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Wild free agency: Goodbye Gaborik, hello Havlat

Martin Havlat signed a six-year contract with the Minnesota Wild on the first day of free agency Wednesday.(Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- On the day Marian Gaborik left Minnesota for good, the Wild signed free-agent right wing Martin Havlat to fill the big hole in their lineup

The Wild signed Havlat, Chicago's leading scorer last season with 77 points, to a six-year contract late Wednesday night. Gaborik signed earlier with the New York Rangers, leaving the Wild for a five-year, $37.5 million deal.

Havlat became expendable in Chicago when the Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa away from Detroit with a 12-year, $62.8 million contract.

Havlat had 29 goals and 48 assists in 81 regular-season games last season and added five goals and 10 assists in 16 playoff games.

Once the New York Rangers got out from under Scott Gomez's expensive contract, they turned to Gaborik and gave him the money they suddenly saved.

One day after trading Gomez and the five years and $33.5 million left on his contract to the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers signed the 27-year-old Gaborik.

"He is an exciting guy to watch play," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said Wednesday night. "He can skate and does a lot of great things. He's a great player and he's young. I certainly think he's in the top 10 in this league."

Gaborik was the only remaining player from the Wild's original team, and was the club's first draft pick nine years ago. He is the Wild's career-leading scorer.

After netting a career-high 42 goals in the 2007-08 season with the Wild, he was limited to 17 games last season due to injuries.

He still managed to score 13 goals in that span. Gaborik has scored at least 30 goals in five of his eight NHL seasons.

Sather said the Rangers talked with doctors who performed Gaborik's hip surgery that kept him off the ice most of last season. The doctor is confident he will be back in top shape in New York.

"He is very healthy," Sather said. "Mario Lemieux had the surgery that he had. We don't expect that there are going to be any problems."

Offense was a big problem for the Rangers last season and led to their first-round playoff elimination against Washington when they blew a 3-1 series lead. Only the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference scored fewer regular-season goals than the Rangers' 210.

New coach John Tortorella, who took over for the fired Tom Renney in February, lamented the lack of scoring punch in the postseason and plans to fully implement a hard-charging attack next season.

Gaborik is now at the forefront of the Rangers' offense. He already proved he could score under the defensive-style system run by former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire.

"We had to wait until today before we talked to Gaborik, but I had a pretty good idea that he was interested in coming to New York," Sather said. "It took us a long time to get the deal done, but we're very happy and excited that we got him signed.

"There was more balls than that in the air, but Gaborik was the guy that we targeted from the beginning."

Just when the slowing global economy figured to put a crimp in spending for NHL free agents, Hossa hit the open market again.

And instead of taking a discount on a one-year deal to take a shot at a Stanley Cup title, Hossa cashed in a megadeal with the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

It was the headline move on the typically busy first day of free-agent shopping.

The New York Rangers landed the second biggest prize of the day with Gaborik once the Rangers couldn't complete a trade with the Ottawa Senators for disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.

Heatley was still in limbo late Wednesday night, and was due a $4 million bonus payment from whatever team he was a member of at midnight.

The NHL salary cap rose only $100,000 from last season to $56.8 million.

With concerns that the financial crisis could strike the league harder this season, and force the 2010-11 cap to drop, the belief was teams would be more cautious about entering into long-term deals.

The Blackhawks didn't seem too concerned, and will absorb a $5.23 million cap hit on Hossa's contract.

"We haven't used the (unrestricted free-agent market) that often because it's when you get the most onerous contracts with the most unfavorable term," San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "I've used the term irrational exuberance that takes place at this time of year."

Hossa left the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins last summer to join the defending champion Detroit Red Wings -- saying he believed that gave him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. But the Penguins dethroned the Red Wings last month in the rematch, leaving Hossa in second place again.

"Now I don't have to worry about dealing with it year to year. I'm set for 12 years. That will make it easier and I can focus on hockey," Hossa said.

Hossa is joining the Blackhawks, his fourth team since 2008, and their stable of young stars headlined by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

With Hossa in place in Chicago, Havlat signed a six-year deal with Minnesota late Wednesday to replace Gaborik. The Blackhawks also let go of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, watching him sign a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

"We were just unable to get a deal done with Marty," Chicago general manager Dale Tallon said. "It was 11:01 and we decided to go in a different direction. The important thing we're doing is to keep the core together. So this deal was important to get done at this term to help us in the future solidify that core group. ... I wish Marty and Nik all the best. We're turning the page and moving forward."

The action got started even before noon (EDT), when teams were first allowed to negotiate with free agents from other teams.

After marathon negotiations in Sweden, the Vancouver Canucks finally reached matched deals to retain identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin -- the team's leading scorers last season with 82 points.

Right before the pair reached the open market, they each signed five-year, $30.5 million contracts.

"We really like it in Vancouver and that's where we wanted to stay," Henrik said.

Defenseman Mattias Ohlund couldn't say the same as he left the Canucks after 11 seasons to sign a seven-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The 32-year-old native of Sweden played in 770 NHL games with the Canucks and is the team's career leader in goals by a defenseman with 93. The Sedins are now the longest-tenured players with Vancouver.

The Montreal Canadiens were busy for a second straight day, signing former Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri to a five-year, $30 million deal, and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill. Spacek left the Buffalo Sabres for a three-year, $11.5 million contract, and Gill was lured away from the Penguins by a two-year contract worth $4.5 million.

They completed their spending binge by nabbing forward Brian Gionta from the New Jersey Devils with a five-year, $25 million contract.

Combined with Tuesday's six-player trade that brought center Scott Gomez to the Canadiens from the New York Rangers, Montreal is on the hook for contracts worth $107.8 million. Gomez, a former teammate of Gionta's in New Jersey, has five years left on his deal with a cap charge of $7.35-million per season.

However, the Canadiens didn't retain defenseman Mike Komisarek, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto also added much-needed toughness by agreeing to terms with former Rangers enforcer Colton Orr on a four-year, $4 million deal. New York wasted little time in replacing him with former Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear, the NHL's most-feared fighter.

In other moves:

--Star defenseman Scott Niedermayer made his return to the Anaheim Ducks official by agreeing to a one-year, $6 million deal plus bonuses.

--The Florida Panthers reached a six-year contract extension with young forward David Booth, who was a restricted free agent, and inked former New Jersey Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen to a three-year deal.

--The New York Islanders pried 39-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson away from the Edmonton Oilers, giving them an experienced backup who could step into the top spot if Rick DiPietro is still injured. Roloson received a two-year, $5 million contract.

--Steve Begin left Dallas Stars and joined the Boston Bruins.

--Forward Erik Cole re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes for two years, $5.8 million.

--Defenseman Andy Greene stayed with New Jersey, signing a two-year contract worth $1.475 million. But forward Mike Rupp left the Devils and agreed to a two-year, $1.6 million contract with the Penguins.

--Forward Steve Sullivan re-signed with Nashville for two years, $7.5 million.

The Capitals filled the void created by Viktor Kozlov's departure for Russia, by signing former Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Knuble to a two-year deal worth $5.6 million. He can take Kozlov's spot on the wing alongside star forward Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom.

"I know what I do well," Knuble said. "I complement players. I've been able to be successful and they've been able to be successful."

Philadelphia moved to replace him by signing rugged forward Ian Laperriere away from the Colorado Avalanche. The Flyers also brought back goalie Brian Boucher, who is expected to back up newly acquired Ray Emery.