When the National Hockey League’s free agent signing period opened at noon on Monday, many fans were surprised to see a league that was relatively quiet as GMs and players alike took a wait-and-see approach.
Early on Monday, only two notable signings – Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk agreeing to terms with the Florida Panthers – were on record. The Boston Bruins’ trade for Edmonton Oiler Brad Isbister rounded out the major moves.
Things picked up Monday night, as the Columbus Blue Jackets made their first-ever major free agent signing, picking up defenseman Adam Foote from the Colorado Avalanche.
The signings and trades continued into Tuesday as the Philadelphia Flyers made the first big splash in the free agent pool, signing defensemen Derian Hatcher (Detroit Red Wings), Mike Rathje (San Jose Sharks), and Chris Therien (Dallas Stars) and resigning forward Jon Sim.
The Chicago Blackhawks picked up one of the top remaining free agent defensemen, signing Adrian Aucoin of the New York Islanders.
Shortly thereafter, the Atlanta Thrashers signed forward Bobby Holik from the New York Rangers.
In one of the more inevitable signings of the offseason, the Red Wings re-upped longtime captain Steve Yzerman, who will return to the team for at least one more season.
The Bruins continued on Monday’s moves by resigning winger Glen Murray and bringing in forwards Shawn McEachern (Atlanta) and Dave Scatchard (NY Islanders), while the Panthers continued their signings by bringing in Martin Gelinas (Calgary Flames).
Calgary moved to replace Gelinas with grinding forward Darren McCarty (Detroit) and add to an offense already boasting Jarome Iginla by signing Tony Amonte (Philadelphia).
The Los Angeles Kings broke into the free agent market by signing All-Star winger Pavol Demitra from the St. Louis Blues and AHL goaltender Jason Labarbera from the Rangers organization.
The Rangers then shored up their goaltending by resiging Kevin Weekes. They added to both offense and defense by bringing in forward Martin Straka (Los Angeles) and defenseman Marek Malik (Vancouver). Meanwhile, the cross-island rival Islanders filled the gap left by the departure of Aucoin by signing Buffalo’s Alexei Zhitnik.
The first player to depart the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning was Cory Stillman, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday evening.
The biggest move of the day was saved for late Tuesday night, as the Blues, already burdened by the contracts of Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk, traded former captain and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers for defencemen Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch, and Jeff Woywitka.