Toughness and grit were paying big-time on Sunday, as some NHL clubs topped up on sandpaper while others replaced players of that ilk who walked away in free agency.
Fourth-liner Brandon Prust, 28, made the biggest splash as the opening of the free agency window began at 9 a.m. PDT. The big, tough winger scored a four-year deal with Montreal that will pay him an average of $2.5 million – after finishing a deal with the New York Rangers where he earned $800,000.
The Canucks attempted to bring back former grit winger Tanner Glass in an effort of their own to upgrade their bottom six, but fell short when he signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh worth an average of $1.1 million per season.
Glas had always talked about how much he loved playing in Vancouver in two seasons here before the Canucks let him go in free agency a year ago to Winnipeg.
He thought hard about taking the Vancouver offer, which was pretty much the same as the one offered by the Penguins, but was swayed by the Pens’ offer of a more versatile role and a chance to be on a Stanley Cup winner. Of course, sharing a locker room with Sidney Crosby doesn’t hurt, either.
“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Glass told The Province shortly after his deal was announced. “I think the opportunity was a bit better in Pittsburgh. They said they’d move me up and down the lineup and I’d be killing penalties. They like my game. I know I’m going to get a chance to play.”
Glass effectively replaces winger Arron Asham, who moved on to sign with the New York Rangers (to fill Prust’s role there).
Glass’s agent said it was a tough decision for his client to turn the page on the Jets, with whom he had a third-line shutdown role and produced five goals and 16 points. But Ross Gurney said the clock ticking towards the free agency window hurt the Jets’ chances as July 1 approached.
“We talked to them for seven weeks; it took too long,” he said. “We had interest from nine (other) clubs in the first 20 minutes.”
Glass will make $1 million next season as well as a $100,000 signing bonus and then $1.1 million the year after. He made $750,000 with the Jets and $625,000 and $500,000 in his first two full NHL seasons in Vancouver.
Around the NHL, there was a theme of teams pursuing grit and truculence.
“You’re seeing a lot of teams doing something with their bottom six,” said Gurney. “A lot of teams are looking to do something.”
Prust wasn’t the only grinder to receive a big payday.
Fourth-line forward Adam Burish left Dallas — where he made an average of $1.18 million the past two seasons — to sign a four-year deal with San Jose for an average of $1.8 million.
Others also got nice increases.
Asham went from $775,000 in Pittsburgh last season to a two-year deal at $1 million per with the Rangers. Minnesota clearly made an effort to get tougher by adding tough centre Zenon Konopka, taking him from the $700,000 he made in Ottawa last season to a two-year deal for $825,000. Longtime Anaheim enforcer George Parros landed in Florida, going from $875,000 to $925,000.