A day after mind-boggling money exchanged hands in the opening hours of free agency in the NHL, the game’s top two unrestricted free agents resisted a career windfall.
Mats Sundin, staring down a US$20-million, two-year bonanza from the Vancouver Canucks as well as three other sizeable offers, announced Wednesday he needed more time to mull over his future even if it meant losing out on those riches.
“I spent a great deal of time yesterday reflecting upon the teams who stepped forward and the opportunities that each provided,” the 37-year-old said in a statement released through agent J.P. Barry. “Unfortunately, I am simply not close to being ready to make a decision about resuming my career at this time.
“I wish all the teams the very best and thank them for their interest.”
Marian Hossa, meanwhile, turned down a lucrative deal from the Edmonton Oilers believed to be worth between $70 million to $80 million over eight or nine years and a $49-million, seven-year offer to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins and instead chose to accept a one-year job assigment with the Detroit Red Wings for $7.45 million.
“I have never been involved in a deal and seen a player get so excited to take $85 million less than he was offered elsewhere,” Hossa’s agent Ritch Winter told The Canadian Press, hinting at the Oilers offer.
“It’s almost incomprehensible, even to an agent. But Marian is a special player.”
New Oilers owner Daryl Katz was ready to dip into his deep, billionaire pockets but amazingly Hossa turned down what could have been one of the biggest contracts in NHL history.
“I know myself, I made the right decision,” Hossa said of rejecting Edmonton’s offer. “But it wasn’t easy to throw that much money away. We’ll see at the end of next year whether I decided good or not. I truly believe I made the right decision.”
The 28-year-old wants to win a championship right away, and figured joining Nicklas Lidstrom and the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings was a better bet than staying with the Cup finalist Penguins.
“Without Marian wanting to be a Red Wing, this day never happens,” said Wings GM Ken Holland.
“I’ve said before, I want to have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup and I feel like Detroit is the team,” Hossa said on the same conference call. “It wasn’t an easy decision. I knew I could have gotten more money somewhere else but I wanted the best chance to win the Stanley Cup and Detroit is the best destination.”
With Hossa off the market and Sundin needing perhaps several weeks to figure out his playing future, 36-year-old winger Jaromir Jagr instantly became the No. 1 offensive target in free agency.
He’s also in no hurry.
“Jaromir is exploring his options but he’s in no rush to make his decision right away,” agent Pat Brisson told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
The Rangers are still interested in keeping their Czech captain, but it’s believed the Oilers and Penguins also had interest as of late Wednesday afternoon. Expect that list to grow.
“Nothing new today,” Rangers GM Glen Sather said Wednesday when asked about Jagr. “I guess he was waiting to see what happened with Hossa and now that that’s happened, we’ll see what happens.”
Keeping with the theme of the day, Evgeni Malkin also took less money than this market value in signing a long-anticipated contract extension with the Penguins. The $43.5-million, five-year agreement, which kicks in starting with the 2009-10 season, is identical to the new pact that begins this season for fellow star centre Sidney Crosby.
Both players will earn an average of $8.7 million a year even though other teams would line up to pay them the maximum $11 million a season. They are sending the message they want a competitive team in Pittsburgh.
The Dallas Stars already had a competitive team and believe they made it much tougher to play against Wednesday. Rugged but gifted winger Sean Avery signed a $15.5-million, four-year deal with the Stars, leaving the Rangers.
Avery, 28, is an impact player whose off-ice antics sometimes overshadow his talents. He had 33 points (15-18) and 157 penalty minutes in 57 games with the Rangers last season.
“His skill keeps improving every year,” Stars co-GM Brett Hull said in a statement. “He is feisty and tenacious. Sean has the ability to score and make plays and he is fearless. I think he’s a very good compliment to Brenden Morrow.
“We like our team, but the thing I think we were lacking was a little bit of sandpaper and some grit, and we also improved our skill level with Sean.”
A day after losing out in the Brian Campbell sweepstakes, the Atlanta Thrashers got the puck-moving defenceman they were searching for, signing Ron Hainsey to a $22.5-million, five-year contract.
The 27-year-old puck-mover had 32 points (8-24) in 78 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
The Jackets lost Hainsey but picked up a pair of defencemen in a four-player trade with the Rangers on Wednesday. Columbus sent forwards Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to New York in exchange for blue-liners Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman.
It was a fairly significant trade lost somewhat in the slew of NHL activity, the Rangers getting a deeply skilled scorer yet temperamental player in Zherdev.
“Zherdev is a player we’ve tried to acquire for a while,” Sather said on a conference call. “He’s a talented, shifty winger with lots of upside.”
The 23-year-old Russian had a career-high 61 points (26-35) in 82 games with the Jackets last season but frustrated the team with his inconsistent effort.
Tyutin, who turns 25 later this month, is the key to the deal for the Jackets, a reliable two-way player who can log lots of minutes.
In other moves Wednesday:
-The Pittsburgh Penguins held on to defenceman Brooks Orpik with a $22.5-million, six-year contract. The physical defender was unrestricted and had received lots of attention but decided to stay in Pittsburgh.
-The New York Islanders signed veteran centre Doug Weight to a one-year deal that worth $1.75 million in base salary but could be worth up to $4.3 million in total if he reaches of all his bonuses.