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Vinny flies to Philly

VINCENT Lecavalier jumped to the front of the NHL free agency class Tuesday, signing a reportedly five-year, $22.5-million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Other names injecting intrigue into the annual game of musical players were ex-Flyers Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov.

The Lecavalier 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 and landing in Minnesota.

"The depth isn't what it has been in past years, but there are some very good players available," Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. "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 unexpectedly became 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 Wednesday 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 The Associated Press, "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.

Free agent forward Nathan Horton, who helped Boston to the Stanley Cup final, is planning to visit with 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 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."

Letang still swimming

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins locked up another elite young player long term, announcing Tuesday they had agreed to terms with defenceman Kris Letang.

A finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman, Letang received an eight-year, $58-million contract extension. He would have entered the final season of an existing contract that carried an annual salary-cap hit of $3.5 million. That will now jump to $7.25 beginning in 2014-15, before Letang was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

Stars sign forwards

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars have re-signed forwards Lane MacDermid and Luke Gazdic to one-year contracts.

MacDermid was acquired as part of a trade that sent Jaromir Jagr to Boston. The 23-year-old scored his first career NHL goal with the Stars and had two goals and nine penalty minutes in six games.

Gazdic had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 59 games with the Texas Stars. It was the 23-year-old Gazdic's fourth season with Dallas' AHL affiliate.

Sacco joins Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston added NHL experience to his new staff by hiring Joe Sacco on Tuesday.

Sacco is a former NHL player who spent the past four seasons as the Colorado Avalanche coach before being fired in April after the team missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

Sacco had a 130-134-40 record and was an NHL coach of the year finalist in 2010 after leading the Avalanche to the playoffs in his first season.

Comeau likes Jackets' fit

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed forward Blake Comeau to a one-year contract extension through next season.

The 27-year-old Comeau was acquired on April 3 from Calgary for a fifth-round pick in Sunday's draft. He totalled six goals and six assists in 42 games during the season, including two goals and three assists and a plus-five rating in nine games with the Blue Jackets.

Galiardi dons Flames uni

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames have acquired forward T.J. Galiardi from the San Jose Sharks for a fourth-round draft pick in 2015.

The Flames signed the Calgary native to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million. He was due to become a restricted free agent.

Flames general manager Jay Feaster says he wanted Galiardi for his size and versatility.

"He can play left-wing or centre, he competes hard, is a very good energy player and he is only 25 years old," Feaster said in a statement Tuesday.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2013 D4

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