Atlanta, Columbus join busy free agent action

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The new-look NHL has some brand new players in the free agent market.

Dishing out big contracts to big players is no longer a summertime activity limited to large-market teams. Welcome to the party, Columbus and Atlanta.

Two of the NHL's three youngest franchises jumped into the fray on a very busy Tuesday as Columbus nabbed topflight defenseman Adam Foote, and Atlanta signed rugged forward Bobby Holik.

On Monday, the first day of the free agent shopping season, only the Florida Panthers made major news when they signed forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts away from Toronto.

But several teams got in the mix on Day 2, trying to fill up their new $39 million salary cap.

''In the old system, without a salary cap, more teams would have been involved in it and who knows where the numbers would have ended up,'' Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. ''But the new system with the salary cap I think puts more teams on an equal ground because we all have the same amount of money to spend.''

Leading free agent forwards Peter Forsberg and Mike Modano and top defenseman Scott Niedermayer were still weighing offers — some that might allow them to sign for the maximum of $7.8 million for next season. No player may earn more than 20 percent of a team's salary cap.

The Philadelphia Flyers retooled their defense corps by signing Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien and trading Danny Markov to the Nashville Predators.

Hatcher agreed to a four-year deal worth $14 million, Rathje signed a five-year pact that will pay him $3.5 million per season, and Therien received a one-year deal for $500,000 — rejoining the club with whom he spent his first 10-plus NHL seasons.

All three are listed as 6-foot-5, 235 pounds — more than enough for the Flyers to beef up their blue line.

''I know the Flyers are a very good, competitive team,'' Hatcher said. ''I truly feel that they are out to win at least a Stanley Cup.''

Holik will be a needed veteran presence with the Thrashers, whose offense is led by youngsters Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.

After having his contract bought out last week by the New York Rangers, Holik signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract with Atlanta.

The Red Wings brought back their oldest player, signing captain Steve Yzerman and ensuring he will play his 22nd season in Detroit.

Yzerman's return wasn't certain. In his last game in 2004, Yzerman was struck in the face by a puck during a playoff game. He underwent surgery for a scratched cornea and multiple fractures below his left eye.

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