Trade action heats up at NHL Draft ahead of free agency
Two Stanley Cup-winning players got traded, a few others got new contracts and almost 200 prospects got to — virtually — live out their dreams by having their names called on the second day of the NHL Draft.
It took over seven hours to complete rounds 2-7 Wednesday at the draft held online from 31 teams’ draft rooms to the league’s central registry and a TV studio in New Jersey. The draft dragged on with no need for general managers, scouts and coaches to catch a flight home, but that didn’t tamper the excitement of young players finding out where they’re going or stop the movement of established NHL players with free agency looming Friday.
Some creativity was needed to manage the flat, $81.5 million salary cap, which is becoming the theme of the 2020 offseason.
“Making a trade as you can see is pretty easy: There’s a lot of them, a lot of jockeying up and down for position in each round and people trading up for maybe a guy they like,” said New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, who traded 2017 seventh overall pick Lias Andersson to Los Angeles for a second-rounder. “If you’re looking at some of the deals that are happening, money is almost a part of every deal here. You’re not seeing too many hockey deals straight up.”
Trade action started early with the Pittsburgh Penguins dealing goaltender Matt Murray to the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators continuing to shed salary by sending center Nick Bonino to the Minnesota Wild.
“You just know on days like these if you get a phone call from your GM, it’s usually a trade,” Bonino said. “We got a spam call that woke me up around 7 a.m. and it obviously wasn’t (Predators general manager) David Poile. My wife slept through it luckily and then we were up at 9:30 a.m. and got the call from David and knew right away. It’s weird how it works out.”
Murray and Bonino became the third and fourth members of Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 back-to-back championship teams to be traded in the past few weeks. The Penguins previously traded winger Patric Hornqvist to Florida, and Chicago traded defenseman Olli Maatta to Los Angeles.
Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury could make it five after the Golden Knights committed long term to Robin Lehner. Vegas is looking to trade the 35-year-old and even sweeten the deal with a pick but has to deal with an overflowing goalie market.
Several netminders will be available in free agency, including 2018 Cup champion Braden Holtby and longtime face of the New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist. General manager Brian MacLellan said the Washington Capitals are a “solid candidate” to sign Lundqvist, who at 38 is still trying to win the Cup for the first time.
Pittsburgh got a second-round pick and forward prospect Jonathan Gruden for Murray, who split time with Fleury on two Cup runs and was in net for each clincher. Murray, 26, helped the Penguins win the Cup in 2016 and 2017, but they committed to Tristan Jarry, signing him to a $10.5 million, three-year deal after his All-Star season.
The Penguins used the 52nd overall pick they got from Ottawa to select Finnish goalie Joel Blomqvist, one of hundreds of prospects who had to find out they were drafted by phone and do video interviews since they couldn’t walk on stage in Montreal.
“This wasn’t exactly what I dreamed of as a kid,” said Sam Colangelo, the Anaheim Ducks’ No. 36 pick out of Northeastern. “I dreamed of walking up on stage and walking down to get my jersey from someone there. But doing it on Zoom was incredible.”
Colangelo and the others drafted in rounds 2-7 Wednesday had to wait, unlike No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere, who put on a blue Rangers jersey Tuesday night.
Bonino and new Predators forward Luke Kunin will be swapping jerseys after the trade that continues the Wild’s makeover. Minnesota got second- and third-round picks (37th and 70th overall) and sent a fourth (101st) to Nashville to take on the remainder of Bonino’s contract. He’s owed $4.1 million next season, while Kunin is a restricted free agent.
“Luke Kunin is a solid, young, up-and-coming player with a great future ahead of him,” Poile said. “He is a (2016) first-round pick with good pedigree that can play both center and on the wing, and in all situations, including on the penalty kill and the power play.”
He will also come cheaper than Bonino, a big deal with many teams looking to clear money and space under the cap.
Nashville also put forward Kyle Turris and defenseman Steven Santini on buyout waivers. Turris had four years and $24 million left on his contract, so he’ll count $2 million against the Predators’ cap for the next eight seasons.
The Golden Knights re-signed a surprise key player, giving Chandler Stephenson $11 million over the next four seasons, according to a person with knowledge of the move. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Columbus re-signed center Max Domi to a $10.6 million, two-year deal after acquiring him and a third-round pick from Montreal for winger Josh Anderson in the only trade of established NHL players made on Tuesday, the first day of the draft.
“Both us are going into a situation where we’re wanted,” Domi said, “and all really a player can ask for is that.”