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Bouwmeester signs $33-million deal Add to ...

The Calgary Flames landed the plumb of the 2009 NHL free-agent class last night while the division rival Vancouver Canucks were on the verge of losing their two best skaters.

Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, a career-long Florida Panther, signed a five-year contract with the Flames, who acquired the exclusive right to negotiate with the Edmonton native last weekend. Bouwmeester, 25, was going to be one of the most coveted free agents when the market opens at noon EDT today, and would have drawn interest from the Canucks and several other teams.

Instead, the slick-skating defenceman received $6.6-million (all figures U.S.) a season from Calgary, which is more than what Vancouver had been offering the Sedin twins.

As night fell on the West Coast last night, the Canucks and the Sedins had yet to agree on contract extensions, and both sides were preparing to be central figures in free agency. The twins, point-a-game players who form the offensive backbone of the Canucks, are expected to generate the richest offers, along with Detroit Red Wings forward Marian Hossa.

The twins were "seriously" contemplating Vancouver's 11th-hour offer, according to their agent, J.P. Barry, who acknowledged the Canucks had made a significant step toward brokering a resolution after showing little flexibility for more than a year. But Barry also said his clients were preparing to cut ties with the Canucks after spending their entire eight-year careers in Vancouver.

That news, according to a source, stunned the Canucks.

The team was confident the twins would ultimately agree to contracts at less than market value because of a long-stated desire to remain in Vancouver and believed general manager Mike Gillis's transatlantic journey to Sweden this week would seal the deal.

The Canucks were also leery of rich offers because of the expected, but not yet quantified, drop in the salary cap in 2010-11. The cap is set at $56.8-million for next season.

Barry said the Canucks refuse to budge off a five-year term, and sources said Vancouver's latest offer, hand delivered by Gillis, was roughly $6-million a season. The Sedins were asking for 12-year deals that average $5.25-million a season, or shorter term deals worth $6.5-million a year.

The Canucks had held firm at $5.5-million a season, and were preparing to chase other free agents, including forward Mike Cammalleri.

The Flames traded a third-round draft pick to the Panthers for the right to speak to Bouwmeester, who had been building a house in Calgary. Bouwmeester, who has never made the playoffs in his six-year career, scored 42 points last season and averaged a league-best 27 minutes per game.

"I am happy to have this deal done as Calgary was a team I was very interested in playing for," Bouwmeester said in a statement. "I was encouraged by the commitment Calgary showed by acquiring me prior to July 1."

Vancouver won the Northwest Division last season with 100 points, two better than second-place Calgary.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings are expected to show interest in the Sedins today if they're available. One other suitor may have dropped out yesterday by taking on a rich contract when the Montreal Canadiens added Scott Gomez in a trade.

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