July 15 — Creating a Contender & They’re Where Now?

Last Night’s News 📰

KANE REMAINS: Before the free agent market opened, the Edmonton Oilers signed Evander Kane to a four-year, $20.5 million extension, keeping the 30-year-old forward in Alberta’s capital. Kane produced 39 points in 43 games after joining the Oilers on Jan. 27 and added 17 points in 15 playoff games. 

FREE AGENT FRENZY: Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, Ondřej Palát, and Darcy Kuemper were among the big names that changed addresses over the first two days of a busy free agency period. Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg, you guys good?

NEW LOOK CANES: Though largely quiet on the free agent front, the Carolina Hurricanes used the trade route to add a pair of veteran stars in Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns. The high-character duo will provide leadership for a club looking to be in the Stanley Cup mix next spring.

CRAZY EIGHTS: On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning gave forward Anthony Cirelli, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, and defenseman Erik Černák eight-year contract extensions. All three were integral parts of the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2020 and 2021.

FLIPPING FORWARDS: The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins swapped forwards on Wednesday, with the Devils shipping Pavel Zacha north and receiving Erik Haula in return. Zacha notched a career-high 36 points in 70 games for New Jersey, while Haula put up 30 in 61 for the Bruins.

Friday Favorites

Let’s look back at our favorite moments of the week.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

One minute into the free agent frenzy, Pierre LeBrun announced the most expected signing of the day. Ontario native Claude Giroux signed a three-year deal with the Ottawa Senators. The Giroux family spends their summer in Ottawa, so in a way, he is going home, even if his hometown of Hearst, Ontario, is more than 10 hours away from Canada’s capital. During his introductory press conference, the veteran forward brought his 2-year-old son Gavin along, who ended up stealing the show in his adorable Sens-inspired outfit. 

Shoot the Cannon

It only makes sense to go from the least surprising move to the most. Late Wednesday night Johnny Gaudreau shocked the hockey world by committing the next seven years of his career to the Columbus Blue Jackets. After reports that the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils were heavily involved in the “Johnny Hockey sweepstakes,” a last-minute pivot took hockey Twitter by storm. Blue Jackets fans can celebrate now that the dust has settled around their newest acquisition.

Jágrs Got Jokes

Jaromir Jágr is an icon both on and off the ice. The 50-year-old future Hall of Fame player took to Twitter to let general managers around the NHL know he is still available. Below is his iconic sales pitch: 

NHL GMs — I am also [a] free agent, once again. [Six-foot-three], 265 [pounds]… 50 years old, slow, but strong, and good hands. Can bring experience and likes to play only home games. Call me anytime. Also, as the owner of a hockey club in Czech Liga — I am looking to sign a defenseman, no jokes.

Never change, Jágr, never change!!

Contender Mode, Activated!

Once upon a time, NHL free agency primarily served as the playground of the big-market clubs looking to spend their way to the top every year. Thanks to the salary cap, those teams are now often the ones struggling to keep their roster together—the modern cost of success. In that void, teams with space have learned the true power of the cap and its ability to boost an “also-ran” into quick playoff contention.

In the early days of free agency, we’ve seen several teams use their space to announce their arrival as playoff contenders. Look out for these rising teams that have used the offseason to jump from rebuilding to hunting.

Ottawa Senators

With Alex DeBrincat (and Claude Giroux) in the fold, the Senators’ forward corps got a whole lot more dangerous. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Already boasting the makings of an intriguing core with Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, and Thomas Chabot, the Ottawa Senators showed that they are ready to spend to return to contention in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa started early by trading for Alex DeBrincat at the NHL Entry Draft and then made an immediate free agency splash with the signing of Claude Giroux. Adding Cam Talbot in goal while unloading Matt Murray is just icing on the cake. Now, about that blue line

Detroit Red Wings

Looks like it’s Stevie Y’s time to shine (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Steve Yzerman has taken a patient approach since taking over the GM chair in Detroit, enjoying the development of players like Calder winner Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, even as the wins come slowly. This summer looks to mark the end of that patient approach, however, as the Red Wings legend got to work on helping the club win now. Yzerman acquired and signed Ville Husso, brought in Andrew Copp, and made savvy plays for the likes of David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, Ben Chiarot, and Olli Määttä.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils landed themselves a two-time Cup winner in Ondřej Palát (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Last summer’s big Dougie Hamilton free agent splash was just the tip of the iceberg for the New Jersey Devils and GM Tom Fitzgerald. New Jersey took a big, five-year bet on the winning pedigree of Ondřej Palát, traded Pavel Zacha for Erik Haula, and added Vitek Vanecek to vie for time in the crease with Mackenzie Blackwood. Sure, the Devils missed out on hometown hero Johnny Gaudreau, but the new additions coupled with Hamilton and a (hopefully) healthy Jack Hughes could make for a formidable foundation in Jersey.

This Will Take Some Getting Used To

NHL free agency began on Wednesday, leading to an exciting and active opening day. A plethora of deals, both via trade and free agency, have already taken place through the first two days, with plenty more on the way. Some of those deals involved familiar faces who have played a majority (if not all) of their careers to this point with one team. Here are a few guys who will look weird wearing new sweaters next season.

Brent Burns – Carolina Hurricanes

The 37-year-old defenseman, who has spent the past 11 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, was traded with Lane Pederson to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday for Steven Lorentz, Eetu Mäkiniemi, and a 2023 third-round pick. Known for his beard and missing teeth, Burns became a franchise icon during his time in San Jose and is the Sharks’ all-time leader among defensemen in points (316), goals (115), and assists (201). 

After 11 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Brent Burns was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Burns also won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top all-around defensemen in 2016-17 and helped lead the Sharks to their first (and only) Stanley Cup Final appearance the year before. Despite his advanced age (in hockey terms), Burns showed last season that he can still be productive, playing all 82 games and tallying 54 points (10 goals, 44 assists). Carolina hopes he can continue to play at that level as he approaches 40, providing veteran leadership and postseason experience to the contending Hurricanes.

Ondřej Palát – New Jersey Devils

New Jersey signed the 31-year-old forward to a five-year, $30 million deal on Thursday. If the Devils hadn’t made their intentions clear that they plan to improve drastically from last season’s 63-point effort and compete for a playoff spot, they did with this signing. Drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft, Palát totaled 423 points (143 goals, 280 assists) in 628 regular season games with the Lightning. 

After winning two titles in 10 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ondřej Palát signed with the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Palát also had 94 points (48 goals, 46 assists) in 138 career playoff games and was a significant part of Tampa’s back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2020 and 2021. Last season, the Czech forward registered 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 77 regular season games and 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 23 postseason games, with three of those playoff points coming on game-winning goals. He ranks third among active NHL players (behind Joe Pavelski and Evgeni Malkin) in that category with 12.

Johnny Gaudreau – Columbus Blue Jackets

Johnny Hockey shocked the world when he signed a seven-year, $68.25 million deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night. While no one expected that Gaudreau would re-sign with the Calgary Flames after spending his entire nine-year career there, few people forecasted him to Columbus.

After eight seasons with the Calgary Flames, Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 602 regular season games with the Flames, the left winger totaled 609 points (210 goals, 399 assists). He also has 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 42 career postseason games. Last season was Gaudreau’s best, as he tied for second in scoring with 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) and led the league with a plus-64 before notching 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 12 playoff games. He brings star power and elite playmaking skills to a young Blue Jackets team on the rise.