Kevin Shattenkirk grew up a New York Rangers fan in suburban New Rochelle, so he knows all about the pressure of playing for his hometown team.
Still, that’s what the offensive-minded defenseman wanted, and the most coveted player available on the opening day of free agency turned down a bigger offer elsewhere to sign a four-year, $26.6 million deal with the Rangers on Saturday.
“When you have the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, it’s an opportunity that may only come once in my career and I felt like this was my chance,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s a team I’m extremely excited about. A lot of factors outside of money and terms came into play and ultimately what won the decision for me.”
Shattenkirk knows the expectations will be high, but it’s something he welcomes.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure — that’s something that’s exciting to me. You can’t replicate that anywhere else in this league, but as a local boy I grew up around it,” he said. “No matter where you go you’re trying to win your team a Stanley Cup. There’s no better place to try to do it for me than in New York.”
The Rangers had an opening on the blue line after buying out Dan Girardi’s contract last month. Girardi signed with Tampa Bay on Saturday. New York could also be without Kevin Klein, who was considering retiring from the NHL.
On Thursday, the Rangers re-signed defenseman Brandon Smith, who was acquired from Detroit at the trading deadline, to a four-year, $17 million deal.
Shattenkirk has 68 goals, 230 assists and 304 penalty minutes in 490 games over seven seasons with Colorado, St. Louis, and Washington. He also has four goals and 26 assists in 45 career playoff games. Other than the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he has had at least 30 assists and 40 points every year — one of just 14 defensemen in NHL history to accomplish the feat in six of their first seven seasons.
“Kevin’s a player we’ve obviously coveted for a while, an offensive defenseman on the right side that can do so many things for you,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. “It’s clear that we feel like he’s a top-four defenseman in the league.”
The right-handed Shattenkirk will likely join captain Ryan McDonagh as the Rangers’ top defensive pairing and anchor the team’s inconsistent power play.
Shattenkirk said the chance to play alongside McDonagh was a big factor in his decision to join the Rangers.
“He complements my game well,” he said. “The opportunity on the power play is a place where I’m confident I can succeed and help this team. My goal is to come in here and be a phenomenal defenseman in all aspects of the game and I believe Ryan McDonagh is going to help me be that.”
Shattenkirk split last season between St. Louis and Washington and had 13 goals and 43 assists for 56 points in 80 games.
The Rangers also agreed to a one-year, $1.3 million deal with veteran goalie Ondrej Pavelec to be the backup to Henrik Lundqvist. Pavelec replaces Antti Raanta, who was traded to Arizona last week.
Pavelec has played his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise. He had a 3.55 goals-against average last season with a .888 save percentage in eight NHL games.
With holes in the middle up front after trading Derek Stepan to the Coyotes in the deal with Raanta, and losing Oscar Lindberg in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, Gorton said he has been talking to teams about trades. Asked about talks with restricted free agents Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast, Gorton said the discussions were ongoing.
“There hasn’t been a lot of talk this week,” he said. “Next week we’ll pick it up again and see where it takes us.”
Williams back with Hurricanes
Forward Justin Williams returned to the Carolina Hurricanes, signing a two-year, free-agent contract worth $9 million.
Many in the league may have been surprised that Williams signed with the Canes. To be sure, the money was good — $5 million in the 2017-18 season, $4 million in 2018-19. Williams made $3.25 million each of the past two seasons with the Washington Capitals.
“Once we got close to a deal it put a smile on my face and my wife’s face,” Williams said. “We’re excited for the opportunity, and I’m certainly excited for the opportunity to work with a coaching staff that I’m pretty familiar with and a team I feel is trending up in the right direction, for sure.
“Carolina hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2009, so that’s a long time. It’s time to climb the ladder and get relevant. I really like this team and like where it’s going.”
One of the Canes assistant coaches is Rod Brind’Amour, the captain on the 2006 Stanley Cup champions. Williams and Brind’Amour, who once sat next to each other in the Canes’ locker room, have remained friends, and Brind’Amour said Friday he had been lobbying for the Canes to try and sign Williams.
Williams has played 1,220 regular-season and playoff games and the right winger twice scored more than 30 goals in a season for the Canes — 31 in 2005-06, and another seven in 25 playoff games during the Cup run. Now in his mid-30s, he had 22 goals and 52 points for the Caps in 2015-16, then 24 and 48 points last season although Washington was bounced from the playoffs each season by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Williams, a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000, was traded to the Canes in January 2004 for defenseman Danny Markov. He signed a one-year contract before the 2005-06 season, earning a five-year extension after winning the Cup.
Then, a string of injuries — a torn ACL and MCL late in 2007, a torn Achilles tendon in 2008, a broken hand in 2009. On March 5, 2009, Williams was traded to the Kings in a three-team deal that brought forward Erik Cole back to the Canes.
Sharp returns to Chicago
Patrick Sharp, a high-scoring winger who helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cup championships before getting traded, will once again suit up for Chicago next season. The 35-year-old veteran agreed to a one-year contract that guarantees $800,000. He could earn an additional $200,000 in incentives.
“I have a special place in my heart, my family does as well, for the city,” he said. “We did have plans on returning — maybe not as a hockey player. But we definitely do want to live in that city at some point.”
Sharp said he could have signed for more money elsewhere. But the lure of returning to the team where he enjoyed his greatest success was too strong.
Sharp spent 10 seasons with the Blackhawks from 2005 to 2015 and had 511 points, including 239 goals. He scored more than 30 goals four times in that span and helped transform Chicago into one of the most successful franchises along with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Sharp got dealt to Dallas in a salary-cap move after the Blackhawks beat Tampa Bay for the championship in 2015.
He has 277 goals and 322 assists in 14 years with Philadelphia, Chicago and the Stars. But he had season-ending hip surgery in March after missing most of December because of a concussion and finished with just eight goals and 10 assists.
Sharp described the hip problem as a nagging issue. But he expects to be “100 percent ready to go” for training camp.
“The recovery from the injury is not an issue at all,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “We’re excited obviously for getting him back on the ice with the group here.”
Besides bringing back Sharp, the Blackhawks agreed to one-year deals with forwards Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma, and two-year contracts with goalie Jean-Francois Berube and defenseman Jordan Oesterle.
Bouma had 27 goals and 40 assists in six seasons with Calgary.
Berube posted a 3-2-2 record with a 3.42 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 14 appearances with the New York Islanders. Oesterle played in 25 games over three seasons for Edmonton.
Goalies cash in
The goaltending market was robust on the first day of free agency as Brian Elliott signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia, Steve Mason with Winnipeg and Ryan Miller (Michigan State) with Anaheim.
“With the spots open to play a majority of the games and be a major contributor and not a backup, there weren’t that many spots,” Elliott said after signing a $5.5 million deal worth $2.75 million each season with the Flyers.
“You kind of knew what was out there and knew what everybody was thinking, so you just make your decision from there.”
Though there were no deals of any kind beyond seven years or more than $30 million, it was a big day for the goaltending carousel.
Despite an inconsistent season, Mason cashed in with an $8.2 million contract to start for the Jets, and despite being on the verge of turning 37, Miller got $4 million from the Ducks to split time with John Gibson.
Mason got the biggest contract among free agent goalies even after his .908 save percentage ranked 34th among those with at least 30 appearances last season.
Five teams expressed serious interest, and Winnipeg was willing to pay him $4.1 million a season to shoulder the load and mentor young Connor Hellebuyck.
“At 29 years old right now, I feel I’m entering the prime of my career,” Mason said. “I can come up with the big saves that we can need on any given night that can help us get over the edge here.”
Elliott had a number of teams calling about him after an up-and-down season with the Calgary Flames that ended with a first-round sweep. The 32-year-old has led the league in save percentage twice and will be given the chance to win the No. 1 job for the Flyers, competing against Michal Neuvirth in a market that’s no stranger to goalie controversy.
While Mason said upon leaving Philadelphia that he didn’t think a platoon works, Elliott pointed to the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup with a two-goalie system as evidence.
Explaining his roller-coaster career that led to this free agent opportunity wasn’t so easy.
“I’d write a book if I knew that,” Elliott said. “Everybody’s been the best goalie in the NHL one night and everybody’s been the worst. … The NHL, there’s so much pressure on every night that you have to perform.”
Miller has endured that pressure as the starter in Buffalo, St. Louis and Vancouver and found a home in Anaheim close to where actress wife Noureen DeWulf works. A good fit for his family also got Miller a two-year deal that’s increasingly rare for goalies in their late 30s.
“I was exploring what people were open to, and the Ducks were open to that,” Miller said. “I feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me. I’ve been able to take care of myself. I can still play at a fairly high level.”
The biggest goalie contract of the day belonged to the San Jose Sharks’ Martin Jones, who was extended for $34.5 million on a deal that kicks in for the 2018-19 season and counts $5.75 million per season after that. GM Doug Wilson said Jones plays big when it matters.
Not long ago Jones was a backup in Los Angeles to Jonathan Quick, and on Saturday a handful of current or new backups got good money. Jonathan Bernier signed a $2.75 million, one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, Chad Johnson got $2.5 million next season from the Buffalo Sabres and Anders Nilsson got $5 million over two years from the Vancouver Canucks.
Former Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec signed a $1.3 million, one-year deal to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup with the New York Rangers, Darcy Kuemper signed for $650,000 with the Kings and Antti Niemi went from being bought out by the Dallas Stars to taking a $700,000, one-year deal to join the Penguins and play behind Matt Murray.
Predators add Bonino
The Nashville Predators took care of an area of concern and added to an area of depth, signing center Nick Bonino away from the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins with a $16.4 million, four-year contract and acquiring defenseman Alexei Emelin in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights
Bonino was a key player for the Penguins during the past two postseasons, contributing a total of 25 points to help them hoist the Cup twice — including against the Predators last month. He averaged 33 points during two regular seasons in Pittsburgh.
The trade for Emelin cost the Predators a 2019 third-round pick but gives them an even stronger defense behind the top four of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.
That defense gave the Penguins a run in the Stanley Cup final, which is when Bonino saw how a city that is already a popular stop in the league go to another level as the Predators played for the title for the first time.
Kunitz lands with Lightning
The Penguins lost another core part of their organization when Chris Kunitz (Ferris State) left to take a one-year, $2 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kunitz, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, had been with the Penguins since 2008-09, when he arrived via trade from Anaheim.
The 6-foot, 195-pound left wing had nine goals and 29 points in 71 games this past season.
In his Penguins career, Kunitz produced 169 goals and 388 points in 569 games.
Anaheim's Fowler signs extension
Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills) agreed to an eight-year, $52 million contract extension with the Ducks on Saturday, keeping the cornerstone defenseman with the club through the 2025-26 season.
Fowler has been a fixture on the Ducks’ blue line ever since he unexpectedly fell to them at No. 12 overall in the 2010 draft, and the Ducks now can keep the U.S. Olympian through the prime of his career. He was outstanding last season, excelling on both ends of the ice while racking up a career-best 11 goals and 28 assists.
Jagr parts with Panthers
Jaromir Jagr gave the Florida Panthers some star power, helped them win a division championship and unquestionably played a role in energizing what had been a stagnant fan base.
And now his tenure with the Panthers is over.
Making official what was suspected for some time, the Panthers revealed Saturday that they are going forward without the future sure-fire Hall of Fame forward. On a day dominated by free-agent signings — like adding forwards Evgeny Dadonov, Radim Vrbata and Micheal Haley — the biggest news out of Florida was that Jagr is no longer in the Panthers’ plans.
“I can’t say enough. It was an honor to be touched by a legend,” said general manager Dale Tallon, who ultimately made the call to move on. “I was torn. It was a tough couple weeks, or months, whatever it was. Can’t thank him enough. What he did for our kids, for myself and everyone in this organization, you can’t measure it.”
Jagr was with the Panthers for 2½ seasons. He’ll turn 46 next season, still wants to play and is coming off a 46-point season for a Florida team that wasn’t exactly loaded with offensive weaponry. But in the end, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told the Associated Press, the two sides were simply too far apart on financial terms to make any more talks feasible.
Jagr was a massive presence in the locker room, and teammates picked his brain constantly about his obsession with fitness and how he keeps his game as sharp as possible. He’s the No. 2 all-time scorer in NHL history, behind only Wayne Gretzky.