Commentary

Free agency: Top 10 deals of Day 1

Updated: July 2, 2011, 1:29 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Here is a recap of the top deals from Friday's first day of the NHL free-agency period:

Jagr
Jagr

Jaromir Jagr to Philadelphia Flyers

Deal: One year, $3.3 million cap hit
So, the storybook ending many imagined -- Jagr signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins to close out his career in the city that made him famous -- turned to dust. Oh, well. The same question will still be asked across the state in Philly: Does the five-time NHL scoring champ still have something left in the tank at age 39 after three years in the KHL?

Not unlike Nikolay Zherdev, whom the Flyers signed a year ago, there is minimal risk in the one-year deal. And who knows, maybe Jagr, the consummate puck-possession forward, will find some magic with a talented forward corps that includes Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and an emerging James van Riemsdyk. And what a locker room for the media -- the enigmatic Jagr with captain-in-waiting Chris Pronger and new netminder Ilya Bryzgalov.

Ville Leino

Leino

Ville Leino to Buffalo Sabres

Deal: Six years, $4.5 million annual cap hit
When was the last time the Sabres were at the top of the NHL's salary list? Anyone? That's where they ended up Friday after a busy couple of days in restocking their shelves, as new owner Terry Pegula has made good on promises to give Buffalo all the resources they need to forge a winner.

The fact they signed Ville Leino to a six-year deal effectively takes them out of the running for Brad Richards, but the move represents a gutsy deal for an emerging young player. The 27-year-old followed up a strong 2010 postseason in Philadelphia with a 19-goal effort this past season. He will need to do more than that for the money and term Buffalo has committed to him. He will, no doubt, get more opportunity there to see that production grow, but is he ready for prime time? The Sabres are banking that he is.

James Wisniewski to Columbus Blue Jackets

Deal: Six years, $5.5 million annual cap hit
This is a deal that you might eventually call a GM-killer. On the same day GM Scott Howson bought out the last two years of Mike Commodore's deal, he bestowed a whopping $33 million deal on a defenseman that has played in exactly 18 NHL playoff games. Only five NHL defensemen will make more than Wisniewski's $7 million next season. The bottom line: Wisniewski had better help lead the Blue Jackets into the playoffs or this one is going to be tough to explain.

That said, the 27-year-old Wisniewski does have a lot of upside, including toughness, a hard shot and the ability to produce points on the power play. But, like Leino, this will be his first exposure to the limelight of expectation. Can he handle it? A lot is riding on the answer.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Seymon Varlamov to Colorado Avalanche

Giguere deal: Two years, $1.25 annual cap hit; Varlamov acquired via trade
Interesting move by Colorado GM Greg Sherman, who was expected to take a run at free-agent netminder Tomas Vokoun. Instead, he took on a Stanley Cup winner whose career is in decline in Giguere, and a young, injury-prone netminder who was once upon a time seen as the future in Washington. Varlamov is a restricted free agent and the exposure isn't great on Giguere, so Sherman has a lot to gain and little to lose with this goaltending tandem. Can the duo cobble together enough quality starts to get the Avs back in the playoffs? If Varlamov can stay healthy, he may be the answer for Colorado moving forward.

Joel Ward to Washington Capitals

Deal: Four years, $3 million annual cap hit
So, this is what a few good weeks of postseason work will get you. Although he's never scored 20 goals as an NHLer, the hard-nosed Ward was a dynamo for Nashville during the playoffs this spring, scoring seven goals and adding six assists in 12 games as the Preds won their first series. No surprise that Washington GM George McPhee is stockpiling players that can play when the stakes are the highest. Ward joins Troy Brouwer, a member of Chicago's Cup-winning team in 2010, on a team that is long on talent but short on playoff success.

Tomas Fleischmann to Florida Panthers

Deal: Four years, $4.5 million annual cap hit
A 20-goal scorer for an offensively deep Washington team, Fleischmann was dealt to Colorado for Scott Hannan this past season. He had 21 points in 22 games for the Avs before issues with blood clots sidelined him for the season. If he can stay healthy, Fleischmann will get every opportunity to take full advantage of his considerable skill set with the revamped Panthers. That's an $18-million "if," but GM Dale Tallon said he's confident Fleischmann will be ready to go come training camp.

Alexei Ponikarovsky to Carolina Hurricanes

One year, $1.5 million cap hit
On a day when excess both in term and dollar was the norm, we liked this little under-the-radar deal by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford. Winger Ponikarovsky has scored 20 or more goals four times in his career. And while his time in Pittsburgh (late in 2009-10) and Los Angeles (this past season) were disheartening, Ponikarovsky will be reunited with his old bench boss in Toronto, Paul Maurice. If he gets a chance to play with a top-notch player like Eric Staal, there's nothing to suggest Ponikarovsky can't get back to the 20-goal plateau. At $1.5 million, it would be a bargain by Friday's standards.

Erik Cole to Montreal Canadiens

Deal: Four years, $4.5 million annual cap hit
Hard to imagine this contract, much like teammate Scott Gomez's bloated deal, won't end up being a non-stop talking point in Montreal. True, Cole did have a bounce-back season in 2010-11 with 26 goals for Carolina; but he had a miserable time of it during a brief stop in Edmonton in 2008-09, his only other stop in a traditional hockey market. Now, he's going to be a go-to guy in an intense market. We're just not sure he has the chops for it.

Jose Theodore to Florida Panthers

Two years, $1.5 million cap hit
Florida GM Dale Tallon is banking that the former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner can carry on his strong play of the past couple of seasons. Although he lost his starting job in Washington during the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, Theodore did post a combined 62 wins during those two regular seasons. Last season, Theodore again played well in a limited role in Minnesota (15-11-3 with a .916 save percentage). Can he play 60-plus games at age 35 (his birthday comes during training camp)? If he can provide quality starts, the revamped Panthers could be the surprise team of the Eastern Conference.

Steve Sullivan to Pittsburgh Penguins

One year, $1.5 million cap hit
A year ago, the Penguins signed skilled forward Mike Comrie near the end of the summer and we wondered what he might be capable of playing with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, et al. In the end, injuries limited Comrie to 21 games during which he scored just one goal. Now along comes Steve Sullivan, a skilled veteran forward who has hit the 20-goal plateau seven times in his career, but who has also suffered through injuries in recent seasons. If he's healthy, Sullivan may help make fans in Pittsburgh forget the grand snub by Jagr. If not, well, not much exposure for GM Ray Shero.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.