This year's top free-agent signings 

April, 1, 2011

With just two weekends remaining in the 2010-11 regular season, we've had nearly a full season to digest the free-agent acquisitions of last summer. As usual, there were some terrific moves and many more signings that didn't quite work out as planned.

In this edition of Five for Friday, I thought I'd keep things upbeat by offering a fistful of skaters from the free-agent class of 2010 that made their new bosses look pretty smart.

1. Antti Niemi, G, San Jose Sharks

A salary cap casualty in Chicago just several weeks after backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks' championship run, Niemi found himself without a crease in late summer. Finally, on Sept. 2, the Sharks signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal.

The quiet Finn struggled to get his footing in his new surroundings. In the first half of the season, he was a very mediocre 9-13-2. Since Jan. 15, however, Niemi has been brilliant, going 23-4-4 and leading the Sharks to the top of the Pacific Division.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson was so impressed, he worked out a four-year extension ($3.8 million cap hit) with the 27-year-old goalie. At this point, it's not farfetched to think Niemi could lead different franchises to back-to-back Cups. As they say, that story is to be continued ...

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.