Monday, June 30, 2008

Lightning most active on eve of free agent season

On the eve of the free agent season, a number of National Hockey League teams are jockeying for position to sign their own players as well as have hopes of nabbing a big ticket player to help the fortunes of their club.

With the new ownership in place, the drafting of the #1 overall pick in this year's draft in Steven Stamkos and the hiring of Barry Melrose as their new head coach, the Tampa Bay Lightning did not wait until tomorrow to get started on signing pending free agents.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay acquired the rights to forwards Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their pursuit of the two players paid off as each officially signed with the team earlier today.

The 27-year-old Malone, who spent his first four NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, put up a career-best 51 points (27 goals and 24 assists) in the 2007-2008 campaign and had another 16 in the Penguins' first playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 16 years. His contract is for 7 years with TSN reporting it is for $31.5 million. Because the Lightning signed Malone, the Penguins receive a 2009 third round draft pick as compensation for being allowed to negotiate a contract before hitting the free agent market.

Roberts at 42 years of age, signed a one-year deal worth $1.25 million, but will also get an additional $10,000 for every regular season game he plays. If he were to play in all 82, he could make as much as $2.07 million. He only had 3 goals and 12 assists in 38 regular season games in 2007-2008, but contributed 2 goals and 2 assists during the postseason for Pittsburgh.

Late last night, the Lightning then acquired the rights to forward Brian Rolston from the Minnesota Wild for a conditional draft pick in 2009 or 2010. If Tampa Bay is unable to come to terms on a contract with Rolston before 12:00 PM tomorrow, he will enter the free agent market completely unrestricted and can sign with any of the 30 NHL teams. Returning to Minnesota remains an option for the 35-year-old despite a breakdown in negotiations last week.

After acquiring the rights to Vaclav Prospal on June 18th, the team also came to terms on a new multi-year contract today with the 33-year old forward. Rogers Sportsnet reports the deal is 4 years for a total of $14 million. Tampa Bay also made another trade with Philadelphia in which they acquired defenseman Janne Niskala for a 2009 6th round draft pick.

We are hours away from the free agent derby getting started, but to catch you up to speed on those pre-July 1st deals, I shall provide what has been done so far since May 28th.

*The Boston Bruins re-signed defenseman Mark Stuart to 2-year, $2.6 million contract.

*The Buffalo Sabres re-signed forward Paul Gaustad to a 4-year, $9.2 million contract.

*The Calgary Flames acquired forward Mike Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings in a three-team trade during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft on June 20th that also involved the Anaheim Ducks. That same day, Calgary also traded forward Alex Tanguay and their 2008 5th round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the 25th overall pick in the draft (which ended up as Greg Nemisz). Then three days ago, the Flames re-signed forwards Craig Conroy, Daymond Langkow and Eric Nystrom plus goaltender Curtis McElhinney to new contracts.

*The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed forwards Patrick Eaves (3 years, $4.2 million) and Tuomo Ruutu (1-year, $2.25 million), defenseman Tim Gleason (4 years, $11 million) and goaltender Michael Leighton (2 years, $1.2 million).

*The Chicago Blackhawks re-signed forward Andrew Ladd to 2-year, $3 million contract.

*The Colorado Avalanche re-signed defensemen John-Michael Liles (4 years, $16 million) and Adam Foote (2 years, $6 million).

*The Dallas Stars re-signed defenseman Trevor Daley (3 years, $6.9 million) and forward Loui Eriksson (2 years, $3.2 million).

*The Detroit Red Wings re-signed defenseman Andreas Lilja to a 2-year, $2.5 million contract.

*The Florida Panthers re-signed forwards Rostislav Olesz to a 6-year, $18.9 million contract and Gregory Campbell for the next two seasons.

*The Minnesota Wild acquired defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2008 3rd round draft pick and re-signed defenseman Erik Reitz for the 2008-2009 season at $500,000.

*Prior to their draft day deal in which they had acquired Tanguay, the Montreal Canadiens re-signed forward Maxim Lapierre to 2-year, $3.75 million contract.

*After re-signing defenseman Ryan Suter to a 4-year, $14 million contract, the Nashville Predators traded forward Darcy Hordichuk to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2009 5th round draft pick. With an agreement in principle for a multi-year contract with goaltender Dan Ellis, Nashville traded goaltender Chris Mason to the St. Louis Blues for a 2008 4th round draft pick (traded to the New York Rangers on draft day). The Predators would later finalize a 2-year, $3.5 million deal with Ellis and re-sign defenseman Shea Weber at 3 years for $13.5 million.

*The Ottawa Senators re-signed forward Chris Kelly to 4-year, $8.5 million contract and traded forward Brian McGrattan to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 2009 5th round draft pick.

*Following two draft day trades which sent forward R.J. Umberger to the Columbus Blue Jackets and acquired forward Steve Eminger and a 2008 3rd round draft pick from the Washington Capitals for their first round selection (ended up being forward Anton Gustafsson), the Philadelphia Flyers signed Eminger for the 2008-2009 season yesterday. Back on Sunday, they finalized a 3-year, $15 million contract to bring back forward Jeff Carter.

*Five days ago, the San Jose Sharks finalized new contracts for three of their own players. They would be forwards Joe Pavelski (2 years, $3.3 million) and Jeremy Roenick (1 year, $1.1 million) as well as goaltender Brian Boucher (1 year, $650,000). Then tonight, forward Jody Shelley re-signed for two more years.

After an active month of June, especially after the Red Wings hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads for the 11th time in their history, this is where it is crunchtime for many general managers. The next 24 hours should be interesting to see what teams sign what free agents to position themselves for next season and beyond.

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