Tavares, Karlsson prove NHL players in their prime can…

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It’s rare for a franchise player in his prime to leave an NHL team via free agency or trade.

This offseason, it happened twice.

Toronto signed John Tavares away from the New York Islanders to make the biggest splash in free agency.

The 28-year-old center with a $77 million, seven-year contract sounds motivated to validate his hometown Maple Leafs making such an investment in him.

“I think there’s a lot to prove,” Tavares said. “Resting on what you’ve already done is where you can kind of get caught especially as your career goes on. Every day, each season, you have to go out there and prove yourself again. “

Tavares, a five-time All-Star, had 80-plus points last season for the third time and has averaged nearly 70 points over his nine-year career. And, he’s regarded as one of the best two-way players in the league.

After missing out on the Tavares sweepstakes in July, San Jose acquired 28-year-old defenseman Erik Karlsson from Ottawa two-plus months later.

“We were looking for a difference-maker,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “There’s not many of them in this league.

“There’s not many of them that come available.”

The Sharks gave up a package of young players and picks to get the five-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner to greatly improve their chances of competing for the Stanley Cup.

Here’s a look at some of the other major moves, entering the season:

STAYING PUT

The best players in the league usually are paid to stay with their team and off the free agency market or in trade talks and this year has been no exception.

Los Angeles made sure two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Drew Doughty , who won the Norris Trophy two years ago, wasn’t going anywhere. The Kings signed him to an eight-year, $88 million contract extension through keeps him under contract through the 2026-27 season.

Tampa Bay kept leading scorer Nikita Kucherov off the market for a long time, signing him to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension.

The Dallas Stars made an big commitment recently to center Tyler Seguin , giving him a $78.8 million, eight-year extension after he had at least 72 points for the for the fifth season in a row.

Washington defenseman John Carlson could have cashed in elsewhere after winning a Cup and having a career-high 68 points. He chose, though, to re-sign with a $64 million, eight-year deal to stay with the team that drafted him a decade ago.

TRADE WINDS

The Vegas Golden Knights bolstered their shot at repeating as Western Conference champions by acquiring forward Max Pacioretty from Montreal earlier this month. They’re expecting him to bounce-back from an injury-shortened season to contribute 60-plus points as he has five times in his 10-year career.

The St. Louis Blues acquired center Ryan O’Reilly , who set an NHL record for winning 1,273 faceoffs last season, in the hopes of avoiding a second straight season without a playoff appearance.

WELCOME BACK

The Kings beat out other suitors to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year, $18.75 million contract. The 35-year-old, three-time All-Star forward has been playing in Russia since leaving New Jersey and the league in 2013.

MOVING BENCHES

Soon after helping Washington hoist the Stanley Cup and having a contract dispute, coach Barry Trotz left to lead the New York Islanders.

ON THE WAY OUT

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman raised eyebrows when he stepped down from his job to become an adviser entering the last year of his contract. Fans in Detroit are hoping that is a sign the Hall of Famer made the move to clear a path for him to return to run the Red Wings.

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AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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