NHL teams making moves, not waiting for top free agents

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FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2020, file photo, Arizona Coyotes left wing Taylor Hall (91) is shown during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, in Glendale, Ariz. The NHL is embarking on a free agent period like never before in hockey history. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug and winger Taylor Hall headline a talented free agent class. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

Taylor Hall went unsigned during the first day of free agency. Same with Alex Pietrangelo and Mike Hoffman.

A handful of the top free agents are still available, but NHL teams aren't waiting for those big fish to sign to make other moves. Boston paused its pursuit of Hall to sign big winger Craig Smith; Columbus shored up its center depth by inking veteran center Mikko Koivu while keeping tabs on other options and Carolina put its goaltending shopping on hold to add speedy forward Jesper Fast.

“Some of those players are very unique and high-level players and they’re probably searching for right opportunity for them,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said after giving Smith $9.3 million over three years. “And then when it comes, they’ll find their landing spot. I think all the other teams are doing the exact same thing. I think we’ll continue to have those conversations.”

Some conversations are happening by phone or video chat and others in person. Pietrangelo flew to Vegas on Saturday to visit the Golden Knights, who have been clearing salary cap space to try to accommodate the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning defenseman.

Vegas needs to make another move or two to fit Pietrangelo, and it's not alone in clearing the books for a big move. Nashville, which bought out Kyle Turris and let Smith leave in free agency, traded forward Austin Watson to Ottawa for a 2021 fourth-round pick.

The Blue Jackets bought out Alexander Wennberg and made some other salary-saving decisions, but don't expect them to go big name hunting. Koivu signed for $1.5 million for next season, and they need to re-up top center Pierre-Luc Dubois and other restricted free agents.

Columbus will also bide its time waiting out the market.

“There are teams that are in a little bit of dire straits or whatever you want to call it right now with their cap space,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “There could be some opportunities down the line here if we keep that flexibility. Teams have to move money, and in order to move money, they might have to move some really good players.”