Leafs sign Ondrej Kase to 1-year contract, David Krejci leaves Bruins for Czech league

The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed forward Ondrej Kase to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million US. David Krejci is leaving the Boston Bruins after 14 NHL seasons to continue his hockey career in his native Czech Republic.

Blue Jackets bolster defence with Lehtonen, Avalanche retain Jost

Ondrej Kase scored a career high 20 goals and 38 points in 66 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2017-18, but has struggled with injuries recently. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)/The Associated Press)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed forward Ondrej Kase to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million US.

The 25-year-old Kase became available when free agency officially opened Wednesday after the Boston Bruins declined issuing him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent.

The Maple Leafs made the announcement on Friday.

Kase scored a career high 20 goals and 38 points in 66 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2017-18, but has struggled with injuries and had recently been sidelined for an extended period of time.

A series of concussions limited Kase to playing just nine games for Boston — and just three this past season — after a trade to the Bruins that sent David Backes to the Ducks in February 2020.

Kase, from the Czech Republic, was drafted by Anaheim in the seventh round, 205th overall, in 2014 and has produced 43 goals and 97 points in 207 career games split between the Ducks and Bruins.

David Krejci leaves Bruins for Czech league

David Krejci announced Friday he will be continuing his hockey career in his native Czech Republic. Krejci spent his 14 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, helping lead them to three Stanley Cup Final appearances. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

David Krejci is leaving the Boston Bruins after 14 NHL seasons to continue his hockey career in his native Czech Republic.

The 35-year-old Krejci, whose contract had expired, announced his decision with a social media post sent out by the Bruins on Friday.

"At this point in my career and life, I need to return to the Czech Republic and play in front of my family who sacrificed so much to help me achieve my NHL dreams," Krecji said. "I want my children to live where I grew up, spend time with so many Czech family members who love them and create lifelong memories."

Krejci was a steady, reliable second-line centre whose career in Boston included winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. After making his debut in 2007, he piled up 215 goals and 515 assists in 962 regular-season games and 124 points in 156 career playoff games, helping the Bruins reach the final three times.

He said those 2011, 2013 and 2019 playoff runs stick out but added, "Truthfully I love every Bruins team that I've been a part of." 

Playing in Europe would open up Krejci to represent the Czech Republic at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing if the NHL does not participate.

Avalanche retain Jost

The Colorado Avalanche re-signed forward Tyson Jost to a two-year contract on Friday.

He will receive $1.75 US million next season and $2.25 million in 2022-23, according to reports.

Jost, 23, posted 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) and a plus-14 plus/minus rating while skating in 54 of Colorado's 56 games in 2021-22.

"Tyson took a big step last year and was a key contributor to our team. He has worked hard to improve his game and earn a spot in our lineup," general manager Joe Sakic said in a news release. "Tyson is a guy with a lot of character who competes at a high level day in and day out. We are excited to have him under contract for another two seasons."

Jost added two goals and two assists in 10 games during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A first-round pick (10th overall) by the Avalanche in 2016, Jost has 89 points (39 goals, 50 assists) and 86 penalty minutes in 262 games since making his NHL debut in 2017.

Blue Jackets bolster their defence 

The Columbus Blue Jackets continued building their 2021-22 roster, signing defenceman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year deal on Friday.

The move came less than 24 hours after the Blue Jackets locked up fellow defenceman Zach Werenski with a six-year, $57.5 million contract extension through the 2027-28 season.

Contract terms for Lehtonen were not announced.

The Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed defenceman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year deal Friday. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Lehtonen, a 27-year-old from Finland, made his NHL debut last season and had six assists as he split time between the Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. Columbus acquired him in a trade on March 12 that sent goaltender Veini Vehvilainen to Toronto.

Werenski missed the final 14 games of the 2020-21 season because of a sports hernia, and the team is happy to have him back, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

"Zach Werenski has been one of the top defencemen in the National Hockey League over the past five years and we are thrilled that he will continue to be a Blue Jacket and the leader of our blue-line for at least the next seven years," Kekalainen said. "As talented as Zach is and as much as he has achieved so early in his career, he is an even better person and will be a foundational player for our club as we move forward."

Werenski, 24, has 189 points (65 goals, 124 assists) with 71 penalty minutes in 335 career NHL games. He is the team's all-time leader in goals by a defenceman.

'A crazy experience': Grubauer 

When the NHL free agency window opened, the Seattle Kraken's front office was stunned to see goaltender Philipp Grubauer wasn't already headed back to Colorado.

They weren't alone.

"A little bit surprised for sure," Grubauer said Friday. "I think we tried till the last minute to work something out [with Colorado]. Didn't work out and then entered free agency. Never experienced that craziness. Everybody was calling once the window opens up so it was a little wild hour and definitely a crazy experience."

Signing Grubauer was the biggest splash made by the NHL's newest franchise, which gave him a six-year, $35.4 million deal Wednesday. Landing him seemed unlikely given the success he had last season in Colorado, but the Kraken jumped at the opportunity to add one of the top goaltenders in the league.

The Seattle Kraken signed Philipp Grubauer to a six-year, $35.4 million deal Wednesday, when NHL free agency got underway. The 29-year-old goalie was a Vezina trophy finalist last season, posting a 1.95 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

And for his part, so did Grubauer.

"I think it's incredible to be part of something new and make history in terms of like playing the first-ever game and being part of that group and doing the same thing Vegas did," Grubauer said. "That's the goal, too."

Grubauer was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the first time last season, when the 29-year-old goalie went 30-9-1 with the Avalanche with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He also led the league in shutouts with seven and didn't lose consecutive games all season.

"I think you look at his save percentage, his goals against lately. Look at how he played last year in the playoffs, the fact that he was a finalist for the Vezina. I mean, he's had a pretty good run," Seattle GM Ron Francis said earlier this week. "I remember watching him play back in the day with Washington when they won the Cup. He's a guy that's proven over time that he can play at this level, an elite level." 

Grubauer and Chris Driedger make up Seattle's primary goaltending duo. Grubauer appeared in 40 of Colorado's 56 games last season and also saw the importance of having two elite goaltenders during his time in Washington, when he was paired with Braden Holtby.

"The way we won in Washington, I played 40 games, 45 games, [Holtby] played half the season and then the playoffs he was fresh," Grubauer said. "It's always good to have a good tandem. I don't think one guy can play 70 games and then be fresh for the playoffs. You always need two."

Between Grubauer and Driedger, the Kraken have committed 11.5 per cent ($9.4 million) of this year's salary cap to the goalie position. But Seattle still has $16 million of cap space available, and while the Kraken are likely to keep a significant chunk of that free for future moves, it also provides them with the opportunity to add another piece or two before training camps open in September.

"It's going to be really interesting what system coach [Dave Hakstol] puts in place and we got to find our identity as a team," Grubauer said. "The team looks great on paper but obviously you got to play and create some chemistry."


With files from The Canadian Press

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