The second day of NHL free agency was a boon for hockey in Canada as one team locked up its franchise goalie and another gave its young star a new winger.
Carey Price, considered the best goaltender in the world, signed an eight-year extension with the Canadiens that means he’ll likely finish his career in Montreal. The rival Toronto Maple Leafs countered by signing Patrick Marleau to an $18.75 million, three-year contract that puts a veteran goal-scorer on Auston Matthews’ left wing.
The Canadiens and Maple Leafs haven’t met in the playoffs since 1979. Moves made Sunday put them on a much more likely crash course in the next few years.
Price’s extension, which reportedly pays him $10.5 million a year from 2018-19 through 2025-26, solidifies the most important position in the sport long-term in one of the league’s most fervent markets. Price won the Hart Trophy as MVP and Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in 2014-15 and has the third-best save percentage of any active goaltender since entering the league in 2007-08.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin didn’t hesitate in calling Price his “franchise player.”
“I have enough experience to deal with anything that being a goaltender for the Canadiens can throw at me,” Price said. “I never thought about putting on another uniform. I just thought it’d be too weird, I guess.”
It was weird to ever imagine Marleau wearing another uniform other than the San Jose Sharks. But he’ll do so next season after leaving the team that drafted him second overall in 1997 that he played for the past 19 seasons.
Marleau weighed several offers and decided to leave San Jose and take a deal with Toronto that counts $6.25 million against the cap through 2019-20. Marleau turns 38 in September and has a full no-movement clause in the contract.
After teams spent more than $200 million in the first few hours of free agency Saturday, the league was mostly quiet on Sunday with most of the big names off the board. A few remain, including Montreal’s Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov, whom Price would like to have back.
That’s far from a guarantee.
“I spoke to both players and we made offers they chose not to take (in order to) to go on the free-agent market,” Bergevin said. “That’s their right, and I respect that. But at the end of the day, based on what they’re asking for, it would be impossible to bring back both of them.”
Several players in their late 30s and even their 40s remain unsigned, including longtime Marleau running mate Joe Thornton, who’s 38. Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla are also available, while 40-year-olds Shane Doan and Matt Cullen are deciding whether to play another year.
The Florida Panthers already said they’re not bringing Jagr back. Ron Hextall on Sunday ruled out a Philadelphia reunion for the 45-year-old.
“That’s just not the direction we’re headed in right now,” Hextall said. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for his accomplishments and everything he’s done in the game, but it’s just not the direction we’re going in.”
The Vegas Golden Knights made another trade Sunday, acquiring center Marcus Kruger from the Chicago Blackhawks for future considerations. Cap-strapped Chicago dumped Kruger’s salary of just over $3 million while giving up a useful player who contributed to winning the Stanley Cup twice.
“His work ethic, reliability and strength as a two-way player made him a valuable member of the organization,” GM Stan Bowman said. “We thank Marcus for his many contributions to our team.”
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