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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
Steve Montador (Photo: Getty Images)
Here are some of my random thoughts from the first day of NHL Free Agency:

I like what Steve Montador will bring to the ice next season.  More grit, or as Lindy Ruff likes to call it, sandpaper.  He’ll hit, block shots, and can contribute a little on offense.  He’s also not afraid to fight and hold a grudge. 

I remember calling the spirited fight he and Craig Rivet had in the first period last February in Anaheim.  They would tussle again later in the game too.  I’m sure Ryan Miller won’t mind having another tough defenseman back there too.

Sorry to see Jaro Spacek go to Montreal.  He’s got a great personality and was always willing to go on the post game show following a loss.  He had a very good season offensively and will be missed on the power play.  It sounds to me it was more about the term of contract than the dollars. 

It’s easy to understand why he would go for 3 years at $3.83 million per season as opposed to one year at $3.?? Million.  For those wondering why just a one year offer from the Sabres, my guess age and performance were the factors.  He will turn 36 this coming season and had his best of three seasons with the Sabres in the final year of his contract.  With a one-year deal, he would have had a lot to play for as he did this past season.  

Montreal had an extreme makeover in the past few days.  In: Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Jaroslav Spacek, and Hal Gill.   Out: Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, and most likely Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Matthieu Schneider, Francis Bouillon, Patrice Brisebois, and others.  

It’s possible Koivu could return as the Habs still have some room under the cap, but should he take less than the $8 million Gomez will get this season?  I don’t think so, but I also don’t think Koivu will get $8 million anywhere else.  Term will be the key to signing him whether it is in Montreal or elsewhere.  

If Marian Gaborik and Chris Higgins can stay healthy, what an upgrade on offense for the Rangers.  Scott Gomez (cheap shot on Ryan Miller aside) is a very good player, but he is not in the league of Gaborik.  The former Minnesota Wild star has tremendous speed, scoring ability, and is extremely exciting to watch.  Health is the big issue.  He played 48 games in 2006-07, 77 in 07-08, and just 17 last year after hip surgery. 

[Chicago] better get it done next season. When they do run into trouble, I can think of one player the Sabres would be willing to take off their hands, and it’s not Brian Campbell. - Kevin Sylvester
As for Higgins, he saw action in 57 games last season for Montreal with 12 goals, but had a super season in 07-08 playing in all 82 games and scoring 27 with 12 on the power play.  He is also a restricted free agent, but he should get a salary in the 2-2.5 million dollar range, having made 1.7 million last season.  Higgins is also from Long Island, so playing close to home will be appealing.

Chicago made two excellent acquisitions in Marian Hossa and John  Madden.  Madden is just a one year deal for $2.75 million, but Hossa received a 12 year deal for 62.8 Million!    I guess he did learn something in Detroit, how to sign a long-term deal a la Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.  Good for Chicago on the short term, but they still need a back up goalie (Martin Biron would be a nice fit) and sign restricted free agents Kris Versteeg (Calder Trophy finalist with 22 goals) and defensemen Cam Barker.  

Next year, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith are restricted free agents along with 2005 first-round pick Jack Skille.   They better get it done next season.  When they do run into trouble, I can think of one player the Sabres would be willing to take off their hands, and it’s not Brian Campbell.

Martin Havlat should like playing in hockey mad Minnesota at the great Excel Energy Center, but he is going to miss Kane, Toews, Versteeg, and Patrick Sharp.  Those four took the heat off him in Chicago and freed him up to play excellent 2 way hockey last season.  When Havlat first went from Ottawa to Chicago for $6 Million, he never lived up to the contract and will have to do the same for the Wild with Gaborik gone to the New York.
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