FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2019, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets' Matt Duchene skates during warmups before an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. A person with direct knowledge of the agreement says the Nashville Predators have added free agent forward Matt Duchene after agreeing to terms on a seven-year contract worth $56 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been officially announced. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Blue Jackets breakup begins as Predators land Duchene

July 01, 2019 - 1:03 pm

Matt Duchene is heading to Music City, and the anticipated breakup of the Columbus Blue Jackets' star core of players began with the start of the NHL's free agency signing period.

A person with direct knowledge of discussions told The Associated Press that Duchene had agreed to a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Nashville Predators. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been announced Monday, less than an hour into free agency.

Duchene, fellow forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky were among the top available players entering free agency after finishing last season with Columbus.

The Blue Jackets do have an agreement in place to sign winger Gustav Nyquist to a four-year deal with an average salary of $5.5 million, according to a second person who spoke to AP only on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced. Nyquist, 29, set a career high with 60 points last season split between Detroit and San Jose.

The day began with two rivals helping each other out of a jam by way of a trade.

The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Cody Ceci, a 2020 third-round pick and minor leaguers Ben Harpur and Aaron Luchuk from the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, forward Connor Brown and minor leaguer Michael Carcone. The teams announced the trade early Monday, roughly 3½ hours before the start of free agency.

The deal represents a much-needed change of scenery for Ceci, Zaitsev and Brown. Zaitsev had asked to be traded and waived his no-trade clause to complete the move across Ontario.

Salary cap-strapped Toronto, which still needs to sign restricted free agent forward Mitch Marner to a new contract, clears $6.6 million in space. Ceci is a restricted free agent who needs a new contract and has arbitration rights, but the Maple Leafs likely need him on their thin blue line.

Zaitsev is signed for $4.5 million a season through 2023-24. Brown has one year left on his contract and should get more ice time in Ottawa than in Toronto with its glut of talented young forwards.

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