Gaudreau leaving Flames, joins deep NHL free agent class

gaudreau nhl free agent
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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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    Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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    FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

    The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    “Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

    A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    “Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

    Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

    Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

    “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Robertson will finally be there now.

    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

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

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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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

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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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.