The NHL free agency season began on July 1, and several teams have made major moves that they hope will position them for a Stanley Cup run in the 2018-19 season.

NHL free agency
John Tavares shows off his new jersey after signing a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Image: Toronto Maple Leafs)

The biggest move may have also been one of the first, as the Toronto Maple Leafs signed John Tavares on Sunday.

Tavares Signs with Hometown Leafs

The 27-year-old center has played his entire career with the New York Islanders and was coming off one of his most productive seasons, racking up 37 goals and 47 assists on the year.

The Maple Leafs signed Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract. The move made perfect sense for Tavares, who grew up just outside Toronto in Mississauga, Ontario.

It really took the right opportunity, the right fit, Tavares said at a press conference on Sunday. I thought the timing couldnt be beat, and certainly being from here and with where this team is at and how good and young their core players areit was just hard to turn down this opportunity.

The loss of Tavares was a tough blow for Islanders fans, who had watched the young star grow into their franchise player. Tavares said that it was difficult for him to make the decision to leave his former team.

I dont know if words would describe how much I appreciated my time there, he said. I know its been a bittersweet day. Ive been connected to so many people in that organization. I think the futures bright there.

The signing was a major move for Toronto, and was enough for some bookmakers to move them to the top of the list of Stanley Cup contenders next year. William Hill now has the Maple Leafs as the 15/2 favorites to win next seasons championship, ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning (17/2) and the Vegas Golden Knights (19/2).

While the Tavares move made the biggest waves, it was hardly the only major transaction to occur in the first few days of NHL free agency. The first day of free agency also saw winger James van Riemsdyk sign a five-year, $35 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The 29-year-old van Riemsdyk had played his first three seasons with the Flyers before being traded to Toronto in 2012 for defenseman Luke Schenn. He proved to be an effective scorer for the Maple Leafs, netting 36 goals and 18 assists last season.

Golden Knights Shuffle Their Cards

Several of the biggest moves so far have involved the Vegas Golden Knights. Coming off their incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Las Vegas squad has seen wingers James Neal and David Perron both sign with new teams: the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues, respectively.

But the Golden Knights have been adding pieces as well. The team has brought in veteran center Paul Stastny on a three-year, $19.5 million contract. The 32-year-old center says that he thinks hell mesh well with the current team philosophy in Vegas.

Just looking at the kind of players that they have, a lot of speed, a lot of goal-scorers, and that to me I feel I fit well with that, Stastny told the Las Vegas Sun. Im one of those guys that help the defensemen get the puck out of the zone and find it in my hands as quick as possible. When you play with players like that, players that want the puck in their hands as quick as you can, you come in late to support them.

While most of the top free agents have already found teams for next season, there are a few notable holdouts. Boston Bruins winger Rick Nash is still considering whether he will return to the NHL next season, while prominent players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu are still testing the waters.

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