Two players signed deals with cap hits above $5.5 million per season on a busy, but relatively frugal, first day of NHL unrestricted free agency Saturday as teams attempted to begin lowering their NHL futures odds.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov inked a two-year deal worth $15.5 million with the Carolina Hurricanes and forward Alex Killorn accepted a four-year contract with the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks that totaled $25 million. But most of the others signed deals that averaged between $3-4 million or less.
With the salary cap going up $1 million to 83.5 for next season and expected to increase considerably more in the next few years, teams tried to keep terms short. The average for deals signed Saturday was about 1.7 years.
Seven unrestricted free agents signed deals that totaled more than $20 million, but three stayed with their current teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and the Hurricanes made some of the bigger moves of the day.
The Colorado Avalanche, who signed free-agent forwards Miles Wood and Jonathan Drouin along with restricted free-agent defenseman Bowen Byram on Saturday, are the current favorite in the Las Vegas hockey odds to win the 2024 Stanley Cup at +800.
The Edmonton Oilers are second (+1000), while the defending Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are tied for third (+1200) in live betting.
Carolina Goalies Return
Orlov was the biggest ticket player to sign Saturday, but the Hurricanes made four other important signings.
Carolina brought back both goalies as Frederik Andersen returned for two years and Antti Raanta for one. General manager Don Waddell indicated on the NHL Network that 24-year-old Russian goalie Pyotr Kochetkov needed a bit more seasoning. The three backstopped a team ranked second in goals-against last season.
The Hurricanes also signed forward Michael Bunting away from Toronto for three years ($13.5 million) to add grit to the lineup, but Orlov ruled the day.
“We felt that Dmitry was the best available defenseman on the free agent market,” Waddell said in a statement. “He is a versatile player with a lot of offensive upside.”
Penguins Restock Lineup
Pittsburgh looked around for a little while, but ended up settling on their own goalie as they signed Tristan Jarry to a five-year contract worth more than $26 million.
Jarry was one of six players that could be on the opening night roster signed on Saturday, including goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
The Penguins, who lost UFA Jason Zucker to Arizona and traded for fellow wing Reilly Smith recently, also inked deals with veteran free-agent forwards Matt Nieto, Lars Eller and Noel Acciari.
Pittsburgh, which is rumored to be in the hunt to acquire reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson from San Jose, also signed steady defenseman Ryan Graves to a six-year deal.
Rangers Bring In Veterans
The New York Rangers scooped up 36-year-old forward Blake Wheeler, who was bought out of his contract by the Winnipeg Jets, to add their group that is among many NHL expert’s picks to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers also brought in two-time Cup-winning goalie Jonathan Quick to back up Igor Shesterkin and veteran center Nick Bonino on one-year deals. Quick and Bonino both played high school hockey in nearby Connecticut.
Three other players bought out of contracts signed Saturday. Defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Reilly inked one-year deals with the Florida Panthers and Matt Duchene signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Dallas Stars.
Nashville, Detroit Make Bold Moves
New GM Barry Trotz is turning over the roster with the Nashville Predators.
The Predators dealt center Ryan Johansson to Colorado and let Duchene go, but made three big acquisitions on Saturday. Trotz added veteran forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist along with physical defenseman Luke Schenn for first-year coach Andrew Brunette.
Nashville was in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference late in the 2022-23 regular season and the Detroit Red Wings hung in it for a while in the East, but GM Steve Yzerman knows his team is still rebuilding.
Yzerman’s biggest move Saturday was signing center J.T. Compher to a five-year, $25.5 million deal. He also added forwards Daniel Sprong and Klim Kostin, defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Holl, along with backup goalies James Reimer and Alex Lyon.
Other Important Moves
There were plenty of other key signings that will change NHL odds for the upcoming season.
The Boston Bruins brought back physical forward Milan Lucic on a one-year deal along with veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and scoring forward James van Riemsdyk. Lucic was a Bruin from 2007-15.
Toronto inked Swedish defenseman John Klingberg and physical force Ryan Reaves to recharge the lineup.
The New York Islanders signed forward Pierre Engvall to a seven-year, $21 million deal, but more importantly extended goalie Ilya Sorokin for eight seasons – one year before his current deal ends. They also kept defenseman Scott Mayfield on a seven-year contract.
Buffalo beefed up its defense by signing veteran Erik Johnson and Conor Clifton to go along with their young group led by Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin. Many will have the Sabres among their NHL picks to make the playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators signed goalie Joonas Korpisalo for five seasons at $4 million per to be their new No. 1 netminder.
Anaheim also signed Killorn’s former teammate with the Tampa Bay Lightning – Radko Gudas. The defenseman got three years, $12 million.
Who Is Unsigned Through Saturday?
Five prominent forwards were left unsigned after the first day.
Patrick Kane, who is recovering from hip surgery, and former Chicago teammate Jonathan Toews — unsure he will continue to play – are two of them.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Max Domi and a popular Tyler Bertuzzi are also out there.
Stay tuned to NHL News.