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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No place like home for two free agents

Briere goes to Habs, Elias stays in Jersey

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DANNY Briere's heading home to his native Quebec. Patrik Elias is staying in New Jersey.

And leave it to the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars to steal the headlines Thursday by completing a blockbuster trade a day before the start of the NHL's free agency period. In exchanging seven players, the rebuilding Stars acquired forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley in exchange for veteran forward Loui Eriksson.

The trade should be a benefit to the Bruins in their approach to free agency. They were able to clear about $4.75 million in space under the salary cap, which they can use to add and re-sign players.

Otherwise, the list of high-profile free agents continued to shrink even before the official signing period begins at noon Friday. Briere and Elias became the latest to be taken off a market that's already minus Vincent Lecavalier, who signed with Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Briere signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. A person familiar with Briere's contract revealed the value of the deal, speaking to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Canadiens did not disclose that figure.

It's a homecoming of sorts for the French Canadian, who grew up in Gatineau, Quebec, and spent his junior career in Drummondville. Briere, a seven-time 25-goal scorer, became a free agent after the Flyers bought out the two remaining years on his contract.

The Devils re-signed Elias to a three-year, $16.5 million deal, locking up the franchise's career goals and points leader before he was eligible to test the market. He has spent his entire 15-year career with the Devils, during which he has amassed 375 goals, 555 assists and 930 points in 1,090 career games.

Elias has also led the Devils in points eight times, including this past season when he finished with 36 (14 goals, 22 assists) in 48 games.

New Jersey also re-signed veteran forward Dainius Zubrus to a three-year, $9.3 million contract. A second person familiar with the contract revealed the terms of Zubrus' deal on the condition of anonymity because the Devils didn't disclose those numbers.

Defenceman Keith Ballard didn't wait long to find a new team. Not long after having the final two years of his contract bought out by Vancouver, Ballard agreed to a two-year deal with Minnesota on Thursday.

Other teams were busy taking advantage of their final opportunity to free up salary cap space.

Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski headed a list of five players that were placed on unconditional waivers with the intention of having their contracts bought out.

"It was not an easy decision to make as Mikhail made numerous contributions to our hockey club," Toronto general manager Dave Nonis said. "This is a roster move that will give us salary cap flexibility moving forward."

The Maple Leafs' decision to waive Grabovski came after they signed him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract in March.

New Jersey goalie Johan Hedberg, Colorado defenceman Greg Zanon, Nashville defenceman Hal Gill and Edmonton centre Eric Belanger were also placed on unconditional waivers and are eligible to have their contracts bought out. The person who revealed Zubrus' contract number provided the list of players on the condition of anonymity because the NHL does not release that list.

Players who have contracts bought out on compliance buyouts don't count against the salary cap. They do receive two-thirds of their remaining salary spread out over double the years left on the deals.

Grabovski is a three-time 20-goal scorer, but he is coming off an inconsistent season in which he had nine goals and seven assists in 48 games. His best season came with Toronto in 2010-11 when he had 29 goals and 29 assists in 81 games.

The Maple Leafs' decision to free up cap space is a clear sign they intend to be aggressive in free agency to continue improving a team coming off its first playoff appearance since 2004. The Leafs were knocked out by Boston in a seven-game, first-round series.

Devils goalie Johan Hedberg's release adds yet another veteran goalie to a growing list of free agents at that position.

It is a group that includes Tim Thomas, who is exploring the possibility of a comeback after taking a season off; Rick DiPietro, whose contract was bought out by the New York Islanders; and Ilya Bryzgalov, whose contract was bought out by the Flyers.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 C4

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