NEW YORK (AP) - So much for this being an unattractive bunch of NHL free agents.
While Dallas Stars center Brad Richards was considered the cream of a small elite crop of players available on the open market, dozens of other players reached deals Friday in the first few hours of the shopping season.
"You saw quite a bit of money spent today," Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said.
Teams had plenty of it, working under a new salary cap ceiling of $64.3 million cap - a $4.9 million increase over last season.
As afternoon turned into night, the highly coveted Richards still hadn't cashed in and picked a new team to join. He was wooed all day long while sitting in his agent's office in Ottawa, welcoming some teams who made in-person pitches.
The New York Rangers and Toronto were considered to be the favorites to eventually land him.
"We talked to the agent a few times," said Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who was busy with several other big moves. "I think they're going to take their time, so we really don't know what they're going to do. But we're still looking."
Columbus started the signing frenzy when it locked up defenseman James Wisniewski with a six-year, $33 million deal an hour before he would have become an unrestricted free agent. Columbus acquired the exclusive negotiating rights to Wisniewski on Wednesday from Montreal for a 2012 seventh-round draft pick.
"I've always used the term irrational exuberance of July 1 and I think it might have exceeded that today, not just with dollars but term," San Jose GM Doug Wilson said. "That just tells you about supply and demand. That's why we always try to be ahead of the curve with what it is we want and go get it because under this system everything comes with a cost."
Wilson struck early to get the defenseman he wanted when he acquired Brent Burns from Minnesota at last week's draft in the big deal that sent forward Devin Setoguchi to the Wild.
San Jose then filled two more needs, signing forward Michal Handzus to a $5 million, two-year contract and defenseman Jim Vandermeer to a $1 million, one-year deal.
Through Friday evening, there were unofficially about 70 new deals reached during the first day of free agency. Of the 30 NHL teams, 25 signed at least one player and 23 of those came to terms with a player who was with a different team last season.
The biggest name to find a new home Friday was 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who is returning to the NHL from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League after a three-season stint there following his time with the Rangers.
All signs pointed to Jagr going back to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he broke in with and won the Stanley Cup twice during his early years with Mario Lemieux. But the Penguins pulled their reported $2 million off the table Friday morning, and were joined soon after when Detroit announced that it also was out of the running.
Soon after, the Philadelphia Flyers announced they came to terms with the big forward on a one-year, $3.3 million contract. Jagr has 646 goals and 1,599 points in 18 NHL seasons.
"We made what we thought was a very fair contract offer to Jaromir on Tuesday, based on his stated interest of returning to the Penguins," Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said. "We made our best offer from the start, given our salary-cap structure, in an attempt to facilitate a deal.
"Jaromir is one of the greatest players in Penguins history, and we wish him all the best."
Maybe not too much, as Shero and the Penguins will have to face Jagr six times in the already competitive Atlantic Division.
The addition of Jagr was just the latest step in the constant makeover of the Flyers, who last week traded star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Philadelphia also grabbed gritty forward Max Talbot away from the Penguins with a five-year deal worth $9 million and cut ties with fellow forwards Ville Leino and Kris Versteeg.
Jagr and Talbot can expect rough welcomes when they return to Pittsburgh wearing the enemy orange and black.
"It's going to be tough on us," Talbot said. "It was tough for me to leave in the first place, as my heart has always been with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But at the same time, it's a new challenge for me in Philly.
"I never thought I'd play for another team in my life. So, it's been a rough couple of weeks for me."
The Penguins also lost rugged forward Mike Rupp who left for another division rival, the New York Rangers, for three years and $4.5 million. Pittsburgh recovered by re-signing forward Tyler Kennedy for two years and $4 million, and added 36-year-old Steve Sullivan, who left Nashville for a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
The Flyers tried to keep Leino, but with all the additions - including the signing last week of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a lucrative deal - they had to let him go. Leino, who had a career-best 53 points last season, agreed to a six-year deal with Buffalo worth $27 million.
Versteeg, acquired from Toronto at midseason, was traded to the Florida Panthers for a conditional second-round draft pick in 2012 or 2013, and San Jose's third-round pick in the 2012 draft.
It was a good day for defensemen, too.
Ed Jovanovski left Phoenix and signed with Florida, his original team, for four years and $16.5 million; Sami Salo signed a one-year, $2 million deal to stay with Vancouver; Cam Barker agreed to a two-year, $2.25-million contract with Edmonton; Andy Greene re-signed with New Jersey; Adam Pardy went from Calgary to Dallas for two years and $4 million; and Andreas Lilja left the Anaheim Ducks for Philadelphia.
The Ducks turned around and acquired defenseman Kurtis Foster from Edmonton for defenseman Andy Sutton.
In other defensive shifts, Mike Commodore moved from Columbus to Detroit; Roman Hamrlik went from Montreal to Washington on a two-year, $7 million deal; and Sheldon Souray got out of minor league exile and joined Dallas on a one-year deal worth $1.65 million after Edmonton sent him to Hershey of the AHL for all of last season.
The Panthers were very active in addition to their moves to acquire Versteeg and Jovanovski. Florida had money to spend to get up to the new minimum payroll of $48.3 million, and signed veteran goalie Jose Theodore, forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc and defenseman Nolan Yonkman.
Last week, the Panthers acquired defenseman Brian Campbell from Chicago as they try to get back into the playoffs following 10 straight seasons on the postseason sidelines and 12 of 13. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon created cap room by dealing away veterans at the trade deadline. Now he is restocking.
"We're committed to turning this around," he said. "It was very painful last year to do what we had to do and now we want to start to enjoy this process and see some success."
The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins signed 24-year-old forward Benoit Pouliot away from Montreal, but lost key forward Michael Ryder, who left for a two-year, $7 million deal with the Stars.
The Winnipeg Jets were fairly quiet during their return to free agent shopping. The former Atlanta Thrashers signed defenseman Derek Meech from Detroit but lost veteran forward Radek Dvorak to Dallas.
In other notable moves, goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere left Toronto for Colorado; Marco Sturm went to Vancouver from Washington; Erik Cole signed a four-year, $18 million deal with Montreal after a lengthy stint with the Carolina Hurricanes; Joel Ward inked a four-year, $12 million that got him to leave Nashville for Washington; Ben Eager moved up to Edmonton from San Jose for a three-year, $3.3 million contract; and Raffi Torres said goodbye to the Western Conference champion Canucks and agreed to a two-year deal worth $3.5 million with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes, however, lost forward Vernon Fiddler, a nine-year veteran, who got a three-year, $5.4 million deal with Dallas.