Sports

Day after spending spree, NHL free-agent auction slows considerably

Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray joked that he has run out of spending money two days into NHL free agency.

Most of his fellow executives appeared to be in the same boat Wednesday.

The frenzy of high-priced signings and big-name trades that took place to open the league’s annual summer signing period on Tuesday, slowed to a trickle a day later.

“I’m not surprised,” Murray said, a day after he committed $46.38 million in salaries to sign four free agents. “Nobody’s in a rush today because they’re taking stock of what happened yesterday.”

There were a few notable signings that took place on Wednesday.

The New York Islanders made the biggest splash by signing forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to four-year contracts. Grabovski’s deal is worth $20 million, while Kulemin will make $16.75 million.

The Nashville Predators, who failed a day earlier in a bid to acquire center Jason Spezza in a trade with Ottawa, made an addition by signing veteran center Olli Jokinen to a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

Forward Chris Bourque is back in the NHL after agreeing to a deal with the New York Rangers. The son of Hall of Fame defenseman Rene Bourque, split last season playing in Russia and Switzerland.

And the New Jersey Devils re-signed fourth-line linemates, forwards Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta.

Just as notable was the list of players – many of them aging veterans – still on the market.

It’s a group that included Martin Brodeur, the league’s all-time winningest goalie, forwards Radim Vrbata, Dany Heatley, Mike Ribeiro, David Legwand, Ville Leino and Steve Ott.

Murray had considered bringing back Ott, Buffalo’s former captain, who was traded to St. Louis in February. But Murray’s interest waned after addressing the Sabres’ leadership needs by signing former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, and acquiring defenseman Josh Gorges in a trade with Montreal.

“I don’t know if he’s a possibility,” said Murray, who spoke with Ott’s agent on Tuesday night. “I said, ‘There’s still interest but I can’t certainly tell you not to pursue other things.’ ”

Saku Koivu also is available, but the forward’s future is uncertain after Anaheim decided not to re-sign him.

“Saku has not made a decision about his plans for next season, and is considering his options to continue his NHL career,” Koivu’s agent, Jeffrey Kowall, wrote in an email.

The Islanders were the busiest team Wednesday, as they also signed forward Cory Conacher, who split last season between Ottawa and Buffalo.

The 30-year-old Grabovski is a dependable two-way forward who had 13 goals and 22 assists in 58 games with Washington last season. The 27-year-old Kulemin had spent the previous six seasons with Toronto, where he had 84 goals and 111 assists in 421 career games.

In Nashville, Jokinen fills an immediate need on a team that has lacked offensive punch.

The 35-year-old is a seven-time 20-goal-scorer, who had 18 goals and 25 assists in 82 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season.

“Olli Jokinen is a proven veteran center who will provide us with size, leadership and offensive ability in the tough Central Division and Western Conference,” general manager David Poile said.

The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Steve Downie to a one-year, $1 million deal, a day after signing four players.

The Philadelphia Flyers signed defenseman Nick Schultz to a one-year deal. The 31-year-old had five assists in 69 games last season split between Edmonton and Columbus.

And the San Jose Sharks added former Sabres enforcer John Scott, by signing the forward to a one-year contract.

In Buffalo, the Sabres focused their attention on formally welcoming Gionta, a day after he signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal. It’s a homecoming for Gionta, who is from nearby Rochester. And he is part of a rebuilding plan in Buffalo (21-51-10), which is coming off a last-place finish.

“By no means am I going to come here and work miracles,” the 35-year-old Gionta said. “The first step is trying to get to the playoffs. And I’m excited about being able to be part of that turnaround.”



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