There was a method to the Seattle Kraken’s approach to preserve salary cap space while making their expansion draft selections.
After laying in wait, the Kraken made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by signing goalie Philipp Grubauer to a six-year, $35.4 million contract Wednesday. Seattle’s roster is suddenly beginning to take form with the addition of one of the top players on the market.
The 29-year-old Grubauer, who finished second in the NHL with 30 wins and third in the Vezina Trophy voting following his third season in Colorado, represents a significant upgrade over the three goalies the Kraken plucked off 30 teams’ rosters.
His signing also dealt a blow to the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche, who had difficulty squeezing him under their salary cap after re-signing captain Gabriel Landeskog a day earlier.
“He was the backbone of our team and a huge part of our success this past season,” Landeskog said after signing an eight-year, $56 million extension. “But at the end of the day I’m not going to tell Grubi what to do just like he didn’t try to tell me what to do.”
Seattle also added to its forwards by signing Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg. Schwartz agreed to a five-year, $27.5 million deal, and Wennberg agreed to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million.
The New Jersey Devils used their considerable amount of salary-cap space to land free agency’s other top-prized player by signing playmaking defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million contract — the richest free agent deal of the day.
“We got him,” the Devils said in a message posted on their Twitter account to announce the move.
At the other end of the cap spectrum, the much-anticipated breakup of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning continued.
Forward Blake Coleman left to sign a six-year, $29.4 million deal with Calgary. And defenseman David Savard signed a four-year, $14 million contract with Montreal — the team the Lightning defeated in the Stanley Cup Final three weeks ago.
“We all knew it was going to happen,” Savard said of the Lightning’s breakup. “I think everybody in that dressing room knew a lot of guys were going to be leaving this summer, so I know it’s going to be a different team next year. But it was fun. Knowing everybody was going to leave after that run, we made it so special.”
Savard immediately fills the hole left on the Canadiens’ blue line with captain Shea Weber’s career uncertain due to a series of injuries.
Tampa Bay did shore up its long-term future by extending No. 1 center Brayden Point eight years through 2030 for $76 million. The Lightning made a handful of other moves, including bringing back 2020 Cup-winning defenseman Zach Bogosian on a three-year deal, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to a $2 million, two-year contract and adding Brian Elliott as a new backup goalie.
“I always knew in the back of my mind that I probably always wanted to play for Tampa again,” Bogosian said. “I didn’t know when that would be, but to have the opportunity come up, it was nice to jump on it.”
A flat salary cap — staying at $81.5 million for a third consecutive season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — didn’t stop teams from transforming their rosters. It just required teams had to be more creative in clearing space in the days leading up to free agency before completing a combined 60 signings worth a whopping $405 million in the first two hours Wednesday.
“We’re seeing more and more trades where teams are attaching assets to players to move the money, or taking back dead cap space,” said Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher, who spent much of the past two weeks transforming his defense by acquiring Matt Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen in trades.
More might be coming.
“Just because it’s the first day of free agency doesn’t mean it’s the last day of free agency,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. “There’s a lot of trade talk that’s starting to heat up, too.”
After holding out hope to retain Hamilton, the cap-strapped Hurricanes were in no position to match the Devils’ offer for an offensive defenseman who has topped 40 points in six of his past seven seasons.
Hamilton joins the rebuilding Devils, who finished 26th in the NHL in goals and were outscored by a combined 194-145. New Jersey freed up additional cap space by trading underperforming defenseman Will Butcher, who has one year left on a three-year, $11.2 million contract, to Buffalo for future considerations.
A much bigger priority for Carolina was addressing its goaltending needs by agreeing with former Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen on a two-year, $9 million contract and Antti Raanta on a two-year, $4 million contract.
Ryan Suter became the first player to sign a new contract when free agency began, joining the Dallas Stars on a $14.6 million, four-year deal. Dallas also signed 2016 Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Braden Holtby for $2 million for next season after he was bought out by Vancouver.
The Canadiens lost defensive-checking center Phillip Danault after he signed a six-year, $33 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
The more notable players on the market include New York Islanders winger Kyle Palmieri and center Zach Parise, who was also bought out by the Wild.
As for the trade market, the Sabres continue to shop disgruntled captain Jack Eichel, who has five years left on an eight-year, $80 million salary.
Among the other moves around the league, Vegas re-signed defenseman Alec Martinez for $15.75 million over three years, Anaheim re-signed captain Ryan Getzlaf to a one-year deal, and the Edmonton Oilers were active, and the goalie carousel continued spinning.
Forward Zach Hyman signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract with the Oilers, who also traded Ethan Bear to Carolina for Warren Foegele.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was dealt by Detroit to Carolina for Alex Nedeljkovic, was allowed to become a free agent and signed a two-year, $8.25 million contact with New Jersey. Among other goalie moves, Toronto signed Petr Mrazek, Philadelphia added Martin Jones fresh off his buyout from San Jose, the Sharks signed James Reimer and the Canucks brought in Jaroslav Halak to replace Holtby.
The Sabres failed in their bid to re-sign goalie Linus Ullmark, who left to sign a four-year, $20 million contract with Boston. The Bruins also signed Nick Foligno, to a two-year, $7.6 million deal.