It didn’t take long for the bubble to begin bursting on the Tampa Bay Lightning's Stanley Cup party.
The effects of a flat salary cap took its toll on the Lightning less than two weeks after winning their second Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay bid farewell to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who signed with Anaheim, and the team was forced to place center Tyler Johnson on waivers as the NHL’s free agency period opened Friday.
In the meantime, the league’s higher profile free agents such as defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and winger Taylor Hall, remained on the market with a $81.5 million cap — unchanged from last year — adding a layer of uncertainty to a coronavirus pandemic-altered economy.
“It’s a bit of a new world right now with the flat cap and the revenue situation,” Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin said. “You don’t want to risk anything too long on either side because it just might not make sense.”
It seemed to make sense for the St. Louis Blues to effectively end the Alex Pietrangelo era by signing defensemen Torey Krug to a $45.5 million, seven-year deal Friday night. Krug will count $6.5 million against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.
That was money potentially earmarked for Pietrangelo, a homegrown Blues product, who was captain when they won the Stanley Cup in 2019. Krug famously delivered a helmetless hit during that final while playing for Boston.
Suitors for Pietrangelo have been cut down by St. Louis signing Krug and the Toronto Maple Leafs inking T.J. Brodie to a $20 million, four-year deal. Vegas cleared cap space to take a swing, though Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon on Friday night refused to answer a question about Pietrangelo because he’s not on the roster.
While the market was soft for skaters, it was very active for goaltenders as a long-anticipated shuffle materialized in the first hours of free agency.
Jacob Markstrom left Vancouver to sign a six-year, $36 million contract with the Calgary Flames. The Canucks replaced Markstrom by signing Braden Holtby to a two-year, $8.6 million contract. The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner spent his first 10 seasons in Washington, where he helped the Capitals win the Cup in 2018.
Henrik Lundqvist signed a one-year contract with Washington, two weeks after having his contract bought out by the New York Rangers.
The Wild quickly addressed their goaltending needs after trading Devan Dubnyk to San Jose, by signing Cam Talbot signing a three-year, $11 million deal. Anton Khudobin, who backstopped the Dallas Stars run to the Stanley Cup Final, is staying put in Dallas after signing a three-year, $10 million contract.
Among skaters, Shattenkirk agreed to a three-year deal that a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press was worth $11.7 million. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the monetary terms weren't disclosed.
The Lightning entered the offseason projected to have about $4.5 million of room under the cap, also lost forward Carter Verhaeghe, who signed with Florida. As for Johnson, who had four goals and seven points in 25 playoff games, he was placed on waivers with three years remaining on a seven-year, $35 million contract that includes a no-trade clause.
Much of the Lightning's core remains in place with captain Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, defenseman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy all under contract.
The flat cap led to a flood of players hitting the market. They included a large number of restricted free agents, whose rights were not retained because teams feared what contracts those players could be awarded in arbitration.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said the salary crunch was reason behind why some of the higher profile players were still available.
“You saw some teams clear some cap space, so I’m assuming it’s pretty competitive on those big names right now,” MacLellan said. “I think once the bigger names go down, I think it’ll loosen up or might slow down after that. I think it’s still going pretty hard right now.”
The Vegas Golden Knights were one of those teams in kicking off the day by trading Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets. In freeing the final year of Stastny’s contract and $5.5 million cap hit, Vegas acquired defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional 2022 fourth-round draft pick.
The trade was a reversal from two years ago, when the Jets had little room to maneuver under the salary cap, and were unable to re-sign Stastny after being outbid by the Golden Knights.
“It’s 2020. that’s how you sum it up, right?” Stastny said of his unexpected return to Winnipeg. “You always have to expected the unexpected. And when stuff like this happens, you always have to be ready to move on and brace for the next challenge that comes ahead.”
Holtby was relieved to find a landing spot.
“Everything’s different this year,” he said. “It’s not an experience that I think is fun, not knowing and all that. I’m excited to have it over now.”
In Washington, Lundqvist is changing uniforms after 15 seasons in New York, where he won the Vezina Trophy in 2011.
After years of tormenting Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in the playoffs, he will try to help them win it again at the tail end of his illustrious time in the NHL while sharing the duties with Ilya Samsonov.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Lundqvist said of being teammates with Ovechkin. “It was funny to call him the other day. He’s been so fun to play against because of how good he is, but he’s also a character on the ice, so I look forward to now be on the same team.”
In other moves:
— The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings agreed to a one-year $1 million deal with 33-year-old winger Bobby Ryan, who is hoping to revive his career after battling alcohol issues. Ryan missed more than two months of last season in Ottawa after entering the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program in November, 2019.
— Veteran forward Wayne Simmonds was among the first free agents to sign, reaching a one-year $1.5 million deal with the Maple Leafs. The 12-year veteran split last season between New Jersey and Buffalo.
— The Rangers agreed to sign defenseman Jack Johnson, who had the final three years of his contract bought out by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
— The Blackhawks agreed to sign rookie of the year finalist Dominik Kubalik to a two-year, $7.4 million contract extension. With starting goalie Corey Crawford leaving for New Jersey in free agency, the Blackhawks also signed goalie Malcolm Subban to a two-year, $1.7 million contract. The 35-year-old Crawford agreed to a two-year, $7.8 million deal with the Devils.
— The Senators and newly acquired goalie Matt Murray agreed to two-year, $25 million deal. The Senators traded forward prospect Jonathan Gruden and the 52nd pick this year to Pittsburgh to get Murray on Wednesday.
AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage and Stephen Whyno, and AP freelancer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.
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