NHL free agency rarely includes the signing of stars.
Steven Stamkos was expected to be an exception this summer, cashing in on a sweepstakes for his services.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, though, didn’t let him to get the market by re-signing him earlier in the week.
Milan Lucic and Kyle Okposo, two of the NHL’s top free agents, can thank Stamkos for staying in the Sunshine State.
The 28-year-old wingers each were signed to $42 million, seven-year contracts Friday — the opening day of free agency — even though neither is a proven or prolific scorer.
Both have been good, not great, players in the league.
The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres are not in a position to be picky.
Coming off a string of losing seasons, the teams had enough salary cap space to make a splash.
Okposo, coming off a 22-goal year with the New York Islanders, moved upstate to join the Sabres, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 or finished higher than seventh in their division in three years.
“What sold me was first and foremost, I’ve been saying it all day, is the chance to win the Stanley Cup,” he insisted. “I think we have a lot of pieces in place that can help us achieve that goal.”
Lucic, who scored just 20 times last season with the Los Angeles Kings, followed the money to play for the lowly Oilers, who have gone a decade without a postseason appearance.
“It’s about time this team starts heading in the right direction,” he said.
Both Okposo and Lucic come out as the big winners, financially at least, after Day One of free agency.
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman appeared to make all the right moves this week.
The Lightning prevented other teams from landing Stamkos by keeping him with an eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday. Two days later, they may have made the best series of moves overall in a bid to stay near the top in the Eastern Conference. The Stanley Cup contender signed standout defenseman Victor Hedman to a $63 million, eight-year extension and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a $10.5 million, three-year extension.
“With Stammer and Victor, these are the two cornerstones,” Yzerman said. “(Stamkos) was the first pick overall (in 2008) and the (Hedman) second pick overall (in 2009). … A good couple of days for the organization.”
It has been a bad decade for the Oilers, who haven’t made the playoffs since they lost Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes and had the fewest points in the Western Conference last season for the second time in three years.
Lucic said two people, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli and the 19-year-old McDavid, were the reason he joined a franchise that most highly touted free agents have ignored in recent summers.
“The McDavid factor changes it all,” Lucic said.
Lucic was also lured to Edmonton in part because of his relationship with Chiarelli, who was his general manager when he played for the Boston Bruins. Chiarelli said 12 teams tried to sign Lucic, indicating one of them was the Kings, the only franchise that could’ve offered him an eight-year deal under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement.
“He was offered a longer term,” Chiarelli said. “He was offered more money.”
Like Lucic, Okposo will get a chance to play with one of the league’s most promising players, 19-year-old center Jack Eichel.
“He knows Jack’s a great, young player,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said.
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow and AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this story.
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