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2018 NHL FREE AGENCY: Live blog

Follow along for Blue Jackets signings, news and other notes on the first day of NHL free agency.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Welcome to the 2018 free agency live blog on BlueJackets.com, where reporter Brian Hedger will be tracking Blue Jackets signings and other news all day.

Free agency officially opened at Noon ET, when pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) became actual UFAs, able to sign their names on the dotted line for whichever teams they pick.


COLUMBUS SWOOPED IN, LANDED NASH

10 p.m. - Riley Nash woke up Sunday not even thinking about the Blue Jackets, whom his agent hadn't heard from much in the week leading up to the start of free agency Sunday.

Then, in a flash, things changed.

"It was a really quick thing that happened," Nash said. "You talk to teams a week before the 'free-agency frenzy,' or whatever you want to call it, but we hadn't heard much from Columbus. So, it wasn't even on my radar. I got a call this morning and my agent said Columbus had come into it."

Columbus ultimately got his signature, which led to Nash receiving a welcome text from a number he didn't recognize. He assumed it was from John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets' head coach. He assumed wrong.

"Foligno reached out earlier," Nash said, laughing. "Forgot to text me his name, so I thought it was 'Torts' for a second. Turned out to be quite different than that, so I had a good laugh about that."

The Blue Jackets' games against the Bruins, however, were no laughing matter this season.

The intensity was high between Columbus and Boston in all three games, with the Blue Jackets going 2-1-0 and winning both times beyond regulation time. In the first game, which Columbus won in a shootout Oct. 30 at Nationwide Arena, several things happened to put some spice in the season series.

Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski sustained a shoulder injury that affected him the rest of the season, ultimately requiring offseason surgery to fix; Columbus forward Josh Anderson held his ground in a fight against towering Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara early in the second period and Artemi Panarin scored to decide the shootout.

Nash remembers that game for another reason.

"There might've been a couple run-ins," he said. "All I remember is a couple of centermen being kind of gritty in the face-off circle and ticking me off a little bit."

Asked if any hard feelings will need to be forgetten, Nash chuckled.

"I hope not," he said. "I'm the new guy. I've got to make all the new friends I can."

READ MORE ON NASH'S IMPACT


COMMENTS FROM PITTSBURGH ROIL JACKETS

6 p.m. - The Pittsburgh Penguins' press conference to announce the signing of former Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on Sunday didn't go over so well in Columbus.

That's because it included comments from Johnson and Jim Rutherford, the Penguins' general manager, that claimed Johnson's play wasn't the real reason he was scratched for the end of the regular season and all six games against the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't think he had a bad year," Rutherford said of Johnson, who matched his NHL career-low with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 77 games. "He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn't because of how he was playing."

Johnson told reporters in Pittsburgh that he was happy to sign with the Penguins because, "I've really been wanting to be a part of a winning culture, in a place where the expectations to win are as high as can be, and there's a chance to win."

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was quoted extensively in The Athletic on Sunday evening, in which he took issue with both comments. Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen addressed Rutherford's comments.

"I'd like to see what he thinks the reason was," Kekalainen said. "If there is a quote like that and it's legit, I can answer it by saying that I have no idea what he's talking about. If he thinks he knows something else, he knows something me and Tortorella [don't]. That was totally a coach's decision and nothing else."


*** BLUE JACKETS SIGNING: RILEY NASH, C ***

4:23 p.m. - The Blue Jackets have signed center Riley Nash, 29, to a three-year contract.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed by the team, but Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that Nash's contract has an average annual value (AAV) of $2.75 million against the NHL Salary Cap, which works out to a three-year total of $8.25 million.

"Riley Nash is right-handed center who showed great versatility in having the best season of his career last year," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "He plays a very sound two-way game, will provide depth for our club down the middle and we are excited to welcome him to the Columbus Blue Jackets family."

Nash played for the Boston Bruins the past two seasons and spent his first five with the Carolina Hurricanes, who acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers on June 25, 2010 for a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. The Oilers drafted Nash in the first round (No. 21) of the 2007 draft.

He joined the Bruins two years ago, on July 1, 2016, when he signed a two-year contract that had an AAV of $1.8 million.

After posting just 17 points in 81 games during his first season with Boston (2016-17), Nash had a breakthrough season in 2017-18. He averaged 15:25 of ice time and set career-highs in goals (15), assists (26), points (41), plus/minus rating (plus-16), blocks (67) and takeaways (55).

Nash is now a candidate to center the third or fourth line with the Blue Jackets, who happy to add depth down the middle of the ice. He won 48.4 percent of his 949 face-offs and played 144:34 on the penalty kill (fifth-highest on the Bruins). Nash also logged 31:50 on the power play.

"I'm very excited to be in a place like Columbus," Nash told BlueJackets.com on Sunday. "I know a couple guys that have played there in the past and they speak volumes about it, so I'm pretty excited to be a Blue Jacket at this point in time."

READ THE RELEASE ABOUT RILEY NASH HERE


*** BLUE JACKETS SIGNING: DILLON SIMPSON, D ***

2:15 p.m. - Make it three in a row.

After signing depth defensemen with their first two free-agent acquisitions of the 2018 NHL free-agency period, the Blue Jackets signed a third, Dillon Simpson. The 25-year old blue liner was signed to a two-year, two-way NHL/AHL contract Sunday after spending four years in the Edmonton Oilers organization.

The Oilers selected Simpson in the fourth round, (No. 92) of the 2011 NHL Draft, and he played three NHL games with Edmonton - all in the 2016-17 season. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound defenseman had 66 points (14 goals, 52 assists) and a plus-15 plus/minus rating in 242 career AHL games, including 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 61 games to lead all Bakerfield defensemen in scoring last season.

Simpson is the son of former NHL forward Craig Simpson, who is now part of the CBC's Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts. Prior to turning pro, the younger Simpson played four years at the University of North Dakota, from 2010 to 2014.

READ THE RELEASE ON DILLON HERE


*** BLUE JACKETS SIGNING: Adam Clendening, D ***

2 p.m. - Like they did by signing Cross, the Blue Jackets added more depth to the organization's blue line with their second free-agent acquisition of the day.

Adam Clendening, 25, is a puck-moving defenseman who spent last season the Arizona Coyotes organization and has played for six different NHL teams since being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round (No. 36) in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Clendening made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 2014-15, scoring his first NHL goal in his debut game, and he's since logged stints with the Vancouver Canucks, Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Coyotes.

Clendening was one thought to be a keystone piece for the Blackhawks, who wound up trading him Jan. 29, 2015 to the Canucks for defenseman Gustav Forsling - who's now solidly in Chicago's top six. The Coyotes traded Clendening back to the Blackhawks last season, along with forward Anthony Duclair, and he played with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs.

Clendening has four goals, 20 assists and 24 points, with a plus-10 plus/minus rating in 86 career NHL games. He has 28 goals, 133 assists and 161 points, with a plus-31 rating in 261 career AHL games.

READ THE RELEASE ON CLENDENING HERE


*** BLUE JACKETS SIGNING: Tommy Cross, D ***

1:45 p.m. - The Jackets' first free-agent acquisition of the day adds depth to the blue line organizationally, as the team announced Sunday that Tommy Cross, 28, was signed to a one-year, two-way NHL/AHL contract. Terms of the deal were not released.

Cross, who was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round (No. 35) of the 2007 NHL Draft, spent nine seasons in that organization - appearing in three NHL games and one Stanley Cup Playoff.

Cross, who's from Hartford, Conn., had 134 points (31 goals, 103 assists), 413 penalty minutes and a plus-65 plus/minus rating in 364 career games with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League.

He was Providence's captain the past three seasons and set the franchise record for career games. He also set AHL career-highs in 2017-18 with 28 assists and 36 points (eight goals) in 73 games, finishing with a plus-30 rating.

Cross also has a couple ties to the Blue Jackets. He was teammates at Boston College with Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, helping the Eagles win NCAA National Championships in 2010 and 2012, and was BC's captain as a senior. Cross also played part of the 2007-08 season with the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the United States Hockey League.

READ THE RELEASE ON CROSS HERE


TAVARES LEAVING THE ISLAND, METRO

1:15 p.m. - The story that had the hockey world on the proverbial edge of its seat, where Tavares would sign, came out in two separate pieces. First, the Athletic's Arthur Staple, who covers the New York Islanders, reported that the Isles' former captain would not return and would sign elsewhere.

That took the high-scoring star center out of the Blue Jackets' division (Metropolitan), but the question of where he'd sign was the next big question. Tavares also met with the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins in the week leading up to free agency.

Not long after the news about Tavares leaving the Islanders broke, the other shoe dropped, landing somewhere on York St. in Toronto, somewhere near Scotiabank Arena (formerly Air Canada Centre). Tavares, who's from nearby Mississauga, Ont., signed a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, confirming the news himself by tweeting out a note to thank the Islanders and their fans, explaining that he wants to "live out his childhood dream" in Toronto.

The long and short of it it this: the Leafs landed a giant fish.

Tavares gives coach Mike Babcock a roster that could potentially have Tavares, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri as the top three centers, with highly-skilled Mitch Marner, another center option, and veteran forward Patrick Marleau both able to slot somewhere into the top six forwards.

Anyway, at least #TavaresWatch is over. Back to #JacketsWatch2018 ...


VANEK BACK TO DETROIT

12:45 p.m. - Shortly after Noon, the Detroit Red Wings announced that veteran forward Thomas Vanek was one of three free agents they'd signed today.

Vanek, 34, was acquired by the Blue Jackets from the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 26 at the NHL Trade Deadline, in exchange for forwards Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte. Vanek, who played with Detroit in 2016-17, signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings for a reported $3 million.

Vanek had 56 points on 24 goals, 32 assists in 80 games last season, including 15 points on seven goals and eight assists in 19 games with the Blue Jackets. He had one goal and one assist in a six-game loss to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.


CALVERT, COLE TO THE AVS

12:26 p.m. - In the first wave of news following the Noon start to free agency, multiple reports said forward Matt Calvert and defenseman Ian Cole would likely sign contracts with the Colorado Avalanche.

Those reports were confimed, as both former Blue Jackets signed three-year contracts and are now part of the Avalanche. 

Calvert spent eight seasons with the Blue Jackets, who selected him in the fifth round (No. 127) of the 2008 NHL Draft, from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Calvert topped the 400-game plateau this past season and played 416 games with the Blue Jackets - totaling 149 points on 72 goals and 77 assists.

Cole was acquired Feb. 26 at the NHL Trade Deadline from the Ottawa Senators for center Nick Moutrey and the Blue Jackets' third-round pick in 2020. Paired with David Savard, Cole had seven points on two goals and five assists in 20 games following the trade and helped the Blue Jackets qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.


JOHNSON TO THE PENGUINS

12:25 p.m. - Defenseman Jack Johnson signed a five-year, $16.25 million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which officially ends his time in Columbus.

Johnson played parts of seven seasons with the Blue Jackets and had 154 points on 36 goals and 118 assists in 445 games. He was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 23, 2012, along with a first-round pick in the 2013 draft.


News of signings from around the league have already begun breaking online, including former Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson reportedly set to sign a five-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins for $16.25 million. The biggest fish on the market is New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who opted to become a UFA and still hadn't announced his decision as of free agency's start. Plenty of other signings and possible trades are set to happen … now.

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