NHL Free Agent Tracker 2010

Free agency is here once again and with the NHL salary cap for 2010-11 set at $59.4 million, teams have a bit more room to use to change the makeup of their roster.

Ilya Kovalchuk, traded from the Atlanta Thrashers to New Jersey Devils last season, headlines this year’s batch of unrestricted free agents looking for a new contract. Will he get the $10 million he was previously seeking? Will the rumors out of Los Angeles come to fruition? Or will Kovalchuk possibly bolt to the Kontinental League?

The goalie market is full of names, but it’s not yet clear where any of them fit in. Evgeni Nabokov will be finding his way out of San Jose for the first time in his career, while Marty Turco looks to regain his form in a town other than Dallas. And how about Chris Mason, who made a name for himself in St. Louis; who will pay for his services?

Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis and Anton Volchenkov lead the way for an interesting group of defensemen. A mix of puckmoving and puck-blocking, any team looking to add a little character or skill to its lineup has a choice when they turn down the ‘D’ aisle.

So buckle up and follow along with up-to-date analysis off all the key signings on Day 1.

After the July 1 maddess, keep track of the rest of the signings via our team-by-team/alphabetical free agent lists.

8:24 EST
Chicago Blackhawks
John Scott, D/W TERM: $1 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: With the departures of Ben Eager (traded to Atlanta) and Adam Burish (free agency to Dallas), the Blackhawks needed some muscle to protect the Patrick Kanes and Jonathan Toews of the world and 6-foot-8, 258-pound John Scott is a fitting replacement.

The tree-tall defenseman is a third-pairing addition to Chicago, but that’s OK when you have the blueliners the Hawks already boast. Two years is perfect for the cap-shedding Hawks and it gives Scott the chance to show his wares outside of Minnesota, where most people thought of Derek Boogaard first when it came to fighting. – RK

8:03 EST
Minnesota Wild
Eric Nystrom, C TERM: $1.4 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: Nystrom is a hard worker, a two-way player and he can line up at all three forward positions. Unfortunately, his total of 19 points last season with Calgary was a career-high for the 27-year-old and the last time I checked, Minnesota already had a lot of forwards who don’t score that often.

There has always been a flag being waved out there for Bob Nystrom’s son, with proponents believing one day Eric would turn into a dangerous NHL power forward. That day hasn’t quite dawned yet and now the Wild has three years to find out if it ever will. His 19 points was almost twice as much as his total the year prior; take that for what you will. – RK

7:49 EST
New Jersey
Johan Hedberg, G TERM: $1.5 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: In the yearly search for Martin Brodeur’s backup, New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello has landed a good one in former Thrashers netminder Hedberg. A consummate professional who was beloved in Atlanta, ‘Moose’ will be a great dressing room presence and proved last season that he can pull his weight when necessary. In fact, the 37-year-old outplayed young buck Ondrej Pavelec down the stretch once Kari Lehtonen was traded. Hedberg’s 2.62 goals-against average was his best since before the lockout, while his .915 save percentage was the highest he’s sported in the NHL.

With such a reasonable salary, Hedberg is a good pickup for the Devils, but once again the question remains: How many starts will Brodeur get next season and will he be spelled enough to keep him juiced for the playoffs? That new arena in New Jersey needs to see a second-round playoff game. – RK

7:33 EST
New York Rangers
Vinny Propspal, LW TERM: $2.1 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: Rangers GM Glen Sather – well, let’s face it, most of the Rangers braintrust – may be viewed as crazy in the opinion of the fanbase, but this is a good re-sign for the Blueshirts.

Prospal’s 58 points last year was good for second on the squad and represented a nice bounce-back from his terrible campaign in Tampa the season before. On a team with some very ugly minuses, Prospal was a respectable plus-8 last year and he genuinely wants to be a Ranger, something every Manhattan fan should enjoy.

Given the low rate the Blueshirts got Prospal to sign for, there’s no worry this contract will come back to bite them. And admit it, when was the last time you could say that about anything the Rangers did? – RK

6:55 EST
Dallas Stars
Andrew Raycroft, G TERM: $650,000 per/2 years

ANALYSIS: This is a dicey risk for Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Raycroft is coming in as the backup for Kari Lehtonen, who hasn’t proven himself to be the most durable of goaltenders. Should Lehtonen go down to injury again, the Stars will struggle to keep pace in the competitive Pacific Division.

Raycroft was passable as a backup to Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, but not much was expected of him. He did put together a good string when Luongo missed time with a rib injury. Lehtonen’s groin history precludes him from a 70-start campaign, so maybe Nieuwendyk is thinking of his boys on the farm. After all, the AHL Texas Stars went to the Calder Cup final thanks to goalies Matt Climie and Brent Krahn, so maybe they help out if Lehtonen goes down. – RK

6:51 EST
Minnesota Wild
Matt Cullen, C TERM: $3.5 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: Minnesota is in dire need of offensive weapons and Cullen is a nice piece, though certainly not the second coming of Marian Gaborik. A Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006, Cullen hasn’t had much luck with other teams, disappointing in Ottawa and with the Rangers. But he’s a local Minnesota product who went to St. Cloud State, so this will be a nice homecoming for him.

Cullen skates well and he can also man the point on the power play, which is a nice skill to have from a forward. If the Wild are going to keep pace in the Western Conference, it’s important for them to assemble a talented, balanced roster and Cullen will help in that department. More will be needed, however. – RK

Did the Wild overpay? VOTE

6:19 EST
Dallas Stars
Adam Burish, RW TERM: $1.5 per/2 years

ANALYSIS: Pray for the sanity of those who play in the Pacific Division. The Dallas Stars now boast both Steve Ott and Burish, who signs a reasonable deal with a team not exactly flaunting its wallet lately.

Burish is a big hitter and an agitator who played the role well during Chicago’s run to the Stanley Cup – when he played, that is. He was a healthy scratch during the last three games of the final and only played about five minutes per contest before that. Burish spent most of the regular season laid up with a knee injury. He’ll bring more sandpaper to the Stars, but not much in the way of offense. Look for him on the third or fourth line in Dallas. – RK

5:57 EST
Anaheim Ducks
Saku Koivu, C TERM: $2.5 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: In re-signing Koivu, the Ducks not only get their No. 2 center back, but they help shore up a lot of goodwill with another very important Finn.

That name, of course, is legend Teemu Selanne. ‘The Finnish Flash’ has been contemplating retirement, but perhaps having his linemate and buddy back in black and orange will convince Selanne to lace ’em up in the O.C. for at least one more season, if not two.

At age 35, Koivu can still produce and he’s good for at least 50 points in a season. With Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan leading the offensive charge, that’s a pretty good secondary threat. But Koivu also brings a lot of leadership to the Ducks dressing room, which will be especially crucial since the team has lost Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and J-S Giguere since the 2007 Stanley Cup triumph.

This is a tidy contract for both Koivu and the Ducks. – RK

5:50 EST
Vancouver Canucks
Jeff Tambellini, LW TERM: $500,000 per/1 year

ANALYSIS: Tambellini’s dad, Steve, had a great weekend at the draft as Oilers GM, while now Jeff gets a fresh start in Vancouver, where dad used to play. A tweener between the NHL and American League most of his career, Tambellini hasn’t shown any sort of consistency as a pro, certainly not the scoring prowess he was known for at the University of Michigan.

His 14 points in 36 games for the Isles last year (he also spent time with AHL Bridgeport) can be considered his best season yet, so this is purely a flyer on the part of the Canucks. If Tambellini catches lighting in a bottle, great – otherwise, he’ll make a great Moose with AHL Manitoba. – RK

5:31 EST
Buffalo Sabres
Jordan Leopold, D TERM: $3 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: In nabbing Leopold, the Sabres managed the stanch the flow of blueliners exiting Buffalo today, so this was a necessary signing. With Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman leaving, two of the Sabres’ top four defenseman were gone before dinner and the squad wasn’t deep to begin with.

Leopold has never lived up to the offensive promise he showed at the University of Minnesota, but he is a serviceable player and seemed to kick the injury bug last year, splitting time between Florida and Pittsburgh. The Sabres become his fifth team since 2008-09, so the three-year pact must be a nice bit of comfort for the 28-year-old. Slot him in behind Tyler Myers and Craig Rivet on the Buffalo depth chart. Also watch for Buffalo to go after at least one more NHL blueliner in the near future. – RK

4:30 EST
Atlanta Thrashers
Chris Mason, G TERM: $1.85 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: Former Blues netminder Chris Mason made the best of a horrible goalie free agent market (from a netminder’s perspective) by signing a two-year, $3.7 million contract with the Atlanta Thrashers.

The 34-year-old Mason had a respectable 2009-10 for St. Louis, posting a 30-22-8 mark, as well as a 2.53 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 61 games. But after the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak prior to the NHL draft, it was obvious Mason would be looking elsewhere for employment.

He had to settle for the Thrashers – a team that traded former top prospect Kari Lehtonen to Dallas last year because it was putting its belief in 22-year-old Ondrej Pavelec. Nothing has changed in that regard, meaning Mason will be used as Pavelec’s backup.

Mason is at least as good as former Thrashers No. 2 Johan Hedberg and is three years younger. Another in a series of solid off-season moves by GM Rick Dudley. -AP

Did the Thrashers overpay? VOTE

4:29 EST
Calgary Flames
Olli Jokinen, C TERM: $3 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: It is a measure of the desperation of both Olli Jokinen and the Calgary Flames that they have renewed their partnership by agreeing to a two-year, $6 million contract for the 31-year-old center.

Flames fans must be incensed to see GM Darryl Sutter looking increasingly frantic – and after last season’s wheeling and dealing, looking increasingly frantic is no easy task – by making this signing. Sure, Jokinen still is capable of posting 50 points per season; that’s the precise amount he had last season, which he split with the Flames and New York Rangers.

Unfortunately, Jokinen has changed addresses four times in the past three seasons for good reason. His best days are behind him – and although he took a pay cut of $2.25 million a season to return to Calgary for the 2010-11 campaign, he will be a lightning rod for dissatisfaction with the team simply because of his past failures with the Flames.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with the direction the Flames are taking. Just ask Sutter and team president Ken King. Actually, if you’re a Flames fan who wants to be comforted by the answer, ask only Sutter and King. -AP

Did the Flames overpay? VOTE

4:24 EST
Vancouver Canucks
Dan Hamhuis, D TERM: $4.5 million per/6 years

ANALYSIS: The changing of the rearguards employed by the Canucks continued Thursday when former Predators blueliner Dan Hamhuis signed a six-year, $27 million deal with Vancouver.

A B.C. native, Hamhuis was seen as one of the top available unrestricted free agent D-men this summer, so his arrival has to be seen as a coup for Canucks GM Mike Gillis. Along with recently acquired defenseman Keith Ballard, Hamhuis represents an upgrade on the defense corps that couldn’t contain the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of last season’s playoffs.

Neither Hamhuis nor Ballard is going to challenge Washington’s Mike Green for the scoring lead by a defenseman, but both are 27-year-old, intelligent, low-maintenance employees who can stabilize Vancouver’s back end for a long time to come.

That’s why six years for a player like Hamhuis isn’t unreasonable. That will be underscored when Canucks fans get to see his quiet, steady game on a nightly basis. -AP

Did the Canucks overpay? VOTE

4:23 EST
New Jersey Devils
Anton Volchenkov, D TERM: $4.25 million per/6 years

ANALYSIS: Once Paul Martin left the Devils as an unrestricted free agent Thursday, it was only a matter of time before New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello worked his magic to rebuild his blueline. Sure enough, Lamoriello landed one of the biggest blueliners available when he signed former Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov to a six-year, $25.5 million contract.

Volchenkov is just 28 and known throughout the league as a shot-blocking menace. He’s missed 32 games over the past two seasons because of his fearless nature, but gives the Devils a big-time back-end physical presence they sorely lacked during the 2010 playoffs.

Interestingly, Volchenkov’s deal averages $250,000 less a season than Dan Hamhuis’ new contract with the Canucks – a testament to Lamoriello’s shrewd negotiating skills.

There will be those who believe the acquisition of Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder won’t give the Devils an advantage in the tough Atlantic Division. But never count out anything Lamoriello does.

And don’t think he’s finished remodeling the roster, either. -AP

Did the Devils overpay? VOTE

4:05 EST
Edmonton Oilers
Kurtis Foster, D TERM: $1.8 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: If anybody deserved a good break, it was Kurtis Foster, who had to rebuild his career two summers ago and now is rebuilding his life after losing his infant son. He’ll get a chance to do that with the Oilers, where he’ll take his versatility – he played both forward and defense for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season – and his booming (and we mean booming) shot. The acquisition of Foster would certainly seem to hasten the departure of Sheldon Souray, if the Oilers could somehow find somebody to take that contract. -KC

Did the Oilers overpay? VOTE

3:57 EST
New Jersey Devils
Henrik Tallinder, D TERM: $3.375 million per/4 years

ANALYSIS: Given that Paul Martin played just 22 games for the New Jersey Devils last season, you could certainly argue the Devils have a better blueline than they did last season with Henrik Tallinder taking his place. The same certainly can’t be said for the Buffalo Sabres, who have lost both Tallinder and Toni Lydman to free agency today. 

Yup, that CBA is really helping small market teams keep their players, isn’t it? The Sabres had better hope Tyler Myers listened very, very well to Tallinder last season because they’re going to be leaning on the Calder Trophy winner even more than they did in 2009-10. The Devils, meanwhile, get a character player who can play at both ends of the ice and provide a calming influence. -KC

Did the Devils overpay? VOTE

3:16 EST
Phoenix Coyotes
Ray Whitney, LW TERM: $3 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: It’s nice to see the NHL spending the other 29 owners’ money wisely. Ray Whitney on a two-year deal at $3 million is very reasonable for both sides and gives the Coyotes a significant upgrade in offensive skill.

If Whitney had been looking for anything beyond two years, the deal doesn’t look near as good from a Phoenix perspective. But for the next two years, Whitney should give the Coyotes somewhere in the 25-goal, 60-point range. If all the stars align, they could be looking at 30-plus goals and 70 points for a team that is clearly on the rise. -KC

Did the Coyotes overpay? VOTE

3:02 EST
Anaheim Ducks
Toni Lydman, D TERM: $3 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: Scott Niedermayer’s retirement may have freed up more than $6 million in cap space for the Anaheim Ducks, but as GM Bob Murray understands, the quality of the people he can bring in with that money almost assuredly won’t be able to match the contributions of his former captain.

That’s not to say Toni Lydman isn’t a decent enough defenseman who can play more than 20 minutes a game. But Lydman is 32 years old and was troubled by a groin injury that sidelined him for 15 games with Buffalo last season. His puckmoving ability was a plus for him in past years, but that skill isn’t what it once was, either.

Given the alternatives, however, the Ducks had to take a chance on some veteran. But the fact that, even in this inflated market for defensemen, Lydman took a $150,000 haircut to sign with Anaheim ought to serve as a sobering slap in the face to Ducks fans expecting the world from the Finn. -AP

Did the Ducks overpay? VOTE

2:44 EST
Pittsburgh Penguins
Paul Martin, D TERM: $5 million per/5 years

ANALYSIS: Well, the Penguins lost one of the top five unrestricted free agent defensemen out there and picked up two of them in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Neither of those players brings as much offense or power play élan that Sergei Gonchar does, but the sum of their parts could represent an overall upgrade on the Penguins blueline. 

They have a very mobile defense now, which is important to a team that likes to move the puck as much as the Penguins do. If Martin can remain healthy, he gives the Penguins a good two-way presence who can contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 points. A five-year deal worth $25 million is way too much, but that’s what you get when the demand exceeds the supply. -KC

Did the Penguins overpay? VOTE

2:40 EST
New York Rangers
Derek Boogaard, LW TERM: $1.65 million per/4 years

ANALYSIS: Didn’t Rangers GM Glen Sather say he wasn’t about to overpay for free agents this summer? He must have had another of his patented moments of madness Thurdsay before bestowing a four-year, $6.5 million contract on enforcer Derek Boogaard.

You’d have thought Sather learned his lesson about overpaying enforcers after the Donald Brashear experiment ended in disaster, but apparently not. It’s not necessarily the salary that stands out here – it’s the term. You’re telling me that another goon isn’t going to come down the pipe between now and 2014? Sather, please. -AP

2:27 EST
Tampa Bay Lightning
Dan Ellis, G TERM: $1.5 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: Steve Yzerman’s first free agent signing as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning could end up being a home run. Although he had trouble winning games, Ellis did not have a save percentage lower than .900 in three seasons in Nashville and at 30, just might be entering his best seasons as an NHL goalie. Mike Smith certainly wasn’t getting it done in Tampa Bay and this gives the Lightning far more reliable goaltending than they had before free agency. Yzerman is undoubtedly betting the two will push each other to be better and that the Lightning will benefit by the competition. -KC

2:20 EST
Philadelphia Flyers
Jody Shelley, LW TERM: $1.1 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: The Flyers got a whole lot tougher, but not much better up front with their three-year deal to Jody Shelley. Not that they really have to worry about it because the Flyers have plenty of skill up front and Shelley can actually play a regular role, something resident tough guy Riley Cote has not been able to do to this point in his career. -KC

2:06 EST
Phoenix Coyotes
Derek Morris, D TERM: $2.75 million per/4 years

ANALYSIS: Derek Morris has gone from an elite prospect to a journeyman defenseman in 12 NHL seasons, but he’s still got some decent hockey left in him and doesn’t harbor any illusions about his place in a team’s payroll structure. That’s why the cash-conscious Phoenix Coyotes re-signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal Thursday.

Morris, who’ll be 32 by the time Phoenix’s training camp begins, returned to the Coyotes organization from Boston at last season’s trade deadline, after splitting the previous year between the Rangers (who traded for Morris at the 2009 trade deadline) and Coyotes.

Yotes coach Dave Tippett knows not to ask too much of Morris – at least, in terms of offensive contributions – but he’ll be a voice of experience in the dressing room. Most importantly, he’s locked up for four years. That’s half the battle for a franchise that has the league watching its financial bottom line. -AP

2:00 EST
Philadelphia Flyers
Sean O’Donnell, D TERM: $1 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: All right, now the Philadelphia Flyers blueline corps consists of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell. With Oskars Bartulis there, you’d have to think that means the Flyers look set on their defense for next season. -KC

1:55 EST
Vancouver Canucks
Manny Malhotra, C TERM: $2.5 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: Yeah, Manny Malhotra was really good for the San Jose Sharks last season. Great team guy, really gritty, tough to play against, good penalty-killer. But good enough to merit a 250-percent raise on a three-year deal with a no-trade clause? Perhaps that indicates he was underpaid at $700,000 in the first place last season, but that’s a lot of money for a player who historically doesn’t play very well when he has the kind of security he’s going to have in Vancouver. He undoubtedly makes the Canucks a more difficult opponent and has enough ability to chip in with a modicum of offense. -KC

1:50 EST
Montreal Canadiens
Alex Auld, G TERM: $1 million per/1 years

ANALYSIS: Dan Ellis would have been better, but he also would have been more expensive. And after dealing Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens knew they needed a dependable backup for Carey Price. They probably got one in Alex Auld, a 29-year-old who finds himself with his sixth organization in the past six seasons. It’s doubtful, however, whether Auld will be able to handle the job in Montreal if Price falters. -KC

1:47 EST
San Jose Sharks
Antero Niittymaki, G TERM: $2 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: When the San Jose Sharks bowed out in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, it was a given that their relationship with goalie Evgeni Nabokov was over. That said, very few pundits – if any – believed GM Doug Wilson would turn to Antero Niittymaki as Nabokov’s replacement. So when the 30-year-old Finn agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract with Wilson, more than a few eyebrows raised.

In fairness, Niittymaki had a better-than-average 2009-10 season – including a 21-18-5 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .909 save percentage – for a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had more than its share of distractions. Wilson must be convinced that Niittymaki would perform even better when he became part of San Jose’s very stable organizational dynamic.

Of course, Niittymaki’s relatively cheap salary entered into the equation for Wilson as well. He still has nearly $7 million in salary cap room to play with (and probably use to fill the blueline hole created by Rob Blake’s retirement), but remember, the Sharks usually don’t spend to the cap ceiling.

So it looks like Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss will be San Jose’s duo to start the year. There will be plenty of skepticism that duo can do the job until they actually do the job, but the same can be said of the entire Sharks organization at this point. -AP

1:35 EST
Toronto Maple Leafs
Colby Armstrong, LW TERM: $3 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: The big question with respect to Colby Armstrong is: Will he be near as effective as he was before now that the NHL is attempting to clamp down on blindside hits to the head? Armstrong is one of the most predatorial headhunters in the league and was one of the prime examples in the league’s crusade against head shots against vulnerable opponents. But he certainly makes the Leafs more truculent and belligerent and he’s a very good team guy. Does he make the Leafs any better? Discuss amongst yourselves. -KC

1:12 EST
Pittsburgh Penguins
Zbynek Michalek, D TERM: $4 million per/5 years

ANALYSIS: Minutes after veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar left the Penguins to sign with the Ottawa Senators, Pens GM Ray Shero filled his empty slot on the blueline by agreeing to terms on a five-year, $20 million deal with Zybnek Michalek.

The 27-year-old Michalek – a Czech native who gets a $2.6-million raise on the $1.4 million he made last year in Phoenix – is regarded as one of the league’s premier shot-blockers. He led the Yotes in blocked shots last season and also was their chief minute-muncher, averaging 22:38 of ice time per game.

Once Gonchar departed, the move was absolutely necessary for Shero to make – especially after Penguins fans watched blueliners Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi leave as free agents last summer. Signing a shot-blocker always is a risk, but it appears Michalek is a smart shot-blocker, as he’s missed just 17 games due to injury in his five years in Phoenix.

The loss of Michalek means the Coyotes take a hit on the defensive end. However, management had to know the hit was coming to the cash-conscious franchise; they’ll be forced to pick through the leftovers of free agency, or look within the organization, to replace their best D-man. -AP

1:08 EST
Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin St-Louis, RW TERM: $5.625 million per/4 years

ANALYSIS: The Tampa Bay Lightning may rue the day they’re carrying Martin St-Louis on their roster for a $5.625 million cap hit, but it’s a credit to St-Louis that he could get such a big-money, long-term contract extension with the Lightning knowing full well there is no way they’ll be able to get themselves out of that contract.

In the short term, there’s no doubt St-Louis is worth the money and cap hit (he still has one year left on his previous deal) and the chemistry he had with Steven Stamkos last season was something to behold. Now that St-Louis has become the veteran face of the franchise, is it possible Vincent Lecavalier’s days in the Lightning organization are coming to an end? Owner Jeffrey Vinik tried to get rid of the Lecavalier contract when he bought the team and may very well try again. -KC

12:55 EST
Carolina Hurricanes
Anton Babchuk, D (RFA) TERM: $1.4 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: A year in the Kontinental League was enough for blueliner Anton Babchuk, who returned to the Carolina Hurricanes organization by signing a one-year, $1.4 million deal Thursday.

The 6-foot-5 Babchuk played 49 games with Avangard Omsk in 2009-10, leading the team’s defensemen in goals (9), points (22) and plus/minus (+17). The year before that, the 26-year-old set personal NHL bests with the Canes by posting 16 goals and 35 points in 72 games.

He left for the Russian league after a contract dispute with team management and squabbled with the organization prior to that clash, but clearly, both sides have made up. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford realized he needed depth and Babchuk’s bulky frame for his blueline; Babchuk realized the only way he was getting back into the NHL was by mending fences.

Overall, a typically understated Rutherford move that will help Carolina. -AP

12:49 EST
Philadelphia Flyers
Braydon Coburn, D (RFA) TERM: $3.2 million per/2 years

ANALYSIS: If the Philadelphia Flyers have given up all hope in finding a legitimate, reliable No. 1 goaltender – and all indications are they have done just that – they’re obviously trying to make sure they construct a defense corps that gives up so few shots sub-par goaltending won’t be a factor.

By re-signing Braydon Coburn to a two-year deal at a cap hit of $3.2 million per year, they now have a top-five defense corps that consists of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Not bad. But anyone who watched the Stanley Cup final knows teams can still get the puck by those guys once in a while and when they do, the results can be disastrous. -KC

12:32 EST
Calgary Flames
Alex Tanguay, LW TERM: $1.7 million per/1 year

ANALYSIS: If anyone has any clue what Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter is doing, please drop us a line and let us know. A team that can’t score goes out and reacquires an underachiever who had just 10 goals last season? Of course, when you’re the Flames and you’ve firmly placed yourself in salary cap hell, it’s not as though there are a whole lot of options.

Can Tanguay regain his form and return to being the 70-80 point man he was when he was last in Calgary? Sutter obviously hopes so, but it doesn’t look promising unless he and Jarome Iginla can somehow bring out the best in each other. A first line of Tanguay-Matt Stajan-Iginla isn’t about to scare anybody in the Western Conference. -KC

12:21 EST
Ottawa Senators
Sergei Gonchar, D TERM: $5.5 million per/3 years

ANALYSIS: The first surprise signing of free agent day came just minutes into the process, when the Ottawa Senators signed veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

Gonchar’s acquisition immediately makes the Senators smarter on the ice, calmer in the dressing room and perhaps gives Jason Spezza pause to reconsider his hopes to play elsewhere.

Needless to say, it also means the end of Anton Volchenkov’s time in Canada’s capital. And because the former Penguins and Capitals (and Bruins) blueliner is 36, his contract counts against the salary cap regardless of his status with the team or as an active player.

In other words, it is a calculated risk that helps the Sens keep pace with some increasingly tough competition in the Northeast Division – and causes the Pittsburgh Penguins to have to scramble to stabilize a defense corps decimated for two straight summers now. Look for the Penguins to get into the Tomas Kaberle sweepstakes any second.

The contract also should stick in the minds of hockey fans the next time Senators management belly-aches about dealing with a player who possesses a no-trade clause. They needed that clause to complete this deal, so that’s what they did. – AP

12:05 EST
New York Rangers
Martin Biron, G TERM: $875,000 per/2 years

ANALYSIS: A team that spends as much time with the puck in its own end as the New York Rangers do can’t have its No. 1 goalie playing 73 games and that’s why the Rangers went out and got a reliable backup in Martin Biron. To be sure, Biron is an upgrade on Steve Valiquette, Chad Johnson, Alex Auld and Matt Zaba, the four goalies who shared the other nine games last season. 

For the next two years, the Rangers not only have a low-maintenance, affordable backup who is a couple of years removed from being a solid No. 1 goalie, but they also have a guy who can step into the breach if Lundqvist gets injured or falters. And if and when the Rangers make the playoffs again, Biron will have played enough games that Lundqvist won’t be burned out. -KC