NHL free agency news and analysis: Johnny Gaudreau signs with Columbus Blue Jackets

NHL free agency opened at noon ET on Wednesday and the biggest name's newest team became official after 8:30 p.m.

That's when the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they were landing 115-point scorer Johnny Gaudreau, even though most of the hockey world was focused on the New Jersey-New York-Philadelphia area for the South Jersey native.

Free agents Claude Giroux, Andrew Copp, Darcy Kuemper, David Perron, Jack Campbell, Ryan Strome and Andre Burakovsky found new teams while Nazem Kadri, Ondrej Palat and John Klingberg weren't announced by early evening.

The Carolina Hurricanes made two trades and the Tampa Bay Lightning signed three key players to eight-year extensions.

USA TODAY Sports' NHL staffers track and analyze the signings and trades that occurred during the day:

Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau had a career-best 115 points last season.
Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau had a career-best 115 points last season.

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FREE AGENCY: A look at the Top 25 players testing the market

Devils on verge of deal with Ondrej Palat

The New Jersey Devils are finalizing a five-year deal with former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat, according to multiple reports. Palat was a key piece of Tampa's two Stanley Cup championship teams and he was tied for the team lead in goals this past playoff run with 11 in 23 games. All told, the 31-year-old winger brings 138 games of playoff experience to a Devils team that is hoping to take the next step next season.

-- Jace Evans  

Ducks sign Ryan Strome

The center gets a reported $25 million over five years. The Ducks were in need of a center after the retirement of Ryan Getzlaf. Anaheim is becoming New York Rangers West after earlier signing Frank Vatrano. The Ducks have lots of young talent and these signings make them better.

Johnny Gaudreau to Blue Jackets

Johnny Gaudreau is going to Columbus. The 115-point scorer signed a seven-year, $68.25 million contract ($9.75 million AAV), the team announced Wednesday night. The Blue Jackets hadn't been mentioned early as a possible destination, but general manager Jarmo Kekaleinen told the team's website that Gaudreau informed him that Columbus "was one of his true primary destinations" and "serious talks" then ensued. It's a huge coup for Columbus, which has seen free agents leave or be traded through the years. The Blue Jackets also signed rugged defenseman Erik Gudbranson (four years, $16 million) earlier in the day.

Golden Knights re-sign Reilly Smith

With Max Pacioretty traded, Vegas had the money to re-sign for Smith (three years, $15 million) and Brett Howden (one year, $1.5 million).

Hurricanes trade for Max Pacioretty

The Hurricanes acquired forward Max Pacioretty and defenseman Dylan Coghlan for future considerations. The Golden Knights made the move to clear out cap space. Pacioretty dealt with injuries last season, but he still scores at a 30-goal pace.

Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci updates

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney gave an update on the status of talks with Bergeron and Krejci. "I think we’re in a really good place with Patrice," he said. "Just the timing and working out the details of his contract and allowing him to declare he’s good to go (for another season)." Sweeney said he had numerous conversations with Krejci's camp. The longtime Bruins No. 2 center played last season in the Czech Republic. "Going to try to continue to try to find some common ground there," Sweeney said. "Remains positive, but I just don’t have a clear cut answer."

Blackhawks add Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou

Each get a one-year, $3 million contract. The Blackhawks needed players after saying goodbye to Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik. Chicago also added Colin Blackwell and Alex Stalock on inexpensive contracts. The Blackhawks could finish at the bottom of the standings this season.

Kraken sign Andre Burakovsky

He gets $27.5 million over five years. His career-best 61 points would have led the Kraken in scoring last season. Burakovsky has won two Stanley Cups and is a former teammate of Seattle goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The Kraken also signed defenseman Justin Schultz (two years, $6 million) and goaltender Martin Jones (one year, $2 million).

Red Wings sign David Perron

He gets $9.5 million over two years. Detroit has been one of the busier teams on the opening day of free agency and this shows again that they're looking to move from rebuilding to pushing for a playoff spot. He's a veteran who has been very productive in three stints with the Blues and will provide offense and leadership in Detroit. The Red Wings also made a splash with versatile forward Andrew Copp, plus added defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta.

Sharks sign Oskar Lindblom

He became a free agent when the Flyers bought out the final year of his contract. He signed for two years in San Jose. Lindblom, who came back from a rare form of bone cancer, won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance in 2021.

Rangers sign Louis Domingue

The then-Penguins goalie entered in the middle of overtime of Game 1 of the first round, after a meal of spicy pork and broccoli, and beat the Rangers. He referenced that after signing a two-year deal with New York.

Red Wings add Ben Chiarot

He gets $19 million over four years. The defenseman didn't have a strong 2022 playoffs with the Panthers, but he played an impressive shutdown role during the Canadiens' 2021 run. The Red Wings are accelerating their rebuild after also adding Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik and Olli Maatta on Wednesday and trading for and signing goalie Ville Husso last week.

Stars sign Mason Marchment

His four-year, $18 million deal gives the Stars a productive winger to play on the second line. He had 47 points in 54 games, a nice boost for a team that didn't get much scoring beyond its first line. Dallas also added defenseman Colin Miller (two years, $3.7 million).

Patrick Nemeth traded to Coyotes

This move is about the Rangers creating cap space to re-sign restricted free agent Kaapo Kakko. The Rangers had to give up draft picks in the deal and get back 22-year-old defense prospect Ty Emberson.

Darcy Kuemper signs with Capitals

The Stanley Cup-winning goaltender gets a five-year, $26.25 million deal. The Capitals were unhappy with their goaltending last season and traded Vitek Vanecek and didn't qualify Ilya Samsonov. Kuemper had a career-best 37 wins last season and his .921 save percentage ranked fifth among league starters. Free agent goalie Charlie Lindgren (three years, $3.3 million) was signed as a backup.

Ilya Mikheyev goes to Canucks

The forward signed a four-year, $19 million contract, agent Dan Milstein tweeted. He had 21 goals in 53 games with the Maple Leafs last season, and he kills penalties.

Lightning lock up three to eight-year extensions

The Lightning, who reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third year in a row, are keeping the core together. After giving defenseman Mikhail Sergachev an eight-year extension, Tampa Bay did the same to forward Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak. Sergachev averages $8.5 million, Cirelli $6.25 million and Cernak $5.2 million. Cirelli is the team's shutdown center and Sergachev's and Cernak's role will grow after the trade of Ryan McDonagh. The Lightning also added defenseman Ian Cole ($3 million) and forward Vladislav Namestnikov ($2.5 million) to one-year, free agent deals.

Nick Leddy staying with Blues

The defenseman, acquired at the trade deadline, will get $16 million over four years. He was a good fit after arriving from Detroit. His 130 games of playoff experience make him valuable. The Blues also signed former Red Wings goalie Thomas Greiss (one year, $1.25 million, plus bonuses) as a backup. He replaces Ville Husso, who was traded to and signed with Detroit. Former Panthers center Noel Acciari signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal.

Mikhail Sergachev signs extension with Lightning

The 24-year-old defenseman had a year left with a $4.8 million cap hit ($7.2 million base salary), and now gets a long-term deal for eight years at $8.5 million per season. Sergachev has improved his point production (to 38) and ice time (to 22 minutes, 28 seconds) in each of the five seasons of his career. His role will only continue to expand. -- Jimmy Hascup

Frank Vatrano joins Ducks

The deal is for three years, $3.65 million per year, according to HNIC's Elliotte Friedman. Vatrano, a shrewd pickup by the Rangers at the trade deadline, showed in flashes his scoring potential in a secondary role. He will help a young forward group in Anaheim. -- Jimmy Hascup

Jaroslav Halak signs with Rangers

New York was seeking a backup goalie after trading Alexandar Georgiev, who was a restricted free agent, to Colorado. Halak gets $1.55 million for one year. The Rangers are tight on the salary cap and have to still re-sign RFA Kaapo Kakko. -- Jimmy Hascup

Hurricanes acquire Brent Burns from Sharks

The Hurricanes needed a right-shot defenseman after trading Tony DeAngelo to the Flyers. The Sharks needed to clear out cap space, and Burns had an $8 million cap hit. Burns had more points than DeAngelo last season, 54-51.

Andrew Copp to the Red Wings

The versatile forward is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He's a big addition for a team that's still rebuilding. TSN reports that the five-year deal has a $5.625 million cap hit.

Vincent Trocheck to Rangers

The two-way center will fill the No. 2 center role that UFA Ryan Strome held last season.

Blues' Robert Thomas extended

He'll get $65 million over eight years, a nice bump from the $2.8 million he'll make this season. He had a career-best 77 points and a 17-game point streak last season.

Ilya Samsonov to the Maple Leafs

Toronto says Samsonov gets a one-year, $1.8 million deal. Samsonov gets a prove-it deal after not being qualified by the Capitals. The Leafs' tandem next season is Matt Murray and Samsonov.

Claude Giroux signed by Senators

Giroux's offseason home is in the Ottawa area. He's still seeking his first championship. Can the Senators accomplish that in three years? Maybe not. But they're significantly better with Giroux and trade acquisitions Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot.

Jack Campbell heading to Edmonton

The goaltender will get $25 million over five years, according to TSN. The Oilers needed an upgrade in net and Campbell was an All-Star last season. Mike Smith might not play this season and Mikka Koskinen went overseas, so the tandem will be Campbell and Stuart Skinner.

And we're off

It's noon. Free agency signing period is officially under way.

Avalanche bring back Josh Manson

He'll get $18 million over four years, according to The Athletic. Manson was a big pickup at the trade deadline, a solid defender who scored several key goals in the Stanley Cup run. He joins Valeri Nichushkin and Andrew Cogliano in re-signing. Darren Helm also re-signed for a year on Wednesday.

Devils trade Pavel Zacha to Bruins

The move, reported by TSN, increases the Johnny Gaudreau-to-New Jersey speculation. Zacha is a left wing, like Gaudreau. He's also a restricted free agent, and the Devils won't need to re-sign him if they land Gaudreau. The move helps the Bruins, who have several forwards who'll miss the beginning of the season with injuries. The reported return is forward Erik Haula.

Evgeni Malkin, Evander Kane sign extensions

The Penguins and the Russian star agreed to a four-year contract late Tuesday night worth $6.1 million annually that will keep Malkin in Pittsburgh after all. After also signing defenseman Kris Letang on July 7 to a six-year, $36.6 million deal, the Penguins have about $4 million in cap space.

Kane followed by announcing “I'm back,” in a post on his verified Twitter account in which he revealed agreeing to a $20.5 million, four-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, where he put up 22 goals in 39 games after the team gave him a chance when the San Jose Sharks terminated the remainder of Kane's contract for violating COVID-19 protocols while in the American Hockey League. -- Jimmy Hascup

Flames' Johnny Gaudreau heads to market

Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who had attempted to re-sign Gaudreau, said Tuesday night that the star forward was going to hit the open market. "It is my strong belief that this was a family decision and I respect that fully," he said. "John has every right and we have nothing but respect for John the player and John the person."

Why are so many Avalanche players unsigned?

So far, Valeri Nichushkin and Andrew Cogliano are the only Avs players who have been re-signed. That leaves less than $15 million in cap space for next season, and Artturi Lehkonen (two series-clinching goals) is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Plus, the Avalanche have to think of 2023-24 and beyond because star Nathan MacKinnon can sign a contract extension. His cap hit next season is $6.3 million and that will go up significantly starting the following season.

Who's in the market for a goaltender?

The Washington Capitals have no NHL goaltenders under contract after trading Vitek Vanecek and not qualifying Ilya Samsonov. Goaltending was a weakness for the Edmonton Oilers on their run to the Western Conference final, plus backup Mikko Koskinen signed with the Swiss league. The Ottawa Senators, who traded Matt Murray to the Toronto Maple Leafs, upgraded their goaltending in a trade Tuesday, adding the Minnesota Wild's Cam Talbot in exchange for Filip Gustavsson.

NHL draft recap

The NHL draft took place July 7-8. The first round saw projected No. 1 overall pick Shane Wright fall to No. 4 and the Seattle Kraken. Here's a look at scouting reports of all the first-round picks, plus a look at the winners and losers of the draft. Wright said he'll have a "chip on (his) shoulder" after falling, and he reiterated his "staredown" was not directed at the Montreal Canadiens, who picked first and selected Juraj Slafkovsky.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL free agency tracker: Blue Jackets get Johnny Gaudreau