In the search for additional depth on defence, the Edmonton Oilers added Andrej Sekera as an unrestricted free agent Wednesday, bolstering a blue line that had added Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba previously.
The Oilers paid a big price to sign Sekera, who finished the year with the Los Angeles Kings, after coming over at the NHL trading deadline in exchange for a first-round pick. The Kings couldn't outbid the Oilers on Sekera, who signed a six-year, $33 million contract averaging $5.5 million per season, because they have serious salary-cap issues.
Sekera is 29 and started his career with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006-07 season. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Sekera has the chance to play first-pair minutes with the Oilers.
The Oilers were also closing in a three-year deal to add depth centre Mark Letestu, who had been with the Columbus Blue Jackets most recently, but would have had a difficult time getting minutes on a team so deep up front. The day before, the Oilers opened up a spot for Letestu by trading away Boyd Gordon to the Arizona Coyotes. Edmonton received Lauri Korpikosi in exchange for Gordon, a former first-round pick of the New York Rangers, who has never been able to score regularly in the NHL.
The Oilers will have a vastly new look next year, from the goal out, where Cam Talbot is penciled in as the new starter. Sekera, Gryba and Reinhart, if he makes the team, will represent a 50 per cent turnover on the blue line that contributed to another year for Edmonton near or at the bottom of the goals-against average. The addition of Connor McDavid still headlines the Oilers' off-season moves.
Not to be outdone, the Oilers' provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, made a strategic, if expensive, free-agent buy of their own, adding Michael Frolik to a five-year, $21.5 million contract, a lot of money for a solid and versatile player who has never scored more than 45 points in an NHL season. Frolik won a Stanley Cup with the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, before going to the Winnipeg Jets, where he scored 42 points in each of the last two seasons, moving up and down the depth chart. Frolik is known as a low-maintenance player, generally beloved by the coaches he plays for.
For the NHL's mid-30-something players, the primary goal in free agency usually focuses on contract term, not necessarily the dollar amounts.
Ultimately, getting a three-year term was the primary reason veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin, one of the more attractive free agents on the market, left the Anaheim Ducks to join the Colorado Avalanche, in the first semi-significant signing of the opening day of the NHL free agent season.
The Ducks were adamant that they didn't want to commit to more than a two-year extension for a 35-year-old defenceman who played on the team's top pairing last season alongside young Swede Hampus Lindholm on an extremely deep defence corps.
Seeing how that negotiation was going, the Ducks made the pre-emptive strike the day before to acquire defenceman Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks and then signed him to a two-year extension.
Anaheim is one of the deepest teams in the league on defence, whereas Colorado had an extremely thin blue line – so they were prepared to meet Beauchemin's demands. After Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, the talent dips significantly in Colorado. Beauchemin also provides some experience on a Colorado team that missed the playoffs last season after winning the Central Division the year before. Beauchemin was asking for $5 million per season, but settled for $4.5 million.
San Jose, a team in the midst of a significant transition, added 34-year-old defenceman Paul Martin, most recently from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and managed to get a four-year term out of the Sharks. Martin will fill some of the leadership void the Sharks lost last year, after Dan Boyle left to go to New York.
Last year, teams spent over $500 million to about 90 players on the first day of free agency.
For most of the run-up to free agency, goaltender Karri Ramo was looking for a multi-year contract extension from a team where he could challenge to be the No. 1 goaltender. But then all the goaltending slots were filled by teams, mostly through trades, so Ramo's camp circled back to his original team, the Calgary Flames, and settled for a one-year deal worth $3.8-million.
The thought there is that with Jonas Hiller's contract set to expire at the end of next year, Ramo's best chance to win a starting job is probably in Calgary, where he finished the year as the No. 1 guy.
Ramo was the first goaltending domino to fall – Michal Neuvirth is probably the biggest name still out there – but the rest of free agency will likely focus on forwards and defencemen.
Other players to sign early: Kevin Bieksa inked a two-year extension with his new team, the Anaheim Ducks, which will pay him $4-million per season; while centre Mike Ribeiro re-upped with the Nashville Predators, a two-year deal worth $3.5-million per season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off free agency by signing defenceman Matt Hunwick to a two-year deal.
The 30-year-old reportedly got US$2.4 million in the deal that counts $1.2 million against the salary cap.
Hunwick spent last season with the New York Rangers, scoring two goals and adding nine assists in 55 games.
Hunwick has 18 goals and 60 assists in 347 games with Boston, Colorado and New York.
The Vancouver Canucks have re-signed defenceman Yannick Weber to a one-year deal and signed goaltender Richard Bachman for two years and defenceman Taylor Fedun for one.
The 26-year-old Weber remains on the Canucks' blue line, which is expected to be younger after the club traded Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim.
"Excited to spend another year with the VanCanucks," Weber tweeted. "Thank you to the fans and organization for the support."
Weber has 63 points in 229 NHL games with the Canucks and Montreal Canadiens.
The Winnipeg Jets started free agency by locking up two of their own players and bringing back another.
Winnipeg agreed to terms on a two-year contract with forward Alexander Burmistrov and one-year deals with defenceman Adam Pardy and forward Matt Halischuk. Versatile winger Michael Frolik left to sign a US$21.5-million, five-year contract with the Calgary Flames.
The 23-year-old Burmistrov has spent the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with Ak-Bars Kazan. He spent his first three professional seasons with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, scoring 23 goals and adding 35 assists in 194 NHL games.
"I heard from guys, he's a super good guy and he's got a ton of skill," Pardy said on a conference call. "I'm hoping that he's coming in here to buy into our game and fill a big hole that we're going to miss with Fro."
Burmistrov was selected eighth overall in 2010 NHL draft by Atlanta.
"When we took the team over here (from the Thrashers) we had extremely high hopes that he would be part of our core moving forward, and he gets that opportunity to re-establish himself in the group," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told reporters.
Pardy, who fought through a shoulder injury in the playoffs, will make US$1 million next season. He said his game seemed to be effective in Winnipeg and that he didn't want to leave a contender.
"I made it pretty clear that I wanted to be back because I believe this team can win," Pardy said. "We proved that to ourselves last year that we can win and keep winning."
Halischuk got a two-way deal that pays him $750,000 in the NHL.
The Jets have a handful of other unrestricted free agents, including wingers Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak.
Winnipeg re-signed winger Drew Stafford to a $8.7-million, two-year contract Tuesday night.
The Ottawa Senators said goodbye to Erik Condra on the first day of free agency but replenished their depth at forward and on defence.
Not long after Condra signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Senators signed local product Eric O'Dell to a one-year deal.
O'Dell agreed to terms on a two-way deal worth US$700,000 in the NHL and $300,000 in the AHL. Originally a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, O'Dell has 41 games of NHL experience with the Winnipeg Jets.
Condra reportedly got $1.25 million per season on a three-year deal from the Lightning.
Later Wednesday, the Senators signed forward Zack Stortini to a two-year, two-way contract. The NHL value of the contract is $600,000 per season, and the AHL value is $175,000 in the first year and $200,000 in the second.
On defence, Ottawa signed 29-year-old defenceman Mike Kostka to a one-year, two-way deal. Kostka will make $800,000 in the NHL and $300,000 in the AHL.
The Toronto native has spent time with the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Lightning and Maple Leafs.
The Arizona Coyotes have signed forward Brad Richardson to a three-year contract and brought back defenceman Zbynek Michalek for a third stint with the team in a two-year deal.
Terms of the contracts were not released.
The 30-year-old Richardson had eight goals and 13 assists in 45 games with the Vancouver Canucks last season. He has 62 goals and 87 assists in 10 NHL seasons that include stops with the Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche.
A stay-at-home defenceman, Michalek played for the Coyotes from 2005-10 and 2012-2015. He was traded to St. Louis in a deadline deal last season, finishing with two goals and two assists in 15 games with the Blues.
The New York Islanders have signed defenceman Thomas Hickey, goaltender Thomas Greiss and forward Kirill Petrov.
The Islanders announced the moves on Wednesday, the opening day of free agency in the NHL.
Hickey got a three-year deal in re-signing with the Islanders. Greiss was given a two-year contract after playing 20 games with the Penguins last season. Petrov, a third-round draft pick in 2008, got a one-year, entry-level deal.
Hickey has seven goals and 41 assists in 202 career NHL games, all with the Islanders. The Calgary native led all Islanders defencemen in games last season (81), set a career high in assists (20) and matched his career high in points (22).
The Los Angeles Kings selected the 26-year-old defenceman in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft. He was claimed off waivers by the Islanders in January 2013. He was an unrestricted free agent.
Greiss posted a 9-6-3 record with a .908 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average with the Penguins. The German played 25 games the previous season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The San Jose Sharks selected Greiss in the third round (94th overall) of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft. In 89 career NHL games with San Jose, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, he recorded a 36-30-11 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average. Greiss also appeared in one Stanley Cup Playoff game with the Sharks in 2010.
Petrov, 25, had five goals and 10 assists with Kazan Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Playing parts of nine seasons in Russia's top hockey division, Petrov has tallied 61 goals, 64 assists in 318 games with Ak-Bars and Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk.
The Minnesota Wild finished a drawn-out negotiation with Mikael Granlund by locking up the centre with a two-year deal on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Granlund had eight goals and 31 assists last season. He ranked third on the team in plus-minus rating with a plus-17 and the team hopes he continues his path to becoming one of the team's top playmakers.
Granlund has played three seasons with the Wild since coming over from Finland. He has 88 career points and has scored six goals in 13 career playoff games.
The Wild also announced a two-year deal with rookie defenceman Mike Reilly. He had six goals and 36 assists in 39 games as a junior for the University of Minnesota last season. He grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen.
The Florida Panthers have bought out the contract of right wing Brad Boyes and added three players shortly after the NHL free agency period opened.
Boyes was put on waivers earlier in the week and bought out Wednesday once he cleared. He had 21 goals for the Panthers two seasons ago, but dropped to just 14 goals in 78 games this past season.
The Panthers signed goalie Mike McKenna to a two-year, two-way contract. McKenna spent last season with Portland of the AHL, and is 5-11-2 with a 3.48 goals-against average in limited NHL action with Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Columbus and Arizona.
Forward Shane Harper and defenceman Sena Acolatse were signed to one-year, two-way deals. Neither has appeared in an NHL regular-season contest.
For all of the free agent signings, check out the Free Agent Tracker
Files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press were used in this report