James Wisniewski, who was supposed to be the pick of the free-agent defencemen crop along with Christian Ehrhoff, was taken off the market Friday morning when he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Columbus Post Dispatch reported Wisniewski, 27, signed a six-year, $33-million (all currency U.S.) contract. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson traded for Wisniewski's negotiating rights earlier this week.
Wisniewski finished the 2010-11 season with the Montreal Canadiens. He received a lot of ice time thanks to the loss of Andrei Markov and finished with a career-high 51 points, second on the Habs' points list.
"James is a player we identified very early on and we are thrilled to have him as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets," Howson said in a press release. "He brings offensive skill and grit to our blueline, character to our dressing room and will be a key contributor to our hockey club."
Howson, who is making as splash in the player market along with his Buffalo Sabres counterpart Darcy Regier, sent a seventh-round pick in the 2012 entry draft to the Canadiens for Wisniewski's rights. Now that Wisnieski signed, the pick becomes a fifth-rounder.
"My family and I are really excited to be a part of the Blue Jackets organization and I'm looking forward to getting to Columbus to help this team win games," said Wisniewski. "I think this is a team that is ready to take the next step and I'm excited to help us become a winning team and a Stanley Cup contender."
On Thursday, Ehrhoff signed a 10-year, $40-million contract with the Buffalo Sabres, who are expected to be an aggressive buyer on Friday with centre Brad Richards the top prize.
The Vancouver Canucks managed to keep one player off the free-agent market when they signed defenceman Sami Salo.
Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet reported Salo is believed to have signed a one-year deal for $2-million (all currency U.S.). Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was also getting close to a deal with forward Chris Higgins.
Salo, 36, is a brittle defenceman who is a decent offensive producer when he is healthy. He was limited to 27 games in the 2010-11 season because of injuries but returned to be an important player for the Canucks in their run to the Stanley Cup final.
The Minnesota Wild followed by re-signing their backup goaltender, Josh Harding, to a one-year deal for $750,000, according to TSN.
Two more potential free agents were taken out of play by the Detroit Red Wings, who signed forward Patrick Eaves for three years at $1.2-million per year and also signed defenceman Jonathan Ericsson to a three-year contract.