NHL free agency opens with Hamilton, Suter contracts among key moves


The opinions of the moves made Wednesday after the free agent market opened at noon ET will be pouring in for days, and the maneuvering will be reevaluated through the course of this season and beyond. But who doesn’t appreciate some good, old-fashioned instant analysis?

Here are 10 takeaways from Day One of free agency:

New Jersey becoming destination again

The New Jersey Devils made a splash by signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million contract worth $9 million annually. They also signed goalie Jonathan Bernier to a two-year, $8.25 million contract ($4.125 million average annual value).

Getting Hamilton to commit to New Jersey at age 28 is a huge win for the Devils and shows that players and agents around the NHL are noticing what they are building.

Hamilton has to prove he can be a No. 1 defenseman, but the commitment right now matters as much as the terms of the contract.

Is he going to be worth $9 million per season when he’s 34 and 35 years old? Probably not, but if he gives the Devils 50 points and a solid 24-25 minutes per game for each of the first four or five seasons, they’ve got a No. 1 defenseman who will be a cornerstone for a while.

Suter joining Stars makes sense

Ryan Suter signed a four-year, $14.6 million contract ($3.65 million AAV) with the Dallas Stars. The defenseman was an unrestricted free agent because the Minnesota Wild bought out the final four seasons of his contract.

Suter should slide right into the Stars’ top four defensemen with John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell.

It makes sense for Suter to play with Heiskanen, leaving Klingberg with Lindell. Heiskanen played the past two seasons with Jamie Oleksiak, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 and signed with them.

At 36, Suter is a strong skater who can eat minutes, play a calm game and be reliable defensively when Heiskanen wants to get up in the play, though Heiskanen rarely gets caught because he’s an elite skater.

Video: Stars sign Suter and Holtby

Point signs extension early with Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning did it again, getting one of their core players to sign a contract extension long before he could even sniff free agency.

They signed center Brayden Point to an eight-year, $76 million extension ($9.5 million AAV) that starts with the 2022-23 season.

The 25-year-old joins forward Nikita Kucherov, defensemen Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy as players who each have signed an extension with the Lightning before any of them started to play out the final season of his contract.

Getting Point’s contract done now saves the Lightning the headaches that could have come with questions and/or concerns about his status. It gives them certainty regarding the NHL salary cap with another core piece and ensures his future with Tampa Bay.

Seattle makes splash

The Seattle Kraken went into the free agent market for the first time with salary cap space and needs. The expansion team did well.

The Kraken’s most surprising move was signing goalie Philipp Grubauer to a six-year, $35.5 million contract worth $5.9 million annually. They also signed forwards Jaden Schwartz (five years, $27.5 million; AAV of $5.5 million) and Alex Wennberg (three years, $13.5 million; AAV of $4.5 million AAV).

Grubauer was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the goalie voted the best in the NHL, last season with the Colorado Avalanche.

Signing Grubauer allowed the Kraken to trade Vitek Vanecek to the Washington Capitals. They chose Vanecek from the Capitals in the expansion draft and flipped him back for a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Schwartz and Wennberg will be top-nine forwards. The Kraken need more, but they’re better up front than they were coming out of the expansion draft.

Colorado finds Grubauer’s replacement in desert

The Colorado Avalanche were working to try to re-sign Grubauer, but general manager Joe Sakic said they couldn’t go the distance that the Kraken went to get him.

Instead, Colorado went the trade route and acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Conor Timmins, a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Kuemper, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, was 10-11-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .907 save percentage with the Coyotes last season. He will join Pavel Francouz to solve the Avalanche’s goaltending conundrum, at least in the short term.

Golden Knights don’t spend on centers

The Vegas Golden Knights did not believe the narrative that they need help at center. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said Tuesday he likes their depth with Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Nolan Patrick and Brett Howden.

So it’s not surprising the that the Golden Knights used salary cap space elsewhere.

They re-signed defenseman Alec Martinez to a three-year, $15.75 million contract ($5.25 million AAV) and forward Mattias Janmark to a one-year, $2 million contract.

They acquired forward Evgeni Dadonov in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Nick Holden and a third-round pick in the 2022 draft. Dadonov has two seasons left on a contract that is worth $5 million annually.

And Vegas signed goalie Laurent Broissoit to a two-year, $4.65 million contract ($2.325 million AAV).

This doesn’t mean the Golden Knights are finished.

Hurricanes remodel at defenseman

Losing Hamilton meant the Carolina Hurricanes had to do some work at the position.

Carolina acquired defenseman Ethan Bear in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for forward Warren Foegele. It also signed defensemen Ian Cole (one year, $2.9 million) and Tony DeAngelo (one year, $1 million).

The hope is DeAngelo will provide the offense Carolina is losing with Hamilton’s departure. Cole and Bear bring even more depth to a group that included Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei and Jake Gardiner.

The Hurricanes also made changes at goalie, agreeing with Frederik Andersen (two years, $9 million; AAV of $4.5 million) and Antti Raanta (two years, $4 million; AAV of $2 million). They lost Petr Mrazek (Toronto Maple Leafs), James Reimer (San Jose Sharks) and Bernier (Devils), who signed elsewhere.

Video: Carolina Hurricanes sign Andersen

Ullmark to Bruins, and what it means

Goalie Linus Ullmark signed a four-year, $20 million contract with the Boston Bruins that is worth $5 million annually.

Ullmark’s contract doesn’t preclude the Bruins from bringing back Tuukka Rask, an unrestricted free agent who is recovering from hip surgery and may not be healthy enough to play until February. That could still happen depending on Rask’s recovery and desire, and how the Bruins feel about their goaltending at that point. Rask said he will play only for the Bruins.

But signing Ullmark shows that the Bruins are ready to move into a new era with him as their No. 1, for now, playing ahead of Jeremy Swayman. It’s Ullmark and Swayman in Boston after three seasons of Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

The Bruins made another move involving a goalie, trading Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames for a third-round pick in the 2022 draft.

Danault key addition for Kings

The Los Angeles Kings signing center Phillip Danault to a six-year, $33 million contract ($5.5 million AAV) could go down as one of the sneaky-good moves of the day.

The center is an annual candidate for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the player voted the best defensive forward in the NHL. The 28-year-old is seventh in the NHL in face-off wins (2,086) the past three seasons, all with the Montreal Canadiens.

He will play behind center Anze Kopitar, who is third in the NHL in face-off wins (2,439) in that span.

It’s safe to say the Kings will have the puck a lot when one of their top two lines is on the ice.

Danault will ease some of the responsibilities that Kopitar has essentially shouldered alone for the past few seasons, which should make the Los Angeles captain fresher and better in the long run.

Danault’s presence also buys the Kings more time for the development of centers Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and Alex Turcotte, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. It could also keep Gabriel Vilardi as the third-line center.

Canadiens turn to Hoffman, Savard

For the Canadiens, forward Mike Hoffman and defenseman David Savard aren’t exactly replacements for Danault and defenseman Shea Weber, who is expected to miss the season and whose career could be over because of injury. But Montreal had to do something to add offense and bite on the back end, so the Canadiens went with Hoffman, who agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million contract ($4.5 million AAV), and Savard, who agreed to a four-year, $14 million contract ($3.5 million AAV).

The Canadiens did not directly address the loss of Danault, though they did acquire center Cedric Paquette, who agreed to a one-year, $950,000 contract. The hope for now is that Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans can be the top three centers.

Of course, it’s possible that the Canadiens will explore the trade market to beef up their center depth. Eric Staal, Montreal’s fourth-line center during its run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, is an unrestricted free agent.

The Canadiens also would like to add a mobile defenseman, general manager Marc Bergevin said.

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