Could the Philadelphia Flyers clear out enough cap space to land the South Jersey native? Could he join the New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders, which had cap space?
Instead, he went to the Columbus Blue Jackets with a seven-year deal averaging $9.75 million.
The Blue Jackets are the early winner of free agency by surprisingly landing the biggest prize and USA TODAY Sports’ No. 1 free agent, a 115-point scorer who will help them improve on their sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. And he’ll have plenty of chance to play in front of family by being in the same division as the Flyers, Devils and Islanders.
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NHL FREE AGENCY RECAP: Here’s what you missed during a wild Day 1
Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg remained unsigned, which would affect this list, but here are early winners and losers of NHL free agency:
Columbus Blue Jackets
Not long ago, the Blue Jackets were losing free agents or having to trade them. But Gaudreau’s arrival will change that perception, especially since he told the Blue Jackets they were “one of his true primary destinations,” according to general manager Jarmo Kekaleinen. Gaudreau is a six-time All-Star and one of the game’s top passers. His presence will help the Blue Jackets’ bid to get Patrik Laine signed long-term, though they’ll have to move someone out for that to happen. Now, Gaudreau will just have to get used to the Nationwide Arena cannon.
Detroit Red Wings
The rebuild took a step forward with their signing of Michigan native Andrew Copp, wingers David Perron and Dominik Kubalik and defensemen Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta and Mark Pysyk. Plus they improved their goaltending earlier by trading for and signing Ville Husso. Said Copp of the Red Wings: “It’s very similar to the teams I’ve played on in Winnipeg and New York where you kind of go from out of the playoffs, and all of a sudden, you’re a contender.”
Claude Giroux also came home and the veteran leader will help this young team take another step forward. The Senators earlier added Alex DeBrincat and goaltender Cam Talbot to play alongside rising players Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot. “We can build something here,” Giroux told NHL Network.
They started the day with no NHL goaltenders under contract. They ended the day with Stanley Cup winner Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren, who was strong in a short stint with the Blues last season. They’re an upgrade over the inconsistent Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.
They lost center Vincent Trocheck to free agency but took advantage of teams with cap issues to acquire forward Max Pacioretty and defenseman Brent Burns and lost only fourth-liner Steven Lorentz off the roster. Pacioretty, when healthy, is a productive goal scorer, and Burns had more points (54) than traded Tony DeAngelo (51). The Sharks retained one third of Burns’ salary.
WINNER AND LOSER
Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak signing eight-year extensions is big. The core is locked in long-term. But the perennial Stanley Cup finalists didn’t have the cap space to hang on to playoff star Ondrej Palat and defensemen Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh. Forward Vladislav Namestnikov and defenseman Ian Cole were added in free agency. General manager Julien BriseBois announced that Cirelli and defenseman Zach Bogosian had shoulder surgery and won’t be back until at least late November.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Flames had offered $84 million over eight years to Gaudreau. The soon-to-be father left about $16 million on the table to be closer to family in the East. The Flames got nothing in return as he signed with the Blue Jackets. How will that affect contract talks with restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk?
They had to fill the roster after parting with DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome and Kubalik in a rebuild. Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou and Colin Blackwell don’t match what was moved out. If the Blackhawks’ goal is to tank for a better shot at 2023 top draft prospect Connor Bedard, remember that the last-place Sabres missed out on Connor McDavid in the 2015 draft lottery.
Gaudreau grew up nearby and was available, but the team had no cap space and couldn’t move contracts to clear some. “We looked at some different options, but the price of moving contracts is really expensive,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. Buying out popular player and cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom was a tough business decision, but that move only allowed them to bring back defenseman Justin Braun and sign rugged winger Nic Deslauriers. The 29th-place Flyers could struggle again, even with the coaching change to John Tortorella.
Toronto Maple Leafs
They let goalie Jack Campbell leave and brought in Matt Murray and Samsonov. Granted, Campbell hadn’t led Toronto out of the first round and Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. But those titles with the Penguins were five and six years ago and Murray was often hurt with the Senators. If he can stay healthy and Samsonov thrives under a prove-it deal, this could work. We’ll have to wait and see.
Vegas Golden Knights
They gave away Pacioretty for future considerations in order to re-sign Reilly Smith and earlier gave up Evgenii Dadonov for injured Shea Weber’s contract. Cap troubles continue to haunt this team.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL free agency winners, losers: Wild day ends with huge surprise
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