Contenders re-sign key players at start of NHL free agency

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Recent Stanley Cup winners spent the first day of NHL free agency re-signing key players to long-term contracts.

The NHL champion Colorado Avalanche brought back big defender Josh Manson and the team they beat in the final, the Tampa Bay Lightning, extended center Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak for eight years each. The St. Louis Blues kept Nick Leddy around for four more years and extended talented forward Robert Thomas through 2031.

Manson got $18 million on a four-year deal that counts $4.5 million against the salary cap.

Acquiring the 6-foot-3, 218-pound defenseman at the deadline was one of several moves that helped Colorado win the Cup for the first time since 2001. Manson, who turns 31 before opening night, provided some toughness for the high-scoring Avalanche and he had eight points to go along with some key hits in 20 playoff games.

Tampa Bay, which lost in the final after winning the Cup back to back, signed Sergachev for $68 million, Cirelli for $50 million and Cernak for $41.6 million — all through 2031. General manager Julien BriseBois said they were his priority when he traded veteran Ryan McDonagh to Nashville earlier this month.

St. Louis, which won the Cup in 2019 and has remade its blue line since, re-signed Leddy for $16 million over four years. The Blues got Leddy from Detroit at the deadline and plugged him into a unit that has gotten faster and more skilled since bruising to a championship three years ago.

The Blues signed Thomas, who just turned 23, to a $65 million contract extension that carries an $8.125 million cap hit.

MORE LIGHTNING MOVES

The Eastern Conference champions also added defenseman Ian Cole and brought back winger Vladislav Namestnikov on one-year contracts. Cole signed for $3 million and Namestnikov $2.5 million.

Along with Philippe Myers, Cole should help fill the void left by the McDonagh trade and expected departure of Jan Rutta. The veteran left-shot defender won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2016 and ’17 and played last year with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Namestnikov has bounced around the league with five different teams since his first stint with Tampa Bay. He was with the Lightning when they reached the Cup Final in 2015.

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

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