Pens GM Jim Rutherford had the book on Kasperi Kapanen

Kapanen

PHILADELPHIA – Bits and bytes from the 2014 NHL draft that didn’t quite make it into cyberspace, but have full blog potential when compiled as a compendium:

KAP TALK To say that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has been scouting Kasperi Kapanen for a long time would be an understatement. Rutherford made history Friday night when he became the first GM in NHL history to draft both a father and a son. Back in 1995, he drafted Sami Kapanen 87th overall for the Hartford Whalers, then 19 years later, took Kasperi 22nd overall for the Pittsburgh Penguins in this draft.

“Do you know anybody else who’s done that?” Rutherford said of drafting the father-son combo. “We drafted Sami in 1995 and he had a son in 1996. I used to watch (Kasperi) on the ice when he just started skating and I end up drafting him.” Read more

Canucks were doomed to be fleeced on Ryan Kesler trade from the start

Ken Campbell
Kelser

PHILADELPHIA – There are probably only two people in the hockey world who were colossally disappointed with the return the Vancouver Canucks got for Ryan Kesler. One of them, we’ll call every single fan of the Vancouver Canucks. The other is Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray.

Now that is not to say that new Canucks GM Jim Benning swung and missed when he dealt Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Nick Boninio, Luca Sbisa and the 24th pick in today’s NHL draft. In fact, given the circumstances, Benning got as much as he could have hoped. He was in an untenable situation and made the best of it, so good for him. And if he turns that pick and the sixth overall selection into a higher pick in this year’s draft, then the deal becomes better. Read more

Free agent “courting period” valuable for players and teams

Ken Campbell
Paul Stastny

According to Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net), you’d have to make in excess of $23 million to play for the Los Angeles Kings in order to earn the equivalent of $5 million with the St. Louis Blues. So if I’m Blues GM Doug Armstrong and I’m chasing free agents, this is very valuable information starting today.

Apparently Hazelwood, Mo., where many of the Blues players live, is more than four times cheaper to live than Manhattan Beach, Calif., where many of the Kings players live. That same $5 million in suburban St. Louis equates to $9.9 million in Tarrytown, N.Y., and $9.8 million in Wilmington, Mass.

This is actually one thing that gives smaller markets such as Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh and St. Louis a huge advantage over their big-market competitors. Sure, the Rangers and Leafs and Bruins have a lot more money to throw around, but just check out the cost of a house and private schools because you’re going to need it. Read more

Tony Gwynn’s tragic death from chewing tobacco is a wakeup call for the NHL and hockey world

Adam Proteau
Tony Gwynn (Photo by Bill Wechter/Getty Images)

The cancer that took the life of baseball legend Tony Gwynn Monday was attributed – by the Hall-of-Famer himself – to years of chewing tobacco use. That habit is still pervasive in that sport – but also in hockey. And not just in the NHL. From a troublingly early age, hockey players are using chewing tobacco – or “dip” – because of the instant jolt of energy it provides to users. But clearly, there is a huge price to be paid for indulging in it.

And it’s high time hockey, at all levels, made a concerted effort to educate and legislate it out of the sport.

Part of the problem is the optics of chewing tobacco use. If players sat on the bench with cigarettes dangling from the corner of their mouths, they’d be rightfully ridiculed and ostracized. But the picture of a player who has a cheek bulging with chewing tobacco doesn’t have the same stigma. Indeed, it’s been romanticized for decades now and indirectly marketed to children.

So it’s no surprise generations of hockey-playing teenagers continue to use it, get hooked on it, and suffer the consequences later in life. All they know is the short-term buzz, and by the time they make their way through the junior hockey and pro hockey scenes, it’s an established part of their being.

“It makes me feel relaxed and it feels nice to put one up there,” former Leaf and current Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson told The Toronto Star in 2011. “It’s more like a pleasure thing.”

It’s a “pleasure thing” only because more hasn’t been done to show players the long-term effects of the agonizing plagues to which chewing tobacco can lead. Read more

Brad Richards, Marc-Andre Fleury lead list of contract buyout candidates

Marc-Andre Fleury (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the NHL’s 2013-14 season at an end, teams will immediately embark on making changes to their roster. In addition to trades and free agency, GMs will have, for one last summer, the option to buy out contracts with no salary cap penalty.

The amnesty buyout period, which began last off-season but starts again today, provides each franchise with the opportunity to buy out two contracts; four teams (Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto) used their two buyouts last season, while ten (Detroit, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey, the Islanders, Rangers, Tampa Bay, Vancouver and Washington) have bought out one contract. That leaves 16 teams (Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Winnipeg) with two buyout options), but there’s no guarantee any of those franchises will utilize them.

That said, it’s a virtual certainty a handful of players signed to expensive contracts will be amnestied. In reverse order, here are the top five NHLer contracts likely to be bought out:

5. Anton Volchenkov, Devils. At $4.25 million per season for the next two years, Volchenkov is the fourth-highest paid player on New Jersey – ahead of goalie Cory Schneider ($4 million) – and their top-earning blueliner. However, the 32-year-old Russian plays an average of just 16:47 per game – dead last among Devils D-men. He’s also missed at least 10 games every season since 2006-07.

The Devils currently have $57 million in used salary cap space for the 2014-15 campaign; if they hope to bring back unrestricted free agent defenseman Mark Fayne – and when they need to sign Schneider to a new deal next summer – using Volchenkov’s money will be a big help. Read more

Trading Spezza will spell end of an era in Ottawa – but that’s the circle of NHL life

Jason Spezza (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The expected trading of Senators captain Jason Spezza in the coming weeks spells the end of an era in Ottawa. Seven years after the Sens won the Eastern Conference, Spezza and fellow key cornerstone Daniel Alfredsson (who left via free agency last summer) will be gone – and only two players (Chris Phillips and Chris Neil) from that Stanley Cup finalist roster will remain with the franchise.

But that’s about the maximum life cycle of a Cup frontrunner in the modern era. If you’re an NHL GM talented and fortunate to build an elite team, you get seven years – if you’re lucky – to win with a particular group of players before you have to almost completely reboot your system.

Go back 10 years to the then-champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They thought they were set for a long time with two 24-year-olds (Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier), but only four years later, the team’s struggles and cap imbalances forced them to trade Richards to Dallas and the slow dismantling began. Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis lasted longer than most in one market, but they too eventually moved on. It was unthinkable at the time to picture them in other uniforms, but it should’ve seemed inevitable.

History shows us how fleeting ultimate success in the NHL can be. Read more

Konopka’s 20-game suspension for failing performance-enhancing drug test shows NHL needs to increase vigilance

Adam Proteau
Zenon Konopka

Buffalo Sabres center Zenon Konopka violated the league and NHL Players’ Association’s performance enhancing substances program and was hit with a 20-game suspension Thursday. But the fact Konopka is just the second NHLer in history to test positive for a banned substance raises questions about how far the league’s drug policies still have to go.

In a statement issued by the NHLPA, Konopka apologized and took full responsibility for his suspension.

“As a professional athlete I am responsible for what I put in my body, and I am to blame for this mistake,” he said. “I want to make it clear that this violation occurred because I ingested a product that can be purchased over the counter and which, unknown to me, contained a substance that violated the program. Unfortunately, I did not take the necessary care to ensure that the product did not contain a prohibited substance. I want to stress, however, that I did not take this substance for the purpose of enhancing my athletic performance.”

Before the news of Konopka’s suspension, only former Wild defenseman Sean Hill (who was suspended 20 games in 2007) failed a PED test. Hill and the Wild acknowledged he’d used a physician-prescribed, NHL-approved testosterone booster before testing positive for the illegal anabolic steroid boldenone, but argued he didn’t knowingly take any banned substance. And while Konopka’s willingness to accept blame for his error is commendable, the rarity of this type of occurrence is curious. NHL players will loudly tell you performance-enhancing drugs have no place in hockey because the sport isn’t predicated on the type of muscle bulk normally associated with steroids and human growth hormone, but performance-enhancers can also be used to speed the healing process.

Ultimately, there’s still too much wiggle room an athlete can exploit for his own benefit. Read more

Ask Adam: Playoff suspensions, referee hate, Caps management, and moving Rick Nash

Rick Nash

Mailbag time again. Thanks for your submissions.

Adam,

I know whistles are swallowed in the playoffs, but what does it take to get suspended? Matt Read put a clear shoulder into Daniel Carcillo’s head. Nothing happened. Milan Lucic spears Danny Dekeyser in the you-know-what. Nothing happens. Ryan Garbut spears Corey Perry in the stomach. Nothing happens. The league complains about player safety, yet is doing nothing to protect them. Matt Cooke and Brent Seabrook were suspended. Why not these guys?
Scott Brofman, Los Angeles, Calif.

Scott,

We’ve known for years now that the NHL sees every incident as being inherently different from all the others, which is the league’s justification for not installing a uniform set of punishments based on unacceptable actions. So it should come as no surprise that, for instance, the rash of vicious spearing we’ve seen in the first round of this year’s playoffs would lead to different punishments – Lucic gets a $5,000 fine for spearing Danny DeKeyser; Garbut received a $1,474.56 fine for doing the same thing to Perry; and Perry received no fine at all for spearing Jamie Benn – and mass confusion.

This disparity is a manifestation of the league’s overall attitude toward players: it’s a Wild West mentality that encourages a culture of retribution, because NHLers understand the league isn’t going to exact justice for anything but the most egregious acts – and even then, the suspensions usually aren’t tough enough (see Cooke, Matt vs. Barrie, Tyson). Read more