Capitals make bold moves on first day of NHL free agency

Columbus Blue Jackets' Mark Letestu, right, chases a

Columbus Blue Jackets' Mark Letestu, right, chases a loose puck as Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Niskanen falls to the ice during the second period of Game 4 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. (Credit: AP / Jay LaPrete)

The Washington Capitals made a couple of bold moves, bolstering the blue line behind superstar Alex Ovechkin and giving defense-minded coach Barry Trotz the pieces he sought to build a winner.

Washington signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract soon after sealing a $27.5 million, five-year deal with defenseman Brooks Orpik on Tuesday in the opening hours of NHL free agency. The Capitals also damaged a Metropolitan Division rival: both players were with Pittsburgh last season.

When the market opened Tuesday, a flurry of moves was made as teams tried to make a splash to improve their rosters and fire up their fans.

Some franchises, though, stayed out of the fray and allowed other teams to perhaps overpay for the best players available.

Colorado veteran Paul Stastny cashed in, signing a $28 million, four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, a Central Division rival.

The Minnesota Wild signed forward Thomas Vanek to a $19.5 million, three-year deal, two summers after investing a lot in free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The Vancouver Canucks gave goaltender Ryan Miller a three-year deal worth $18 million, hoping he will provide stability after trading away Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Dallas got a jump on the competition before free agency began, acquiring high-scoring forward Jason Spezza in a trade with Ottawa, taking advantage of having space under the salary cap.

"A lot of the teams that are up against the cap, they can't do anything," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "We had lots of room. This worked out well for us. I look forward to Jason Spezza being a Dallas Star for many years."

The 31-year-old Spezza, set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, had asked for a trade and previously turned down a deal that would have sent him to Nashville.

Before the sun set on Day 1 of free agency, more than 10 teams had handed out contracts worth more than $4 million a season.

The Buffalo Sabres, who had the fewest points in the NHL last season, and Florida Panthers, who were next worst, were very aggressive.

Florida invested tens of millions on free agents, adding centers Dave Bolland ($27.7 million, five years) and Jussi Jokinen ($16 million, four years), along with Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Willie Mitchell ($8.5 million, two years).

Buffalo infused its roster with veteran talent, giving forward Matt Moulson $25 million over five years and forward Brian Gionta a $12.75 million, three-year contract.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray said he was "excited," about the number of quality players interested in signing with the franchise.

"I've thought that all along, but you're never sure until the clock hits 12," Murray said.

"One of the more desperate days of the hockey season," Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said. "A lot of our brethren are out running around trying to see how much money they can spend, and when the dust settles they'll figure out whether or not they have a hockey team."

Columbus, Toronto and Detroit invested a lot one year ago in some of the top free agents -- Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss, respectively -- and each team probably wishes it had spent that money on other players.

"There's a lot of things that happen on free agency day that some teams look back and wonder why they did it," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "There will be a time and place for us to be active in the free agent market, but it's certainly not now while we've committed to our younger players, and that's what we're going to do."

The Avalanche had quite a turnaround last year with 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, the Calder Trophy winner as top rookie. On a day they lost a key player in Stastny, they picked up an aging player who has proven he's still got it.

Jarome Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million deal on Tuesday, his 37th birthday, with Colorado after the wing had 30 goals to tie for the most in Boston last season. The Avs also acquired a veteran defenseman, Brad Stuart from San Jose, for a second-round pick in two years and a sixth-round selection in 2017.

The Tampa Bay Lightning also were active, landing veteran defensemen Anton Stralman and forward Brian Boyle to give the team more grit after it was swept in the first round of the playoffs. Both helped the Rangers make the Stanley Cup finals, as did center Brad Richards, who signed with Chicago.

The Rangers added veteran defensemen Dan Boyle, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.

Tampa Bay also added goaltender Evgeni Nabokov after not having a backup capable of playing well when Ben Bishop was hurt in April.

Mike Cammalleri signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, giving them a desperately needed offensive boost.

Six-plus hours into free agency, some notable players were still available: Dany Heatley, Mike Ribeiro, Daniel Alfredsson and Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time winningest goalie.

The Detroit Red Wings, who signed restricted free agent forward Riley Sheahan to a $1.9 million, two-year contract, await the 41-year-old Alfredsson's decision whether to retire.

"If his back feels good in August, we'll talk about a one-year deal with him," general manager Ken Holland said. "He's not going to sign a deal with anyone else."

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