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Bouwmeester signs with Flames, Habs-Rangers swap forwards

The Canadian Press
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New York Rangers\' Scott Gomez (19) celebrates with Nigel Dawes (10), Feb. 18, 2009, in New York. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Frank Franklin II) Author: The Hockey News

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Bouwmeester signs with Flames, Habs-Rangers swap forwards

The Canadian Press
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Two Canadian general managers got a jump on free agency.

Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter came to terms with defenceman Jay Bouwmeester on Tuesday night while Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey landed a high-profile centre, acquiring Scott Gomez and his big contract from the New York Rangers for forward Chris Higgins. Neither man had any interest in waiting until Wednesday's noon ET free agent deadline to make his team better. Both made bold decisions.

Sutter acquired Bouwmeester's rights from the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick and defenceman Jordan Leopold at last weekend's entry draft. That gave him exclusive negotiating rights and the chance to hammer out a US$33-million, five-year deal.

"Jay is one of the most complete defenceman in the game, and we are very pleased to have reached an agreement that will make him an important component of the Calgary Flames success," Sutter said in a statement.

"We identified Jay as the priority player where we were going to focus our money. We wanted an opportunity a few days in advance of the deadline, and that's why we made the move we did this past weekend."

The 25-year-old Bouwmeester had spent his entire career with the Panthers and was eager to move to a more traditional hockey market.

The Gomez-Higgins deal also saw five minor-leaguers change hands - Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik were sent to the Big Apple with Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto coming back to Montreal in return.

Gainey will be using some of the salary cap room he's about to gain with several departing players - Gomez is due to earn $33.5-million over the remaining five years of his current deal.

The 29-year-old is coming off his least productive season since before the NHL lockout, having put up 58 points (16-42) in 77 games for the Rangers.

Higgins is set to become a restricted free agent on Wednesday. He earned $1.9 million last season, when he had just 12 goals and 23 points - the lowest output of his NHL career.

Meantime, you can cross the names Rob Blake and Johnny Oduya off the list of available free agents.

The veteran defenceman Blake agreed to a $3.5-million, one-year deal that will see him remain with the San Jose Sharks. That represents a $1.5-million pay cut for the 39-year-old.

Oduya got a hefty raise. The New Jersey Devils signed him to a $10.5-million, three-year extension - a big raise over the $600,000 he earned last season.

The 27-year-old would likely have been the target of free-agent offers if he had hit the open market.

In other moves Tuesday:

-New Jersey acquired minor-league centre Ben Walter and future considerations from the Islanders from prospect Tony Romano.

-Dallas re-signed veteran right-winger Jere Lehtinen to a $1.5-million, one-year deal.

-Anaheim re-signed centre Erik Christensen to a one-year deal.

Even after making the deal for Gomez, it's fair to assume that Gainey will be busy on Wednesday. Several players on his roster will be testing the open waters, but at least one of them has yet to close the door on the Habs - defenceman Mike Komisarek.

"After much discussion and thought, Mike Komisarek has decided to enter the free-agent market tomorrow at noon," Komisarek's agent Matt Keator said in a statement. "Should they desire, we intend to keep Montreal involved in the process as they have treated Mike so well during his time in the organization.

"He remains interested in re-signing with them."

Rangers GM Glen Sather might also be in the mix.

Suddenly, he has some cap room to try and make a signing or perhaps another trade. He was asked about the latter option during a conference call on Tuesday night.

"That's certainly possible," said Sather. "Since this deal has happened, I've had three calls. It doesn't take very long for people to recognize that you're going to make some changes."

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Bouwmeester signs with Flames, Habs-Rangers swap forwards