ST. PAUL, Minn. – On the day Marian Gaborik left Minnesota for good, the Wild signed free-agent right wing Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million deal, to fill the large hole in their lineup.
Havlat, Chicago’s leading scorer last season with 77 points, signed a six-year contract late Wednesday night. Gaborik, the first player drafted by Minnesota when the franchise began nine seasons ago and the Wild’s career scoring leader, signed hours earlier with the New York Rangers, getting a five-year, US$37.5 million deal.
The Wild also signed free-agent defenceman Greg Zanon to a three-year contract. The 29-year-old Zanon had seven goals and 19 assists in three-plus seasons with Nashville.
Havlat became expendable in Chicago when the Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa away from Detroit with a 12-year, $62.8 million contract. The Wild went hard after Hossa last season, but he opted for the Red Wings and a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Owner Craig Leipold expressed frustration that Minnesota hasn’t been more attractive to the top-tier free agents, and new general manager Chuck Fletcher promised to be active once the NHL’s off-season officially began Wednesday.
He delivered the 28-year-old Havlat, who had 29 goals and 48 assists in 81 games last season and added five goals and 10 assists in 16 playoff games while the Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals.
“He is a terrific two-way player,” Fletcher said.
Havlat ranked ninth in the league last season with a plus-29 rating. The Czech star was an all-star in 2007, his first season in Chicago after six years with Ottawa. The Senators made him their first-round draft pick in 2000.
Gaborik wanted to test the market, so the Wild had little chance to lock him up.
The 27-year-old forward has been limited by injuries in recent seasons, but he is one of the NHL’s elite skaters when healthy. Gaborik’s relationship with the organization, though, was rather strained toward the end. He was sometimes frustrated by former coach Jacques Lemaire’s conservative system, and former general manager Doug Risebrough didn’t get along with Gaborik’s agent, Ron Salcer.
Risebrough was fired in April, but Gaborik appeared determined to seek a fresh start. When negotiations on an extension were cut off last September, the end had essentially come.
“I guess we’re going to have to turn the page on Minnesota, but I still think Chuck Fletcher is going to do a great job there and hopefully develop a strong team,” Salcer said late Wednesday. “Because obviously I’d like to see them succeed with Brent Burns and Derek Boogaard, a couple of clients I still have there. So we’ll see what happens down the road.”
Zanon is likely fifth or sixth on the Wild’s blue-line, behind Burns, Kim Johnsson, Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky. He ranked third in the league last season with 237 blocked shots and second on the Predators with 153 hits.
Zanon played for new Wild coach Todd Richards in the AHL with Milwaukee.
“I’m excited. I think it’s a good opportunity for me, a good spot to be playing,” Zanon said in an interview posted on the team’s website. “I think it gives me a little bit of an advantage. I learned a lot from him.”
Zanon was Zidlicky’s defence partner during his first full season with the Predators.
“I like to block shots, and I like to play the body as much as I can so hopefully you see a steady guy out there who can keep the puck out of our net,” said Zanon, whose wife’s family is from the Twin Cities suburb of Hastings.