|Rangers, Flyers raid Sabres of co-captains in free agency|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007 15:23|
The Sabres' reign in the East might be over.|
The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers raided Buffalo of its two leaders on the first day of NHL free agency Sunday.
First Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere signed a whopping eight-year, $52 million deal with the Flyers. Then the Rangers piled on, signing the other co-captain, Chris Drury, to a five-year, $35.25 million contract.
Perhaps, it's no coincidence the Flyers and Rangers targeted Buffalo, a team that had reached and lost the Eastern Conference finals in each the past two years. Also notable, the Rangers, this past spring, and Flyers, last year, had been eliminated by the Sabres in the playoffs.
New York made an additional splash when it signed New Jersey center Scott Gomez to a seven-year, $51.5 million contract.
And earlier the Flyers had completed a four-player deal with Edmonton. Philadelphia acquired the Oilers captain, defenseman Jason Smith, and forward Joffrey Lupul in exchange for defenseman Joni Pitkanen and journeyman forward Geoff Sanderson.
Clearly, the balance of power has shifted away from the President's Trophy-winning Sabres, to their big-market rivals to the East.
In other significant deals:
-Sharks forward Joe Thornton signed a three-year, $21.6 million contract extension that keeps him up with San Jose through 2011;
-the Anaheim Ducks found a potential replacement in the event captain Scott Niedermayer retires, signing defenseman Mathieu Schneider to a two-year, $11.25 million contract;
-Detroit quickly made up for Schneider's loss by signing top-tier New Jersey defenseman Brian Rafalski to a five-year, $30 million contract.
-The Toronto Maple Leafs signed winger Jason Blake to a five-year, $20 million contract. Blake's stock rose after he scored 40 goals and 69 points - both career highs - with the New York Islanders last season.
Of the top echelon players hitting the market, only Islanders forward Ryan Smyth remained unsigned.
Briere, Gomez and Drury were considered part of that top group, and were paid that way. Briere and Gomez's contracts are structured so that both will be paid $10 million next season. Drury, meanwhile, will be making $7.1 million in each of the first two years of his deal.
Gomez is an offensively skilled player who finally gets to escape the defensive-minded Devils. His production was down last year - managing 13 goals and 47 assists for 60 points - after scoring 70 or more in each of his previous two seasons.
Drury is noted for his leadership and versatility, a talented scorer who also proved to be one of the Sabres' top penalty killers. He scored career highs with 37 goals and 69 points last season.
Briere was the top scorer available in free agency after finishing 10th in the NHL in scoring with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists).
``Danny had many offers and lots of interest out there,'' Briere's agent, Pat Brisson, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ``He is thrilled with the results.''
The Sabres, who won a league-leading 105 games over the past two seasons, won't be bereft of talent, still having a star goalie in Ryan Miller and dynamic forwards Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov. But they'll have a difficult time making up for the loss Drury and Briere, both of whom played big roles in helping the franchise rebound after declaring bankruptcy in January 2003.
Thornton will make $7.2 million in each season of the new deal, earning a raise over the $6.67 million he's to make this coming season in the final year of his current contract.
Thornton leads NHL scorers over the past two seasons - a span in which he's produced 51 goals and 188 assists for 239 points.
Thornton called the deal a no-brainer.
``There's no question I was going to re-sign there,'' Thornton said from his summer home in St. Thomas, Ontario. ``It's just a perfect fit for me. The ownership wants a winner, and we've got a great young team there. I'm looking forward to being there for a long time.''
Rafalski, a native of Dearborn, Mich., who spent his entire seven-year career with the Devils, turned down several more lucrative offers to play for his hometown team, his agent, William Zito said.
In Anaheim, Niedermayer's uncertain status forced the Ducks to go after Schneider.
``Scott Niedermayer has informed me that he is leaning toward retirement,'' Ducks general manager Brian Burke said. ``Although he has not retired and would be welcomed back, we felt adding another top NHL defenseman was critical to defending our championship. Mathieu Schneider fits into that category and will be a great addition to our team.''
Schneider will make $5.5 million this season and $5.75 million the next - an expensive contract for an 18-year veteran who turned 38 last month. Even so, Schneider continues to be productive, having scored 50 or more points in four of his past six seasons, including 52 (11 goals, 41 assists) last year.
Calgary bolstered its defense by signing Cory Sarich to five-year contract worth $18 million. An eight-year veteran, Sarich is a dependable blue-liner who spent the past four seasons with Tampa Bay. He had 15 assists in 82 games last year.
Pittsburgh secured one of its young core players, signing defenseman Ryan Whitney to a six-year contract worth $24 million. Whitney was a restricted free agent, who was open to offers from other teams, which the Penguins could match.
In only his second season last year, Whitney finished sixth among NHL defensemen with 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists).
In other deals:
-The Florida Panthers signed three players: forward Radek Dvorak to a two-year deal; center Brett McLean to a three-year $5.1 million contract; and left wing Richard Zednik to a two-year $3.25 million contract.
-The Atlanta Thrashers signed former Minnesota center Todd White to a four-year $9.5 million contract. Atlanta also re-signed forward Pascal Dupuis to a one-year deal.
-The Washington Capitals signed former Islanders defenseman Tom Poti to a four-year $3.5 million deal.
-The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenseman Barret Jackman to a one-year contract.
-Minnesota traded goalie Manny Fernandez to the Boston Bruins for prospect forward Petr Kalus and a midround draft pick. Fernandez had a 2.55 goals-against average and 91.1 save percentage in 44 games, but lost his starting job to Niklas Backstrom.
-Boston signed four-year NHL veteran Shawn Thornton, a checking line forward who had two goals and seven assists for the Ducks last season.
-Chicago signed 14-year veteran center Yanic Perreault to a one-year contract.
-Carolina signed center Jeff Hamilton to a two-year, $1.6 million contract.
-Tampa Bay signed Michel Ouellet to a two-year deal after the forward was released by Pittsburgh last week.
-Edmonton signed defensemen Dick Tarnstrom and restricted free agent Denis Grebeshkov to one-year contracts.
-New Jersey re-signed restricted free agent Johnny Oduya.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in San Jose, Calif., contributed this report.
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