Predators are winners and players seeking long contracts are among the losers in NHL free agency

Barry Trotz was tired after a busy week of putting his stamp on the Nashville Predators by remaking the roster through some important comings and goings.

It's a good kind of tired.

On what was technically his first day on the job as general manager, Trotz signed top two-way center and 2019 playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly, rugged Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Luke Schenn and winger Gustav Nyquist who has something to prove. Those moves, even after trading Ryan Johansen and buying out Matt Duchene earlier in the week, made Nashville one of the big winners in NHL free agency.

“I want to change a little bit of the culture,” said Trotz, who coached the Predators for 15 years from their inception in 1998-2014. “I was looking for serial winners. I wanted to allow for a path for our young guys to develop and be surrounded by those those type of people.”

Trotz and his team were far from the only ones who did well.

WINNERS

TOP GOALIES

Two-time All-Star Tristan Jarry got a five-year deal worth almost $27 million to stay with the very active Pittsburgh Penguins. Joonas Korpisalo signed a $20 million, five-year contract with Ottawa.

The deal doesn't go into effect until the 2024-25 season, but Ilya Sorokin received $66 million over the following eight years to continue backstopping the New York Islanders.

Others — like Carolina's Antti Raanta, two-time Cup-winner Jonathan Quick and vet James Reimer — got one-year contracts at more bargain prices.

RYAN GRAVES

No player has made more total money in unrestricted free agency so far than Graves, a defensive defenseman who signed for $27 million over six years with Pittsburgh. Graves will make a average of $4.5 million a season through 2028-29.

“He brings a lot of size to the group he’s in, but more importantly, he’s been very effective playing against very, very tough competition in New Jersey and going back to Colorado,” Penguins GM Kyle Dubas said. “We feel that’ll help.”

Additional shoutout to Dmitry Orlov for getting the highest cap hit at $7.75 million for the next two seasons with Carolina. The money's nice, but Orlov traded away the stability of a lengthy contract he might have gotten elsewhere.

LOSERS

LONG-TERM CONTRACTS

Just seven of the contracts handed out this weekend to unrestricted free agents were for five years or more. Even Orlov said it was a tough time to be a player interested in a long-term commitment.

One- and two-year deals — many with performance-based incentive bonuses — were far more popular, given the limited money available around the league and the expectation the salary cap is going up significantly next summer.

WESTERN CANADA

Other than the Edmonton Oilers, who are in win-now mode, it's a rough time for the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks.

The Flames didn't do much to add, the Jets still seem on track to trade goalie Connor Hellebuyck and perhaps center Mark Scheifele and the Canucks are trying to retool on the fly after buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has since joined Florida.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

After winning a playoff series for the first time since 2004, the Leafs face an incredibly uncertain future. They already lost O’Reilly, Schenn, forward Noel Acciari, defenseman Erik Gustafsson after acquiring them prior to the trade deadline and forward Michael Bunting.

They got tougher by signing enforcer Ryan Reaves to a three-year deal worth just over $4 million, added motivated defenseman John Klingberg for next season and nabbed winger Tyler Bertuzzi, too. Max Domi could also help Toronto.

But now the real work begins to decide what to do with the “Core Four.” Auston Matthews and William Nylander could become free agents next summer — and Mitch Marner and captain John Tavares in 2025 — so the answer of whether Toronto will be better is still to be determined.

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