Jake Guentzel did not need to wait until NHL free agency opened Monday to find a new home.

Guentzel became the first big-name player to change places, signing a $63 million, seven-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning after they acquired his rights from Carolina over the weekend. Guentzel will count $9 million against the salary cap through 2031.

“Things just didn’t work out in Carolina, and then I heard Tampa might be trading for my rights, so obviously I got really excited because everyone hears how good of a team and good of a spot this is,” Guentzel said. “The pedigree behind Tampa Bay, the winning culture — just a lot of high-end players that really make it intriguing to come to Tampa.”

Free agency opened with Guentzel, Stanley Cup-clinching goal scorer Sam Reinhart and standout defenseman Chris Tanev all off the board. That left longtime Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Vegas’ 2023 playoff MVP Jonathan Marchessault among the top free agents available.

Tampa Bay traded defensemen Mikhail Sergachev to Utah and depth forward Tanner Jeannot to Los Angeles to clear significant cap space. But the team and Stamkos’ camp could not come to terms to keep the 2008 No. 1 pick around.

Stamkos is expected to draw significant interest around the league, even at 34. His 555 goals rank 30th on the career list and are the third most among active players.

“It’s part of the business: You’re not really sure what’s going to happen,” Guentzel said of Stamkos. “He’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a special player. I have the utmost respect or the guy. He’s just an unbelievable player.”

Running it back

Hours after a rainy rally celebrating their Stanley Cup title, the Florida Panthers beat the midnight buzzer to re-sign Reinhart to an eight-year contract worth $69 million, an annual cap hit of $8.625 million for a player coming off a 57-goal regular season.

“Since coming to South Florida, Sam has demonstrated his ability to be a powerful scoring threat while maintaining strong defensive play,” general manager Bill Zito said of Reinhart, who also scored Florida’s Cup-clinching goal. “His versatility and value as a player are only outshined by his premier personality and work ethic, and we are pleased to have him continue on with our group.”

After Patrick Kane re-signed with Detroit on Sunday night, a handful of other teams kept key players around.

Jordan Martinook is re-signing with the Hurricanes on a three-year deal worth $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. Erik Johnson is staying with the Philadelphia Flyers on a $1 million contract for next season, according to another person familiar with that deal.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the contracts had not been announced.

Edmonton, which lost to the Panthers in seven games in the Cup final, re-signed versatile depth forward Connor Brown to a one-year contract for $1 million. Brown, who tore the ACL in his left knee in October 2022, had a goal and an assist in the final.

Tanev in Toronto

Toronto, which traded for Tanev’s rights at the draft over the weekend, quickly signed him to a six-year contract worth $27 million that counts $6.5 million against the salary cap through 2030.

“Everyone knows how hard he is to play against and what a warrior and competitive he is,” forward Max Domi, who re-signed with the Leafs on Sunday for the next four years, said of Tanev. “He’s going to be a big part of this team for a long time, obviously, and a big part of our success.”

The Leafs also signed goaltender Joseph Woll, a restricted free agent, to a three-year extension for just under $11 million.


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