NHL Free Agent signings: Gurianov a bargain for Stars; Canucks ink Virtanen

NHL Free Agent signings: Gurianov bargain for Stars; Canucks ink Virtanen
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While we’re deep enough into 2020 NHL Free Agency that movement can be slow, people are getting signed. That’s especially true for RFAs, particularly if there was a threat of salary arbitration. Let’s look at the Stars locking down Denis Gurianov, the Canucks signing Jake Virtanen, and Connor Brown sticking with the Senators.

In each case, there’s some room for debate about value. Let’s take a look.

Stars get a potential steal with Gurianov at $2.55M

OK, that was at least my gut reaction from the Stars signing Gurianov, 23, to a two-year, $5.1 million contract ($2.55M AAV).

Over 64 games during the 2019-20 regular season, Gurianov scored 20 goals; the one thing that puts a damper on that — a bit — is that he was limited to nine assists. Yet, one thing that intrigued me about Gurianov (and another Stars RFA, Roope Hintz) is the possibility of a heightened role. Gurianov found a way to score those 20 goals despite only averaging 12:59 TOI.

During the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gurianov enjoyed an even bigger breakthrough. Gurianov scored nine goals and 17 points in 27 games, placing him sixth on the Stars. Even then, Gurianov had to make the most of his time on ice, as he averaged less than 14 minutes per playoff contest (13:53).

So, to me, it seems like he could strongly outperform that $2.55M AAV. But maybe I’m a little too excited, at least if Gurianov is a touch one-dimensional? Generally speaking, Gurianov’s possession stats have been solid, yet unspectacular.

Eh, honestly? Still seems quite favorable for the Stars.

From what Rick Bowness told The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required), it sounds like we’ll find out if Gurianov can handle bigger minutes soon enough:

“They are coming into the team next year knowing they are a big part of it,” Bowness said of Gurianov and Hintz. “They are go-to guys now …”

Mixed reactions to Canucks signing Virtanen for Gurianov money

Amusingly, the reactions were quite different for Jake Virtanen’s contract from the Canucks. The amusing part comes from Virtanen receiving the same two-year, $5.5M total, according to The Athletic’s Thomas Drance.

Some view Virtanen, 24, as a pretty good all-around player, which would probably make him worth $2.55M per year.

Meanwhile, others aren’t quite as convinced.

Maybe some of that boils down to the Canucks facing such a salary cap crunch?

What we do know is that Virtanen set career-highs in goals (18), assists (18) and points (36) in 2019-20. Like Gurianov, Virtanen produced while receiving limited minutes (13:05). Interestingly, Virtanen saw his role diminished, as he averaged 14:49 per game in 2018-19.

While Gurianov flourished during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Virtanen floundered. He only averaged 11:16 TOI, and was limited to three points (2G, 1A) in 16 playoff games.

Perhaps there’s quite a bit more to be excited about with Gurianov, but Virtanen can deliver value, too? We’ll see.

Senators commit three years to Connor Brown

In their official announcement, the Senators confirmed a three-year deal for Connor Brown with a $3.66M cap hit. The deal carries a $2.8M salary in 2020-21, and then $4M in the final two seasons of the contract.

Brown, 26, has had an interesting career path so far. That could make it difficult to gauge if this is a smart deal, an alright one, or a minor blunder by Ottawa:

Clearly, the Senators like Brown quite a bit. Considering the dough they dropped on Matt Murray, Ottawa hasn’t been shy about investing in the players they believe in.

During 2019-20, Brown averaged a whopping 20:07 TOI, more than any other Senators forward. Brown finished second in team scoring with 43 points (16 G, 27 A) behind Brady Tkachuk‘s 44.

It should be interesting to see how this contract looks over the next three seasons.

While Brown, Gurianov, and Virtanen round out the most noteworthy recent signings, there are plenty of others. Check out the 2020 NHL Free Agent Tracker to stay up to date.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.