CHRIST­MAS COMES EARLY

A flurry of sign­ings whit­tled the free agent mar­ket down to scraps quicker than ever. It left just a hand­ful reg­u­lars of look­ing for work

The Hockey News - Fantasy Pool Guide - - Free Agent Watch - BY MATT LARKIN

UN­PRECE­DENTED AC­TIV­ITY SUCKED THE LEAGUE’S FREE agent pool dry by early July, and there’s a spe­cific rea­son why. The NHL pro­vided an early ne­go­ti­at­ing win­dow for con­tracts this sum­mer, mean­ing play­ers and teams could be­gin ham­mer­ing out deals in the week leading up to July 1. By the time ac­tual free agency ar­rived, a truck­load of con­tracts only needed their i’s dot­ted and t’s crossed. Teams spent more than $500 mil­lion on Day 1, an­ni­hi­lat­ing the record of $384 mil­lion set in 2009. All the big­gest fish were caught July 1, from Thomas Vanek to Paul Stastny to the wildly over­paid ex-Pen­guins ‘D’ trio of Matt Niska­nen, Brooks Or­pik and Deryk En­gel­land. The re­main­ing UFA pool con­sists mostly of spare parts, but has a few no­table names.

The one that jumps o the page is Martin Brodeur’s. The win­ningest goalie in NHL his­tory de­cided to test the open mar­ket af­ter spend­ing his en­tire ca­reer with New Jersey. But af­ter Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary, and the New York Is­lan­ders opened their wal­lets for younger starters Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak, Brodeur’s op­tions are limited.

Rugged vet­er­ans lit­ter the list of avail­able de­fense­men. A team look­ing for depth and tough­ness can reach out to Dou­glas Mur­ray, Shel­don Brook­bank or Cory Sarich. Enig­matic, tal­ented puck-mover Michael Del Zotto, just 24, will at­tract in­ter­est if the price is rea­son­able.

Re­main­ing for­wards carry ques­tion marks. Will Daniel Al­freds­son re­turn with the Wings? Can Dany Heat­ley be a 20-goal scorer again? What does Ray Whit­ney have left? How se­ri­ous are Mike Ribeiro’s o - ice prob­lems? We’ll have an­swers as the sum­mer passes.

MARTIN BRODEUR

UN­RE­STRICTED FREE AGENT

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