Joe Thornton made the first splash in NHL free agency, signing a three-year contract extension Sunday worth a reported $21.6 million that will keep the forward with the San Jose Sharks through the 2011 season.
It marks a raise for Thornton, who is scheduled to make $6.67 million in the final year of his contract this coming season.
The value of the deal is significant because it will help set the market for the top players available in free agency this summer. It's a group that's headed by Buffalo Sabres co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, New Jersey Devils center Scott Gomez and defenseman Brian Rafalski, and New York Islanders forward Ryan Smyth.
All are expected to command long-term offers averaging more than $6 million a season.
That's the kind of deal Thornton received, a reward for leading NHL scorers over the past two seasons - a span in which he's produced 51 goals and 188 assists for 239 points. He finished his first complete season with the Sharks after being acquired in a deal with Boston during the 2005-06 season.
``Making sure Joe remained in San Jose was a top priority,'' general manager Doug Wilson said. ``He will be an integral part of our franchise as we march toward our goal of competing for the Stanley Cup next year and for years to come.''
Wilson had been disappointed after the Sharks were eliminated by Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.
Thornton is a four-time All-Star and scored a league-leading 125 points in the 2005-06 season.
The Atlanta Thrashers made the first significant move involving a free agent player, signing center Todd White to a four-year contract worth a reported $9.5 million. An eight-year veteran, White had 13 goals and 44 points with the Minnesota Wild last season.
Atlanta also re-signed forward Pascal Dupuis to a one-year deal. The six-year veteran had 19 points (14 goals, five assists) in 71 games split between Atlanta, Minnesota and the New York Rangers.
Most of the early deals completed involved second-tier players:
-The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenseman Barret Jackman to a one-year contract. A five-year veteran, and the Blues first-round pick in the 1999 draft, Jackman scored a career-high 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 70 games last year.
The signing came a day after the Blues re-signed center Keith Tkachuk to a two-year deal, after the veteran forward was scheduled to become a free agent.
-There was one trade completed Sunday, when Minnesota traded goalie Manny Fernandez to the Boston Bruins for 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.
Fernandez and Backstrom combined to win the William Jennings Trophy, awarded to goalies on the team that gives up the fewest goals.
The Wild picked up the Bruins' fourth-round pick in 2009 and the 20-year-old Kalus, a 2005 second-round pick by the Bruins who is considered a top prospect. He had four goals and an assist in nine games with Boston last season. In 43 games with Providence of the AHL, the Czech native scored 13 goals and had 30 points.
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