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. We begin our breakdown with a look at the Atlantic Division.
BOLTS BECOMING RANGERS SOUTH:
General Manager Steve Yzerman bolstered the Lightning blue line with the signing of former Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman to a five-year, $22.5 million deal and the acquisition of Jason Garrison in a trade from the Vancouver Canucks. Provided Victor Hedman can stay healthy alongside Matt Carle, Tampa Bay will have formidable top-four on the backend.
Stralman will also have a few familiar faces in Tampa Bay, as the Lightning re-signed former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan to a six-year, $34.8 million deal in late June, and agreed to terms with former Blueshirt Brian Boyle on a three-year, $6 million deal.
The Lightning also signed veteran goalie and noted Caps killer Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year deal to serve as Ben Bishop’s backup. In 19 career games against Washington, Nabokov is 13-2-4 with a 2.22 goals-against-average and .921 save percentage.
Throw in captain Steven Stamkos, Calder Trophy finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Jonathan Drouin, and the Bolts appear well positioned for years to come.
DETROIT UNABLE TO FILL VOID:
While Yzerman’s Lightning squad appears to be on the rise, his former employer, the Detroit Red Wings could be heading in the opposite direction.
While the Red Wings have reached the playoffs in 23 straight seasons, Detroit has gone from a desired destination among free agents, to a club that has been unable to sign a significant UFA this offseason, despite nearly $9.5 million in available cap space.
General Manager Ken Holland not only had the money to spend, but he also had a need to bolster the right side of his blue line. Among the high-end right-handed defensemen who were available July 1, only to sign elsewhere were Dan Boyle (Rangers), Matt Niskanen (Capitals) and Stralman (Lightning).
Free agent Daniel Alfredsson has not announced whether he will return for a 19th NHL, but he has said that he will either re-sign with Red Wings or retire. The decision may not come until September according to the Detroit Free Press. Alfredsson turns 42 in December.
SABRES ACQUIRE LEADERSHIP FROM MONTREAL:
The Sabres may still be years away from contending, but kudos to General Manager Tim Murray for at least going out and acquiring five savvy veterans who should help steer Buffalo’s prospects in the right direction.
The Sabres signed Rochester, NY, native and former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta to a three-year, $12.75 million deal and also acquired former Canadiens assistant captain Josh Gorges in a trade for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Gorges has three years remaining on his current deal with an annual salary cap hit of $3.9 million.
“I think he's going to be a great fit for here,” Gionta said of Gorges. “He's a heart-and-soul guy who leaves his heart out on the ice every day and does anything for the team. I think he's going to be a great example for a lot of the young guys here in how to play and the culture that we're trying to institute.”
Murray also signed veteran defenseman Andrej Meszaros as well as forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, who both played in Buffalo last season before being dealt at the NHL Trade Deadline. Moulson’s deal is five-years at $25 million.
STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS HEAD TO FLORIDA:
Among the Florida Panthers’ six signings on the first day of free agency were Stanley Cup champions Dave Bolland (Chicago, 2010 and 2013), Shawn Thornton (Boston, 2011) and Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles, 2012 and 2014).
Bolland signed the biggest deal among the newest Panthers, agreeing on a five-year $27.5 million contract with a Florida team that has just one playoff appearance since 2000. He is expected to serve as Florida’s third line center, behind Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov.
Mitchell signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal, while Thornton signed for two-years $2.4 million.
The Panthers also signed top-six forward Jussi Jokinen to a four-year, $16 million deal. Jokinen had 21 goals and 57 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, numbers that would have made him Florida’s leading scorer last year by a wide margin.
BEST OF THE REST:
The Ottawa Senators appear to be in full rebuild mode after trading captain Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars for Alex Chiasson, two prospects and a draft pick. The Senators most significant UFA signing came Friday when they agreed to terms with center David Legwand on a two-year, $6 million deal.
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas to a three-year, $9 million deal. The 37-year-old suffered a broken leg last year with the Dallas Stars and later re-injured his leg during the playoffs with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Montreal Canadiens freed up salary cap space by trading Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres and deciding not to re-sign captain Brian Gionta. General Manager Marc Bergevin is expected to sign restricted free agent P.K. Subban to a long-term deal later this offseason. The Canadiens also acquired forward P.A. Parenteau in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for veteran Daniel Briere.
The Boston Bruins have not made any significant offseason acquisitions, although they have seen former Bruins Jarome Iginla (Avalanche) Shawn Thornton (Panthers), Chad Johnson (Islanders) and Andrej Meszaros (Sabres) sign elsewhere.