• Antoine Vermette returns to Arizona Coyotes for two years, $7.5 million

    Matt Larkin
    Antoine Vermette

    The kneejerk reaction to Antoine Vermette re-signing with the Arizona Coyotes might be, “He did WHAT?” After all, he was one of the best two unrestricted free agent centers available July 1, and the best considering Mike Ribeiro re-signed with Nashville early in the day. Contending teams, in theory, could’ve lined up out the door to employ a Stanley Cup-winning two-way center.

    But, on second thought, Vermette returning to the Arizona Coyotes for two years and $7.5 million makes a lot of sense.

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  • Bruins win Matt Beleskey sweepstakes – and trade Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes

    Matt Larkin
    Matt Beleskey (Debora Robinson/Getty Images)

    The Boston Bruins’ wild team turnover continued July 1, as GM Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely snagged the man plenty of insiders pegged as the top free agent forward on the market: Matt Beleskey, formerly of the Anaheim Ducks. Boston also traded wingers with the Florida Panthers, swapping Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes.

    Beleskey, 27, is a rugged left winger who cut his teeth in the OHL and and has overachieved of late in the NHL. He earned every one of his 22 goals with hard work, and he’s a perfectly helpful complementary piece, but he’s not a natural scorer.

    Sound familiar? Signing Beleskey carried the risk of signing the next David Clarkson. Beleskey has just one 20-goal season to his name. Clarkson had a Stanley Cup final and a 30-goal campaign when he signed his seven-year, $36.75-million contract. But the Beleskey money – five years and $19 million, meaning $3.8 million per – turned out to be fairly reasonable. It’s nowhere near Clarkson territory.

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  • Red Wings hoping for more of the same from Brad Richards

    Ken Campbell
    Brad Richards (right) and Duncan Keith  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

    It’s safe to say things turned out probably better than both Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks could have imagined last season and the Detroit Red Wings are banking on a repeat performance, both for Richards and the team.

    Richards, who was thought to be on his last stop when he signed for just $2 million with the Blackhawks last summer, earned himself at least a $1 million dollar raise on his new deal, a deal that will escalate to a total of $4 million if the Red Wings advance to the Eastern Conference final in 2015-16. If that happens, that is a total the Red Wings will only be too happy to have to pay.

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  • St. Louis Blues sign Jori Lehtera to three-year, $14.1-million extension

    Matt Larkin
    Jori Lehtera (Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Not every KHL import works out – see Cervenka, Roman – but Jori Lehtera was a resounding success in his first season with the St. Louis Blues. He was a third-round pick with the team in 2008 and toiled in Europe for several seasons, primarily in the KHL, before joining the Blues for 2014-15.

    Lehtera, a 27-year-old Finn, clicked immediately on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, a dynamic young trio that arguably usurped the Alexander Steen/David Backes/T.J. Oshie unit for de facto No. 1 status.

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  • NHL won’t be quite as exciting without cigar-chomping horse-trader Glen Sather

    Ken Campbell
    Glen Sather  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

    After 35 years as a GM in the NHL, Glen Sather could have been excused for going out with a whimper, the way most veterans do. But let the record show that the last trade Sather made as a GM was a substantial one, which actually was far more fitting.

    After all, there are few executives in NHL history that enjoyed the horse-trading business more than Sather did. It’s safe to say, too, that nobody in the history of the game made more transactions than Sather did. His last one sent Carl Hagelin and two draft picks to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem and a second-rounder. Just prior to that, Sather dealt goalie Cam Talbot and a pick to the Edmonton Oilers for second-, third-, and seventh-round picks.

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  • Detroit Red Wings sign Mike Green for three years, $18 million

    Matt Larkin
    Mike Green (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The biggest free agent fish of 2015 has been caught. Defenseman Mike Green is a Detroit Red Wing. He has signed for three years and $18 million, good for a salary cap hit of $6 million.

    Green was as coveted as any unrestricted free agent league-wide. He is nowhere near finished as an effective NHL defenseman. Gone are his halcyon days of 30-goal, 70-point seasons, but he remains a well-above-average point producer, having racked up 45 in 72 games this season with Washington. He’s still just 29 and capable of playing 20-plus minutes a night.

    Green, however, remains an adventure defensively. He wound up fifth on the Capitals’ depth chart at defense last season. His puck-possession numbers improved under coach Barry Trotz but, as the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg notes, that was largely because Green was playing on the third pair and facing weaker competition. And it’s alarming that his 72 games in 2014-15 marked his highest total since 2009-10.

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  • Buffalo Sabres ink Jack Eichel to three-year, entry-level contract

    Jared Clinton
    Jack Eichel

    Jack Eichel is ready to take on the NHL.

    The Buffalo Sabres announced Wednesday that they have signed Eichel to a three-year, entry-level contract, which means Eichel will head to professional hockey instead of returning to Boston University next season.

    Eichel, who was selected second overall at the 2015 draft by the Sabres, comes to Buffalo after just one season in the NCAA. While he had been quiet about where he would be headed next season, with some believed he could head back to school for the 2015-16 campaign, but his signing makes it official that he’s turning pro.

    Last season with the Terriers, Eichel was the highest scoring player in the NCAA with 26 goals and 71 points in 40 games, and led the club to a conference championship and was the MVP of the Hockey East tournament. In addition, he took home Hobey Baker Award honors as the top player in the NCAA last season. Eichel was also the NCAA Rookie of the Year, first-team All American, Hockey East Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-star.

    With Eichel signed, the Sabres, who were goal starved last season, immediately become much better offensively. Add Eichel to the likes of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Moulson, and the Buffalo offense looks vastly improved in a short span.

    As for the contract, Eichel will get a pretty standard entry-level deal worth a reported $925,000 per season. That said, though, the contract will be heavily bonus laden and with Eichel likely to fight for the Calder Trophy next season, there’s a good chance his deal could earn Eichel much more than the base cap hit.

  • Canadiens trade Brandon Prust to Canucks for Zack Kassian

    Matt Larkin
    (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images Sport)

    The Montreal Canadiens knew they need to get bigger and stronger at forward, so it’s no surprise to see them trade for a massive winger on Wednesday. The fact it was Zack Kassian, however, may raise an eyebrow or two.

    Kassian, 24, was a first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres and was dealt for Cody Hodgson at the 2012 deadline. The Canucks hoped they’d found their very own Milan Lucic, a mammoth power forward at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds who could put the puck in the net.

    It just didn’t quite materialize for Kassian, though. He showed it in bursts, like when he sniped 14 goals in 2013-14, and he even saw some stretches with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. But Kassian had a penchant for taking bad penalties and didn’t click with any of his coaches, from Alain Vigneault to Willie Desjardins. Kassian was an occasional healthy scratch.

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