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- In this April 6, 2010, file photo, New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) skates against the Atlanta Thrashers during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Philips Arena in Atlanta. NHL free agent shoppers won't find anyone on the open market to compare to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. This year's class doesn't even stack up to the star quality of last year, but with players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Nabokov available to the highest bidder, there could be quite a bit of movement around the league.

Gregory Smith/AP

The action on the free-agent market slowed dramatically in its second day on Friday with a handful of signings and the big names still waiting for text messages.

Ilya Kovalchuk, the prize of this year's auction, remained unclaimed as word drifted around the NHL that the Russian scoring star was asking for too much money and too many years on a contract. But the chase took an intriguing turn when reports early Saturday morning said the New York Islanders entered the fray.

Islanders GM Garth Snow told the Long Island newspaper Newsday he only made a "preliminary" call to Kovalchuk's representative. However, other reports say Islanders owner Charles Wang, who has taken over player negotiations in the past, is willing to pay $100-million (all currency U.S.) over 10 years for Kovalchuk.

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Also spending a second day waiting for a contract were the top two goaltenders on the market, Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco.

In the meantime, the biggest signings of the day saw defenceman Pavel Kubina rejoin his first NHL team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and centre Matthew Lombardi leave the Phoenix Coyotes for a three year, $10.5-million contract with the Nashville Predators. Forward Christopher Higgins signed a one-year, $1.6-million deal with the Florida Panthers.

There could be a significant trade in the next couple of days. Veteran forward Simon Gagne agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his contract for the Philadelphia Flyers, who have salary-cap problems. Also said to be on the block is Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, since room under the salary cap has to be made for free-agent signing Dan Hamhuis.

After the best of the free-agent defencemen were signed on Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers put Sheldon Souray on waivers Friday in the hope that a team that missed out on a defenceman would claim the 33-year-old veteran despite the year left on his contract with a salary of $4.5-million.

Lombardi, 28, had 53 points last season with the Coyotes and is considered by many experts to be an under-rated player. His signing for $3.5-million per year is a considered something of a coup for Predators general manager David Poile as it appears Lombardi was not willing to wait for a better offer.

Kubina, 33, signed for $4.2-million (all currency U.S.) next season and $3.5-million in 2011-12.

That represents a drop from his last contract, which he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. Former Leaf general manager John Ferguson gave Kubina a four-year deal that paid $5-million per year. It proved to be a costly mistake although it was not Kubina's fault.

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The contract hampered Ferguson's efforts under the salary cap to improve the Leafs' forwards. At the same time, Kubina did not produce enough offence, despite a career-high 40 points in 2007-08 and 2008-09, to justify his contract and his stay in Toronto was not a happy one. He was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers one year ago for defenceman Garnet Exelby and forward Colin Stuart.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Kubina represents an upgrade for the Lightning defence, which has been mediocre for the last few seasons. General manager Steve Yzerman started the rebuild on Thursday when he traded Andrej Meszaros, an underachiever with a significant contract, to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We are pleased to bring Pavel back to the Lightning organization," Yzerman said in a press release. "He is a big, physical defenceman who will play the point on the power play. He was well-liked by his teammates during his previous time here in Tampa Bay and we're happy to welcome him back. I know Pavel had other options and I would like to thank him for deciding to rejoin us."

Kubina, a native of Celadna in the Czech Republic, said like Lightning star Martin St. Louis, who signed a four-year contract extension on Thursday, he thinks Yzerman is the right man to bring the team back to its glory years, which culminated in a Stanley Cup win in 2004 in which Kubina played an important role.

"I talked to Steve yesterday and I was very impressed with the direction he's going in with the team," Kubina said. "I always wanted to come home. Other than Czech, Tampa Bay is my second home. I still have my house there and even though I had other offers on the table, I couldn't pass this up."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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