TORONTO — The waiting game continues for the cream of this year’s NHL free agent crop.
Star defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and winger Taylor Hall, a former Hart Trophy winner as league MVP, both remained available Saturday as the market moved at a relative snail’s pace compared to the frenzy of recent years, one that often saw general managers racing to the window.
Teams and players are facing the economic realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — which shuttered the 2019-20 season in March before the NHL completed the campaign this summer and fall — that includes a flat salary cap of US$81.5-million, and the lack of the usual interview period with potential targets.
Pietrangelo’s time as captain in St. Louis appears over after the Blues inked former Boston Bruins defenceman Torey Krug to a seven-year, US$45.5 million contract late Friday, while Hall seems destined to be leaving the Arizona Coyotes following the trade to the desert by the New Jersey Devils last December.
The Edmonton Oilers dipped into the blue-line market Saturday by adding former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie on a one-year, $3.75-million pact.
Barrie said a conversation with Oilers captain Connor McDavid helped convince him to choose the Alberta capital as his landing spot after a rough season in Toronto.
“It just wasn’t about money this year, (but) coming in to re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player,” Barrie said on a video conference call. “I think we’ve got a pretty great team. I’m looking forward to getting involved.”
The Oilers also elected to bring back veteran goalie Mike Smith on a one-year, $2-million deal to share netminding duties with Mikko Koskinen despite there being a number of other options available when free agency opened.
Thomas Greiss is another goalie off the board in the crease carousel, signing a two-year, $7.2-million contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Friday saw a run on netminders changing teams with Jacob Markstrom (Calgary Flames), Braden Holtby (Vancouver Canucks), Henrik Lundqvist (Washington Capitals), Cam Talbot (Minnesota Wild) and Corey Crawford (New Jersey) all finding new homes.
The Tampa Bay Lightning placed winger Tyler Johnson on waivers, but with a cap hit of $5 million each of the next four seasons, he went unclaimed as the Stanley Cup champions continue to look for a way out of their salary crunch.
Like the Oilers, the Red Wings also addressed their defence corps by inking Troy Stecher to a two-year, $3.4-million contract after he didn’t re-sign with Vancouver.
The Ottawa Senators continued their busy week — although not in free agency — by acquiring winger Austin Watson from the Nashville Predators for a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, while the Winnipeg Jets added depth down the middle by signing veteran centre Nate Thompson to a one-year, $700,000 contract.
Former Wild captain Mikko Koivu put pen to paper with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who cleared plenty of cap space this week, for one year at $1.5 million, the Bruins signed former Nashville forward Craig Smith to a three-year, $9.3-million contract, and the Carolina Hurricanes added former New York Rangers winger Jesper Fast on a three-year, $6-million deal.
The Colorado Avalanche and winger Andre Burakovsky agreed to a two-year deal worth $9.8 million that keeps the restricted free agent in Denver, and the San Jose Sharks inked RFA forward Kevin Lebanc to a four-year, $18.9-million deal.
But the league continues to wait to find out where Pietrangelo and Hall — the biggest fish in this year’s pond — will finally land.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press