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While new Toronto Maple Leaf John Tavares was the biggest name to move, veterans like Paul Stastny, Jack Johnson, Michael Grabner and Chris Kunitz also changed teams on the opening day of NHL free agency Sunday.

While Tavares left the New York Islanders to ink a seven-year, US$77-million contract to play in his home town, the Leafs also lost big winger James Van Riemsdyk, their goal-scoring leader last season who signed for five years and US$35-million with the Philadelphia Flyers and centre Tyler Bozak, who inked a three-year, US$15-million deal with the St. Louis Blues.

Defenceman Roman Polak also left the Leafs for a one-year, US$1.3-million contract with the Dallas Stars, while trade deadline pickup Tomas Plekanec returned to the Montreal Canadiens for one year at US$2.25-million plus bonuses. The 35-year-old free agent centre was traded to the Maple Leafs in February after skating his entire career in Montreal.

Plekanec hopes 2018-19 won’t be his last NHL campaign, and feels that signing one-year contracts will make him more attractive to general managers. “I want to play as long as I feel I can play,” he said. “I never look farther than that.

Of greater note were some stars re-signing with their clubs, including an eight-year, US$88-million deal for Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty and an eight-year, US$64-million extension for San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture. The Kings also made veteran Ilya Kovalchuk’s return from Russia official with a three-year, US$18.75 million pact.

Stastny was perhaps the most sought-after centre on the free agent market after Tavares. The Winnipeg Jets were believed to have off-loaded goalie Steve Mason’s salary on Montreal last week to leave cap-room to make him a big offer to stay.

But the 32-year-old Stastny, acquired at the trade deadline as a key piece in the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff run, opted to sign with the team that beat them in the Western Conference final, the Vegas Golden Knights, for three years at US$6.5-million per season.

The Jets also lost backup goalie Michael Hutchinson to a one-year US$1.3-million deal with Florida, but picked up goalie Laurent Brossoit from Edmonton for one year and US $650,000.

Johnson, one of the top defencemen on the market, left Columbus for a five-year, US$16.25-million deal with Pittsburgh, while a former Penguin, 38-year-old Chris Kunitz, left Tampa Bay for Chicago for one year at US$1-million. Grabner moved from New Jersey to Arizona on a three-year pact paying US$3.350-million per season.

A new wrinkle this year was a week-long negotiating window ahead of “free agent frenzy,” so many deals were sealed in advance. That led to a rush of announcements as the market opened.

“It’s a busy marketplace; you’ve got to be careful at this time of the year,” said Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving. “As an industry we’re getting more familiar with this courting period.

“I don’t know if it’s good, bad or what it is. I would say it’s very similar to years past. You’ve got to be careful how you go about your business.”

The Flames made their big move last week with a multi-player trade that saw Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland and a prospect go to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

As free agancy started, they signed 31-year-old Hurricanes centre Derek Ryan to a three-year contract worth US$9.375-million.

The Vancouver Canucks were looking for size and grit up front when they signed Washington centre Jay Beagle and Dallas winger Antoine Roussel to four-year deals worth an average of US$3-million per year, and added forward Tim Schaller from Boston on a two-year contract, worth an average of US$1.9-million annually.

Adding leadership is key for the team, after three long-time Canucks forwards hung up their skates last season, including Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who retired after 17 seasons with the team. Derek Dorsett ended his career in November due to spinal issues.

“We want to be a harder team to play against and I think the players we added make us harder,” GM Jim Benning said.

The Edmonton Oilers reached out for German forward Tobias Rieder for one year at US$2-million and former St. Louis Blue Kyle Brodziak for two years reportedly at US$1.15-million per season. They added defenceman Kevin Gravel from Los Angeles on a one-year, two-way deal.

The Ottawa Senators added depth to their organization with the signing of goalie Mike McKenna and forward Paul Carey to one-year, two-way contracts. As promised months ago, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion made a contract offer to Erik Karlsson on Sunday. Whether it does anything to clear up the star defenceman’s future remains to be seen.

The Canadiens also signed depth centre Matthew Peca to a two-year contract with an annual salary cap hit of US$1.3-million, and inked defenceman Xavier Ouellet to a one-year, one-way contract worth US$750,000 in the NHL.

Other notables to change teams included forward David Perron to St. Louis, defenceman John Moore to Boston and rearguard Ian Cole to Colorado. Carolina lost goalie Cam Ward to Chicago but signed Petr Mrazek from Philadelphia.

The Canadian Press

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