Usually, the opening day of NHL free-agent frenzy causes observers to scratch their heads in disbelief over lavish long-term contracts that are dished out.
The 2010 version, however, was different. For the most part, the spending was reasonable. This time the astonishment was Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter bringing back Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay.
The day began with rumours that the Flames were trying to return prodigal son Marc Savard to the fold. Instead, Sutter settled for Jokinen and Tanguay. Did the dates change for Canada Day and April Fool's Day? How does Flames president Ken King feel now for being faithful to Sutter?
Another team executive joked that the Flames must be going green because they're sure doing plenty of recycling.
Jokinen, himself, remarked on his conference call that "I would have probably said, 'You're out of your mind'," when asked if somebody told him the day he was traded that he would be back in Calgary.
Sutter will make himself available on Friday to explain the moves. We can't wait to hear the reasons why he brought back Jokinen less than four months after giving up on him.
The 31-year-old Jokinen returned to Calgary for a reasonable two-year, $6-million contract. Tanguay, 30, inked a one-season, $1.7-million deal. Tanguay put forth some decent production in his two-year stint with the Flames. He scored 40 goals and 139 points in 159 games. Jokinen checked in with 19 goals and 50 points in 75 games.
Canadian teams busy on Canada Day
Did Sutter think that his team failed to make the playoffs last spring because they dealt Jokinen at the trade deadline? The Flames record with Jokinen was 35-32-8, not including the first-round playoff exit in 2009.
After the Finn was shipped to the New York Rangers, along with Brandon Prust in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins, Calgary went 13-11-2. There was little difference.
Unrestricted free-agent Matthew Lombardi would have been a better fit, wouldn't he? But this gives the Flames a middle of Mikael Backlund, Jokinen, Matt Stajan and Daymond Langkow.
The other five Canadian clubs were busy, too, on Canada Day. The Ottawa Senators got the free-agent frenzy off to a roaring start when they inked 36-year-old Sergei Gonchar. He couldn't get the three-season deal that he sought from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Senators signed the offensive blue liner to a three-year, $16.5-million contract. Ottawa, however, did lose Anton Volchenkov (six years, $25.5-million) to the New Jersey Devils and Matt Cullen to the Minnesota Wild.
The Vancouver Canucks also bolstered their defence corps with one of the biggest deals of the day when they successfully recruited Dan Hamhuis with a six-year, $27-million deal that included a no-trade clause. Several clubs were in the mix for the reliable Hamhuis, including the Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canucks also signed centre/left wing Manny Maholtra to an expensive three-year, $7.5-million deal, as well as forwards Jeff Tambellini and Joel Perreault.
The Oilers lured dependable Kurtis Foster to a two-year, $3.6-million contract, but were unable to dump Sheldon Souray. A day after they acquired Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Maple Leafs signed Colby Armstrong to a three-year, $9-million pact. But there still is no centre to play with these forwards.
Kovalchuk still in the mix
The Montreal Canadiens made the smallest impact of the six Canadian clubs. They failed to sign goalie Dan Ellis, who went to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but inked Alex Auld as a backup for Carey Price and Curtis Sanford for depth. They also signed forward Dustin Boyd. The one-year deals for Auld and Boyd were worth $1-million and $650,000, respectively.
One of the big winners of the day appeared to be the 2008-09 Stanley Cup-champion Penguins. After losing Gonchar, they rebuilt their blue line with the addition of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. The 29-year-old Martin will make $25-million over five seasons and Michalek signed on for the same term at $4-million a season.
Who is still out there? Ilya Kovalchuk started the free-agent frenzy as the biggest name of the bunch and the Devils and Kings were still seeking his services.
Nobody was willing to fork out cash for netminders Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov and Jose Theordore, but Martin Biron (Rangers), Chris Mason (Atlanta), Antero Niittymaki (San Jose) and Ellis (Tampa) all found new addresses.
Lombardi and scoring forward Alexander Frolov also have yet to find new homes.
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