Nate Thompson's first go-round as an unrestricted free agent went smoothly — the veteran NHL center from Anchorage on Saturday signed a two-year, $3.3 million deal with the Ottawa Senators.
In moving from the Anaheim Ducks to Ottawa on the first day hockey's free agents could officially agree to a new gig, Thompson left one Stanley Cup contender for another. Both the Ducks and Senators advanced to the conference finals this past season. Ottawa, which is Thompson's fifth NHL club, fell to eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh in double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
At 32, Thompson said landing with a contender was a high priority because winning a Cup remains his dream. Thompson's deal reunites him with coach Guy Boucher, who Thompson played for in Tampa Bay.
"It was super important to me, and it was definitely a factor in signing with whichever team I did," Thompson said by cellphone. "It was important to me to go to a team that was competitive and had a chance to win.
"Some people saw Ottawa as a Cinderella team, but they took Pittsburgh to the brink. They have Erik Karlsson, arguably the best defenseman in the world. You can see their team has a core group of guys who are fairly young.
"They're ready to win, now."
The Senators said Thompson, who has played more than 600 combined NHL games in the regular season and playoffs, will earn $1.65 million per season. He's coming off a four-year, $6.4 million deal that last season paid him $1.7 million.
Also Saturday, former UAF goaltender and unrestricted free agent Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal to return to the Buffalo Sabres, one of six teams he's played for in his NHL career. Johnson, 31, moves from the Calgary Flames.
Thompson said it seemed fitting to be in Canada and sign with a Canadian team Saturday on Canada Day. Thompson is in Toronto this weekend for the wedding of former Tampa Bay teammate Steven Stamkos.
Thompson endured offseason surgeries in each of the previous two summers — shoulder surgery in 2015, Achilles surgery in 2016 — and in the last two seasons has played just 79 regular-season games, essentially the equivalent of one season. Yet he has enjoyed strong playoff performances in consecutive seasons, which he thinks helped attract serious interest from three or four teams.
"It was flattering actually," Thompson said. "I didn't know what to think going into free agency because I haven't played many regular-season games the last two seasons. There's that uncertainty. I think my playoff performances the last two years helped a lot."
Thompson said conversations with Boucher, his old coach, indicated he'll serve as a checking-line center and penalty-killer, much as he did with Anaheim. Thompson's best statistical season — 10-15–25 totals in 79 games in 2010-11 — came with Boucher behind the Lightning bench.
Thompson said he physically feels better than ever because he's improved his training the last few years, cut out alcohol, and devoted himself to extending his career.
"I take care of myself, more than I ever have," he said. "You reach a point in your career where you're dealt adversity, and I've had that the last couple years.
"I had two choices — go down a way that my career ends quickly, or do things to take my training to the next level."
Thompson said he was happy to get a multi-season deal.
"It's security," he said. "You want that confirmation. You're a little bit safe when you have some term.
"At the same time, nothing is guaranteed. I still have to go out and play my game."
He said he'll spend the rest of the offseason training in Los Angeles, then head to Ottawa to find a place to live during the upcoming season.
Thompson will also have to find a new number — his No. 44 is already worn by center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.