By Mike Harrington
En route to the draft in Philadelphia, a lot of NHL news breaking overnight and this morning. First off, remember that under the new CBA teams were free to have conversation with unrestricted free agents as of midnight -- although they are not allowed to discuss actual contract terms (wink-wink).
You can, of course, sign UFAs that previously played for you or that you acquired the rights to, and two big signings have gone down. Tampa Bay has re-signed Ryan Callahan for six years and $34.8 million and Edmonton officially started the stupid season by signing defenseman Nikita Nikitin for two years and $9 million after acquiring his rights in a trade from Columbus.
So if Nikitin gets $4.5 million a season, what does that make the market for Pittsburgh UFA Matt Niskanen or Montreal RFA P.K. Subban? The defense market might go off the charts quickly.
As for Callahan, that will officially quiet chatter from Sabres fans who wanted their team to make a big play for the Rochester native. My take is simple: Big-ticket, big-money UFAs want to win Stanley Cups in the prime of their careers and not go to 30th-place teams. As John Vogl wrote Sunday in his GM for a Day column, "the 29-year-old from Rochester plays a game that’s hard on the body. I think he’ll be done by the time the Sabres hope to contend. "
(Now we just need Chicago to extend Patrick Kane on July 1 and all that crazy chatter about the Sabres honing in next summer can end there as well).
The Lightning helped their cap situation for Callahan by using a compliance buyout on forward Ryan Malone. He had one year left at $2.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins have signed Portland coach Mike Johnston to a three-year deal as their head coach. Pretty interesting move to hire a junior coach -- albeit one who is widely respected and has experience as an NHL aide -- to run a team with perennial Cup aspirations. Johnston is a Nova Scotia native, just like Sidney Crosby. Hmmm.