Fresh off his breakup with the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Kovalev landed on his skates Monday by signing a US$10-million, two-year deal with the rival Ottawa Senators.
The Russian winger ended up on the outside looking in after Habs GM Bob Gainey remade his team’s forward corps last week, but he didn’t need long to find a new home.
“He’s one of the high skilled guys in the National Hockey League,” said Senators GM Bryan Murray. “Talking to him he was very happy. He thinks we have a good club here and he thinks he can be a nice addition to it.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs, another Northeast Division rival, continued their makeover under new GM Brian Burke by signing free agent defenceman Francois Beauchemin to a three-year deal and first-round pick Nazem Kadri to an entry-level contract.
The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, signed Andrew Raycroft to a $500,000, one-year deal to be their backup goalie and re-signed defenceman Shane O’Brien to a US$1.6-million, one-year deal.
San Jose Sharks re-signed Ryane Clowe and the New York Rangers agreed to terms with Chris Higgins on a busy day of NHL manoeuvring.
Kovalev, a 16-year veteran, spent the past six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. The Russian sniper led the Canadiens with 26 goals and 65 points in 2008-09.
Earlier in the day, Gainey told Montreal radio station CJAD that Kovalev would not be returning to Montreal next season.
Gainey said he offered the 36-year-old a new contract last week, but the crafty winger took too long to mull over the deal.
Murray was thrilled Kovalev ended up in Ottawa.
“When I started talking to them last week I didn’t know if we had a chance or not,” said Murray. “I know he had a couple other offers. I’m surprised but happy that we were able to do it.”
The signing of Beauchemin reunites the physical defenceman with Burke, who was his GM with the Anaheim Ducks. He feels his game is suited to what Burke is trying to establish in Toronto.
“I try to play an aggressive style of game,” Beauchemin said on a conference call. “Solid in the D-zone, I try to contribute offensively when I can, I just try to be hard to play against.”
The 29-year-old missed 62 games with a knee injury last season but returned to play in the final two regular season games and all 13 post-season games for Anaheim.
“Francois will be a welcome addition to our blue-line,” said Burke. “He’s a rock solid, steady defender that will add character to our team.”
The Maple Leafs gave Kadri, the seventh overall pick in the June 26 draft, a three-year entry level deal. The 18-year-old forward was ninth in the Ontario Hockey League with 53 assists and 15th with 78 points last season.
The Maple Leafs also re-signed forwards Ben Ondrus and Ryan Hamilton to one-year contracts and added free-agent forwards Jay Rosehill (two years), Tim Brent (one year) and Richard Greenop (three-year entry level contract).
Raycroft, 29, spent last season with the Colorado Avalanche where he had a 12-16-0 record, 3.14 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.
Vancouver lost backup Jason LaBarbera last week when he signed a two-year, free-agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.
O’Brien recorded 10 assists and 196 penalty minutes in 76 games last season, his first with the Canucks.
Clowe agreed to a $14-million, four-year deal with the Sharks, who see the forward as a big part of their future. The 26-year-old established career highs with 20 goals and 30 assists in 71 games last season.
He’ll make $3.5 million in each of the next three seasons and $4 million in 2012-13.
“We believe Ryane is entering the prime of his career and can be a dominant player in this league for years to come,” GM Doug Wilson said in a release. “We feel he is an important piece to this team as his hard-nosed play, passion for the game and commitment to succeed are all part of his make-up.”
The Rangers have similar hopes for forward Christopher Higgins, who gets a one-year deal worth $2.25 million. Higgins was acquired along with Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko from the Canadiens in exchange for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto last week.
Higgins scored 12 goals with 11 assists in 57 games for the Habs last season, a year after he set career-highs in games played (82), goals (27), assists (25), points (52), power-play goals (12), game-winning goals (five), and shots (241).
Elsewhere, the St. Louis Blues re-signed forward B.J. Crombeen, a 25-year-old they claimed on waivers from Dallas on Nov. 18, 2008, to a $1.745-million, two-year deal.
He played in 81 games, registering 12 goals with 10 assists and ranked second among NHL rookies with 148 penalty minutes.
“B.J. played a huge role for us up front with his scoring and toughness in his rookie year,” Blues president John Davidson said in a statement. “We expect him to provide the same competitiveness and intensity next season.”
In other moves:
-The Edmonton Oilers named Frederic Chabot their new goaltending consultant. The 41-year-old joins the Oilers after most recently serving as a goaltending consultant with Hockey Canada and the national junior team.
-The Chicago Blackhawks signed six players, including defenceman Cam Barker to a three-year contract, winger Troy Brouwer to a two-year contract, goaltender Corey Crawford to a two-year contract, winger Ben Eager to a one-year contract, centre Colin Fraser to a one-year contact and defenceman Aaron Johnson to a one-year contract.
Barker’s signing comes afte rthe NHL Players’ Association filed a grievance, saying the Blackhawks hadn’t given restricted free agents Barker and rookie of the year candidate Kris Versteeg qualifying offers before the deadline stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement.
-The Colorado Avalanche signed forwards David Jones, Chris Durno, Darren Haydar, Matt Hendricks and Brian Willsie, along with goaltender Tyler Weiman.
-The Detroit Red Wings re-signed restricted free agent forward Ville Leino to a two-year contract.
-The Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Pascal Pelletier to a one-year, two-way contract.
-The Atlanta Thrashers re-signed defenceman Joel Kwiatkowski and forward Jason Krog. They also added unrestricted free agent goalies Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino.
-The New York Islanders signed centre Greg Moore, left-wing Matt Moulson, right-wing Greg Mauldin and defenceman Mark Flood to one-year, two-way contracts.