Just when the slowing global economy was expected to diminish spending for NHL free agents, Slovak wing Marian Hossa hit the open market again.
And instead of taking a discount on a one-year deal to take another shot at a Stanley Cup title, Hossa cashed in a US$62.8 million megadeal with the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.
A few hours after the NHL free-agent season was open for business, the Blackhawks said goodbye to Martin Havlat and came to terms with Hossa on a 12-year, contract.
It was the headline move on the typically busy first day of free-agent shopping.
The New York Rangers landed the second biggest prize of the day, signing Hossa’s countryman and high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik away from the Minnesota Wild with a five-year, US$37.5 million contract. That deal came together once the Rangers couldn’t complete a trade with the Ottawa Senators for disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.
The NHL salary cap rose only US$100,000 from last season to US$56.8 million. With concerns that the financial crisis could strike the league harder this season, and force the 2010-2011 cap to drop, the belief was teams would be more cautious about entering into long-term deals.
The Blackhawks didn’t seem too concerned, and will absorb a cap hit on Hossa’s contract of US$5.23 million.
“We haven’t used the [unrestricted free agent market] that often because it’s when you get the most onerous contracts with the most unfavorable term,” San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “I’ve used the term irrational exuberance that takes place at this time of year.”
Hossa left the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins last summer to join the defending champion Detroit Red Wings — saying he believed that gave him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. But the Penguins dethroned the Red Wings last month in the rematch, leaving Hossa in second place again.
“Now I don’t have to worry about dealing with it year-to-year,” he said.
“I’m set for 12 years. That will make it easier and I can focus on hockey,” Hossa said.
The Blackhawks also let Russian goalie Nikolai Khabibulin go, watching him sign a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
After marathon negotiations in Sweden, the Vancouver Canucks finally reached matched deals to retain identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin — the team’s leading scorers last season with 82 points.
Right before the pair reached the open market, they each signed five-year, US$30.5 million contracts.
Meanwhile, defenseman Mattias Ohlund left the Canucks after 11 seasons to sign a seven-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.