A hectic start to the NHL’s free-agency period Wednesday closed with the Columbus Blue Jackets landing the highest-profile player: “Johnny Hockey.”
Johnny Gaudreau cashed in on a career season by signing a $68.25 million, seven-year contract with Columbus in the Blue Jackets’ bid to return to prominence after losing their core of stars — including Artemi Panarin — in free agency two years ago.
Gaudreau’s decision to sign with Columbus came a day after turning down what an eight-year deal to re-sign with Calgary, where he spent his first nine NHL seasons. The Blue Jackets also signed defenceman Erik Gudbranson to a four-year, $16 million contract.
“Johnny Gaudreau is a superstar in the National Hockey League, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome him,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He is an elite player with great character that makes the players around him better.”
The Ottawa Senators brought a local product home.
The Edmonton Oilers finally solidified a troublesome position.
And the emergency switch was finally pulled on the league’s wild goalie carousel.
Free agency opened at a frenetic pace Wednesday as one of the most intriguing classes in years hit the market.
The Senators got things started shortly after the bell rang at 12 p.m. ET by signing veteran forward Claude Giroux to a three-year, $19.5-million contract — yet another move that signals the franchise’s long, painful rebuild is over.
“Everywhere I went in Ottawa the last few months people have asked me, ‘When are you signing Claude?”‘ Senators general manager Pierre Dorion told reporters at Canadian Tire Centre alongside Giroux.
“I wish [training] camp was tomorrow,” added the Senators’ newest signing.
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Later in the day, the Senators traded forward Connor Brown to the Capitals in exchange for a 2024 second-round pick.
The 28-year-old Brown had 39 points (10 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games last season.
The Oilers, meanwhile, secured crease talent star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have lacked their entire careers in the Alberta capital, agreeing on a five-year, $25-million pact with goaltender Jack Campbell.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, continued to retool the position in Toronto after allowing Campbell to walk and trading Petr Mrazek last week, inking Ilya Samsonov for one year at $1.8 million in a deal that will see him work alongside newly acquired Matt Murray.
“To my teammates in Toronto, thank you for everything,” Campbell wrote on Instagram. “Words don’t justify how special the past couple of years mean to me.”
The 30-year-old also thanked Leafs fans before adding, “To Oil Country, I can’t wait to get started and I’m so grateful for this opportunity!”
Supportive king <a href=”https://twitter.com/ZachHyman?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ZachHyman</a> 👑 <a href=”https://t.co/vUwxvCgQqN”>pic.twitter.com/vUwxvCgQqN</a>
The Washington Capitals got in on the goaltending action by signing Darcy Kuemper, who’s coming off a Stanley Cup victory with the Colorado Avalanche, to a five-year, $26.5-million contract.
The Oilers, Leafs and Capitals were among the biggest movers over the last week during a netminding free-for-all that saw no fewer than 10 signings or trades as teams once again played off-season crease musical chairs.
In other notable moves involving Canadian teams, the Vancouver Canucks signed winger Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year, $19-million deal as the Russian also departed Toronto.
The Oilers, meanwhile, re-signed defenceman Brett Kulak on a four-year, $11-million contract after acquiring him from the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline and confirmed the return of forward Evander Kane.
The Winnipeg Jets replaced outgoing backup Eric Comrie with David Rittich for one year at $900,000.
A big trade was also made waves as the Carolina Hurricanes acquired former Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Brent Burns from the San Jose Sharks.
Giroux bolsters young core
Giroux joins a promising Ottawa roster that already includes captain Brady Tkachuk, star defenceman Thomas Chabot and slick forward Tim Stutzle, and added sniper Alex DeBrincat as well as goaltender Cam Talbot in recent days to a club that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017.
The 34-year-old originally from Hearst, Ont., moved to the nation’s capital with his family as a teen and starred for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on the other side of the Ottawa River for three seasons.
Giroux has registered 294 goals and 923 points in 1,018 games over his 15 seasons to go along with 81 points (28 goals, 53 assists) in 95 playoff contests.
He had spent his entire NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers before being dealt to the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers at the trade deadline.
Giroux combined to register 25 goals and 65 points in 75 regular-season games in 2021-22 before adding eight points (three goals, five assists) in 10 playoff contests.
Later in the day, the Senators reportedly traded forward Connor Brown to the Capitals in exchange for a 2024 second-round pick.
Campbell to carry the load in Edmonton
Campbell will carry the load in Edmonton following an up-and-down season with the Leafs that included a first all-star nod.
The native of Port Huron, Mich., posted a 31-9-6 record with a .914 save percentage and 2.64 goals-against average with Toronto before losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
The Oilers also have veteran Mike Smith under contract, but GM Ken Holland indicated it’s unlikely the 40-year-old will play in 2022-23 due to “health issues.”
“We’ve still got more things to do,” Holland said of Edmonton’s off-season. “But … being able to get a No. 1 goaltender, bringing back Evander, who’s a top-six winger, and getting a guy in Brett, who’s a top-four defenceman — or certainly a top-six defenceman all day long — it was a good start for us.”
The New York Rangers signed centre Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year contract worth a reported $39.327 million.
The Detroit Red Wings inked forward and Michigan native Andrew Copp to a five-year, $28.125-million deal, defenceman Ben Chiarot signed on for four years at a total of $19 million, and winger David Perron got $9.5 million over two seasons.
Kadri still available
Nazem Kadri was one of the biggest names remaining on the free-agent board. He was primed to cash in on his terrific season and playoffs with the Avalanche.
There was also plenty of movement before the free-agency opened.
Evgeni Malkin decided to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins late Tuesday, inking a four-year, $24-million contract that will keep the three-time Cup winner alongside Sidney Crosby in the Steel City through 2025-2026.
Kane then announced on Twitter that he would be returning to Edmonton on a four-year pact worth $20.5-million. The Oilers confirmed the contract details Wednesday morning.
The winger with a boatload of off-ice baggage said the opportunity the organization offered him in January after the Sharks terminated the remainder of his contract for violating COVID-19 protocols played a big part in his decision.
“Throughout the last 12 months, there have been lots of roadblocks, tons of adversity and many tough days,” Kane wrote. “I’m grateful for the tremendous amount of support from family, friends, teammates and others who have helped me stay strong through these difficult times.”
Kane topped 20 goals for an eighth time in 13 NHL seasons despite appearing in just 43 games, all with Edmonton.
The Avalanche looked likely to lose Kadri, but re-signed defenceman Josh Manson to a four-year deal worth a reported $18 million, while winger Artturi Lehkonen gets a reported $22.5 million over five seasons.
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