turned out to be the missing piece in the Windy City, which went to capture its first Stanley Cup championship since 1961.

Hossa, who lost in the Final with Pittsburgh in 2008 and then to the Penguins with Detroit in 2009, missed roughly the first two months of the season due to a shoulder injury, but still finished with 24 goals, 27 assists and a plus-24 rating. It was the Hawks' young core that included Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that intrigued him.

"I was only in Detroit for one year, so when I saw Chicago, I was amazed at how they improved," Hossa said. "I saw their young talent and they are a big, strong, fast team and that's what I liked about them."

Hossa was the scorer the Blackhawks were looking for after the team was unable to come to terms with Martin Havlat, who signed with the Minnesota Wild. Once it became obvious that Chicago was going to be unable to retain Havlat, then-GM Dale Tallon focused his attention on Hossa.

"We were just unable to get a deal done with Marty," Tallon said after the Hawks and Hossa agreed to terms. "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."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL




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