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Rangers deal Gomez to Canadiens

An old-fashioned trade upstaged the anticipation of the NHL's free-agent shopping season.

Looking to clear space under the salary cap, the New York Rangers shipped top center Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday for forward Chris Higgins as part of a six-player trade.

The Canadiens are now responsible for the five years and $33.5 million left on the seven-year deal the Rangers gave Gomez two summers ago to pry him away from the rival New Jersey Devils. New York can use the $7.35 million of cap space freed up by Gomez's departure to try to add much-needed offense.

Higgins is a start. Could a trade for disgruntled Ottawa forward Dany Heatley, or the signing of impending free agents such as Marian Hossa (Detroit) or Marian Gaborik (Minnesota) be far behind? Those guys can begin fielding offers from any NHL team starting today at noon.

'We're not up against the cap now. We've got lots of cap room,' Rangers general manager Glen Sather said of the $56.8 million payroll ceiling for next season. 'It just makes the options more inviting for us. I am not sure what is going to happen.

'Since this deal has happened, I've had three calls. It doesn't take very long for people to recognize that you're going to make some changes.'

Many teams are in the same situation, but making the right trade or free-agent deal goes beyond just figuring out what players fit best. Ever since the NHL lockout ushered in the salary-cup era, finances have been as important as player evaluation.

The Vancouver Canucks were working hard Wednesday to retain the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, before they could field other offers. Canucks GM Mike Gillis went to their home in Sweden to try to get a deal done in person with agent JP Barry.

The salary cap rose only $100,000 over last season, by far the smallest increase since its institution, and the prevailing belief is that it will go down next summer after the NHL feels the full effect of the economic slowdown.

Hockey didn't take the hit last season because most advertising dollars and revenue streams were in hand before the economy went south in September. If revenues drop significantly over the course of this season, the cap will decrease.

'Everybody anticipates that,' San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said Tuesday. 'The real world is the unknown and the key is to try and maintain some flexibility.'

The Sharks didn't let 39-year-old defenseman Rob Blake get onto the open market, reportedly reaching a one-year deal with him on Tuesday worth $3.5 million - $1.5 million less than he earned last season.

Another defenseman, Johnny Oduya, also agreed to a new multiyear deal to stay with the New Jersey Devils. Oduya's contract is for worth $10.5 million over 3 years.

Jay Bouwmeester, perhaps the most coveted potential free-agent defenseman, never got a chance to test his worth. Bouwmeester, whose negotiating rights were traded to Calgary by Florida on Saturday at the NHL draft, agreed to a five-year deal to stay with the Flames that will pay him $6.6 million per season.