Monday's NHL: Breakup of Blue Jackets marks start of free agency
The much-anticipated breakup of the Columbus Blue Jackets' star-laden core came quickly.
Once Artemi Panarin completed the exodus of talent leaving Columbus by signing with the New York Rangers a little over an hour into the NHL's free agent signing period Monday, the real intrigue began.
The Montreal Canadiens made the boldest move of the day by signing Carolina restricted free agent Sebastien Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet. That leaves the Hurricanes seven days to match the offer or elect to receive Montreal's first-, second- and third-round picks as compensation.
"We want to win. That's the risk we're taking. That's the business we're in," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said.
Carolina GM Don Waddell last week said the team would match any offer, but Monday would only say the team will review its options.
The NHL's new year began in hectic fashion highlighted by Columbus' three top free agents each signing lucrative seven-year contracts; Aho landing the first offer sheet since 2013; and the Toronto Maple Leafs swinging two multiplayer trades.
Panarin is headed to the Big Apple after signing a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the Rangers. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky left Columbus for South Beach after signing a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers, where he will take over the starting duties after Roberto Luongo retired last month.
And center Matt Duchene acknowledged he considered re-signing with the Blue Jackets before choosing Music City by signing a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Nashville Predators.
"I had a ton of respect for everybody there," Duchene said of Columbus. "At the end of the day, though, Nashville seemed like a perfect fit."
In the meantime, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen had no regrets over the risk he took at the NHL trade deadline in February. That's when he acquired Duchene in a trade with Ottawa and retained Panarin and Bobrovsky while knowing he could lose all three in free agency.
"We accepted the risk at the deadline. We said all along that even if they're all rentals we're fine," Kekäläinen said, acknowledging he made one last-ditch bid to keep Panarin on Sunday night. "I can go to bed every night and sleep well thinking that we did everything we could to keep the good player we liked."
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. Columbus also re-signed defenseman Ryan Murray to a two-year, $9.2 million contract and backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo to a one-year contract.
Nyquist wasn't bothered by the departures.
"I'm sure the media will talk about that, but I think we want to prove that there is going to be opportunity for other guys who are going to try to come in and fill some of those holes," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to be a really good team."
Panarin was free agency's most highly coveted player. Florida and Colorado both revealed they made offers to sign the NHL's 2016 rookie of the year, who has topped 20 goals in each of his four seasons and had a career-best 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last year.
"There was one player that we were ready to go long term and high money because that was the one player out there that was worth everything he got," Avalanche GM Joe Sakic said.
In Florida, Panthers GM Dale Tallon settled on landing Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy-winner who will take over the starting duties after Roberto Luongo retired two weeks ago. The Panthers also had extra money on hand to sign forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari and defenseman Anton Stralman.
There was plenty of movement elsewhere.
► Joe Pavelski, the longtime San Jose captain, left to sign a three-year, $21 million contract with Dallas. He was joined by Corey 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 were able to re-sign 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 with the Maple Leafs.
► The Maple Leafs began the day acquiring 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.
Some 10 hours later, the Leafs made another blockbuster deal by acquiring defenseman Tyson Barrie, forward Alex Kerfoot, a restricted free agent, and 2020 sixth-round pick from Colorado. The Avalanche got back forward Nazem Kadri, prospect defenseman Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round pick.
Toronto, which still needs to sign restricted free agent forward Mitch Marner to a new contract, cleared $9.1 million in badly needed cap space, with Colorado agreeing to pick up half of the final year of Barrie's $6 million salary, and $5.5 million cap hit.
"I feel (we're) well set up for whatever comes our way," Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. "Our primary ambition is to try to find an agreement with Mitch."
Aside from Bobrovsky, 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.
The New York Islanders let Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner walk and replaced him by signing goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract. The Islanders did retain forward Anders Lee with a seven-year, $49 million contract. Lehner then signed a one-year, $5 million contract with Chicago.
► In Pittsburgh, the Penguins used some of their wiggle room under the salary cap created by trading Phil Kessel to Arizona to sign Winnipeg forward Brandon Tanev to a six-year deal with an average annual value of $3.5 million.
► In Minnesota, the Wild signed free agent right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract, and right wing Ryan Hartman on a two-year, $3.8 million contract.
► In New Jersey, the Devils continued stockpiling talent by signing forward Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract a little over a week in which they acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade with Nashville, and selected center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the draft.