Gaudreau leaving Flames, joins deep NHL free agent class

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While Evgeni Malkin is returning to Pittsburgh, Johnny Hockey is testing the free agent market.

Join the club. It’s a good one.

On the eve of free agency, Malkin re-signed with the Penguins on a $24.4 million, four-year contract, and MVP candidate Johnny Gaudreau informed the Calgary Flames he’s leaving in free agency to enter the fray in an NHL free agent class that features the most high-end talent available in several years.

“It is my strong belief that this was a family decision, and I respect that fully,” disappointed Flames general manager Brad Treliving said Tuesday night. “John has every right, and we have nothing but respect for John the player and John the person.”

Gaudreau, Colorado Stanley Cup champions Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper, and Dallas defenseman John Klingberg headline one of the deepest groups of free agents in recent history. Even though the salary cap is only going up $1 million per team, record revenues have made for the first increase since 2019, setting the stage for significant money to flow when the market opens Wednesday.

“There is some money to be spent out there,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell said. “I think there were 21 teams that were cap teams last year and another five or six that were real close. There’s some money to be spent, and players are going to make a lot of money.”

Probably no one more than Gaudreau, who set career highs with 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points in leading the Flames to the Pacific Division title. His next deal will almost certainly shatter the richest contract signed last year: $63 million to Dougie Hamilton from New Jersey.

Gaudreau, a South Jersey native who grew up rooting for the Flyers, has unsurprisingly been linked to Philadelphia and also the New York Islanders, though Calgary put on a full-court press to keep the dynamic winger, who turns 29 in August.

“I can assure our fans that we have done everything possible to keep John in Calgary,” Treliving said, adding he doesn’t anticipate circling back with Gaudreau. “I firmly believe there’s nothing more we could have done.”

The Penguins worked late Tuesday night to bring back Malkin on a deal that pays him $6.1 million a year, just like defenseman Kris Letang.

“Evgeni is a generational talent who will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NHL history,” GM Ron Hextall said. “His hockey resume and individual accomplishments speak volumes about him as a player, and we are thrilled to watch him continue his remarkable legacy in Pittsburgh.

Teams looking for a strong option down the middle have Kadri, who like Gaudreau had a career year and extended that production deep into the playoffs. Kadri, who will be 32 by opening night, was one of the Avalanche’s best players on their Cup run with 15 points in 16 games sandwiched around a broken right thumb he played through in the final.

Teammate Andre Burakovsky, longtime Flyers captain-turned-Panthers forward Claude Giroux, Rangers center Ryan Strome and Blues winger David Perron are also among the many intriguing options up front.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Waddell said. “It looks like there’s an abundance of forwards and not as many defensemen.”

The best in that shallow pool is Klingberg, highly coveted as a right-shot defenseman who can run the power play. Think Hamilton money for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Swede, who put up 47 points last season.

Waddell joked he and the Hurricanes aren’t looking for a goaltender for the first time in many years, but there’s no shortage of teams that are. Kuemper, who backstopped the Avalanche to the Cup, is available after they acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers, and so is Jack Campbell with the Toronto Maple Leafs moving on to Matt Murray, who they got from Ottawa.

After inconsistency in net cost them in the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers are expected to be big players in the goalie market. So will the Washington Capitals after GM Brian MacLellan “jumped into the fire” by trading Vitek Vanecek to the Devils and doubled down on remaking his goaltending by not tendering a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov.

Whether it’s by trade or free agency, the Capitals now need two goalies and know the price considering the high demand and low supply.

“Given the environment, I think it will be high,” MacLellan said.

The precedent has been set high for a lot of free agents after Colorado re-signed Valeri Nichushkin to a $49 million, eight-year deal Monday. Nichushkin got that after nine goals and six assists in the playoffs, so his $6.125 million annual cap hit could be the floor for Tampa Bay postseason star Ondrej Palat, unless he takes a hometown discount to try to help the Lightning win the Cup for a third time since their run of success began in 2020.

With or without Palat and stable defenseman Jan Rutta, the Lightning could again shop in the bargain aisle as they did last year by adding veterans Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zach Bogosian, who were key pieces of a third consecutive run to the final.

“You start with, what holes do I need to fill and who are the best options to fill those holes, considering the cap space I have and the cap space I’m going to need to sign those players,” Lightning GM Julien BriseBois said.

Filling out the roster with depth players could take some time, not just for Tampa Bay but around the league. Many executives still expect the usual free agent frenzy beginning at noon EDT Wednesday, though that may not be the only time for the vast majority of signings like most years.

“There’s always going to be the rush of certain players are going to get signed, but because of the tight cap situation, are there going to be other situations that take place after that time frame?” Stars GM Jim Nill said. “This might be a year where it drags on a little bit longer.”

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    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
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    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.

    PRIDE NIGHT

    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”

    UP NEXT

    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

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    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.

    Pastrnak scores twice, Bruins top Hurricanes 4-3 in shootout

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    James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports
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    RALEIGH, N.C. — David Pastrnak’s milestone performance with the Boston Bruins came with additional responsibility.

    Minus a couple of key players, Pastrnak moved to the forefront and eclipsed the 50-goal mark by scoring twice and the Bruins won their seventh game in a row by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in a shootout Sunday.

    Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand didn’t make the trip with the NHL-leading Bruins, so Pastrnak boosted his contributions.

    “I’ve been learning from those guys,” Pastrnak said. “You recognize when they’re not here that you have to take a step forward.”

    Pastrnak posted the 12th 50-goal season in Bruins history.

    “With Bergeron and Marchand back at home, you can see his leadership skills really come out,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “I think he put the team on his back and played the right way.”

    Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk scored in the shootout in a matchup of Eastern Conference division leaders.

    Jakub Lauko also scored for the Bruins, who earned their 57th victory and are five wins shy of matching the all-time NHL record with nine regular-season games to play. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Jeremy Swayman made 34 saves.

    “We’ve had a lot of character wins in a lot of different fashions,” Montgomery said.

    Boston tied the franchise record for wins in a season. That’s special in Montgomery’s opinion.

    “Especially when you think about all the great Bruins teams,” he said.

    Jack Drury, Brady Skjei and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, who won three of their previous four games. Brett Pesce had two assists and Frederik Andersen stopped 35 shots.

    Carolina wiped out a two-goal deficit to secure a team point.

    “It wasn’t our best game, but I thought the third period we certainly came on,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of those games where you say it’s probably a good point to get considering how it was looking.”

    Pastrnak’s 50th goal of the season came 4:43 into the game. He received a pass from McAvoy and skated half the length of the ice on a breakaway, though lost full control of the puck and still beat Andersen.

    Pastrnak was on track for 50 goals in March 2020, but he ended up with 48 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an early end to the regular season.

    “You never know what can happen,” Pastrnak said.

    Drury, set up in the slot, scored his second goal of the season off a pass from Jalen Chatfield at 7:44 of the second.

    Just 1:28 later, Pastrnak’s second goal came on a power play when he blasted a shot from the left side just inside the post. Lauko’s fourth goal extended the lead at 11:46 of the second.

    Carolina pulled even at 3-3 when Skjei and Aho scored in the first four minutes of the third period.

    “We knew that was coming,” Montgomery said. “There’s no need to panic. We knew they were going to come with a push.”

    CHECK THE LINEUPS

    Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm was scratched along with Bergeron and Marchand with what Montgomery referred to as nagging injuries. The trio has accounted for 57 goals this season.

    “It shows the depth that we have,” Swayman said. “I think all of us thrive on the energy in a building like this.”

    Carolina’s only significant lineup adjustment came with center Paul Stastny in the lineup in place of Jesse Puljuharvi, who had played in eight straight games since making his debut with the Hurricanes. Puljuharvi arrived in a trade from Edmonton in late February.

    NOTES: The Bruins won two of three meetings with the Hurricanes, securing the first victory in overtime. Carolina eliminated Boston in last spring’s playoffs in seven games. … The Hurricanes maintained their string of securing a point in all seven games across different seasons while wearing green Hartford Whalers-inspired jerseys. The franchise began as the Whalers before relocation in 1997.

    UP NEXT

    Bruins: Host Nashville on Tuesday.

    Hurricanes: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.