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Lecavalier boosts, then bolts, NHL free-agent class

  • FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

    FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

  • FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

    FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

  • FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2013 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier  moves down the ice against the New York Rangers in an NHL hockey game in Tampa, Fla.  A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

    FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2013 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier moves down the ice against the New York Rangers in an NHL hockey game in Tampa, Fla. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

  • Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton (18) wears a Massachusetts State Police hat during warm ups before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in Boston.  (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

    Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton (18) wears a Massachusetts State Police hat during warm ups before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

  • Russia's goalies Semyon Varlamov, left,  and Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Alexander Radulov, right. stand dejected after their 3-8 loss to USA after  the 2013 Ice Hockey IIHF World Championships Group B Quarterfinal match Russia vs USA in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday  May 16, 2013. (AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA / Martti Kainulainen) FINLAND OUT

    Russia's goalies Semyon Varlamov, left, and Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Alexander Radulov, right. stand dejected after their 3-8 loss to USA after the 2013 Ice Hockey IIHF World Championships Group B Quarterfinal match Russia vs USA in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday May 16, 2013. (AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA / Martti Kainulainen) FINLAND OUT

  • FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
  • FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere (48) sits on the bench during the third period in Game 1 of the opening-round of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
  • FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2013 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier  moves down the ice against the New York Rangers in an NHL hockey game in Tampa, Fla.  A modest crop of NHL free agents got a boost when Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere joined the market when their former employers decided to buy them out of their contracts.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
  • Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton (18) wears a Massachusetts State Police hat during warm ups before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in Boston.  (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
  • Russia's goalies Semyon Varlamov, left,  and Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Alexander Radulov, right. stand dejected after their 3-8 loss to USA after  the 2013 Ice Hockey IIHF World Championships Group B Quarterfinal match Russia vs USA in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday  May 16, 2013. (AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA / Martti Kainulainen) FINLAND OUT

Vincent Lecavalier, Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov injected some intrigue into NHL free agency.

So much so that Lecavalier kicked off the annual signing period yesterday, three days before it officially began, by signing a multiyear contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The deal reflects the impact the addition of several veterans, who had their contracts bought out, have made in boosting interest in a free-agent crop that lacked star power a year after Ryan Suter and Zach Parise created a buzz by hitting the market.

Lecavalier was able to shop around early because he was bought out.

“The depth isn’t what it has been in past year, but there are some very good players available,” Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press yesterday. “It’s a different situation, though, with the lower cap so it’ll be interesting to see what this crop of free agents gets both in terms of salary and years.”

The NHL’s salary cap will be $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, a total significantly less than the $70.2 million in contracts teams could have on the books during the lockout-delayed season.

Lecavalier became unexpectedly available after the Tampa Bay Lightning bought out the contract of their 33-year-old captain last week. The Flyers did the same by cutting ties with Briere, a 35-year-old forward, and Bryzgalov, a 33-year-old goaltender.

Potential free agents such as forward Mike Ribeiro, who appears to have passed on re-signing with Washington, or other players who weren’t welcomed back, will hit the market today for the first of a two-day interview period before any deals can be signed.

“It’s great to have players out there,” Detroit Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock told AP, “but you have to have money to spend.”

With Lecavalier now off the market, Briere and Bryzgalov come into full focus. For now, though, their former team – Philadelphia – has secured the most marketable player out there.

The Dallas Stars were interested in Lecavalier, as well, but as General Manager Jim Nill had indicated: “So are probably 28 other teams. It’ll come down to money and fit.”

Lecavalier, who also spoke with Boston over the weekend, didn’t mesh with Tampa Bay’s plans, or at least his contract didn’t with seven years and $45 million remaining on it.

By buying out the player they selected No. 1 in the 1998 draft, the Lightning saved more than $7.7 million cap space for the upcoming season. The move cost them $32 million over 14 years because he is due two-thirds the value of his deal spread over twice the term of the contract.

Now, it’s time for teams that missed out on Lecavalier to re-evaluate their plans.

Free-agent forward Nathan Horton, who helped Boston to the Stanley Cup finals, is planning to visit with at least a few suitors over the next few days. And Briere is expected to explore his options by phone.

Briere scored just six goals and had a mere 16 points in 34 games last season, but he’s just two years removed from a 34-goal, 34-assist year. In Philadelphia, Briere had two seasons left on a $52 million, eight-year contract. And Bryzgalov was just two years into his $51 million, nine-year deal.

Briere’s agent, Pat Brisson, said about 15 teams already contacted him to express an interest and his client is looking forward to a fresh start with a Stanley Cup-contending franchise.

“He still has a lot in his tank,” Brisson told AP. “So it’s an opportunity for him.”

Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said Briere, a former Sabre who he called a “very capable” player, won’t have a problem finding employment this offseason.

And looking ahead to next season, when players such as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek might become free agents, Regier is among the GMs looking into all options to make his team better now and later.

Are the Sabres shopping?

“It would be fair to characterize that I’m actively finding out what the market place is like,” Regier said. “And it’s not limited to those two players.”

Free agency won’t be limited to the bought-out bunch. In addition to Horton and Ribeiro, there are other unrestricted forwards like Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, Jarome Iginla, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson and Pascal Dupuis – unless any of them signed with their old teams by the end of yesterday.

“It’s rare to find a star in his prime in free agency because those guys get signed to long-term contracts before they can hit the market,” Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. “But there are some secondary players and some past-their-prime guys that are battling father time that can help you.”

Perhaps the Flyers just found one.

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