Wild replace Gaborik with Havlat

Updated: July 2, 2009, 10:46 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

The Minnesota Wild found a new offensive centerpiece in a matter of hours.

Stung by the expected departure of Marian Gaborik to the New York Rangers Wednesday evening, the Wild moved quickly to sign free-agent winger Martin Havlat to a six-year, $30 million deal -- the richest in team history.

[+] EnlargeMartin Havlat
Tom Turrill/NHLI/Getty ImagesMartin Havlat will look to play 70-plus games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.

"We are excited to add the speed and scoring of Martin Havlat to our lineup," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said in a statement. "He is a terrific two-way player."

Havlat will earn $4 million in 2009-10, and $5 million in each of the four years after that. The deal will net Havlat $6 million in 2014-15, the final year of the deal.

"It's been a long day, and I think everybody's excited on both sides," Havlat told the Minnesota Star Tribune during a telephone interview Wednesday. "I've talked to [GM Chuck Fletcher] and I had a great feeling from the conversation. From looking at the team, there's a lot of potential, a lot of great players.

"It's kind of a fresh start for everybody with the new GM, with the new coaches. I think everybody's going to start as a new team right now. It's going to be exciting."

The Wild also signed free-agent defenseman Greg Zanon to a three-year contract. The 29-year-old Zanon had seven goals and 19 assists in three-plus seasons with Nashville.

Havlat became expendable in Chicago when the Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa away from Detroit with a 12-year, $62.8 million contract. The Wild went hard after Hossa last season, but he opted for the Red Wings and a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Owner Craig Leipold expressed frustration that Minnesota hasn't been more attractive to the top-tier free agents, and Fletcher, hired as the team's new GM less than two months ago, promised to be active once the NHL's offseason officially began Wednesday.

He delivered in the form of 28-year-old Havlat, who had 29 goals and 48 assists in 81 games last season and added five goals and 10 assists in 16 playoff games while the Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals.

Havlat ranked ninth in the league last season with a plus-29 rating. The Czech star was an All-Star in 2007, his first season in Chicago after six years with Ottawa. The Senators made him their first-round draft pick in 2000.

Gaborik wanted to test the market, so the Wild had little chance to lock him up.

The 27-year-old forward has been limited by injuries in recent seasons, but he is one of the NHL's elite skaters when healthy. Gaborik's relationship with the organization, though, was rather strained toward the end. He was sometimes frustrated by former coach Jacques Lemaire's conservative system, and former general manager Doug Risebrough didn't get along with Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer.

Risebrough was fired in April, but Gaborik appeared determined to seek a fresh start. When negotiations on an extension were cut off last September, the end had essentially come.

"I guess we're going to have to turn the page on Minnesota, but I still think Chuck Fletcher is going to do a great job there and hopefully develop a strong team," Salcer said late Wednesday. "Because obviously I'd like to see them succeed with Brent Burns and Derek Boogaard, a couple of clients I still have there. So we'll see what happens down the road."

Still, Minnesota's decision to replace the injury-prone Gaborik with Havlat is a curious one. Havlat played in 70-plus games for the first time since the 2001-02 season last year. The previous three years, the 28-year old had been beset by multiple injuries and missed 137 games since 2005. Havlat also has had three shoulder surgeries.

However, if healthy, Havlat could thrive in a new Wild system that suits his free-wheeling talents. He joins an offense free of Lemaire's constrictive, neutral-zone trap that the organization has played under since its inception.

Under new coach Todd Richards, the Wild will play a style similar to the champion Penguins, emphasizing puck possession, a strong forecheck and a fast pace.

"You have to give Jacques Lemaire and his staff a tremendous amount of credit," Richards said when he was hired in June. "As a coach it's tough to implement the defensive style. I shouldn't say it's tough, but it's tedious. ... The players have a great foundation to play defensive hockey, and that's something that we can't lose. There always has to be that responsibility."

Zanon is likely fifth or sixth on the Wild's blue line, behind Burns, Kim Johnsson, Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky. He ranked third in the league last season with 237 blocked shots and second on the Predators with 153 hits.

Zanon played for Richards in the AHL with Milwaukee.

"I'm excited. I think it's a good opportunity for me, a good spot to be playing," Zanon said in an interview posted on the team's Web site. "I think it gives me a little bit of an advantage. I learned a lot from him."

Zanon was Zidlicky's defense partner during his first full season with the Predators.

"I like to block shots, and I like to play the body as much as I can so hopefully you see a steady guy out there who can keep the puck out of our net," said Zanon, whose wife's family is from the Twin Cities suburb of Hastings.

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.