Matt Niskanen

Niskanen gets $40.25 million over seven years from Caps


Matt Niskanen just got paid — $40.25 million over seven years for the 27-year-old defenseman, by the Washington Capitals.

The biggest deal of today’s free-agent frenzy, in terms of total dollars, comes with a cap hit of $5.75 million.

The size of the contract should come as no shock, really. Among pending UFAs under 30, no d-man was in a stronger position than Niskanen heading into today’s bidding. The right-shooting blue-liner finished 2013-14 with 10 goals and 36 assists for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the fact the contract was signed with the Caps may have been a slight surprise. Especially after Washington signed veteran d-man Brooks Orpik to a five-year, $27.5 million deal earlier in the day.

Then again, upgrading Washington’s blue line was what new general manager Brian MacLellan intended to do this offseason. And at the very least, he’s added to it.

“We are very excited that Matt Niskanen has chosen to sign with Washington,” MacLellan said in a release. “At 27 years of age, he is just entering his prime for a defenseman. We feel he will be a staple on our blueline for many years to come. We have stated all along that upgrading the defense was our top priority this offseason and we feel we accomplished our goal with our signings today.”

“I can honestly say I was looking for the best hockey fit,” Niskanen told TSN, adding that he’s looking forward to getting Alex Ovechkin the puck, as well as reuniting with assistant coach Todd Reirden.

With the additions of Niskanen and Orpik, one does wonder what the future holds for Mike Green, who’s signed through next season for a cap hit just north of $6 million. Will the Caps explore trading the 28-year-old this summer? The Detroit Red Wings are still searching for a right-shooting d-man, is partly why we ask.

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.