The goodbye came quickly if respectfully for Anaheim Ducks veteran Corey Perry.
After a knee injury limited the 34-year-old forward to 31 games, general manager Bob Murray last week bought out the final two years of Perry’s contract and sent the franchise cornerstone unexpectedly into free agency.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my 44 years in the NHL,” Murray said. “Corey gave everything to this franchise for 14 years, never giving an inch to his competitors.”
Now, one of those competitors will get to see what Perry has left. Big money will flow to forward Artemi Panarin, center Matt Duchene and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 as the top three free agents available, though Perry and other seasoned veterans are worth watching when the market opens.
Joining Perry as a one-organization player potentially changing teams is San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, who had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. The Sharks are in a salary-cap squeeze and also might have to say goodbye to forward Joonas Donskoi, but general manager Doug Wilson wasn’t giving up on bringing Pavelski back after signing defenseman Erik Karlsson to a $92 million contract.
“I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything,” Wilson said. “There’s many ways to accomplish different things. My history over the years, you explore everything.”
Pavelski, 34, is drawing interest around the NHL and could follow the lead of former Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, who opted two years ago to depart in free agency and signed in Toronto. The cap will almost certainly keep the Maple Leafs from retaining Jake Gardiner after the defenseman spent his entire eight-year career with them.
Perry had been a fixture in Anaheim during the entire salary cap era that began in 2005. The 2011 Hart Trophy winner has spoken to several teams since the interview period opened Sunday.
Other free agents to watch:
Could the New York Islanders lose their captain in back-to-back offseasons? It’s possible Anders Lee follows John Tavares out the door following another 50-point year. One difference this time: The Islanders are coming off a trip to the second round of the playoffs, clearly have something cooking with coach Barry Trotz and are heading in the right direction. Forwards Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle already re-signed, but keep an eye on Vezina Trophy finalist goaltender Robin Lehner’s decision.
Panarin signed up with Bobrovsky’s agent during the season, and there is reason to believe they are a package deal. The Florida Panthers hosted the Columbus forward and goalie this week and are seen as the favorites to sign them, especially after Roberto Luongo retired.
The sixth overall pick in 2010 struggled to find his place in the NHL until three years with Washington allowed him to establish himself. Connolly scored six goals on the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run and followed that up by setting career highs with 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points.
“I think we brought stability to his game,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “He just found stability, found a place where he could play. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on him to score because he had guys in front of him. I think it was just a good fit team-wise and for him, and he took advantage of it.”
Washington’s salary-cap crunch is likely to send Connolly into the market, where he could get a big payday and a bigger role with another team.
A handful of intriguing players under age 27 were not tendered qualifying offers as restricted free agents and are now free to sign with any team. That list includes 24-year-old forward Ryan Hartman, who has been traded three times in 18 months, 25-year-old defenseman Derrick Pouliot and underachieving 2013 first-round picks Kirby Reichel and Curtis Lazar.
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