After two days of inactivity on the NHL’s free agent front, the silence was finally broken Thursday with four major signings and a three-way trade.
The free agent market opened one minute after midnight on Tuesday morning but the only major move made between then and Thursday was Philadelphia’s signing of goaltender Jeff Hackett from the Boston Bruins.
Thursday, some of the big-name free agents finally found homes as teams finally opened up their checkbooks. The Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings were the big spenders of the day, both picking up players in an attempt to claim one more Stanley Cup before the NHL lockout expected to begin in the summer of 2004.
Colorado bolstered an already impressive forward corps with the addition of former teammates Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.
Kariya, embittered by the fact that Anaheim, the team he captained for many years, failed to make him a qualifying offer, signed with the Avalanche for only $1.2 million for one season. Selanne also signed a one-year deal, reportedly worth $5.8 million. Both players accepted less than their market value for the chance to play together and compete for the Cup.
Detroit began their attempt to shift to a more defense-minded system with the signing of former Dallas captain Derian Hatcher. Hatcher, a native of the Detroit area, did not receive an offer from the Stars before accepting the Red Wings’ five year deal. The contract is reportedly worth $30 million over its lifetime.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made the first foray into big free agency spending in franchise history, signing tough checking forward Todd Marchant away from the Edmonton Oilers. Marchant was coveted by many teams, including the usually-big-spending New York Rangers, but accepted less money from the Blue Jackets than he had demanded from the Broadway Blueshirts.
After the free agent deals of the day were done, a trade shook up the rosters of three NHL teams.
Colorado, desparate to find roster space for Kariya and Selanne, dealt center Steve Reinprect to the Buffalo Sabres for defensive prospect Keith Ballard. The Sabres then packaged Reinprect with blueliner Rhett Warrener in a deal with the Calgary Flames for former Avalanche center Chris Drury and center Steve Begin.
The long summer still has time for the many star free agents available to find a home. Sergei Fedorov, who has announced that he will not return to the Red Wings, is reportedly in talks with several teams. Rangers captain Mark Messier and top defenseman Brian Leetch are both still available. Detroit’s Luc Robitaille and Anaheim’s Adam Oates are also still on the market.