Adam Proteau, currently the brand's columnist/writer, has worked for The Hockey News since 2002 and won the Professional Hockey Writers' award for best column in 2006. He also won the Esso Medal of Achievement for most improved player as a 13-year-old at the 'A' level in 1985, but he's less proud of that.
Minnesota Wild winger Thomas Vanek’s name was linked Monday to a federal gambling investigation connected to a Rochester, N.Y., restaurant. Vanek visited a federal courthouse in that city with his lawyer Monday and a local TV station filmed them leaving.
Vanek issued a statement on the situation through his agent, Steve Bartlett:
“Representatives of the U.S. Federal Government have asked for my cooperation in an investigation. I am not the subject of any investigation or prosecution. I will fully cooperate with the U.S. Federal authorities in their investigation or in any proceedings arising out of it.” Read more
The Colorado Avalanche are coming off a season that gave their fans legitimate hope the team could return to its heyday as one of the NHL’s powerhouse franchises. But their bizarre treatment of center Ryan O’Reilly is casting a shadow over some of that success. Indeed, their ongoing dealings with O’Reilly are quickly becoming a textbook case of how to alienate young talent and ensure they depart at their first opportunity.
The details of the arbitration case between the Avs and O’Reilly – first reported Monday by THN’s Ken Campbell – are troubling: O’Reilly is asking for $6.75 million on a one-year contract, but the team is offering a $5.525 million salary. That’s right, the Avs’ leading goal-scorer last season (who set personal bests on offense with 28 goals and 64 points in 80 games) and one of the NHL’s more highly-regarded young two-way players is being asked to take a 15 percent pay cut (the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement) at a time when the salary cap continues to rise and when Colorado has already lost one of its other talented centers (Paul Stastny) for nothing.
Of course, in every arbitration case, the team comes in with a lower number than they’re likely willing to settle for, and the player does the same on the higher end. The Avalanche would argue O’Reilly’s last contract had an average annual value of $5 million per season, meaning their proposal would be a raise of sorts. But that’s spin. The reality is, when the Avs matched the offer sheet the 23-year-old signed (for two years and $10-million) with the Calgary Flames after the 2012-13 lockout ended, O’Reilly became a $6.5-million-per-season player for them in the final year of that deal. The Avalanche might not have liked it – and clearly, they don’t value O’Reilly’s skills the way Calgary did – but by retaining the asset, they had to know what it would mean to now ask O’Reilly to take a haircut down the line, especially when he’s come as advertised and continued to improve. Ostensibly, you’re telling him that, no matter what he did last season, or what he’ll continue to do for them in the years to come, they see him at a certain financial slot. Read more
Every year around this time, THN’s editorial staff convenes in a boardroom to hash out our pre-season NHL predictions. The predictions meeting is a raucous couple of hours in which, after consulting with coaches, scouts, and our larger network of contacts, we debate the merits and flaws of every team before we slot them into divisional finishes. And by its conclusion, we’ve established some semblance of probability for each franchise’s fortunes.
But this year’s meeting had some particularly interesting aspects. For one thing, a majority of staffers liked one team in particular to win the Stanley Cup – yes, you’ll have to wait until our annual Yearbook is released in mid-August to find out which team that is – but the more intriguing development was the astonishing range of opinion on the grand majority of teams.
Now, there wasn’t much differentiation in what we thought of the league’s very best and worst franchises (nobody was willing to argue the Ducks would miss the playoffs, nor that the Sabres would win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season squad), but once we stopped talking about a handful of teams destined for the penthouse or outhouse, our expectations varied drastically.
Take the New Jersey Devils, for instance. Read more
It’s the middle of the summer and you’re a hockey fan jonesing for some puck talk to get you through to the fall. Unless you’re an NHL development camp obsessive, it’s not going to be easy. But there is a way to immerse your mind in hockey at this time of year. It’s through an ancient, time-honored method called “book-learnin’”. There’s never any shortage of quality hockey books worth reading, but here’s a short list of a few that ought to be at or near the top of your list:
– The Game, by Ken Dryden. Still the hockey book by which all other hockey books should be judged, Dryden’s masterpiece makes clear that the Hall of Fame goalie was an even better writer than he was an athlete. It teems with incredibly insightful hockey observations and exquisite use of the language, and is an absolute must-read for any fan. Read more
The Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13-million contract Friday, finishing one of the final pieces of team business for GM Dale Tallon this summer. (Only fellow restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes still needs a new contract.) But given the trade rumors that surrounded Kulikov and that franchise’s history of consistent and widespread roster turnover, his long-term future in Florida hardly is secure.
This isn’t a personal slight against Kulikov. As noted on THN.com a couple weeks ago, many veterans never finish the contracts they sign. Kulikov is just 23, but in his four NHL seasons with Florida there’s been an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with him. Although his possession numbers are solid and he logged the second-most time-on-ice (21:41) of any Panther last year, he hasn’t been a standout at either end of the ice in the way some people believe a first round draft pick should. And the specter of him going home to play in the Kontinental League has complicated matters, despite his consistent denials. All those factors combined to create the sense Kulikov could be an ex-Panther at any moment.
Florida’s new commitment to him allays some of those fears, but the pressure on the Panthers and their boosted payroll to make the playoffs means that few of their players – other than those Tallon has bestowed with virtually untradeable deals (hello, Willie Mitchell!) – will be safe if the team struggles. Read more
The off-season is when NHL teams examine their rosters and look to improve. But as we know, there’s more to every franchise’s business dealings than the players themselves. There’s also the matter of the in-arena experience for fans who spend big money on tickets. While some teams are better at it than others, there’s lots of room for improvement in the way paying customers are entertained 41 nights per season. Here are three easy ways to do that:
1. Enough of the same old song. At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the same songs often are played not just game after game, but in the exact same circumstances every night. (I’m not talking about a team’s “goal song”. That’s fine.) While there are hundreds, if not a few thousand people on any given night who may only attend one or two games a year, there are many more who are season-ticketholders in attendance every night. It’s indefensible to subject them to a near-identical, cookie-cutter in-game experience, but that’s the reality in many rinks.
Instead of leaning on songs everyone has heard numerous times before, teams could either branch out and use a wide variety of music – or hire a live band that could inject some personality into the mix and react to what happens during the game with different song choices. Same goes for intermission entertainment: NBA teams have brought in retro bands to engage crowds before:
and there’s no reason NHL teams can’t do the same. It sure beats the goalie race, which may be the lamest thing ever seen in pro hockey:
Some two weeks after the beginning of unrestricted free agency, the NHL’s pool of talent-for-hire has shrunken considerably. Players raced to sign for as much money and/or term as possible in the first few days of the month, and since then, the pace of signings has slowed to a trickle. Some players may choose to wait the rest of the summer and into training camp to see if trades and/or injuries open up a roster spot and/or a better salary.
That said, there are still players out there who have something to contribute. My colleague Ken Campbell assembled a list of them in early July, but all but three players on it – veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson (who will return to Detroit or retire), two-time Stanley Cup-winner Dustin Penner and Devin Setoguchi – have been taken off the market after agreeing to new deals. So who’s left? In no particular order, here are five UFA players who can help a team:
1. Lee Stempniak, RW. The soon-to-be-32-year-old has bounced around the league since he broke in with the Blues in 2004-05 – and while he’ll never be mistaken for Alex Ovechkin, he’s about as reliable a 10-15-goal-scorer as you’ll find in the league. He’ll also come significantly cheaper than the $2.5 million he’s earned in each of the past two seasons. Read more
When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.
I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.
So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.
So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more