NHL free agency roundup: All the big moves and early activity around the league
Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams all find new homes early in free agency
It's payday in the NHL.
Saturday marked the kickoff of free agency for the 2017-18 season, and everyone from playoff hopefuls to the repeat Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins doled out money -- or watched players flee for it -- as teams made additional tweaks for the summer.
From Kevin Shattenkirk, the market's most coveted name, landing in New York to the Pens losing a pair of two-time title winners, here's a roundup of early free agency headlines:
New York Rangers sign Kevin Shattenkirk
Speculation had Shattenkirk as a Rangers target long before the Washington Capitals defenseman hit the market. And New York, after cutting ties with Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta and Dan Girardi in a matter of weeks, finds a way to for a reasonable price.
Shattenkirk, 28, didn't do nearly enough postseason damage with the Caps to warrant free agency hype, but he's still a top-end scorer on "D." At $26.6 million over four years, the former St. Louis Blue is not insanely overpaid and gives the Rangers an immediate upgrade across the board.
There's lots to like -- or at least be intrigued by -- with this one. Dallas gets some coveted two-way depth. Hanzal finds a better fit as a likely third-line center behind Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. No one severely overpays as the Minnesota Wild did for the big-bodied ex-Arizona Coyote in March -- the on a three-year, $14.25-million deal.
San Jose Sharks re-sign Joe Thornton
Jaromir Jagr is still waiting for a phone call, but Thornton is making sure the 40-year-olds -- soon-to-be 40-year-olds, to be specific -- still have a place in hockey. On the eve of his 38th birthday, the longtime center is reportedly returning to play with his Brent Burns in San Jose, and a one-year deal makes perfect sense for everyone involved. Vegas would've been an enticing fit in an upstart market, but the Sharks offer familiarity and postseason potential.
Anaheim Ducks re-sign Cam Fowler
At first glance, an eight-year, $52-million deal for Fowler seems rather hefty. That's an average of $6.5 million per year for a guy who has had more than seven goals just twice in seven years with the Ducks. But Anaheim's got a potential captain in the making with Fowler, who is still only 25 years old.
Fowler could very well be considered underpaid by the time he and similarly compensated defensemen reach the tail end of their new deals. And someone else would assuredly have dished out more.
There has to be some hesitation from Habs fans with this, not only because Alzner has had a little drop-off in production in each of the last two seasons with the Washington Capitals but also because Montreal's top priority, even after trading for Jonathan Drouin, is finding flashy offensive help. Still, for roughly $4.6 million a season over five years, he's a mostly durable pillar on "D."
Like his fellow Pens reserve Trevor Daley, Bonino is parting from the Stanley Cup champs on a business decision, and this one looks smart. The third-line center gives the 2016-17 runners-up some immediate insurance in place of an aging -- and soon-to-be retired? -- Mike Fisher. At a reported $16.4 million over four years, he's got big potential as a bargain-bin prize.
Good for Gagner to turn his 50-point rebound of a 2016-17 campaign into a new deal -- three years and about $3.15 million per season.
Is it too much to ask of the forward to replicate his Blue Jackets numbers in Vancouver? Maybe. This is an interesting fit between a team in desperate need of a shakeup and a talented player still on the climb from a stark decline in Philadelphia.
The nostalgic touch is nice, and the former Stanley Cup winner should help make the Canes fun to watch in 2017-18. Unless plenty of other parts click in Carolina, though, it's hard to see this reunion as much more than a short-lived celebration of days past. Williams said he wanted to land with a title contender ... and he might when the next trade deadline rolls around.
Color Jagr fans curious. In Vrbata, who comes to Florida on a one-year pact, the Panthers are getting an aging, albeit experienced, forward, as the former Arizona Coyote just turned 36. Somewhat of a hot name at March's trade deadline as inexpensive scoring depth, he is by no means long-term material but still posted 55 points in 2016-17, topping the 50-point mark for the third time in four seasons.
The Flyers weren't responsible for the biggest early goalie contract of free agency, as their own Steve Mason got more than $8 million on a two-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets. But their addition of Elliott, whose horrendous start to 2016-17 overshadowed flashes of dominance with the Calgary Flames, is notable. Even if it's only intended to give Michal Neuvirth a stopgap partner.
Pittsburgh Penguins sign Antti Niemi
Looks like Matt Murray has his new backup. The Pens could still call upon younger help to relieve Murray if times get tough, but Niemi is a recognizable name with a championship under his belt.
For less than $1 million on a one-year deal, he's giving Pittsburgh tons of potential -- Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says general manager Jim Rutherford foresees Niemi starting as many as 30 games -- for a low cost.
Tampa Bay Lightning sign Dan Girardi
Apologies to Tampa Bay, but Girardi's signing is notable only because of the longtime New York Ranger's name recognition. Yes, the Lightning needed some blue-line help, but they're set to pay an aging, declining reserve $6 million over two years -- a big chunk of change for a defensive replacement that'll block shots but is a statistical nightmare for the reported cost.
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