NHL teams worked against the clock to take care of outstanding business before the impending lockout, resulting in a flurry of moves Saturday.
The Boston Bruins were busy again with their third major signing before the work stoppage, signing forward Milan Lucic to a US$18-million, three-year contract that will make him the team’s highest paid forward.
Anaheim defenceman Cam Fowler, Buffalo forward Tyler Ennis and Nashville blue-liner Kevin Klein also signed multi-year extensions just as the current collective bargaining agreement was set to expire.
Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane had his new contract announced 30 minutes prior to the collective bargaining agreement expiring at midnight Eastern time Saturday.
Other teams were sending players with entry-level or two-way contracts to the American Hockey League or back to junior. Teams with a lot of young impact players like the Edmonton Oilers were able to stock their minor-league affiliates with top talent.
Edmonton sent 26 players to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, including marquee forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
The Toronto Maple Leafs sent 22 players to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, including Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Korbinian Holzer. The Leafs also assigned four players to their junior clubs, including Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Other notable players with entry-level contracts being sent to the AHL include Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique.
The 24-year-old Lucic is the third Bruin to receive a new deal with an NHL lockout looming. In less than two weeks, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli has also given new contracts to forwards Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin.
"We have been winning and we will continue to use this approach. A guy like Milan is a perfect example," Chiarelli said. "He marks the end of three signings that we’ve done over the course of a couple of weeks. I am very happy to have completed them. I think it shows commitments from Milan and the other players and a commitment from our owners."
Ennis signed a two-year contract worth $5.625 million, according to a person familiar with the contract.
General manager Darcy Regier said the threat of a labour disruption played a key role in getting Ennis signed because the team would’ve been barred from negotiating with the player in the event of a lockout.
"I think with the uncertainty, what it does is it removed one additional piece," Regier said. "Whenever it is we start, Tyler’s signed and ready to go, and it’s not something that you’re going to be pressed into action and negotiating while you’re trying to prepare for a season."
Other teams prepared for the work stoppage by finding inexpensive options for giving young players valuable playing time. Joining Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins in Oklahoma City are forward Magnus Paajarvi and defenceman Justin Schultz.
First overall draft pick Nail Yakupov was assigned to the OHL’s Sarnia Sting and blue-liner David Musil sent to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
Yakupov isn’t likely to suit up with his former junior hockey team. The dynamic young forward tweeted Saturday he is on his way to Russia where it’s expected he’ll join a KHL team.
With the Oilers being a young team many of their impact players are still on entry-level contracts, making it cheap to move a large part of the team to the AHL.
"I talked to Ryan Whitney who played in the AHL during the lockout and he said it was one of the best years of his career," said Eberle on the Oilers’ Twitter account.
"It’s going to be good to go down there with the guys, hang out and get a winning attitude because we’re going to have a good team."
Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, Carolina’s Erik Staal and Los Angeles’s Dustin Brown were among the players who played in the AHL during the 2004-05 lockout.
A move to a lower-level league means a pay cut for most players. Eberle, who is in the final year of his entry-level deal but just signed a US$36-million, six-year contract extension, will make an annual salary of $65,000 in the AHL.
Edmonton star forward Taylor Hall was not eligible to be sent to the Barons because he remains on injured reserve.
Teams were scrambling to sign players and move around pieces prior to the end of the current collective bargaining agreement at midnight Eastern Time.
The Hurricanes topped the Oilers by sending 28 players to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Included in that list is Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2011.
Carolina also sent defenceman Ryan Murphy, who was drafted 12th overall in 2011, to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.
Elsewhere, New Jersey centre Henrique, who was nominated for the Calder Trophy last season, was assigned to the AHL’s Albany Devils.
Winnipeg sent 13 players to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps including centre Alexander Burmistrov, while prospect Mark Scheifele was returned to the OHL’s Barrie Colts.
The Philadelphia Flyers sent 26 players to the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, including forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.