On eve of free-agency period, NHL teams taking care of business

The NHL free-agent season opens Wednesday with two Kings, winger Justin Williams and defenseman Andrej Sekera, plus two Ducks, defenseman Francois Beauchemin and forward Matt Beleskey, leading the list of available players.

It is, by most measures, an average free-agent crop this summer, which is likely why teams were rushing to get some business done Tuesday, before the market officially opens.

The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were at the front of the line, completing a seven-player deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that saw them ship out Brandon Saad, a 22-year-old power forward who was playing a top-six role. The Blackhawks had been unable to sign Saad to an extension and because of salary-cap issues were fearful that another team would sign him to an offer sheet.

So instead, they sent him to Columbus along with two prospects in exchange for four forwards, three of whom (Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano and Corey Tropp) have a chance to play for the Blackhawks next season.

Also Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks brought goaltender Martin Jones back to the Pacific Division, acquiring his rights from the Boston Bruins for a 2016 first-round draft choice.

Jones, who was traded from the Kings to the Bruins on Friday in the Milan Lucic deal, was to be a restricted free agent and will get a chance to be the Sharks' starter next year since their former No. 1, Antti Niemi, was dealt away to the Dallas Stars.

Jones likely wouldn't have had the same opportunity had he stayed in Boston, where Tuuka Rask is dug in as the starter. Later Tuesday, he agreed to a three-year deal worth an average annual value of $3 million, according to CSN Bay Area.

The Kings also had feared they would be vulnerable in regard to Jones, feeling he would have received an offer sheet from a division rival. That prospect led to him being packaged in the Lucic deal.

In addition to Williams and Beleskey, other useful forwards available in free agency are Antoine Vermette of the Blackhawks, Michael Frolik of the Winnipeg Jets and Joel Ward of the Washington Capitals.

With focus in today's NHL on puck movement, free-wheeling defensemen are at a premium and there are a handful of useful ones set to hit the open market. One is Sekera, whom the Kings acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline for a 2016 first-round draft choice.

Talks between the Kings and Sekera failed to secure a contract extension. The timing works against the Kings because of the uncertainty over the Slava Voynov contract. Voynov, who remains suspended by the Kings, is due to go on trial next week, facing a domestic violence charge.

Carolina replaced Sekera on its organizational depth chart with Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski during last week's NHL's entry draft.

With Wisniewski gone and negotiations with the aging Beauchemin going south — Beauchemin wanted a three-year deal at $5 million per season — the Ducks picked up veteran Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks for a second-round pick Tuesday.

Cody Franson, who finished the year in Nashville after starting in Toronto, is the other defenseman attracting attention on the free-agent market, a right-handed shooter with size who can handle the puck. Mike Green of Washington and Johnny Oduya of Chicago are other available blue-line options.

The Kings were unable to sign Williams, known as Mr. Game 7, to an extension, after he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP in 2014. He will be 34 in October, so this likely will be Williams' last chance to cash in on his reputation as a money player. After switching between a top-six and a third-line role with the Kings last season, his asking price is expected to be far beyond what they can afford.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter:@reallisa

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