July 2, 2014 in Sports

Capitals make splash as NHL free agency period opens

Plenty of teams improve standing with signings
Larry Lage Associated Press
 

The Washington Capitals made a couple of bold moves, bolstering the blue line behind superstar Alex Ovechkin and giving defense-minded coach Barry Trotz the pieces he sought to build a winner.

Washington signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract soon after sealing a $27.5 million, five-year deal with defenseman Brooks Orpik on Tuesday in the opening hours of NHL free agency. The Capitals also damaged a Metropolitan Division rival: both players were with Pittsburgh last season.

When the market opened Tuesday, a flurry of moves was made as teams tried to make a splash to improve their rosters and fire up their fans.

Some franchises, though, stayed out of the fray and allowed other teams to perhaps overpay for the best players available.

Colorado veteran Paul Stastny cashed in, signing a $28 million, four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, a Central Division rival.

The Minnesota Wild signed forward Thomas Vanek to a $19.5 million, three-year deal, two summers after investing a lot in free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The Vancouver Canucks gave goaltender Ryan Miller a three-year deal worth $18 million, hoping he will provide stability after trading away Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Dallas got a jump on the competition before free agency began, acquiring high-scoring forward Jason Spezza, 31, in a trade with Ottawa, taking advantage of having space under the salary cap.

“A lot of the teams that are up against the cap, they can’t do anything,” Stars GM Jim Nill said. “We had lots of room. This worked out well for us.”

Before the sun set on Day 1 of free agency, more than 10 teams had handed out contracts worth more than $4 million a season.

The Buffalo Sabres, who had the fewest points in the NHL last season, and Florida Panthers, who were next worst, were very aggressive.

Florida added centers Dave Bolland ($27.7 million, five years) and Jussi Jokinen ($16 million, four years), along with defenseman Willie Mitchell ($8.5 million, two years).

Buffalo infused its roster with veterans, giving forward Matt Moulson $25 million over five years and forward Brian Gionta $12.75 million over three years.

Jarome Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million deal with Colorado. The Avalanche also acquired veteran defenseman Brad Stuart from San Jose, for a second-round pick in two years and a sixth-round selection in 2017.

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