Brad Richards was a wanted man this off-season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
By Adam Scully
A salary cap hasn’t stopped teams from dolling out large sums of money to unrestricted free agents and 2011 has been no different. Here are the top 10 UFA contracts of this off-season ranked by total dollar amount. (We’ve included a few trade-and-sign guys even though they were never actually UFA.)
10. Jan Hejda (4 years, $13 million – Colorado Avalanche)
By signing Hejda the Avalanche helped solidify their blueline and add a veteran voice in the dressing room. The 33-year-old will also take pressure off of a young rearguard corps, led by Erik Johnson. Hejda’s play will be instrumental in improving Colorado’s penalty kill, which finished in the NHL’s basement last season.
9. Scottie Upshall (4 years, $14 million – Florida Panthers)
Panthers GM Dale Tallon started the massive overhaul of his squad by signing this injury-troubled 27-year-old journeyman. Last season, the Fort McMurray, Alta., native played in all 82 games for the first time in his career and tallied a career-best 22 goals for Phoenix and Columbus.
8. Ed Jovanovski (4 years, $16.5 million – Florida Panthers)
Jovanovski is returning to Florida where he started his career back in 1995, a season in which the Panthers lost in the Stanley Cup final to Colorado. The 35-year-old defenseman has battled the injury bug and appeared in just 50 games last season for the Coyotes. He’ll be counted on to lead a young, inexperienced blueline.
7. Erik Cole (4 years, $18 million – Montreal Canadiens)
This will be Cole’s second go of it for a team other than Carolina. Prior to the 2008-09 season, he was traded to the Oilers, but later dealt back to the Canes at the trade deadline. The Oswego, N.Y., native fills a void at power forward for the Habs.
6. Tomas Fleischmann (4 years, $18 million – Florida Panthers)
After being acquired by the Avalanche early in the 2010-11 season, the 27-year-old had 21 points in 22 games before being diagnosed with a blood clot and forced to miss the final 36 games. He has been medically cleared to return to action and will center one of the Cats’ top two lines.
5. Ville Leino (6 years, $27 million – Buffalo Sabres)
Leino will be counted on to center the Sabres’ second line. He had career-high totals last season in games played (81), goals (19), assists (34) and points (53) and could play a big role in revitalizing Jason Pominville’s career. The 27-year-old Leino has the ability to get under an opponent’s skin and is an effective penalty killer.
4. James Wisniewski (6 years, $33 million – Columbus Blue Jackets)
The Canton, Mich. native was Montreal’s offensive savior on the blueline after Andrei Markov was lost for the season in November. This season he will run the Blue Jackets’ top power play unit and combine with Jeff Carter and Rick Nash to round out a dangerous trio. Columbus ranked 29th with the man advantage in 2010-11.
3. Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million – Buffalo Sabres)
Ehrhoff will take on a leadership role with some of the Sabres young blueliners, namely Tyler Myers and Marc-Andre Gragnani. The 29-year-old former Canuck had a career-high 50 points last year and notched six power play goals.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov (9 years, $51 million – Philadelphia Flyers)
The one-time Vezina Trophy finalist averaged 33 wins during his four seasons with the Coyotes, but he could never carry that play into the post-season. Philadelphia will need him to rediscover his playoff performance from 2005-06, when he posted a 1.46 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in 11 games. If not, this move will go down as a bust.
1. Brad Richards (9 years, $60 million – New York Rangers)
The Murray Harbour, P.E.I., native was this year’s most coveted free agent, but after many teams tried to lure him with big offers he bit on the Big Apple. The 31-year-old will start the season on the Rangers top unit with Marian Gaborik. If they can both stay healthy, New York will be a scary team to play against.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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