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Five unforgettable NHL free agent sagas

Jared Clinton
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Shea Weber (Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Five unforgettable NHL free agent sagas

Jared Clinton
By:

The NBA’s free agent saga surrounding DeAndre Jordan has taken the sports world by storm. While nothing of its ilk has happened in the NHL, hockey’s biggest league hasn’t been spared controversy during its free agent period, including one player going public with his unhappiness over how his situation was handled.

The NBA may have just gone through one of the most interesting free agent scenarios in league history, but the NHL has had some of its own.

For those who don’t follow the NBA, the free agent situation regarding DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks reached infamous status Wednesday evening.

In a nutshell, the NBA’s negotiation period leaves a window of several days for free agents to discuss, and potentially commit, to contracts with teams. Jordan, a free agent who had previously played with for Clippers, had intended to sign with the Mavericks, but changed his mind at some point in the past week, leading to him reneging on a potential deal with Dallas to head back to Los Angeles. All Thursday, it has been the talk of the sports world.

While the NHL free agency period doesn’t quite allow for situations such as Jordan’s to occur, it doesn’t mean the league hasn’t had its own major storylines happen thanks to the signing season. Here are five examples from the past 15 years:

Selanne, Kariya head to Colorado as “package deal” – July 3, 2003

During the late-1990s and into the early-2000s, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks had one of the most formidable duos in the NHL in Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya. Linemates on the ice and good friends away from the rink, the duo both became free agents at the same time in 2003 after Selanne declined an option to renew his contract with the San Jose Sharks.

With both on the open market, the two decided they wanted more than money. They could get that anywhere and both had more than enough. According to a 2003 report, Selanne’s declined option was worth $6.5 million, while Karyia earned $10 million in his final season in Anaheim. Instead, the pair wanted a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, something that had eluded them to that point in their careers. As such, they went to Colorado as a package deal, taking sizeable paycuts to make it happen.

“When we both became free agents, we made a hockey decision,'' Kariya said at the time. ''We both said, 'Forget about the money, where's the place we want to play?' And Colorado jumped out at both of us immediately. So we made things work monetarily.''

To work things out monetarily, Kariya took a $1.2 million contract and Selanne signed for $5.8 million. While Selanne’s pay cut wasn’t quite as large as Kariya’s, it helped the Avalanche sign both and take a shot at winning. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out, as the Minnesota Wild, in what remains one of the most unthinkable playoff defeats in recent memory, ousted Colorado in the first round in seven games.

Suter, Parise take big money, sign long-term with Wild – July 4, 2012

At the time of free agency opening in 2012, two of the biggest names on the free agent market, by far, were Ryan Suter, formerly of the Nashville Predators, and Zach Parise, who had finished his deal with the New Jersey Devils.

It had been thought, for quite some time, that Parise had some interest in playing for the Minnesota Wild, in the same state where his father, J.P., had played for much of his career. As for Suter, much of the speculation surrounded a potential move to Detroit, where he would become the heir to the vacated throne of defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who had retired at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

The league was met with a big swerve, however, when the Wild not only signed Parise, but also brought Suter into the fold. The two biggets names on the market were scooped up on matching, monster deals that see them paid $98 million over the next 13 seasons.

Before either could take the ice for their first regular season competition with the Wild, the 2012-13 season was put on hold thanks to a lockout. By January 2013, however, both were in the Minnesota lineup to start the next chapter of their career.

Weber inks 14-year, $100 million offer sheet with Philadelphia – July 19, 2012

When Suter signed with the Wild, it put the Predators in the difficult position of needing to assure they could sign restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber. Weber, arguably the better of the two Predators star blueliners, was in a contract dispute with Nashville, who were a budget team trying to break the bank to sign Weber.

With the Predators and Weber at an impasse, however, the Philadelphia Flyers swooped in to try and land arguably the top free agent of the 2012 crop in Weber. They offered the Predators defenseman a whopping 14-year, $100 million deal, which he signed. With the RFA offer sheet inked by Weber, the Predators had one week to decide if they would match the deal or let Weber walk and take the compensatory draft picks.

"We had to take a long look at it,” Weber’s agent, Jarett Bousquet, said at the time. “It was a hard decision, but Shea wants to give himself the best opportunity to win, as well as work under the conditions of the current collective bargaining agreement."

It took five days before the Predators made what they called, “"the most important hockey transaction in franchise history,” matching Philadelphia’s offer sheet and retaining Weber’s services.

Havlat rips Blackhawks after Chicago signs Hossa – July 1, 2009

After two consecutive seasons in the Stanley Cup final without taking home the Cup, Marian Hossa was looking for a permanent home and landed on a 12-year, $62.8 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. All good and well, right? Not quite.

In order to sign Hossa, the Blackhawks had to make a tough decision: retain the services of Martin Havlat, who had been the team’s highest scorer the year prior, or move on without him. According to reports, the contract talks between Havlat and Chicago didn’t go as planned which led then-Chicago GM Dale Tallon to pursue Hossa and leave Havlat looking for a deal elsewhere.

To say Havlat was displeased would be an understatement. The evening following the opening of free agency, Havlat signed a six-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, but took to Twitter to let his feelings on the situation in Chicago be known.

“There's something to be said for loyalty and honor,” Havlat wrote. “Lot's of people are telling me to stay quiet but shouldn't the fans know the truth? It's your loyalty, season ticket money and emotions here.”

Eventually, TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke with Havlat, at which point the disgruntled winger said he was shown the door thanks not to GM Dale Tallon, whom Havlat referred to as a second father, but by team president John McDonough.

“My negotiation with Chicago was not between Dale and my agent, it was between Dale and McDonough,” Havlat told Dreger (as preserved by Puck Daddy.) “Why? Because McDonough couldn't stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Finals in 3 short years.”

Kovalchuk has circumventing contract struck down by league – July 20, 2012

Eventually, Ilya Kovalchuk became a New Jersey Devil, but it took quite some time before it finally came to pass.

In 2010, the Devils were looking to ink the Russian sniper to a long-term deal and believed they had finally settled on one when they came to a 17-year, $102 million pact. However, shortly after being signed, the deal was shot down by the NHL as circumvention of the salary cap because the contract was so heavily front-loaded.

Once the deal was shot down, the NHLPA filed a grievance on Kovalchuk’s behalf, but an arbitrator in the case still shot the deal down. After being shot down, the league and NHLPA began to work on a way to find a fit for Kovalchuk in New Jersey. Eventually, the agreement came down, and Kovalchuk inked a 15-year, $100 million deal that paid $90 million over the first 10 years of the contract and dove in salary for the final five.

In retrospect, the saga was all for naught, as before Kovalchuk could come even close to playing out the full length of the deal he retired from the NHL. His retirement came as a way to get out from under his contract, which he did in order to sign a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, leaving roughly $77 million on the table with the Devils.

Kovalchuk’s contract put an end to the long-term, back diving deals which players such as Hossa, Marc Savard, Chris Pronger and Roberto Luongo had previously signed.

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Five unforgettable NHL free agent sagas