The Philadelphia Flyers signed Briere to a US$52-million, eight-year contract on the first day of NHL free agency.
Briere will earn $10 million next season in a front-loaded contract that will pay him an average of $6.5 million per season. Briere earned $5 million last season while putting up a career-high 95 points (32-63) in 81 games with the Buffalo Sabres.
Sources indicate that 10 teams made offers for the 29-year-old playmaker, and that it came down to a choice between Montreal and Philadelphia.
With Briere gone, the focus will shift to fellow free-agent centres Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Winger Ryan Smyth was also garnering much attention Sunday.
A pair of big-name unrestricted free-agent defencemen found new teams Sunday.
The Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks signed Mathieu Schneider to an $11.25-million, two-year deal while the Detroit Red Wings quickly filled Schneider’s void by signing Brian Rafalski to a $30-million, five-year contract.
The 33-year-old Rafalski, a Michigan native, had a career-high 55 points (5-47) in 82 games with the New Jersey Devils last season, the only NHL club he’s ever played for.
The 38-year-old Schneider had 52 points (11-41) in 68 games with Detroit last season, his fourth season with the Red Wings. He will earn $5.5 million next season and $5.75 million in 2008-09.
The surprising move by Ducks GM Brian Burke comes with superstar defenceman Scott Niedermayer still debating whether or not to call it quits at 33.
“Scott hasn’t made a decision yet,” Niedermayer’s agent Kevin Epp said Sunday.
If Niedermayer does come back, it gives the Ducks a top-four blue-line also featuring Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin with the four defencemen earning a total of $21.15 million next season.
Joe Thornton, meanwhile, made the first big splash Sunday, signing a $21.6-million, three-year extension with he San Jose Sharks.
“It was a no-brainer, I love it in San Jose,” Thornton told The Canadian Press. “It’s perfect for me.”
The new deal will pay him an average of $7.2 million a season starting in 2008-09. He will earn $6.67 million next season, the last year in a deal he signed in Boston after the NHL lockout. Being dealt to San Jose in November 2005 was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“I don’t know why but it just seemed like the West really fit my play, and obviously the surrounding people around me made me that much better,” said Thornton. “The trade’s worked out great. I couldn’t be happier in San Jose, they’re a class organization.”
The Calgary Flames are close to also signing an extension with captain Jarome Iginla, who like Thornton also was slated to be unrestricted after next season. The Flames should have something to announce on Iginla within the next two weeks.
The Flames did sign a free agent Sunday, reeling in defenceman Cory Sarich with an $18-million, five-year contract. Sarich spent the past seven seasons with Tampa Bay, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The 28-year-old from Saskatoon appeared in every game for the Lightning for the past four years.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, were closing in on a $24-million, six-year deal to re-sign defenceman Ryan Whitney. Sources told CP the deal was not quite done yet but very close. Whitney was a restricted free agent.
In other moves Sunday:
-The Edmonton Oilers signed unrestricted free agent defencemen Dick Tarnstrom and Denis Grebeshkov to one-year contracts. Tarnstrom played in Europe last year after finishing the 2005-06 season with Edmonton. Grebeshkov, who played in Russia last season, was acquired from the Islanders last February.
-The Washington Capitals added blue-line help, signing unrestricted free-agent defenceman Tom Poti to a $14-million, four-year deal. He had 44 points (6-38) in 78 games with the Islanders last season.
-The Florida Panthers signed unrestricted free-agent winger Richard Zednik to a $3.25-million, two-year contract and unrestricted free-agent forward Brett McLean to a $5.1-million, three-year contract.
-The Atlanta Thrashers signed unrestricted free agent Todd White to a $9.5-million, four-year contract. The 32-year-old centre had 44 points (13-31) in 77 games with the Minnesota Wild last season.
-The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenceman Barret Jackman to a $2.2-million, one-year deal. He was a restricted free agent. On Saturday night the Blues also signed Keith Tkachuk to an $8-million, two-year deal. The Blues acquired his rights from Atlanta last week. He would have been unrestricted Sunday.
-In a trade completed Saturday night but made it official Sunday, the Boston Bruins acquired goalie Manny Fernandez from the Minnesota Wild winger Petr Kalus and a fourth-round pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. The Bruins hope they’ve found their No. 1 netminder in Fernandez, who was expendable in Minnesota because of the emergence of Niklas Backstrom.
Smyth, meanwhile, was offered a five-year deal reportedly worth around $6.5 million a year to stay with the Islanders but GM Garth Snow was not bitter he didn’t get him signed.
“The negotiations have been respectful throughout,” Snow said Sunday. “We had an agreement with Ryan and his representative Don Meehan that negotiations would remain private. The professionalism shown by both sides has been outstanding.”
Snow understood Smyth’s desire to try out the free-agent market.
“As one of the most respected veterans in our game, Ryan has earned that right,” said Snow. “We continue to hope Ryan remains an Islander. But as we do that, it’s incumbent on us to also pursue other top players that fill our needs.”
One player who ruled himself out of the market was forward Alexei Morozov, who led the Russian league in scoring last season. He had been telling people all year that he wanted to return to the NHL but the former Pittsburgh Penguin had a change of heart, his agent Jay Grossman telling CP on Sunday that he’ll play one more season with Ak Bars Kazan in Russia.