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."
Drury, Gomez and Briere and winger Ryan Smyth were the top dogs in free agency as the flood gates opened.
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.
"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:
-The Atlanta Thrashers re-signed forward Pascal Dupuis to a $880,000, one-year deal. He would have been unrestricted;
-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.
-On Saturday night, Keith Tkachuk signed in St. Louis for $8 million over two years. The Blues acquired his rights from Atlanta last week. He would have been unrestricted Sunday.
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 in Russia.