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NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Free-Agent Acquisitions of the Millennium

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIOctober 25, 2016

NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Free-Agent Acquisitions of the Millennium

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    Some teams were not very active in free agency this offseason, even when making improvements. The San Jose Sharks, for instance, went the route of trading for players.

    It may seem like a trade is a worse idea since you have to give something up to get your return. However, history says otherwise, especially in the salary cap era when any salary taken is surrendering something (cap space).

    In fact, it was hard to find 10 players in the entire decade who were major free-agent signings. To me, to be a major free agent one must be among the top four forwards, two defencemen or the primary goalie on that team during a season that results in a Stanley Cup within the first three seasons with the new team.

    If you do not win the ultimate goal, how can you be considered among the best acquisitions? If it takes more than three seasons to reach that goal, you are a mainstay on the team. If you are a role-player, how can you be considered a major signing?

    There were literally only 10 players who fit those parameters signed in 2000 and beyond; here is how they rank...

10: Chris Osgood, 2005

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    Obviously, calling Chris Osgood the primary goalie when Dominik Hasek was the starter at the beginning of both the regular and post-season is counter-intuitive. Additionally, Osgood was not even on his first contract back with the team when he hoisted the Cup in 2008.

    However, he did play in over half the team's games in both the regular (43) and post-season (19). Without signing him in 2005, the Wings might not ink him to the new contract and probably do not win the Cup in his third season with the team. Thus, he technically meets the requirements of the list.

9: Martin Gerber, 2005

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    That is right: Martin Gerber, who was pulled in favour of rookie Cam Ward, is eighth on this list. If there was ever a statement about how little success free agents have brought their new teams in this decade...and he is only one of three on this list from that team!

    However, Gerber was the primary goalie during their Stanley Cup season, playing in 60 games in the first year after he was signed as a free agent once the lockout ended. He started four games in the playoffs, winning one, before being replaced.

8: Antti Niemi, 2008

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    Antti Niemi was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and in his second season with the franchise helped them win Lord Stanley's Cup.

    Having played just three NHL games in his first year, Nemo made the roster as Christobal Huet's backup in 2009-10. Before the season was over, he had replaced the over-priced, under-performing netminder.

    He played in just 39 regular season games and was the goalie of record in just 37 (26-7-4). However, that included exactly half the standings points the team accrued, and he started all 22 games in the playoffs.

7: Teemu Selanne, 2005

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    Teemu Selanne returned to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after the lockout following a disappointing stint in Colorado. The next year they were no longer mighty in name but were on the ice, winning Lord Stanley's Cup.

    While Selanne was only one of two players signed the season before the team won the Cup, he was their primary goal-scoring threat the next season with 48 goals and 94 points. He finished the playoffs tied for second with 15 points.

5: Ray Whitney, 2005

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    Ray Whitney was only one of three players on this list signed by Carolina after the lockout who were important in their team's Cup run that same year. He was more instrumental than Gerber, however, racking up 55 points in 63 games during the regular season and 15 more in the playoff run.

6: Brian Rafalski, 2007

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    Brian Rafalski was signed in 2007 by the Detroit Red Wings and was key in his team's Stanley Cup run that very year. Adding his speed to the unit, he provided Detroit some of the solid defence that he was accustomed to playing in New Jersey.

    But of course the best aspect of Rafalski's play has always been his scoring. He had 55 points in 73 games during the regular season and added 14 more in the playoffs.

4: Cory Stillman, 2005

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    Cory Stillman is the last of the trio of Hurricanes signed in 2005 who helped their team win the Cup that season, but certainly the most important of them.

    He is only one of two players to win the Cup with two different teams in consecutive seasons (Claude Lemieux was the other in 1995 and 1996), having played with the Tampa Bay Lightning the year before the lockout. He also was the team's second-leading scorer both during the regular (76 points in 72 games) and postseasons (26 in 25).

3: Scott Niedermayer, 2005

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    Scott Niedermayer joined his brother Rob in Anaheim in 2005 and was soon made captain of the team. It took until just his second season for the Ducks to win their first Pacific Division title and Lord Stanley's Cup.

    While fellow 2005 free agent Teemu Selanne scored more points in the regular and postseason, it was Niedermayer who was a first-team All-Star during the season and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top performer in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup.

2: Brett Hull, 2001

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    Brett Hull is the Deion Sanders of the NHL: hates contact, makes plays and is the guy you want to sign when you need to get over the hump to win the Holy Grail of Hockey. He did it in his first year with Dallas in 1999 and pulled the same feat for Detroit in 2001.

    The 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games were not what he was used to putting up in the regular season. However, they were important in the Red Wings finishing with the best record in the NHL and forcing other teams to face not only their talent, but one of the most notable home-ice advantages in hockey throughout the playoffs. He added 10 goals and 18 points in the 23 playoff games.

1. Dave Andreychuk, 2001

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    In 2001, Dave Andreychuk surprised a lot of people by signing with the fledgling Tampa Bay Lightning. The veteran had never won a Stanley Cup and was presumed to be most interested in going to a contender.

    He continued to surprise people by not wanting to be traded to one over the next couple seasons as the team struggled. He had been given the captaincy and felt his work of leading the franchise to the promised land was not done.

    Thus, even though it took until his third season for Andreychuk to have his name etched in the silver object d'art, he made the biggest impact on the franchise of any player on this list. Over his first three seasons in Tampa, he missed only 10 games, scored at least 20 goals and 34 points every year and had 24 points in 34 playoff games.

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