NEWS
07/01/2016 12:27 EDT | Updated 07/02/2017 01:12 EDT

Flood of deals to start NHL free agency: Lucic, Eriksson, Ladd, Okposo all sign

Even the absence of Steven Stamkos didn't dull a wild start to NHL free agency.

The market wasn't open even an hour before Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd and most of the top free agents were off the board, a flood of deals opening the annual Canada Day tradition.

Lucic landed with the Edmonton Oilers, Eriksson picked the Vancouver Canucks, and Ladd agreed to join John Tavares with the New York Islanders. Also quickly signed in the opening hour was David Backes, who joined the Boston Bruins, Frans Nielsen, who will try to fill Pavel Datsyuk's void in Detroit, and Kyle Okposo, who landed in Buffalo to perhaps play with teenage talent Jack Eichel.

The Calgary Flames added a big, veteran winger to their youthful forward contingent, signing Troy Brouwer to a four-year deal.

Arguably the biggest signing of the day was to a player who wasn't up for unrestricted free agency until next summer: Victor Hedman, Tampa's No. 1 defenceman, signed for eight years and $64 million on a contract that takes effect after next season. He joins Stamkos, who opted to remain with the Lightning on an eight-year deal of his own two years earlier.

The Toronto area native was to expected be the top free agent catch.

The Lightning later locked up their goalie of the future, signing Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year deal that begins in 2017.

NHL general managers were a mostly calculated, rational bunch last summer, but at the start of the event this July 1 more than a few deals were long, pricey and full of risk. Eleven deals of at least four years were dished out, including eight of at least five years, many to players on the wrong side of 30.

The risk is obvious: catching players on the decline of their productivity.

Among the bigger deals to players over 30:

— Ladd, who turns 31 in December, landed with the Islanders for seven years and $38.5 million.

— Eriksson, turning 31 later this month, joined the Canucks for six years and $36 million.

— Nielsen, 32, joined Detroit for six years and $31.5 million.

— Backes, 32, landed in Boston for five years and $30 million.

— Brouwer, soon to be 31, opted for Calgary for four years and $18 million.

Teams rushed to fill needs at sometimes heavy costs, despite the cap rising only to $73 million for next season.

"Obviously as you saw today the competition for the unrestricted free agents," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said on a conference call,"if you wanted to land an unrestricted free agent you had to be prepared to step up or you were going to miss out."

One of the more surprising deals of the day saw goaltender James Reimer join the Panthers on a five-year deal worth $17 million, Florida landing a back up for 37-year-old Roberto Luongo.

Perhaps more shocking was the addition of Alex Radulov to Montreal. 

Among the leader scorers in the KHL, Radulov hasn't played in the NHL since 2012, his tenure with the Predators ending unceremoniously in Nashville.

It was another interesting gamble for the Canadiens, who dealt P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber earlier in the week, also trading for and signing Andrew Shaw to a lengthy deal.

Montreal was one of three Canadian teams to add a back-up goaltender; the Canadiens signed Al Montoya, the Oilers signed Jonas Gustavsson and the Flames signed Chad Johnson to back up new No. 1 Brian Elliott.

The Blues locked up Elliott's former partner in St. Louis, signing Jake Allen to a four-year deal that won't take effect until the 2017-18 season. 

Edmonton lured perhaps the top player on the market, inking Lucic for seven years and a reported $42 million. Long of the Bruins and more recently a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Lucic brings size, some grit and a knack for the net to Edmonton, perhaps a fit with Connor McDavid on the team's top line.

The 28-year-old had his fourth 20-goal season last year in L.A., totalling 55 points in 81 games.

Edmonton recently dealt its top left-winger, Taylor Hall, in exchange for 23-year-old defenceman Adam Larsson.

The Oilers are trying to revamp their roster following a 10th straight season out of the playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, who recently landed Auston Matthews with the No. 1 overall pick, made a small contribution to the frenzy, plucking big, physical fourth line winger Matt Martin from New York on a four-year deal.

Winnipeg added depth in the form of winger Shawn Matthias, while the Ottawa Senators added pieces mostly for their minor league ranks. The Flames, meanwhile, lost rising centre Joe Colborne to the Colorado Avalanche on a two-year deal.

Other notable signings include long-time Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who joined the Wild for three years and $10.5 million, Brian Campbell, who signed a one-year deal to return to Chicago, and David Perron, the former Oiler returning to St. Louis on a two-year deal worth $7.5 million.

Darren Helm agreed to remain in Detroit on a five-year pact, while Dan Hamhuis picked Dallas for two years, former Hab Dale Weise landing in Philadelphia on a four-year deal.