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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 8:57PM

NHL free agency: Johnny Gaudreau makes Blue Jackets a winner

By The Associated Press
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Judging success and failure in NHL free agency just hours after the market opened can be tricky, looking into the future to predict which moves will pan out — or not.

Looking back at the slew of signings on Wednesday, it seems relatively easy to identify at least one winner and a loser.

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the biggest splash, stunning the league by landing Johnny Gaudreau with a seven-year contract for $68.25 million.

"To get a player of his caliber is going to make us instantly better and make players better around him, which is really important in the culture of a hockey team," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Thursday. “Exciting day for the Blue Jackets organization. That goes without saying, and I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Gaudreau, a first-team, all-NHL player last season, rendered Calgary a loser when he informed the Flames on the eve of free agency that he was not signing their eight-year offer to stay.

“It was a tough decision,” Gaudreau said, citing leaving as the right move for him and his wife. “It was a really hard decision but something me and Meredith, we talked about for a long time there. It was difficult, but it was the best for us.”

Columbus added a 28-year-old, six-time All-Star in his prime. The diminutive and dynamic wing had career highs last season with 40 goals and 115 points, giving him 210 goals and 609 points in 602 games for the Flames.

The Blue Jackets instantly boosted their shot of making the playoffs, after missing them the last two years, and improved their chances of advancing in the playoffs for just the second time since the franchise joined the league in 2000.

Calgary, meanwhile, will have to make some significant signings or trades to make up for the loss of Gaudreau. If the Flames swing and miss this summer, they might be reminded of how bad it was before Gaudreau arrived, when they missed five straight postseasons.

Here's a look at some teams that seemed to win, and lose, on the opening day of NHL free agency:

CAROLINA HURRICANES

The Hurricanes made a pair of power moves that should help the two-time defending division champions keep pace with Eastern Conference powers.

Carolina acquired 2017 Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns in a trade with San Jose and veteran winger Max Pacioretty in another trade, taking advantage of Vegas scrambling to manage its salary cap.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

After failing to make the playoffs for the first time in its five NHL seasons, Vegas had to unload a player it couldn't afford to keep.

Pacioretty had 97 goals and 97 assists over four seasons with the Golden Knights, who will have a hard time replacing his production with a tight budget.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Steve Yzerman apparently ran out of patience. The Hall of Famer and former Red Wings captain ditched his plan to focus on drafting and developing players with a series of moves that may make the once-proud franchise relevant again.

Detroit signed center Andrew Copp to a $28.1 million, five-year contract, defenseman Ben Chiarot to a $19 million, four-year agreement and a pair of wings to two-year deals: David Perron for $9.5 million and Dominik Kubalik for $5 million.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

After a sixth straight first-round exit in the playoffs, Toronto lost its No. 1 goaltender, Jack Campbell, in free agency when he signed a $25 million, five-year contract with Edmonton.

The Maple Leafs simply don't seem as sound in net. They gave goalie Ilya Samsonov a one-year deal to join Matt Murray, acquired from Ottawa just days earlier, and are counting on players who gave up three-plus goals a game last season.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Shooting to keep Alex Ovechkin's championship window open as he nears his 37th birthday, Washington signed Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper to a five-year contract worth $26.25 million.

Kuemper had a career-best 37 wins in the regular season and won 10 playoff games for Colorado. He will be backed up by 28-year-old Charlie Lindgren, who signed a $3.3 million, three-year deal.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Sitting out of the postseason for two straight years, for the first time since a four-year drought in the early 1990s, did not seem to inspire much change in Philadelphia.

With a chance to add much-needed talent, the most significant signing the Flyers made when free agency opened was giving forward Nicolas Deslauriers a four-year deal for $1.75 million per season. In 81 games last season in Anaheim and Minnesota, he had eight goals and five assists. The 31-year-old Deslauriers has never scored more than 10 goals.

Gaudreau, who is from Carney's Point, New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia and grew up rooting for the Flyers, avoided mentioning his hometown team at his introductory news conference in Columbus but seemed to struggle with the opportunity missed.

“I’ve always wanted to play relatively a little bit closer,” he said. “I think the East, I grew up here — not in Columbus but on the East Coast. It’s somewhere I always wanted to play. I was in Calgary for eight to 12 years there from when I got drafted to when I started playing, and I always kind of dreamed about playing a tad closer to home."

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AP Hockey Writers Stephen Whyno and John Wawrow contributed to this report.

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Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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