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The NHL free agency winners? Carolina, ex-Leafs and some guys named Connor

The Maple Leafs looked on course for a bad start to free agency when Day 1 was a bit of a dud. They seemed to be losing everybody, from Noel Acciari to Radim Zohorna, with only a fourth-line grinder in Ryan Reaves and defensive reclamation project in John Klingberg to show for it.

Things changed Sunday with the signing of Tyler Bertuzzi, who’ll bring some grit to the top line.

So it’s stands as a bit of a reminder that the summer is a time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. There are long-term interests at play. Teams as assembled today could look very different come October. Some big names remain free agents, teams are still looking for trades, and restricted free agents heading to arbitration could upset a few apple carts.

Still, NHL free agency has been a bit of a yawn.

This of course should have been predictable given the quality of available unrestricted free agents was rather thin and the available cap space — at least among contenders — was rather tight.

It’s often been said that July 1 is the day the league’s general managers lose their minds, making deals they’ll come to regret. And though some deals most certainly won’t work out, it’s fair to say few big mistakes were made.

Here’s a look at some winners and losers from what was a wild week in hockey despite a mild opening to free agency.

WINNERS

Carolina Hurricanes Among the already-elite teams, the Hurricanes came out the best. They got better. They signed two of the top free agents in defenceman Dmitry Orlov and rambunctious forward Michael Bunting. Plus they solidified their goaltending, re-signing their solid tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta to pay cuts. They’ll combine for an average annual value of $4.9 million, $1.6 million less than last season. GM Don Waddell re-signed some of his key players, like Jesper Fast and captain Jordan Staal, and still has about $2.8 million of cap space left.

Former Maple Leafs The Leafs lost nine agents in the early going, despite the desires on all sides to stay in Toronto: Bunting (to Carolina), Acciari and Zohorna (to Pittsburgh), Luke Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly (to Nashville), Alex Kerfoot (to Arizona), Justin Holl (to Detroit), Mac Hollowell and Erik Gustafsson (to the Rangers). The nine collectively got 21 years worth of contracts, totally $60.325 million.

Guys named Connor The Blackhawks went out to get some playmakers (Taylor Hall) and protection (Corey Perry, Nick Foligno) to help first overall pick Connor Bedard adjust to life in the NHL. Connor Brown, meanwhile, signed a cagey deal —worth $4 million to him, but with the cap hit spread over two years in Edmonton because of bonuses — so he could pay with his old Erie Otters pal, Connor McDavid.

Alex Killorn The two-time Stanley Cup champion is getting paid. Really paid. By the Anaheim Ducks. To the tune of four years at $6.25 million a year. The Ducks are hoping to move to playoff status and had the cap space to pay dearly for Killorn and Radko Gudas.

Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic still has big holes to fill to get back to championship status, but getting gritty depth-scorer Miles Wood to sign for six years at $2.5 per season could end up being a genius move. Taking a chance that Jonathan Drouin could restart his career with his old pal Nathan MacKinnon is a chance worth taking, especially at an $825,000 AAV. And extending restricted free agent Bowen Byram (two years, $3.85 million) might remind other GMs that so-called “bridge deals” — the ones after entry level and before unrestricted status — are possible again for promising young players. And don’t forget, he picked up Ryan Johansen for pennies on the dollar from Nashville.

Meh

Kyle Dubas As anyone in Toronto can tell you, the new guy in charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to have a blind spot for goalies. He gave Tristan Jarry one of the summer’s wealthiest contracts, five years and $26,875,000 for a cap hit of $5.375 million. Add the $5 million for Reilly Smith in a pre-draft trade, and Dubas used up a fair bit of cap space. He made 11 signings quickly, adding Acciari and Lars Eller for depth on short-term deals, and got a pretty good blueliner in Ryan Graves for six years and $27 million

Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito didn’t make any big splashes, but he didn’t lose very much. The Stanley Cup finalists are taking a chance that defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, bought out by Vancouver, can rekindle his career. Centre Evan Rodrigues (four years, $12 million) seems a bit of an overpay, especially since it appeared Zito had to trade Anthony Duclair, who really fit the Panthers’ tough style, to make room.

Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman scored one of the top prizes in free agency in J.T. Compher ($5.1 million AAV), added a decent bet in forward Klim Kostin from Edmonton, plus defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere from Carolina and the versatile Daniel Sprong from Seattle. But he’s going to pay Justin Holl $3.4 million a year — $1.4 million more than the Leafs did — to be Justin Holl. And his goaltending is all over the map, with Panthers hero Alex Lyon and ex-Leaf James Reimer to support Ville Husso.

Arizona Coyotes Feels funny saying this because the team is not flush with proven rising talent, but they seemed to have turned the corner. They’ve brought in some useful veterans in Kerfoot, former Penguin Jason Zucker and the repatriated Nick Bjugstadt, who’d been traded to Edmonton at the deadline. They also added ex-Leafs prospect Sean Durzi, who is emerging as a top defenceman, in a sneaky good deal with the L.A. Kings. They have plenty of salary cap space, but being the Coyotes, are unlikely to use it all.

Losers

Boston Bruins Oh my goodness, the over-the-hill crowd got older. They caught lightning in a bottle last season in winning the Presidents’ Trophy but the gang is breaking up. Who knows, really, if Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will be back, a huge concern at centre? Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno got traded for cap relief. Adding 35-year-old Milan Lucic, 34-year-old James van Riemsdyk and 34-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk — even at bargain-basement prices — doesn’t scare anyone.

New York Rangers If anyone knows why GM Chris Drury thinks 35-year-old Nick Bonino, 36-year-old Blake Wheeler or 37-year-old Jonathan Quick are going to help, please tell Rangers fans. Drury needed them as warm bodies and bargains, like Gustafsson, to keep cap space for restricted free agents Alexis Lafrèniere and K’Andre Miller.

Nashville Predators Looks as if both Schenn and O’Reilly have their Cups and are less concerned with winning. They’ll be mentors on a young Predators team that probably doesn’t have a shot at the playoffs. Both will be playing higher in the lineup than they should. New GM Barry Trotz wanted to change the culture, and got rid of two key components in Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. The Avs, who got Johansen, are better. The Stars, who took a chance on Duchene, are probably better. The Predators are not.

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