Veteran Michael Nylander, an underrated player, signed a US$19.5 million, four-year contract with the Caps, giving star winger Alexander Ovechkin the set-up centre he hasn’t had in his two NHL seasons.
“In our minds there were four real good centres out there and we had a chance to get this one. And we got him,” Caps GM George McPhee said Monday night.
“You sort have a hunch that certain things might work, and we thought that if things didn’t work out for him in New York (where he played last year) we stood a real good chance of it working out here.”
The second day of free agency wasn’t as chaotic but still provided some key signings. Montreal reeled in defenceman Roman Hamrlik with a $22-million, four-year contract, Chicago landed centre Robert Lang with an $8-million, two-year deal, Los Angeles signed blue-liner Tom Preissing to an $11-million, four-year contract and Pittsburgh signed winger Petr Sykora and defencemen Darryl Sydor – both to $5-million, two-year contracts.
In other moves Monday:
-The Nashville Predators signed forward Radek Bonk, 31, and defenceman Greg de Vries, 34, to two-year contracts. Both were unrestricted free agents
-The Atlanta Thrashers signed unrestricted free-agent defenceman Ken Klee, 35, to a $2.5-million, two-year contract.
-The Vancouver Canucks re-signed defenceman Lukas Krajicek, 24, to a $2.2-million, two-year deal.
-The Toronto Maple Leafs re-signed winger Bates Battaglia, 31, to a $1.3-million, two-year contract.
-The Nashville Predators signed unrestricted free-agent forward Jed Ortmeyer, 28, to a $1.5-million, two-year contract.
-The New York Rangers re-signed defenceman Jason Strudwick, 31, to a $500,000, one-year deal.
-The Minnesota Wild signed centre Steve Kelly.
But Nylander was the big signing of the day, a 34-year-old Swede who set career highs in goals (26), assists (57) and points (83) with the New York Rangers last season. The Edmonton Oilers, among other teams, were believed to also be in on the bidding for the unrestricted free agent, but he chose Washington.
“It sounds like he had a difficult time with the decision process because there were lots of offers and lots of interest from clubs,” said McPhee.
The Caps also added defenceman Tom Poti and centre Viktor Kozlov on Sunday, bolstering a lineup that needed bolstering.
“We think we’ve done some things in the past couple of days that make us far more competitive and address some real needs and hopefully have us knock on the playoff door,” said McPhee.
The Canadiens lost out Sunday after making serious bids on both Briere and Ryan Smyth but GM Bob Gainey did connect with Hamrlik, signing the 33-year-old unrestricted free agent to a deal that will pay him $5.5 million a season.
Hamrlik had 38 points (7-31) and a plus-22 rating in 75 regular-season games with the Calgary Flames last season. The six-foot-two, 210-pounder is a three-time NHL all-star who has 505 career points (131-374) in 999 games.
“My priority was to play in Canada,” Hamrlik said on a conference call. “Unfortunately I didn’t re-sign with the Calgary Flames. But I talked to my agent and said I’d love to play in Canada. It’s like playing soccer in England or something like that.
“And especially for the Montreal Canadiens, such a big team.” The Ottawa Senators lost Preissing to the Kings, who will pay him $2.75 million a year. The 28-year-old unrestricted free agent had 38 points (7-31) in 80 regular-season games with the Senators last season while posting a staggering plus-40 rating. He added seven points (2-5) in 20 playoff games.
The Blackhawks signed the unrestricted free agent Lang to an $8-million, two-year contract. The 36-year-old had 52 points (19-33) in 81 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season.
“He wants to play with (Martin) Havlat and he’ll get the chance,” Hawks GM Dale Tallon told The Canadian Press. “He wanted to be here. This was a good signing right off the bat.”
The Penguins were busy, reigning in a pair of veterans in Sykora and Sydor – both to $5-million, two-year deals. The Penguins also brought back backup goaltender Dany Sabourin after he spent part of last season with Vancouver, and re-signed defenceman Rob Scuderi.
Sykora, 30, had 53 points (22-31) in 82 games with Edmonton last season while Sydor, 35, had 21 points (5-16) and a minus-4 rating in 74 games with Dallas, where he has spent most of his career.