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Big spenders across the NHL made winners out of free agents across the league


Brad Treliving kept hearing the message from agents he talked to at the start of NHL free agency.

“The cap’s going up,” the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager said. “They reminded me the cap was going up.”

The salary cap went up significantly for the first time in several years to $88 million per team, a result of record revenues that sparked a historic day of spending. The biggest winners this year are the players who got to the open market as teams committed over $1 billion in salaries.

Jake Guentzel got the most money of anyone who switched teams: $63 million over seven years from Tampa Bay, which acquired his rights from Carolina to get a head start on signing a top target. But the Lightning cannot be called true winners after letting longtime captain Steven Stamkos walk away to sign a $32 million contract with Nashville days after trading fellow two-time Stanley Cup champion Mikhail Sergachev to Utah.

Stamkos' departure after 16 seasons as the face of a franchise was the most bittersweet element Monday.

“The toughest part is trying to hang on to something that, maybe, isn’t trying to hang on to you,” Stamkos said.


SMASHVILLE: The Predators got better by signing Stamkos, 2023 playoff MVP Jonathan Marchessault, dependable defenseman Brady Skjei and backup goaltender Scott Wedgewood. They also extended franchise goalie Juuse Saros long term as part of what GM Barry Trotz called a “very good day” for the organization he once coached and has returned to try to deliver a championship.

“When you start getting texts from your players saying, ‘I am excited,' I think that really says a lot,” Trotz said. “Players know players, and they know that what we’re trying to do is trying to win. I envision that someday we’re going to have a parade down our Broadway.”

EAST PLAYOFF RACE: The defending champion Florida Panthers will not have an easy path through the Eastern Conference next spring, with the Atlantic Division-rival Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins and Metropolitan's New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals among the teams that got better.

OILERS: After losing to Florida in Game 7 of the final and parting ways with seasoned executive Ken Holland, Edmonton has not missed a beat. The Oilers signed veteran forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Jeff Skinner, kept Final standout Mattias Janmark and gave forwards Corey Perry and Connor Brown one-year extensions among nearly a dozen moves.


HURRICANES: As much as newly promoted GM Eric Tulsky might suggest there’s plenty of time between now and the start of training camp to add to the roster, free agency looks like a setback for Carolina. Not even locking up shutdown defenseman Jaccob Slavin to an eight-year contract extension can offset the exodus of talent in Guentzel, Skjei, Brett Pesce and Teuvo Teravainen, with the questionable status still of unsigned restricted free agent Martin Necas.

The Hurricanes replaced what they lost with defenseman Sean Walker and forwards William Carrier, Tyson Jost and Eric Robinson, players who could be useful but don't exactly move the needle for a Stanley Cup contender.

SABRES: GM Kevyn Adams is still having a tough time attracting established talent to Buffalo. After striking out on the trade market at the NHL draft last weekend, Adams came away with signing depth forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Jason Zucker, Sam Lafferty and defensemen Jacob Bryson and Dennis Gilbert, who enjoys a Buffalo homecoming.

Not a good look for a team in the midst of an NHL-worst 13-season playoff drought and one that bought out the remaining three years of Skinner’s contract.

RANGERS: Unable — or unwilling — to trade captain Jacob Trouba and clear cap space, New York turned to the trade market to get a forward, giving up two picks to acquire Reilly Smith from Pittsburgh. The Rangers are not offseason losers yet, but GM Chris Drury has more work to do after his team lost to Florida in the East final.