Thursday, July 2, 2009

NHL FA Opens / Gaborik Departs / Wild Add Zanon, Havlat

The beginning of the NHL's free agency season was eventful, and the Minnesota Wild took major steps toward getting better. And, they're not done yet.

The day started quickly with the Sedin Twins opting to stay in Vancouver (5 years, $30.5M each). It also became clear that the Wild was out of the mix for Marian Gaborik, who opted for a 5 year, $37.5M deal with the NY Rangers. The deal ended Gaborik's run with the Wild. The team's first-ever draftee leaves as the leader in every offensive category, but his injury-filled past also remains fresh in fans' - and management's - collective mind.

Other prominent free agents landed throughout the day, including Mike Cammalleri to Montreal, Mike Komisarek to Toronto, Marian Hossa with a huge deal in Chicago (12 years), Nikolai Khabibulin to Edmonton, among others. The Wild were quiet initially, but waited to make their move.

The first move was to sign free agent defenseman Greg Zanon of Nashville (3 years, $5.8M). The 29-year-old rearguard played in all 82 games with the Predators last season, racked up 11 points, and was +8. He has played three full seasons in the NHL - all with Nashville - and is a defensive specialist. Zanon was trained at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and also played in the AHL for new coach Todd Richards in Milwaukee. The familiarity of Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher (a former Milwaukee GM and Nashville assistant GM) played a large part in this signing. Zanon provides stability defensively and frees up guys like Brent Burns to challenge from the blue line.

The big move, however, was the signing of Chicago forward Martin Havlat to a 6-year, $30M contract late Wednesday evening, a record contract for the team. Havlat was deemed expendable after the Hawks signed Hossa earlier in the day. The 6-2, 217 lb. right winger notched 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) in 81 games for the Blackhawks last season, and was an impressive +29. In the playoffs, Havlat chipped-in another 5 goals, 10 assists, and 15 points in 16 contests. The 28-year-old Havlat was the Ottawa Senators' first round pick (26th overall) in 1999, and just completed his 8th NHL season. In 470 NHL contests, Havlat has 169 career goals, 227 assists, and 396 points, and is a collective +87.

Havlat is the dynamic scorer the Wild coveted and his fast-skating style fits along with Richards' up-tempo system. The knock on Havlat over the years is his health. Before his healthy 2008-09 campaign, he played only 109 of a possible 246 regular season games due to injuries, but the Wild is banking on his being healthy.

In the linked piece above from Michael Russo, it appears the Wild is not done. The team is apparently still in negotiations with Montreal captain Saku Koivu. His brother, Mikko, is a Wild stalwart, and adding the veteran center is exactly what the Wild needs. The team also is apparently in negotiations with Pittsburgh forward Ruslan Fedotenko. It also need to add a defenseman, and the names of Francois Beauchamin, Rob Scuderi, and Jordan Leopold have been floated as possibilities. Even with the signings of Zanon and Havlat, the Wild still has plenty of money available in this marketplace.

Having Gaborik leave on the same day the Wild got better is bittersweet. When healthy, Gaborik is simply among the game's best talents. The knock on him is health, and those questions follow him to New York. He and his agent, Ron Salcer, turned down the Wild's offer of 10 years, $78.5M last season and he signed with the Rangers for half the time and half the money. I wonder if he'll regret that decision? Still, Wild fans must remember fondly the numbers Gaborik put up here and wonder why the team never provided him with the top line center he so needed.

The team is not done, but the Wild took steps toward getting much better on Wednesday. They needed to, as divisional rivals Calgary (signed Jay Bouwmeester long-term and will pay him and four others - Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla, and Olli Jokinen a combined $34.6M next season - thanks to Islanders Point Blank's Chris Botta for that fact) and Edmonton (signed Khabibulin) improved. Thursday could be another productive day, so stay tuned for updates.

Jacko Fix: Today's Michael Jackson selection, for your listening and viewing pleasure.

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