THRASHERS TO HIRE FRASER: The Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press reported that Curt Fraser will be hired today to coach the expansion Atlanta Thrashers, who begin play this fall. A former NHL player with the Canucks, Blackhawks and North Stars, Fraser coached the Orlando Solar Bears of the IHL last season.

CASSELS SIGNS: C Andrew Cassels signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract with the Canucks. Cassels, who turns 30 on July 23, was paid $1.2 million last year while scoring 12 goals and 37 points in 70 games for the Flames.

BACK-UP BACKSTOP: The Rangers signed free agent goalie Kirk McLean to a multiyear contract. Terms of the deal were not announced. McLean, 33, was 9-10-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average in 30 games with the Panthers last season. He will back up regular goalie Mike Richter and replaces Dan Cloutier, who was traded to Tampa Bay last month.

SABRES SIGN HOUDA: The Sabres signed free agent defenseman Doug Houda to a multiyear contract, returning him to the team he played on four seasons ago.

Houda, 33, played parts of two seasons with the Sabres from 1994 to 1996, collecting two goals and five assists in 66 games. He spent most of last season with the Detroit Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate, totaling seven goals and 21 assists in 73 games. He had one assist in three NHL games with Detroit.