NHL free agency: Jets, Habs move quickly as signing period begins

The Winnipeg Jets got their hopeful answer in goal and the Montreal Canadiens tried to further stabilize their defence on the first day of NHL free agency.

The Jets landed Steve Mason on a two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $ 4.1 million US while the Canadiens signed 28-year-old Karl Alzner for five years at $ 23 million. Justin Williams also returned to the Carolina Hurricanes on a two-year deal, Nick Bonino joined the Nashville Predators, and Sam Gagner signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

The San Jose Sharks, meanwhile, got in front of free agency concerns down the line by extending Marc-Edouard Vlasic for eight years and goaltender Martin Jones for six years. Both were due for unrestricted free agency next summer.

Cam Fowler, a 25-year-old defenceman who was also a year away from UFA status, signed an eight-year extension with the Anaheim Ducks.

“Cam Fowler is the type of player we want here long term,” Ducks general manager Bob Murray said Saturday in a statement. “He has the obvious skill set, but also tremendous character and a drive to succeed. As good as he is, he’s not yet in his prime years, so we know the best is yet to come.”

Worthwhile gamble 

Winnipeg was plagued by goaltending woes last year with Connor Hellebuyck, most notably, unable to excel in the No. 1 role as the Jets missed the post-season. Mason is coming off a relatively poor year with the Philadelphia Flyers (.908 save percentage), but excelled in the two seasons before that and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2009.

He’s a worthwhile gamble for a team with plenty of talent up front, led by 19-year-old Calder runner-up Patrik Laine.

Alzner is a risky bet for the Canadiens, who also traded for flashy young forward Jonathan Drouin and defenceman David Schlemko this off-season. The Burnaby, B.C., native had only 13 points last season with concerning underlying numbers — both in five-on-five situations and on the penalty kill.

The six-foot-three 219-pounder also turns 29 in September.

Bonino leaves Cup champions for Nashville

The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins added veteran defenceman Matt Hunwick on a three-year deal and also signed backup goaltender Antti Niemi as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury, who left for Vegas.

The Penguins, however, lost Bonino to Nashville, Trevor Daley to Detroit and Ron Hainsey to Toronto — the latter on a two-year deal with a $ 3-million annual cap hit. The Leafs also re-signed goaltenders Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks.

Williams was among the more prized free agents, a three-time Cup winner who scored 20 goals in each of his two seasons with Washington.

“We said that we needed goal scoring and veteran leadership, and Justin will bring us both,” Hurricane GM Ron Francis said.

Martin Hanzal also signed for three years in Dallas, Benoit Pouliot and Chad Johnson joined the Sabres, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed veteran defenceman Dan Girardi and the Chicago Blackhawks continued remaking their roster by adding Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels.

Sharp was part of three Cup wins with the Blackhawks, who recently re-acquired Brandon Saad in a deal that sent 2016 Calder winner Artemi Panarin to Columbus.

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CBC | Sports News