Kessel trade to Penguins highlights start of NHL free agency

Associated Press

July 2, 2015

In this Dec. 13, 2014, file photo, Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel skates during second period NHL hockey action against the Detroit Red Wings in Toronto. The Maple Leafs sent 27-year-old Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, in a blockbuster deal that gives the Penguins a needed boost in its top six and gives the Maple Leafs some flexibility as they begin to retool under new coach Mike Babcock.

On the first day of NHL free agency, a blockbuster trade stole the spotlight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired high-scoring winger Phil Kessel from Toronto on Wednesday in the biggest move of the day, while a handful of prominent defenseman found new homes in free agency.

Mike Green signed a multiyear deal with Detroit, Andrej Sekera signed a $33 million, six-year contract with Edmonton, Paul Martin inked a $19.4 million, four-year deal with San Jose and Francois Beauchemin got a three-year deal with Colorado.

Other notable players to sign with teams on a busy opening day of free agency were right wing Justin Williams to a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Washington; forward Michael Frolik, who got a $21.5 million, five-year deal from Calgary; forward Matt Beleskey, who got a $19 million, five-year deal from Boston; forward Blake Comeau, who signed a three-year deal with the Avalanche; and forward Daniel Winnik, who signed a two-year contract with Toronto.

Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup MVP with the Kings last year.

A pair of players who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup left as free agents with Brad Richards signing a one-year deal in Detroit and Antoine Vermette going back to Arizona four months after being traded to the Blackhawks.

But the biggest move was clearly the one that teamed up Kessel with former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. The Penguins sent forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, forward Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and a 2016 third-round pick to the Maple Leafs for Kessel, forward Tyler Biggs and defenseman Tim Erixon. Conditional draft picks are also involved.

Kessel has 247 goals and 273 assists in nine seasons between Boston and Toronto, including 25 goals and 36 assists for the Maple Leafs in 2014-15.

"He was always the guy, he was a guy that was blamed when things weren't going well, and he doesn't have to be the guy here," Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We have a bunch of them, and so I believe that he's going to fit in very well."

Kessel's presence will provide Crosby and Malkin with a capable scorer still in his prime. Injuries devastated Pittsburgh's depth last season. The Penguins struggled to score goals for long stretches and fell to the New York Rangers in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.

With fewer top players hitting the market as unrestricted free agents, the busiest action was on the blue line, where a handful of teams made some big upgrades.

Green gives the Red Wings a quarterback for their power play after posting 10 goals, 35 assists and 17 power-play points last season with Washington. Green is one of the most offensively skilled defensemen in the league and has registered 113 goals and 247 assists in 10 seasons with the Capitals.

Richards, who had 12 goals and 25 assists for Stanley Cup champion Chicago last season, also gives the Red Wings another scoring threat.

"It's a great day for the Red Wings today," general manager Ken Holland said. "I think we've added two players today that provide some really important ingredients we were looking for."

The Oilers and Sharks both filled voids on defense with their deals with Sekera and Martin. Sekera had three goals and 20 assists over 73 games with Carolina and Los Angeles last season.

Martin's signing with San Jose comes a day after the Sharks acquired Martin Jones to be their starting goaltender as general manager Doug Wilson has made a strong play to fix a leaky defense that led to the franchise missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

"We feel good we got these two pieces off our checklist," Wilson said. "Now it allows us to look at some other things and explore. But we don't feel like there's any rush. These two pieces needed to be addressed. They have been and we'll go forward from here."

Despite losing Richards and Brandon Saad, the Blackhawks were able to lock up one of the players they got in the seven-player deal that sent Saad to Columbus on Tuesday.

Forward Artem Anisimov agreed to a $22.75 million, five-year contract extension Wednesday with Chicago. The 27-year-old Anisimov had seven goals and 20 assists in 52 games for the Blue Jackets last season. The contract extension begins with the 2016-17 season.

"It's a really good team, like really good talented players," Anisimov said. "They play the game so well. The past six years, three Stanley Cups, it's really good. I'm really excited to join this team."

Among the busier teams Wednesday were the Nashville Predators, who re-signed forward Mike Ribeiro to a two-year, $7 million contract, signed free agent defenseman Barret Jackman and forward Cody Hodgson, and acquired forward Max Reinhart in a trade with Calgary for a conditional fourth-round draft pick.

In other news, Carolina officially bought out forward Alexander Semin's contract. The Hurricanes owe Semin $14 million over the next six years and he is now a free agent.

Vancouver also traded forward Zack Kassian and a 2016 fifth-round pick to Montreal for forward Brandon Prust.

After a busy weekend of goalie movement at the draft, a handful of backups got deals. The Kings signed Jhonas Enroth to a $1.25 million, one-year deal, Philadelphia signed Michal Neuvirth to a multiyear deal and Thomas Greiss got a two-year contract from the Islanders.

Calgary also kept Kari Ramo with a $3.8 million, one-year contract.