Blue Jackets breakup begins as Predators land Duchene

By John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno - AP Hockey Writers

Artemi Panarin is heading to the Big Apple, Matt Duchene to Music City and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to South Beach as the expected breakup of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ star core of players became a reality Monday.

Add in veterans Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski signing with Dallas and provincial rivals Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators completing a multiplayer trade and there was plenty of buzz to open the NHL’s free agency signing period.

And once many of the big-name players were off the board, the Montreal Canadiens made the bold move of tendering an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent forward Sebastian Aho. The move leaves Carolina seven days to match the Canadiens’ five-year, $42.27 million offer or elect to receive Montreal’s first-, second- and third-round picks as compensation.

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell first joked he was surprised the offer wasn’t higher before adding the team will review the offer. Last week, Waddell said the team would match any offer to its third-year star, who had a career-best 30 goals and 83 points last season.

It is the first offer sheet in the NHL since 2013, when the Calgary Flames tried to acquire then-Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly only to have Colorado match the contract. The last time a team didn’t match an offer sheet was in 2007, when Dustin Penner signed a five-year, $21.5 million offer from Edmonton and the Oilers sent first-, second- and third-round picks to Anaheim when the Ducks didn’t match it.

Panarin proved to be the biggest prize by signing a seven-year contract with the New York Rangers worth $81.5 million. The NHL’s 2016 rookie of the year has topped 20 goals in each of his four seasons and had a career-best 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last year.

Bobrovsky signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers, where he will take over the starting duties after Roberto Luongo retired last month. Duchene signed a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Nashville Predators, who are retooling their roster and freed up a significant chunk of salary-cap space by trading defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey.

The Blue Jackets came away as the losers in free agency. Columbus took the risk of adding Duchene and retaining Panarin and Bobrovsky at the trade deadline in February, all the while knowing they were in the final years of their contracts. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen expressed no regrets over making the decision, saying he wanted to keep his team’s core intact to spur a deep playoff run. Though the Blue Jackets won their first playoff series in franchise history, they were eliminated by Boston in the second round.

“If it happens, we’re not going to be shocked,” Kekäläinen said of the possibility of losing his three stars. “If it is the case, then we just move forward with what we have and start building other ways.”

The Blue Jackets began restocking their lineup by signing winger Gustav Nyquist to a four-year deal with an average salary of $5.5 million. Nyquist, 29, set a career high with 60 points last season split between Detroit and San Jose. Columbus also re-signed defenseman Ryan Murray to a two-year, $9.2 million contract and backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo to a one-year contract.

There was plenty of movement elsewhere.

Pavelski, the longtime San Jose captain, left to sign a three-year, $21 million contract with Dallas. He was joined by Perry, who signed with the Stars after having his contract bought out by Anaheim. The Sharks also lost winger Joonas Donskoi, who signed a four-year $15.6 million with Colorado. They were able to re-sign restricted free agent forward Timo Meier.

Dallas lost veteran forward Jason Spezza, who is heading to play in his hometown of Toronto after signing a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Maple Leafs.

The day began with two rivals helping each other out of a jam by way of a trade.

The Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Cody Ceci, a 2020 third-round pick and minor leaguers Ben Harpur and Aaron Luchuk from the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, forward Connor Brown and minor leaguer Michael Carcone. The teams announced the trade early Monday, roughly 3½ hours before the start of free agency.

The deal represents a much-needed change of scenery for Ceci, Zaitsev and Brown. Zaitsev had asked to be traded and waived his no-trade clause to complete the move across Ontario.

Toronto, which still needs to sign restricted free agent forward Mitch Marner to a new contract, clears $6.6 million in badly needed cap space. Ceci is a restricted free agent who needs a new contract and has arbitration rights, but the Maple Leafs likely need him on their thin blue line.

Zaitsev is signed for $4.5 million a season through 2023-24. Brown has one year left on his contract and should get more ice time in Ottawa than in Toronto with its glut of talented young forwards.

Aside from Bobrovsky, numerous goalies switched teams, including a free-agent swap in Alberta: Cam Talbot left Edmonton to sign a one-year, $2.75 million with Calgary. And Mike Smith left Flames to sign a one-year $2 million contract with the Oilers.

— In Pittsburgh, the Penguins used some of their wiggle room under the salary cap created by trading Phil Kessel to Arizona to sign Winnipeg forward Brandon Tanev to a six-year deal with an average annual value of $3.5 million.

— In Minnesota, the Wild signed free agent right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract, and right wing Ryan Hartman on a two-year, $3.8 million contract.

— In Detroit, the Red Wings signed center Valtteri Filppula to a two-year $6 million contract, reuniting him for a third time with former teammate and newly hired GM Steve Yzerman.

By John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno

AP Hockey Writers