Thornton steals early thunder while White lands in Atlanta

Joe Thornton wasn’t supposed to be in the spotlight on the first day of NHL free agency but he stole the early thunder Sunday, signing a US$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.”

And as reported by CP last Sunday, the Calgary Flames are close to also signing an extension with star captain Jarome Iginla, who like Thornton also was slated to be unrestricted after next season.

The Thrashers made a move Sunday, signing 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.

Meanwhile, Drury, Gomez and Briere and winger Ryan Smyth were the top dogs in free agency as the flood gates opened. And all four were getting multiple offers from around the league in the early hours of free agency.

Smyth was offered a five-year deal reportedly worth around $6.5 million a year to stay with the New York 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.

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“What I can tell our fans this morning is we have put our best foot forward with Ryan. We’ve given him a very fair offer to consider and Ryan certainly understands the kind of team we’re building and how important he is to us.”

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.”

In other moves Sunday:

-The Thrashers also re-signed forward Pascal Dupuis to a $880,000, one-year deal. He would have been unrestricted Sunday.

-The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenceman Barret Jackman to a 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 expandable in Minnesota because of the emergence of Niklas Backstrom.

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.