Breakup of Blue Jackets highlights Day 1 of free agency
Artemi Panarin is heading to the Big Apple, Matt Duchene to the Music City and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to South Beach as the expected breakup of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ star core of players became a reality Monday.
Add in veterans Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski signing with Dallas, and provincial rivals Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators completing a multiplayer trade, and there was plenty of buzz to open the NHL’s free agency signing period.
And once many of the big-name players were off the board, the Montreal Canadiens made the bold move of tendering an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent forward Sebastian Aho. The move leaves Carolina seven days to match the Canadiens’ five-year, $42.27 million offer or elect to receive Montreal’s first-, second- and third-round picks as compensation.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell first joked he was surprised the offer wasn’t higher before adding the team will review it. Last week, Waddell said the team would match any offer to its third-year star, who had a career-best 30 goals and 83 points last season.
It is the first offer sheet in the NHL since 2013, when the Calgary Flames tried to acquire then-Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly only to have Colorado match the contract. The last time a team didn’t match an offer sheet was in 2007, when Dustin Penner signed a five-year, $21.5 million offer from Edmonton and the Oilers sent first-, second- and third-round picks to Anaheim when the Ducks didn’t match it.
Panarin proved to be the biggest prize by signing a seven-year contract with the New York Rangers worth $81.5 million. The NHL’s 2016 Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year has topped 20 goals in each of his four seasons and had a career-best 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last year.
Bobrovsky signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers, where he will take over the starting duties after Roberto Luongo retired last month. Duchene signed a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Nashville Predators, who are retooling their roster and freed up a significant chunk of salary-cap space by trading defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey.
The Blue Jackets came away as the losers in free agency. Columbus took the risk of adding Duchene and retaining Panarin and Bobrovsky at the trade deadline in February, knowing they were in the final years of their contracts.
The Blue Jackets began restocking their lineup by signing winger Gustav Nyquist to a four-year deal with an average salary of $5.5 million. Nyquist, 29, set a career high with 60 points last season split between Detroit and San Jose. Columbus also re-signed defenseman Ryan Murray to a two-year, $9.2 million contract.
There was plenty of movement elsewhere.
Goaltender Robin Lehner signed a $5 million, one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks after he earned a career-high 25 wins last season with the New York Islanders. He also had a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts.
The 27-year-old Lehner won the Masterton Trophy this year as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He became a Vezina finalist after revealing during training camp that he has struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder.
Pavelski, the longtime San Jose captain, left to sign a three-year, $21 million contract with Dallas. He was joined by Perry, who signed with the Stars after having his contract bought out by Anaheim. The Sharks also lost winger Joonas Donskoi, who signed a four-year, $15.6 million with Colorado. They re-signed restricted free agent forward Timo Meier.
Dallas lost veteran forward Jason Spezza, who is heading to play in his hometown of Toronto after signing a one-year, $700,000 deal.
The day began with two rivals helping each other out of a jam via trade.
The Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Cody Ceci, a 2020 third-round pick and minor leaguers Ben Harpur and Aaron Luchuk from the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, forward Connor Brown and minor leaguer Michael Carcone.
Toronto, which still needs to sign restricted free-agent forward Mitch Marner to a new contract, cleared $6.6 million in cap space.
Numerous goalies switched teams, including a free-agent swap in Alberta: Cam Talbot left Edmonton to sign a one-year, $2.75 million with Calgary. And Mike Smith left Flames to sign a one-year $2 million contract with the Oilers.
In Minnesota, the Wild signed right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract.