TORONTO — Free-agency day felt like trade-deadline day, with all seven Canadian teams getting in on the action.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made by far the biggest splash Wednesday, dealing Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-player, three-pick blockbuster. That came on the heels of the Penguins missing out on Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad, whom the Chicago Blackhawks traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
“Every move in the league shakes loose something that somehow affects your team, and that’s what happened today,” Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford called Kessel his “top target,” but Saad going to Columbus may have been the final domino to fall. For the past several days the free-agent and trade markets intersected, leading to plenty of Canada fireworks.
Beyond Kessel to the Penguins, the Montreal Canadiens traded Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks for Zack Kassian, and the Boston Bruins got Jimmy Hayes from the Florida Panthers for Reilly Smith and the contract of injured forward Marc Savard.
The Edmonton Oilers signed the biggest July 1 contract, giving defenceman Andrej Sekera US$33 million over six years. After already trading Griffin Reinhart at the draft, the Oilers made a drastic improvement to their blue line in the wake of drafting Connor McDavid.
“He’s a really versatile D, very strong he can play on our top pair if need be,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “(We have) a lot of options with him.”
The Calgary Flames kept the Battle of Alberta arms race going by bringing back goaltender Karri Ramo on a one-year deal and signing winger Michael Frolik away from the Winnipeg Jets for five years and $21.5 million.
“He’s able to do a lot of different things that are very valuable,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said of Frolik. “He probably is not going to be a guy that scores you 30 goals, but he’s going to do a lot of the heavy lifting in some of the areas that aren’t so sexy that help you win games.”
The Jets were smarting after losing Frolik but brought back forward Alexander Burmistrov from the KHL on a two-year deal and signed defenceman Adam Pardy and forward Matt Halischuk to one-year contracts. Those were steps forward after re-signing winger Drew Stafford Tuesday night to an $8.7-million, two-year deal.
Beyond the Kessel trade that got them prospects Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington, winger Nick Spaling and two draft picks, the Leafs were active in free agency. They brought back winger Daniel Winnik for two years, signed winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and centre Mark Arcobello for one each and defenceman Matt Hunwick for two.
Parenteau is the most intriguing one-year signing at $1.5 million after the Canadiens bought him out of the final year of his previous contract.
“P.A. Parenteau is coming here on a one-year deal with a lot to prove,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. “He’s a motivated guy. I think that he’s excited about coming here.”
Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver made a handful of smaller moves, too. Most notably the Canucks re-signed defenceman Yannick Weber after trading Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks.
After Sekera and Frolik, the biggest deals of the day were the San Jose Sharks getting ex-Penguins defenceman Paul Martin for $19.4 million over four years and the Bruins signing winger Matt Beleskey for $19 million over five years.
Mike Green got the biggest cap hit at $6 million over three years from the Detroit Red Wings.
“In Mike (we get) a top-four defenceman that can run a power play and provide offence,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said on a conference call. “Certainly, today was a great day to add a defenceman who can provide offence, join the rush, shoots right and give our team another dimension.”
The best player to change teams Wednesday was Kessel, who gives the Penguins another dimension without giving up too much from the current roster that features centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenceman Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Even costing some picks and prospects seemed well worth it to Rutherford.
“We got the best player in the trade,” he said in Pittsburgh. “It usually works out for the team that got the best player.”