Who stayed put was as intriguing as who’s searching for a new home after the first day of NHL free agency. The relatively restrained market proved especially unkind to aging forwards, as Florida parted ways with 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr, the Kings affirmed they won’t bring back 40-year-old Jarome Iginla, and 40-year-old Shane Doan found no immediate takers.
The Ducks made one of the day’s biggest moves by signing defenseman Cam Fowler — the heart of their impressive defense corps — to an eight-year, $52-million extension on the first day they were permitted to do so. It will kick in with the 2018-19 season and run through 2025-26. The Ducks also delved into the free-agent market for goaltender Ryan Miller, giving him a two-year, $4-million contract to back up John Gibson.
“With the coaching staff we have in place, our ownership and the roster that we have, I really feel like we’re very close and I think we’ve proven that,” Fowler said during a conference call. “So to be able to sign there long term is a dream come true for me.”
Being a backup will be an adjustment for Miller, but the move from Vancouver was worthwhile because it will reunite him with his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, who has been living here with their toddler son. “On the other side of it is hockey,” said Miller, who had a 2.80 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 54 games for the Canucks last season. “The Ducks are a great team and I’m also excited to join a great team.”
As of late Saturday afternoon the Ducks were among a small group still in contention for unrestricted free agent forward Patrick Marleau, who has spent his entire 1,493-game NHL career with the San Jose Sharks. Marleau, 37, reportedly was seeking a three-year contract, which might be too big a risk for some teams. The Ducks lost free-agent center Nate Thompson to Ottawa, which gave him a two-year, $3.3-million contract.
The Sharks also made some noise Saturday by bringing back 38-year-old unrestricted free agent center Joe Thornton on a one-year, $6.5-million contract, according several reports, and by extending the contracts of goaltender Martin Jones (six years, $34 million) and elite defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (eight years, $56 million).
Kings General Manager Rob Blake talked to Thornton but couldn’t lure him away from San Jose. “I’m not sure we ever thought we had a chance,” Blake said. “We definitely talked to his camp the last couple days and showed a lot of interest in him. He’s a terrific player, a terrific person to be around, and in the end it didn’t work out.”
Blake made several low-key moves in his first free agency venture as the GM, starting with signing winger Michael Cammalleri to a one-year deal worth $1 million plus potential bonuses. Cammalleri, a former King, was bought out by New Jersey after a 10-goal, 31-point season. “His job is to score, and he’s going to play with players that are going to allow him to score goals,” Blake said.
The Kings also signed former Minnesota goalie Darcy Kuemper for one year at $650,000 and former Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen to a two-year entry-level contract for positional depth. Also signed for depth were defenseman Stepan Falkovsky, given a three-year entry-level deal, and former Minnesota defenseman Christian Folin, signed to a one-year deal worth $850,000. Blake projected him to be the seventh defenseman.
Elsewhere, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, considered the cream of a thin free-agent crop, left Washington for a four-year deal with his hometown New York Rangers at $6.65 million a season. Washington also lost defenseman Karl Alzner, who signed with Montreal for five years at $4.625 million a year, and right wing Justin Williams, who returned to Carolina for a two-year deal worth $9 million. Tampa Bay fortified its defense by adding Dan Girardi on a two-year, $6-million contract.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins lost left wing Chris Kunitz to a one-year, $2-million deal with Tampa Bay, let defenseman Trevor Daley go to Detroit for three years totaling and $9.5 million, and lost center Nick Bonino when he agreed to a four-year, $16.4-million deal with Nashville, whom the Penguins defeated in the Cup Final. The Penguins, who lost goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas in the expansion draft, signed Antti Niemi for one year at $700,000 to back up Matt Murray.
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