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Lots of free-agent talent still available

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens' Saku Koivu, from Finland, left to right, defenceman Andrei Markov, from Russia, Alex Tanguay, and Alex Kovalev, from Russia, celebrate a goal by Markov against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Montreal Tuesday, March 31, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)
NHL general managers burned up the phone lines Wednesday, the first day of free agency. But while big names like Marian Hossa (Chicago), Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim) and Marian Gaborik (New York Rangers) quickly disappeared from the marketplace, there are some big names still out there looking for a home.

Hossa, the only 40-goal scorer in 2008-09 to reach the free-agent market, wasted little time signing a 12-year deal with the Blackhawks after one season in Detroit. Gaborik, a 40-goal scorer in 2007-08 and the top scorer in the history of the Minnesota Wild, signed a five-year deal with the Rangers later in the day. Gaborik missed most of the 2008-09 season with injuries but had 13 goals in 17 games for Minnesota.

The Wild wasted little time filling the offensive void left by Gaborik's departure, signing Martin Havlat, the Blackhawks' top scorer in 2008-09, to a six-year deal.

Teams looking for veteran talent up front might want to cast a glance toward the north.

The Montreal Canadiens were one of the busiest teams on Wednesday, signing center Mike Cammalleri, forward Brian Gionta and defensemen Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek. But that figures to spell the end for some or all of four veteran forwards who spent this past season with the Canadiens.

Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang all became unrestricted free agents after the 2008-09 season. With center Scott Gomez coming over from the Rangers on Tuesday and Cammalleri and Gionta coming to terms Wednesday, it's likely that most if not all of that quartet will be playing elsewhere in the fall.

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Martin Biron, left, attempts to block New York Rangers' Nik Antropov, right, of Kazakhstan, right, as the puck flies over his back while Flyers' Matt Carle, center, looks on in the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 14, 2009, in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Other talented forwards still available include Nik Antropov (New York Rangers), Jason Williams (Columbus) and Mark Recchi (Boston).

On the blue line, Bouwmeester, Niedermayer and Mike Komisarek (who signed with Toronto) may be off the market, but there are still a number of solid defensemen still available.

Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks missed much of the season with a knee injury. However, he returned ahead of schedule, looked solid in the playoffs and is an excellent minute-muncher with some offensive skill. Komisarek, one of the NHL's most physical defenseman, went to Toronto from Montreal, but fellow Long Islander Rob Scuderi, who boosted his stock with a terrific showing in the Final to help Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup, figures to attract plenty of interest. Jordan Leopold, a good puck-mover who finished the season with Calgary, is also up for grabs.

Two defensemen who once played for Phoenix and finished last season with the New York Rangers -- Paul Mara and Derek Morris -- are also unsigned. So is Minnesota power-play gunner Marc-Andre Bergeron.

There was a lot of Day One activity among goaltenders, with Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton), Dwayne Roloson (New York Islanders), Craig Anderson (Avalanche), Ty Conklin (St. Louis), Scott Clemmensen (Florida) and Brian Boucher (Philadelphia) all finding new homes.

That still leaves a number of well-known netminders looking for a place to play -- and not all that many places for them to go, especially for anyone who wants a starting job. Among those looking for new teams are Martin Biron, who started for Philadelphia in 2008-09, and Antero Niittymaki, his backup. Manny Fernandez, who backed up Vezina winner Tim Thomas in Boston and shared the Jennings Trophy, is also on the market, as is Martin Gerber (Toronto), Andrew Raycroft (Colorado) and Kevin Weekes (New Jersey).


Author: John Kreiser |

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