Mike Halford

New Jersey Devils players celebrate a goal by Devante Smith-Pelly, second from left, against Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, right, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Devils bring back Bennett, Merrill and Smith-Pelly

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Earlier this week, the Devils didn’t make qualifying offers to defenseman Jon Merril and forwards Beau Bennett and Devante Smith-Pelly.

All part of the plan, apparently.

After the three hit unrestricted free agency on Friday, all three of ’em were quickly brought back.

The details, per the club:

— Bennett signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $725,000.

— Merrill signed a two-year, $2.275 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $1.137M.

— Smith-Pelly signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $1.3M.

Bennett, acquired at the draft from Pittsburgh, will get a fresh start with the Devils after several injury-plagued seasons with the Pens.

Merrill, currently sidelined following major shoulder surgery, only played in 47 games last year due to a variety of injuries. He’s looking to rediscover the form shown during impressive rookie and sophomore campaigns in New Jersey. His second year was especially solid — 14 points in 66 games, averaging over 20 minutes per night — and he boasts good size, going 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Smith-Pelly, 24, was acquired by the Devils from Montreal for Stefan Matteau on February 29, 2016. He set new career highs across the board with 14 goals and 25 points in 64 combined games this season. He notched eight goals and five assists in 18 games after his trade to New Jersey.

Related: Devils sign veterans Lovejoy, Fiddler

Kings address blueline depth, ink Gilbert to one-year, $1.4M deal

Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens

Los Angeles had holes to fill on defense this offseason, and it plugged one on Friday by signing veteran Tom Gilbert to a one-year, $1.4 million deal.

Gilbert, 33, is a fairly risky gamble. He was a fairly useful piece for Montreal last season, averaging just under 17 minutes TOI in 45 games, but underwent season-ending knee surgery in February.

Performed by Dr. James Andrews, the procedure will require six months of recovery.

When healthy, Gilbert can be an effective bottom-pairing guy. He’s a decent puck mover with offensive abilities — he had 25 assists in 73 games for Florida three seasons ago — but he’s never been regarded as a good defensive defenseman, and is long in the tooth.

Right now, though, he projects to be fully in the mix for Los Angeles. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires with another veteran blueliner, Matt Greene, who was rumored to be bought out of the final two years of his contract, yet that transaction never went through.

Flyers sign Weise to four-year, $9.4 million deal

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Dale Weise #22 of the Montreal Canadiens awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Dale Weise posted a career-high in goals last year, and now he’s getting a career-high payday.

The veteran winger has inked a four-year, $9.4 million deal with the Flyers, one that carries at $2.35M average annual cap hit, per Sportsnet.

Prior to this, Weise had never earned more than $1.025M in a single season, but greatly upped his value in ’15-16 by scoring 14 goals and 27 points with the Habs and Blackhawks.

In Philly, it’s possible Weise will be called upon to replace some of the grit and sandpaper Ryan White brought to the team. White looks as though he’ll exit as an unrestricted free agent, and at first glance Weise seems more than capable of filling the role.

He’s younger, more offensively inclined and a faster skater, all of which bodes well. The big sticking point with Weise will be this contract, though — $2.35 million is a lot to pay annually for a guy that might end up being a fourth-line forward.




Hedman inks eight-year, $63M extension as Bolts strike another huge deal

TAMPA, FL - MAY 8:  Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders during the first period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 8, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Steve Yzerman is having himself quite the week.

Just days after preventing captain Steve Stamkos from leaving via free agency, the Lightning GM has orchestrated another vitally important deal — star defenseman Victor Hedman has agreed to an eight-year, $63 million deal.

“Victor has matured into one of the top defensemen in the NHL and coming off the recent re-signing of our captain, Steven Stamkos,  we’ve secured another extremely important member of our team,” Yzerman said upon making the announcement. “I’m very appreciative of both Victor and [agent] Peter Wallen’s efforts to reach an agreement with us at this time.”

The contract comes with Hedman going into the final year of his current contract, meaning the extension kicks in for the 2017-18 campaign. It will carry a hefty $7.85M cap hit — up from his current $4M — but is still good value for a franchise-type defenseman that, in case you forgot, is still only 25 years old.

Hedman enjoyed another stellar campaign this season, finishing with 10 goals and 47 points in 78 games, and his highest-ever Norris finish (seventh in voting). He then stepped it up in the playoffs, scoring at a near point-per-game clip (14 in 17 contests) and saw his ice time skyrocket to 27:26 per night.

While the Stamkos and Hedman signings were both excellent pieces of business from Yzerman, there remains plenty of work to be done. The team is pushing closer and closer to the salary cap ceiling, and new deals still need to be reached for prized RFAs Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, as well as a promising young prospect in Vladislav Namestnikov.

Next summer, more big deals need to get done — for Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin.

As such, it’s possible the club may have to part with Vezina finalist Ben Bishop. The NHL’s tallest netminder was terrific for the team last year, but carries a $5.9M cap hit and will be a UFA after next season.

What’s more, the Bolts have their goalie of the future already in the mix with Andrei Vasilevskiy (who, of course, will need a new contract next summer.)

Sharks sign ‘solid puck-moving defenseman’ Schlemko — four years, $8.4 million

David Schlemko
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The defending Western Conference champions beefed up their blueline on the opening day of free agency — San Jose has inked journeyman blueliner David Schlemko to a four-year, $8.4 million deal, one that carries a $2.1M average annual cap hit.

More, from the Sharks:

“David is a solid puck-moving defenseman with good speed who can play the game at both ends,” said [GM Doug] Wilson. “He is coming off of a very productive season in New Jersey and we think he will fit well with our group.”

Schlemko, 29, posted career-highs in goals (6), assists (13), points (19), power-play points (12), game-winning goals (3) and shots on goal (104) in a career-best 67 games played with New Jersey last season. He led all Devils blueliners in goals, ranked T-2nd in points and ranked 3rd on the team in blocked shots (88) and T-3rd in power-play points. In addition, Schlemko skated the eighth-most minutes per game of any Devils skater (18:38).

Schlemko will bolster a pretty solid Sharks blueline, one that already featured the likes of Brent Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Brenden Dillon. It’s possible Schlemko comes in and fills Roman Polak‘s spot on the bottom pairing next to Dillon.

That coupling was exposed at time in the Stanley Cup Final, though Schlemko might not the proper fit for a replacement given he’s a lefty, and so is Dillon.