NHL Free Agency: Phil Kessel Trade Steals Day 1

By Matt Barbato

The first day of the NHL free agency period is usually filled with a flurry of signings and acquisitions around the league. There were 424 acquisitions made as of 7 p.m. E.T. on the first day of July throughout the NHL, but it was a trade that snatched the headlines on one of the biggest days of the offseason.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the biggest splash of the day when they acquired right wing Phil Kessel, along with Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixson from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington and draft picks.

The Penguins get another true sniper to pair with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others, while Kessel and the Maple Leafs both get to start fresh after the relationship turned sour. Many believe Kessel’s attitude was the reason for the fractured relationship, and his abysmal minus-34 rating may provide some evidence to that.

Attitude aside, Kessel will be playing on a far better team in Pittsburgh and should be able to find the net at least 30 times next season. He and Crosby could make for a lethal combo that could instantly make Pittsburgh a contender within the Eastern Conference again.

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  • Although the compensation may not have been spectacular, the Leafs were able to free $6.8 million and can truly begin to rebuild with a new prospect in Kapanen and high draft picks for new head coach Mike Babcock utilize.

    The Penguins added to their terrific first day of free agency by signing talented Russian forward Sergei Plotnikov, who scored 15 goals in 56 games in the KHL last season. Toronto also signed forward P.A. Parenteau to a one-year contract.

    The Detroit Red Wings also had a very productive day and added a skilled offensive defenseman in Mike Green, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal. Green is a right-shooting shot who will likely man the point on Detroit’s power play. It’s another dose of skill to a unit that already features skilled veterans in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The 10-year veteran put up 73- and 76-point seasons between 2008 and 2010, but failed to stay healthy the following three years. Last season, he scored 10 goals with 35 assists.

    Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrates with center Brad Richards (91) after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    The Wings weren’t done yet, as late in the afternoon they signed veteran center Brad Richards to a one-year, $3 million contract with potential for another million in playoff bonuses. Richards, who is coming off a Stanley Cup title with the Chicago Blackhawks, could play a major role early for the Red Wings as Datsyuk may start the season on injured reserve.

    The Edmonton Oilers continued to round out their rebuild by signing defenseman Andrej Sekera and forward Mark Letestu. Sekera was signed to a whopping six-year, $33 million deal after scoring 23 points last season with the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings.

    The Calgary Flames made a solid move in signing Michael Frolik. The former Winnipeg Jets and Blackhawks two-way forward can score and is a good penalty killer. Frolik has scored 34 goals the past two seasons in Winnipeg after serving mainly as a depth player and penalty killer for the Blackhawks for two years.

    The San Jose Sharks made one of the first moves of the morning, and it was one of the safest moves. The Sharks signed defenseman Paul Martin to a four-year contract.

    The Nashville Predators added depth to a stacked defensive grouping with the signing of former Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. Arizona made a few moves by signing another former Blues defender, Zbynek Michalek, as well as forward Brad Richardson and goalie Anders Lindback. Arizona also brought home one of its own in Antoine Vermette, who returns to the ‘Yotes on a two-year deal with $3.75 million annually.

    With plenty of big names still left on the market, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks in tomorrow’s edition of the free agent frenzy.

    Next: Blackhawks Sign Viktor Tikhonov

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