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 reigning champion Colorado Avalanche brought back big defender Josh Manson and signed versatile winger Artturi Lehkonen. 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 blue liner Nick Leddy around for four more years and extended talented forward Robert Thomas through 2031.

Manson got $18 million in a four-year deal that counts $4.5 million against the salary cap. Lehkonen, who was a restricted free agent, got the same terms.

Acquiring Manson and Lehkonen at the deadline were a couple of the moves that helped Colorado win the Cup for the first time since 2001.

Manson, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound defensemen 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. Lehkonen scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Lightning and also scored to put Colorado into the final.

Tampa Bay, which had won the past two NHL titles, 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.

MARCHMENT MOURNS, SIGNS

Mason Marchment signed with the Dallas Stars with a heavy heart one week after dad Bryan died unexpectedly at age 53 while attending the NHL draft as a scout for the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind,” he said on TSN in Canada. “I’ve never felt emotion like that. But definitely going to a place like Dallas where I know the coaches there and I know what they want from me, I'm just so excited to go and start a new chapter in Dallas.”

Marchment was close to signing with the Carolina Hurricanes before getting $18 million over four years from Dallas. He said familiarity with family friend and assistant coach Steve Spott and some Stars players helped him make his decison.

“Just (wanted) to be around some familiar faces going through this tough time,” Marchment said. “It kind of just felt right.”

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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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