Top 10 off-season NHL signings

Christian Ehrhoff (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the beginning of NHL training camps draws closer, it’s natural for fans to debate and discuss which teams had the most productive off-season. And although the answer to that question won’t be confirmed for months, if not years, that won’t stop us from ranking the 10 best off-season unrestricted free agent signings:

10. Thomas Vanek, Wild (3 years, $19.5 million). Granted, Vanek didn’t help his contract negotiating stance with a poor playoff showing for the Canadiens, but his regular-season production has been dependably above-average – and given that Minnesota struggled to put pucks in nets last season (their 207 goals-for was third-worst in the Western Conference), he’ll help a great deal and isn’t locked up to a contract with an onerous term.

9. Ales Hemsky, Stars (3 years, $12 million). The 31-year-old Hemsky hasn’t reached the 20-goal mark since he had 23 for Edmonton in 2008-09, but he’ll play on Dallas’ second line – alongside former Senators teammate Jason Spezza, with whom he enjoyed some solid chemistry in his 20-game stint in Ottawa last year – and should perform well playing in a non-fishbowl market with increased minutes.

8. Radim Vrbata, Canucks (2 years, $10 million). Vrbata has been under most people’s radar playing in Phoenix, but the 33-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable 20-30-goal-scorer. On the rejigged Canucks, he’ll see time on the same line as the Sedin twins and will get first-unit power play minutes. The term of this deal also makes this a win for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Read more

Fantasy Pool Look: Blackhawks, Penguins off-season outlooks

Kane & Toews (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Now we’re really getting into the powerhouses – today we take a look at the Blackhawks and the Penguins.

Chicago Blackhawks

Gone – Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jason LaBarbera, Brandon Bollig, Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Handzus, Nikolai Khabibulin

Incoming – Michael Leighton, Kyle Cumiskey, Brad Richards, P-C Labrie

Ready for full time – Jeremy Morin is NHL-ready. He was NHL-ready last year. And if you want to know why Kevin Hayes took a pass on signing with the strong Stanley Cup favorites, look no further than Morin. Hayes didn’t want to sit in the minors for two or even three more years when there are many teams that would play him right now. Morin was in the same boat. But he should make the team now and even with minimal ice time is a pretty good dark horse for 40 points, upwards of 200 shots and 90 PIM. Read more

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

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NHL logo rankings No. 1: Chicago Blackhawks

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When THN’s seven-person panel sat down to come up with our rankings of the 30 NHL logos, we were basically in full agreement which team would be No. 1.

We didn’t want history to influence our decisions. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens sit outside the top 10 for that reason. Ranking all the Original Six 1-6 is boring, predictable and doesn’t accomplish what we wanted to do here: reward the best logos, not the longest history.

Even still, the Chicago Blackhawks stood up to that measurement. The vibrant color combination and the respectful way it honors a WWI battalion and a Native American chief sets this logo apart from the rest. If we handed out the Three Stars of these logo rankings, the Blackhawks logo would be one, two and three.

As we’ve done with the rest of the logos, we’re opening it up to you the reader to redesign the Blackhawks look. It may be hard to do, but if you think you can design a better (or fresher) logo for the Blackhawks, now is your chance. Send your redesign to editorial@thehockeynews.com and we’ll run our favorites next week.

All logos from Chris Creamer’s website.

HISTORY OF THE BLACKHAWKS LOGO
In 1926, coffee tycoon Frederic McLaughlin was awarded an NHL franchise for a $12,000 entry fee. To build a roster, McLaughlin purchased players from the Portland Rosebuds, a franchise from the disbanding Western League. But rather than take the name of the WHL team they had purchased – as the Red Wings initially did with the name Cougars – McLaughlin wanted his own nickname. Rosebuds simply wasn’t good enough for a hockey team.

In World War I, McLaughlin was a commander in the 333rd machine gun battalion of the 86th division in the U.S. Army, whose members called themselves “Black Hawks.” The name honored the Sauk Indian chief who sided with the British in the War of 1812. In the 1830s, Chief Black Hawk fought again against the Americans when he brought his tribe back across the Mississippi River and into Illinois to plant crops and reclaim their land. In 1832, he lost the brief war to the Americans, was captured and taken on “tour” of the East Coast. He would briefly be put in jail before he was released.

The original Chicago Black Hawks logo was a crudely drawn black and white Native American, inside a circle that spelled out the team’s name.

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Rumor Roundup: Will Blackhawks cap crunch eventually cost them Brent Seabrook?

Lyle Richardson
Brent Seabrook's contract with the Chicago Blackhawks carries him through the 2015-16 NHL season.

Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman’s focus is on how to become cap compliant before the start of this season. With the Blackhawks sitting $2.2 million above the $69 million salary cap, there’s ongoing speculation over which players (Patrick Sharp? Johnny Oduya? Nick Leddy?) Bowman could move to get under the cap ceiling.

Following this season, however, Bowman will face more salary cap issues. His re-signings of franchise players Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to matching eight-year, $84-million contracts leave the Blackhawks with over $65 million invested in 15 players for 2015-16.

Assuming the salary cap rises to $75 million next summer, there won’t be much room to retain most of their other key free agents. Oduya, Brad Richards, Michal Rozsival and Peter Regin are eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, while Leddy, Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and David Rundblad become restricted free agents. Read more

So how good is Kevin Hayes really? He signs today with the New York Rangers

Brian Costello
Kevin Hayes (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Right winger Kevin Hayes has bid adieu to one of the league’s strongest franchise and signed instead with the New York Rangers. The deal is a two-way contract, as per CBA guidelines for entry-level contracts, and is expected to be worth the rookie maximum salary if he makes the NHL.

The Modus operandi was all about getting to the NHL sooner for the Boston-area native. The Hayes watch has been on high alert since the NCAA graduate rebuffed the Chicago Blackhawks and became a free agent Aug. 15. Social media has been abuzz this week speculating where Hayes may sign. At one point today, the Kevin Hayes Wikipedia page showed him a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The next minute he was a Ranger. Then he was a free agent again as rational heads prevailed leading up to his announcement.

Some wondered, tongue in cheek, if his Hall of Fame announcement would precede his NHL destination of choice.

So how good is this Kevin Hayes?

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Rumor Roundup: Flyers need help on the blueline, but don’t expect it to come soon

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The state of the Philadelphia Flyers defense core remains a troubling issue. They’ve lacked a true top-two defenseman since Chris Pronger’s career was ended by injury nearly three years ago. They attempted to address that issue in July of 2012 by signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to an expensive offer sheet, but the Predators swiftly matched it.

Former GM Paul Holmgren attempted to bolster the overall blueline depth, acquiring Luke Schenn, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald via trade and free agency. None of them, however, can fill Pronger’s skates.

The Flyers underwent a front-office shakeup this spring when Ron Hextall took over as GM. Despite Hextall’s stated preference for building from within, rumor-mongers believe the Flyers still seek a stud defenseman, linking them to Winnipeg Jets blueliner Zach Bogosian. Read more