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.
The Minnesota Wild locked up another young talent Wednesday, signing right winger Charlie Coyle to a five-year, $16-million contract extension with an average annual value of $3.2 million. The deal is the second major extension handed out this month by GM Chuck Fletcher to a pending restricted free agent: on Oct. 12, he signed defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25-million deal – and that leaves 22-year-old center Mikael Granlund as the organization’s biggest RFA concern this season.
As is the case with Brodin, Fletcher’s investment in the 22-year-old Coyle, who in his first full NHL season posted 12 goals and 30 points in 70 games, is not outrageous. He has slowly and steadily grown his game, and his 6-foot-3 size, skill and resolve – remember, this is someone who played with two separated shoulders in last year’s post-season – bode well for his employer’s future. A less than maximum-term-length contract also encourages Coyle to be motivated to cash in on another big-bucks pact in his prime. Fletcher has limited his risk with the new deal and put the team in a good position to reap a lot of value out of Coyle if he continues to improve.
Now comes the biggest challenge of all: signing Granlund, Minnesota’s long-touted Finnish sensation who scored eight goals and 41 points in his sophomore NHL campaign. Read more
In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:
“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”
It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:
Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.
And you’re telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Read more
For St. Louis Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the decision to shave his head this week was easy: it was for his five-year-old niece, Ellie Kannel, who was battling a rare cancer.
In the off-season, Pietrangelo used his Twitter account to discuss Ellie’s diagnosis: she had a Wilms tumor, a kidney cancer that mainly affects children. And since she was undergoing chemotherapy, Pietrangelo cut his hair in a show of support:
After he signed a seven-year, $37.1-million contract with the Blue Jackets in the summer of 2013, right winger Nathan Horton appeared in only 36 games thanks to injuries to his shoulder and abdomen last season. And Tuesday night, there was even worse news coming out of Columbus: the 29-year-old is dealing with a degenerative back injury that might be career ending.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Horton, who has experienced back issues for several years, felt the problem worsen this summer while training in Florida and has been diagnosed with a serious degeneration of the lower back area. He may be out of action for at least this season, if not for good. There is a surgery he can undergo to address it, but it’s viewed as a last resort and offers no guarantee of success.
“He’s in constant pain,” Horton’s agent Paul Krepelka told the Dispatch. “He’s in constant discomfort.”
The majority of Horton’s $5.3-million-per-season salary will be covered by insurance and he can be placed on long term injured reserve to free up cap space with which to replace him. But that’s easier said than done for Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Read more
The NHL gets a good deal of criticism from this corner, but giving the league credit where due has never been an issue. And when it came down swiftly in regard to domestic violence charges against Slava Voynov – suspending the L.A. Kings defenseman indefinitely – the NHL did exactly what was required. Voynov will have his day in court to defend himself, but the league cannot permit anyone in its employ to remain on the job while accused of such a heinous offense. And although it’s the NHL Players’ Association’s duty to represent its members, it’s difficult to envision them not working with team owners to craft more punitive measures for those players who hurt women.
That said, this new case of domestic violence should show the NHL that, contrary to what commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month – “our players know what’s right and wrong” – it isn’t immune from any societal ill. There’s nothing separating NHLers from any other demographic. They are not inherently better than any other group of athletes or people walking the face of the earth. And that’s why they need to be informed, in the strongest possible terms, that under no circumstances will they be permitted to strike a woman without severe consequences befalling them.
How does the league achieve that? A lifetime ban for a first convicted offense would get players’ attention and send a message to women that they are respected as equals and are deserving of basic human dignities and protections. Read more
Ben Scrivens is one of the more conscientious NHLers of his generation, so it was entirely within character to see the Oilers netminder stand up for mental health Monday by announcing he’d wear a series of goalie masks to raise awareness of the issue.
Scrivens’ “Ben’s Netminders” program, in support of the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, is providing a platform for four local artists diagnosed with schizophrenia to design a goalie mask for him that touches on the disease. The masks will be auctioned off to raise funds for the organization – and the first artist selected, Richard Boulet, stressed the words “empathy” and “hope” on his version: Read more
On a macro level across North America, there’s an ongoing battle for the hearts, minds – and most importantly, the monies – of elite teenaged athletes who are major revenue generators for their development leagues. In the United States, the NCAA collegiate system is involved in a momentous high-stakes showdown with former athletes – with potential repercussions that could shake their business model to its foundations. And in Canada, a similar war is being fought at the major junior hockey level, with the latest volley taking place Friday: a $180-million lawsuit filed against the Canadian Hockey League by former players (including former Niagara IceDogs player Sam Berg, son of retired NHLer Bill Berg) seeking outstanding wages, holiday, overtime and vacation pay and employer payroll contributions and alleging basic minimum wage laws were broken.
Leave aside the particulars in both cases, and you’re left with the same essential questions: if we’ve turned amateur sports into big business, how much of the cut do amateur athletes deserve? And why do owners get to dictate that players’ dreams of playing in the best league they can has a monetary value equal or greater to the actual money their current organizational structures bring in? It’s been a Canadian tradition to romanticize players chasing their dreams for free, but when everyone can see the amount of money that’s being made, why is it so unfair for athletes to be included in the financial windfall?
Certainly, it’s worthwhile to ask who is involved with any particular lawsuit – and in their initial response to Friday’s suit, the three commissioners involved at the junior hockey level (OHL commissioner David Branch; QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau and WHL commissioner Ron Robison) did exactly that. While promising they would “vigorously defend” against this latest legal action, the trio accused brothers Randy and Glenn Grumbley, union activists who attempted to start the Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association, of being behind it. Read more
For most NHL teams, losing a burgeoning star on defense like Victor Hedman to injury would be a major, if not catastrophic blow. But if a team (at least, an Eastern Conference team) is equipped to weather the absence of a key cog on the blueline, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite the fact they’ll now be without Hedman for at least a handful of games, if not longer thanks to a suspected broken hand he suffered Saturday against Vancouver, the Bolts are still looking as dangerous as many expected they would after their off-season additions.
When Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman signed free agent blueliner Anton Stralman away from the New York Rangers and traded for former Vancouver Canucks d-man Jason Garrison, he turned a group that included Hedman (who demolished career bests in goals and assists last year), veterans Matt Carle and Eric Brewer, and rugged 24-year-old Radko Gudas into arguably the Eastern Conference’s deepest defense corps. And that argument got much stronger after the Bruins dealt Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders. They’re so deep on defense, they made Brewer a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season. (Gudas is a little banged-up himself, but hoped to return to the lineup as soon as Monday.) There’s more than enough talent and balance there to hold the fort until Hedman returns. (And nobody quite knows when that will be just yet. If their worst fears come true and Hedman’s hand is broken, he’s likely looking at a 4-to-6-week recovery period.)
But even if that defense corps weren’t so sturdy even in Hedman’s absence, the Lightning would still be favored to win more games than not because of two main reasons: Read more