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Hockey world turns upside down as colossal moves shake up NHL

Barring a return by Wayne Gretzky, a trade of Sidney Crosby or the retirement of Alex Ovechkin, no day on the NHL calendar will top Wednesday.

The craziest part is everything happened in 32 minutes.

The hockey world lost its biggest free agent, saw two of the best defensemen traded for each other and witnessed a No. 1 overall pick get dealt in a chaotic and fascinating half-hour. Steven Stamkos' decision to stay in Tampa Bay hurt Buffalo fans the most.

The Sabres were set to make an all-out push for Stamkos, but the center never let anyone other than the Lightning strike. He agreed to an eight-year extension worth $68 million, an average of $8.5 million per season.

Stamkos had the potential to get a seven-year contract worth $70 million or more during free agency Friday, but the sniper decided to stay in sunny Florida.

"Excited to be back for eight more years!" the 26-year-old wrote on Twitter. "Here we go."

Actually, there he stays, on a team that reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2015 and lost in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals last month. The Lightning's key pieces are all young, including Stamkos, so they have the potential to remain in the Cup hunt for years.

Since the Lightning are in Buffalo's division, the Sabres will need to improve to cut the gap on the elite team in the Atlantic Division. They will have a chance to add pieces when free agency opens at noon Friday.

Right wing Kyle Okposo vaulted to the top of the market with the Stamkos signing. Wingers Milan Lucic, Loui Ericsson, Andrew Ladd and Jiri Hudler also moved up a rung. Restricted free agents include Tampa's Nikita Kucherov. The Sabres and Stamkos' other suitors, including Toronto and Detroit, will be aiming for new talent.

The Stamkos news was first reported at 3:57 p.m., and the NHL was already abuzz with two other franchise-altering moves:

*At 3:54 p.m., word came that Montreal had traded Norris Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban to Nashville for fellow Canadian Olympian Shea Weber.

*At 3:25 p.m., Edmonton tried to shake up its languishing ways by sending scoring winger Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson.

Each was a headline-making event. Together, they had players, general managers and fans reaching for the refresh button on their favorite news source.

While Stamkos got the most attention in the cities seeking his services, the unexpected swap of defensemen had the greatest discussion across the league. Subban was voted top defenseman in 2013 and is three seasons into an eight-year, $72 million contract. Weber is four seasons into a 14-year, $110 million deal.

Subban had become a community hero in Montreal and donated $10 million to a hospital there.

"At no point did I obviously want to leave Montreal or even was given a notion from anybody that I would be traded, but we know the way the business works," Subban said on a conference call. "I've always felt wanted by the fans and the community there. On the business side of things, the Montreal Canadiens paid me a lot of money two years ago to do what I do for a living. At the end of the day, I just wanted to come in and do my job.

"But obviously right now I'm going to a team that wants me. ... I feel a whole lot closer to winning a Stanley Cup."

Weber, 30, is three years older than Subban but is just as potent offensively and has more size. Weber recorded 20 goals and 51 points in 78 games last season.

"We completed an important transaction which I am convinced will make the Canadiens a better team," Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said. "It was also one of the most difficult decisions I had to make as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.

"In Shea Weber, we get a top-rated NHL defenseman with tremendous leadership and a player who will improve our defensive group as well as our power play for many years to come. ... P.K. Subban is a special and very talented player. He provided the Canadiens organization with strong performances on the ice and generous commitment in the community. I wish him the best of luck with the Predators."

Edmonton, meanwhile, is trying to change its fortunes by shipping out the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Hall recorded 132 goals and 328 points in 381 games with the Oilers, but he couldn't help them get far from the league's basement.

New Jersey selected Larsson with the fourth pick in 2011. The blue-liner had three goals, 18 points and a plus-15 rating last season.

"I certainly do feel a bit slighted by the whole thing," Hall said on a conference call. "I've been a good soldier for six years. I prepared as best I could, and I did as best I felt I could on the ice.

"At the end of the day, they felt that they wanted to go a different direction, which is fine. That said, there's a new opportunity in front of me."

On a day filled with some of the biggest hockey news in years, the Sabres made a transaction. Comparatively, it's a minor one, but they hope it pays big dividends.

Buffalo has agreed to a two-year contract extension with defenseman Casey Nelson. He will make $650,000 in each season.

The Sabres signed Nelson as a college free agent late last season, and he recorded four assists in seven games. Nelson, promised a spot on the roster last season upon signing, will compete for playing time and a position in Buffalo on the right side next year.

The Sabres' remaining restricted free agents include Rasmus Ristolainen, Marcus Foligno, Jake McCabe and Zemgus Girgensons.

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