The Philadelphia Flyers signed Briere to a US$52-million, eight-year contract on the first day of NHL free agency that also saw veteran defencemen Brian Rafalski and Mathieu Schneider change teams.
Briere will earn $10 million next season in a front-loaded contract that will pay him an average of $6.5 million per year. Briere earned $5 million last season while putting up a career-high 95 points (32-63) in 81 games with the Buffalo Sabres.
“Just looking at the Flyers, I think they’re building something special there,” Briere told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he was camping out at his agent Pat Brisson’s office. “I felt they were going in the right direction.
“I love to be part of an organization like that, one that’s willing to do whatever is necessary to win. After the season they had last year, they’re trying everything possible to turn that around.”
The last-place Flyers also added defencemen Kimmo Timonen and winger Scott Hartnell from Nashville two weeks ago, signalling they were serious about being competitive again.
Sources told CP that 10 teams made offers for the 29-year-old playmaker, and that it came down to a choice between Montreal and Philadelphia.
“It’s very flattering,” Briere said of the interest. “At the end we probably considered five or six teams really, really seriously. But somewhere and somehow a decision had to be made. And I went with my gut.
“I know some players in that organization (Martin Biron and Denis Gauthier) and I only got positive feedback from them.”
With Briere gone, the focus shifted in earnest to fellow free-agent centres Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Winger Ryan Smyth was also garnering plenty of attention.
Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks signed Schneider to an $11.25-million, two-year deal while the Detroit Red Wings quickly filled Schneider’s void by signing 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 big move by Ducks GM Brian Burke comes with superstar defenceman Scott Niedermayer still contemplating retirement at 33 years old.
“Scott Niedermayer has informed me that he is leaning toward retirement,” Burke said Sunday in a statement. “Typical of his character and leadership, he made the call this morning in order to allow us to make alternative plans in the event he does not return. Although he has not retired and would be welcomed back, we felt adding another top NHL defenceman was critical to defending our championship.
“Mathieu Schneider fits into that category and will be a great addition to our team.”
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 CP. “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.
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. They’re also working on extension for defenceman Robyn Regehr, another player headed for unrestricted free agency after next season.
“I think we’re still working on the details of both of them,” Flames GM Darryl Sutter told reporters in Calgary. “There’s a lot more to it than just money. We’ll get it worked out.”
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 Chicago Blackhawks signed unrestricted free-agent centre Yanic Perreault to a $1.5-million, one-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 Tampa Bay Lightning signed unrestricted free agent Michel Ouellet to a two-year deal. The 25-year-old had 19 goals and 29 assists in 73 games with Pittsburgh last season.
-The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed centre Jeff Hamilton to a $1.6-million, two-year deal. The 29-year-old had 18 goals and 21 assists.
-The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenceman Barret Jackman to a $2.2-million, one-year deal. He was a restricted free agent.
-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. The Bruins also signed unrestricted free-agent winger Shawn Thornton to a multi-year deal.
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.