Bobby Holik will try to bring his winning ways to the New York Rangers, who sorely need the help.
Holik, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils, became the NHL's first major unrestricted free agent to sign this year. He left the Devils on Monday, the first day teams could sign free agents other than their own, for New Jersey's biggest rival.
''I gave the Devils more than one chance, over the past 13 months, to sign me to a long-term contract,'' the 31-year-old center said. ''This deal was presented to me by my agent, and I didn't need to search anymore. I didn't make this decision just today. A lot of things have gone on.''
The Rangers, who have missed the playoffs five straight years, were expected to be busy on the free-agent market.
''He was an absolute priority,'' general manager Glen Sather said. ''We went at it with a lot of hard work today and got the deal done. We're happy and proud he signed with us.''
Adam Oates, who led the NHL in assists last season, earlier in the day left the Philadelphia Flyers for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
The 39-year-old Oates, a five-time All-Star and third in career assists among active players, agreed to a $3.5 million contract for 2003. There is a $3.5 million option for 2003-04. He had 14 goals and 64 assists last season for the Flyers and Washington Capitals.
''Adam Oates' leadership and offensive capabilities will be a great asset for our club,'' Ducks general manager Bryan Murray said. ''As he showed again last season, Adam is one of the premier playmakers in the league.''
The Capitals reunited forward Robert Lang with Jaromir Jagr, his former Pittsburgh Penguins linemate, by signing him to a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million. Lang, who had 18 goals and 32 assists last season, spent the last five seasons with the Penguins.
''We needed an offensive center and identified Robert Lang as the right fit for our club,'' Capitals general manager George McPhee said. ''He plays in all situations and really shoots the puck well.''
Lang had 32 goals and 48 assists two seasons ago when playing on a line with Jagr.
Other big name free agents drawing attention include forwards Tony Amonte of Chicago and Bill Guerin of Boston, longtime defenseman Chris Chelios of Detroit, and high-profile goalies, Mike Richter, Byron Dafoe, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph.
Three of the goalies -- Richter, Belfour and Joseph -- were traded over the weekend in bookkeeping deals.
The New York Rangers swapped Richter to Edmonton for future considerations. Toronto sent Joseph to Calgary for an eighth-round draft choice in 2004, and Dallas swapped Belfour to Nashville in a four-player trade.
In each case, the goalies became free agents at midnight, eligible to sign with any of the league's 30 teams. The trades enabled their former clubs to salvage something if they were unable to sign the players before the deadline. And their new teams could be eligible for draft choice compensation, depending on other signings, even though they owned rights to the goalies only briefly.
Both New York and Toronto employed the same strategy last week when the Rangers sent Theo Fleury's rights to San Jose, and the Maple Leafs shipped Tie Domi to Nashville. Both became free agents on Monday.
The trade doesn't mean Cujo, a mainstay in Toronto for four years, won't be back with the Maple Leafs. After returning from a vacation in Cuba, Joseph was set to meet with agent Don Meehan.
Joseph could be high on the shopping list of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings after the retirement of Dominik Hasek. The Wings might also be intrigued by Richter, the winningest goalie in Rangers history.
New York has not crossed the 35-year-old Richter off its list. Rookie Dan Blackburn played 31 games as his backup last season and the team seemed comfortable with that combination.
The Rangers' also had interest in Guerin, who scored 41 goals for Boston last season, and they put in an early bid for Colorado defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.
''I wouldn't say we're finished looking at trades and the free agent market,'' Sather said in announcing the Holik signing. ''We hope that we're going to be in a position to make some headway this spring.''
Amonte, who scored 27 goals for Chicago, is high on the wish list of the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders.
Meanwhile, other teams tied up some loose ends as the signing period began.
The Nashville Predators exercised contract options on forwards Vladimir Orszagh and Vitali Yachmenev, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goalie Mike Dunham and signed defenseman Robert Schabel to a contract extension.
Carolina signed forwards Ron Francis and Jeff O'Neill and defenseman Bret Hedican for a combined $36 million in the days before the deadline.
Minnesota declined to make qualifying offers to Aaron Gavey and Stacy Roest -- two original members of the team -- allowing them to become free agents. The Wild made offers to restricted free agents Ladislav Benysek, Brad Brown, Matt Johnson, Antti Laaksonen and Richard Park and can match any offers those players receive.
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