NHL Notebook: Niskanen OKs 2-year, $2.3 million contract

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Penguins general manager Ray Shero should start to get a sense this afternoon of how much luck he'll have trying to sign other team's free agents.

He can only hope he has as much success as he did with his own Saturday.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen, scheduled to become a restricted free agent at noon today, accepted a two-year deal with an annual salary-cap hit of $2.3 million.

"I'm glad that it's over, and we were able to get it done when we did," Niskanen said.

A few hours earlier, goalie Brad Thiessen, who would have been unrestricted today, agreed to a one-year deal that pays $525,000 if he plays in the NHL, less if he is in the American Hockey League.

Thiessen, 26, is behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun on the Penguins' depth chart, which means he probably will be locked into the minors unless one of those two is injured.

Thiessen was 23-15-2 in 41 appearances with the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre last season.

Niskanen, 25, is coming off a strong bounce-back season in which he had four goals and 17 assists in 75 games and established himself as reliable and responsible at both ends.

The Penguins acquired him from Dallas late in the 2010-11 season, and he struggled for much of the stretch drive and looked to be no higher than No. 7 on the depth chart going into camp in the fall.

Niskanen, though, started strong and maintained that positive momentum throughout the season.

"My game has come a long way," he said." I have confidence back. I feel like [last season] was my most consistent season. I'm just looking forward to improving more this season."

While, the makeup of the Penguins' defense corps remains a work-in-progress, the departure of Zbynek Michalek could lead to an expanded role for Niskanen.

"Obviously, we have a lot great defensemen in our organization already and we'll see what happens," he said. "But that's a goal of mine, to always have more responsibility, more minutes."

Maple Leafs

Colby Armstrong, who once played on Sidney Crosby's right wing, was put on waivers by Toronto. If he clears, the Maple Leafs plan to buy out the final year of his contract, which has a $3 million cap hit. Armstrong, the Penguins' first-round draft choice in 2001, had 37 goals, 61 assists and 175 penalty minutes in 181 games with them before being traded to Atlanta in the package that brought forwards Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to the Penguins. He signed with Toronto as a free agent two years ago.

Oilers

Edmonton agreed to unspecified contract terms with much-coveted college free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz, who turns 22 Friday, was a star at Wisconsin, who, through a loophole in the current system, became an unrestricted free agent after being drafted by Anaheim. About 20 teams were said to have bid for his services.

Rangers

New York re-signed backup goalie Martin Biron to a two year, $2.6 million contract, preventing him from being a free agent.

Ducks

Anaheim general manager Bob Murray will meet with Teemu Selanne this weekend to determine whether the Finnish winger will return to the NHL next season at 42.

penguins

First Published July 1, 2012 1:15 AM


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