Free Agency: Stasny, Spezza provide center depth for Blues, Stars

Free Agency: Stasny, Spezza provide center depth for Blues, Stars
July 6, 2014, 8:00 pm
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(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
With the first few days of free agency complete, CSNWashington.com is breaking down the highlights (and lowlights) of the signing frenzy, division by division.

Having already looked at the Atlantic Division and the Metropolitan Division, we continue our breakdown in the Western Conference with the Central Division.

STASNY RETURNS HOME:

Center Paul Stasny was among the most sought-after unrestricted free agents, but the 28-year-old decided to return home, signing a four-year, $28 million deal with the St. Louis Blues.

Stasny grew up in suburban St. Louis after his father, Peter, played the final two years of his Hall of Fame career with the Blues from 1993-to-1995.

Paul Stasny had 25 goals and 60 points in 71 games with Colorado last season and spent his entire eight-year career with the Avalanche. He has also represented USA Hockey at five international tournaments and will now skate alongside his 2014 Olympic teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk in St. Louis.

General Manager Doug Armstrong suggested last week that Stasny could skate alongside Backes and Alexander Steen on the Blues’ No.1 line, although it is also possible that Stasny and Backes will provide the Blues with a formidable 1-2 punch as the club’s top two centers.

STARS ALIGN FOR JULY 1 TRADE:

For the second straight year, the Dallas Stars pulled off a blockbuster trade in the hours leading up to free agency with the acquisition of Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators.

General Manager Jim Nill acquired Spezza just before the start of free agency, just as he traded for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from the Boston Bruins in the hours leading up to free agency in 2013.

While Seguin found immediate chemistry with Jamie Benn on the Stars’ No.1 line last season, Spezza should offer Dallas an upgrade at the No.2 center position. Spezza is expected to center Dallas’ second line and play alongside his former Senators teammate Alex Hemsky, who signed a three-year, $12 million deal with Dallas.

Spezza has plenty to play for in 2014-15 as he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and is still looking to prove that he is durable after undergoing back surgery in 2013.

The 32-year-old had 23 goals and 66 points in 75 games last season but finished with a career-worst minus-26 rating. With Seguin and Spezza penciled in as the Stars’ top two centers, former Capitals prospect Cody Eakin will likely serve as Dallas’ third line pivot.

In addition to bringing in Spezza and Hemsky from Ottawa, the Stars also signed backup goalie Anders Lindback to a one-year, $925,000 deal.

[RELATED: Free Agent Frenzy: Metropolitan Division

CHICAGO LANDS A POSSIBLE BARGAIN:

While the Blues and Stars went for high-priced centers, the Blackhawks (who are more than $2 million above the salary cap), signed veteran Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million deal.

Like Spezza in Dallas, Richards will have plenty to play for next season after having the final six years of his nine-year $60 million deal bought out by the Rangers.

After sitting as a healthy scratch and playing on the Rangers’ fourth line late last season, Richards is expected to serve as Chicago’s No.2 center behind captain Jonathan Toews. That could mean an opportunity to center Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad.

“It’s pretty exciting, because you know if you’re playing center on the top two lines, you’re playing with a great player — or two great players, actually,” said Richards, a nine-time 20-goal scorer and 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner. “It wasn’t hard for me to love Chicago. It was just about trying to figure out how to make it work in the cap.”

The Blackhawks still have work to do to get below the salary cap, but General Manager Stan Bowman has two months to work on a trade.

HOMECOMING IN MINNESOTA:

While Stasny returned home when he signed in St. Louis, Thomas Vanek did the same when he signed a three-year $19.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild.

The Austrian-born Vanek played two seasons at the University of Minnesota and has made suburban Minneapolis his offseason home throughout his NHL career.

It was widely believed that after Vanek turned down a seven-year, $50 million contract extension from the New York Islanders last season that he was destined for Minnesota.

Vanek will join a top-six group of forwards in Minnesota that will likely include Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Vanek’s former Buffalo Sabres teammate Jason Pominville.

 

BEST OF THE REST:

The Colorado Avalanche added a pair of veterans in signing Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $16 million deal and acquiring Daniel Briere in a trade with the Canadiens for P.A. Parenteau.

Iginla signed with the Avalanche last Tuesday, celebrating his 37th birthday in style. The 19-year NHL veteran is coming off his 12th career 30-goal season and will likely skate on the right side of either Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon spent last season on the wing, but the NHL’s Rookie of the Year is expected to move back to his natural position of center after Paul Stasny signed with St. Louis.

The Nashville Predators signed former Jets center Olli Jokinen to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, while Winnipeg filled Jokinen’s spot by signing former Capitals center Mathieu Perreault to a three-year, $9 million deal. Perreault is expected to play behind Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele.