Vermette’s stay in Chicago was short but very, very sweet

Antoine Vermette (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

As Antoine Vermette made his way through the mass of humanity in the cramped visitor’s dressing room at Amalie Arena after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, he was unfailingly polite.

“Sorry for the sweat,” he said as he brushed up against people on his way to the door. “I probably stink, too. But I guess that’s a good thing at this time of the year.”

There were games during the playoffs when Vermette didn’t stink at all. That’s because he was likely wearing expensive cologne under his designer suit while sitting in the press box. Check that. He kind of did stink, which was why he was in the press box wearing the expensive cologne under his designer suit in the first place. Read more

Why is Brandon Saad’s nickname ‘Man-Child’?

Brandon Saad (via Columbus Blue Jackets/Twitter)

Long before he was a man-child in the NHL, Brandon Saad was a 15-year-old kid who was terrorizing goalies in youth hockey in Pittsburgh, dreaming of one day playing in the same league as his heroes, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bob Mainhardt recalls sitting in the Saad family’s kitchen trying to get George Saad’s two sons, George Jr. and Brandon, to commit to playing for his junior team.

Mainhardt remembers George Sr. telling him point blank that if his two sons decided to commit to playing for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American League, Brandon would be his leading scorer. Mainhardt thought highly of Saad, but he also had a veteran-laden team that was a contender for the national championship.

He admired the father’s chutzpah but didn’t put much faith in the prognostications of a proud hockey dad. After all, Brandon would still be 15 when the season started, and he’d be playing with and against players as old as 20.

“Well, if he had been a gambling man,” Mainhardt said of the senior Saad, “he should have put money on that one. Brandon was the best pro prospect I had ever seen. I had 18 kids from that team get Div. I scholarships, and we made the national semifinals. He was our best player.” Read more

Blue Jackets prospect Peter Quenneville looking to land contract overseas

Jared Clinton
Peter Quenneville (Melissa Baecker/Getty Images)

One season after captaining the Brandon Wheat Kings to a WHL-best 53-win, 114-point season, Peter Quenneville is looking to take his game across the pond.

Rumors surfaced Monday that Quenneville, 21, was seeking a contract in Finland after his agency, 2112 Hockey, posted that the Edmonton native was under contract in SM-Liiga. While he doesn’t yet have a contract in Finland, it appears that could be the next destination for Quenneville, whose NHL rights are owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“We’ve targeted him to hopefully play (in SM-Liiga),” said Darryl Wolski, Quenneville’s agent. “We’re working with a few teams to get an official offer for him pretty soon.” Read more

Blue Jackets first-round pick Zach Werenski heading back to NCAA

Jared Clinton
Zach Werenski. (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

The Columbus Blue Jackets made Zach Werenski the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft, but the 18-year-old defenseman won’t be suiting up in Ohio quite yet.

Instead of playing for the Blue Jackets in 2015-16, Werenski will instead return to the NCAA, where he plays for the University of Michigan. This past season, on a Michigan team that finished third in the Big Ten, Werenski was a standout, scoring nine goals and 25 points in 35 games.

There were rumors that Werenski could be heading to the OHL, where the London Knights owned his rights after selecting him in the second round of the 2013 draft. But Werenski confirmed to NHL.com that he would be returning for his sophomore season with the Wolverines. Read more

Why Christian Ehrhoff could shift the NHL’s power balance – seriously

Matt Larkin
Christian Ehrhoff (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Dare I whisper the NHL off-season has…quieted down? A signing, re-signing, hiring, firing or retirement probably happened in the time it took to write this sentence. It’s been that kind of summer.

Seriously, though, we’ve reached the point at which most NHL teams have completed their major personnel moves. We’re far enough along that we’ve completed our standings predictions at the THN office. A few key unrestricted free agents remain out there, though, and one in particular could still shift the power balance in either conference.

Cody Franson? Nope. He’s a close second, as he’d be a high-impact signing, but his list of suitors is small. He should command $4.5 million per season at minimum and as much as $6 million. He’s a right-handed shot, after all. Too few teams can fit him under the salary cap. Of the 13 with $5 million or more in space, several look like tankers playing for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Franson has declared himself “sick of one-year deals,” so a short-term, sign-and-fip-for-picks deal seems out of the question. Other teams who could afford him on paper, such as the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, have depth charts too jammed with young talent already. The Buffalo Sabres may have the best shot at him, as they’re bursting with dollars and supposedly done trying to nosedive. It’s a matter of convincing Franson they’re ready be competitive.

So while Franson is the best player still out there, the one with the highest potential impact is Mr. Christian Ehrhoff.

Read more

Matthew Tkachuk and the boys of summer headline The Hot List

Matthew Tkachuk. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

A Hot List in the middle of summer? Why not? There’s plenty of prospects on the ice right now, what with Canada hosting teams in Calgary and Team USA defending home ice in Lake Placid. From world junior prep to Ivan Hlinka tryouts for Canada’s under-18s, there are some important viewings going on right now for the international squads, so let’s take a look at some of the kids who are standing out so far. Players are listed with their presumed 2015-16 squads.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW – London Knights (OHL)

The exciting thing about Tkachuk is that his star will continue to rise as he continues to grow. Already 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Tkachuk showed off his numerous skills in USA White’s 10-4 destruction of Sweden. In fact, Tkachuk had a hat trick in the game.

“I consider myself a power forward and I mix in some skill, too,” Tkachuk said. “My best attribute is my hockey IQ. I use that to get me where I want to be, get to pucks and get around the net, where I am most of the time.”

The son of former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, Matthew has a big hockey family. Jimmy and Kevin Hayes are cousins, while Casey Fitzgerald, his teammate last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program, is a second cousin. Playing for the NTDP seemed like the best career move.

“I just knew it was the best decision for me,” he said. “Seeing all the guys who have moved forward to the NHL – Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ryan Kesler – all those good players went there.”

Tkachuk was almost headed to Notre Dame for this season, but signed on with the powerhouse Knights, instead. He’ll go from riding shotgun with top 2016 prospect Auston Matthews at the NTDP to playing with a bevy of huge talents in London such as Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. This will be a big development year and Tkachuk already has a role model picked out.

“I watch a lot of James van Riemsdyk,” he said. “I try to play exactly like he does. I’m a pretty big guy, I like to be around the net and I try to mix in some skill.”

Tkachuk wants to work on his quickness, but with such a fast mind, he’s already a handful for opponents. Draft eligible in 2016.

Mitch Marner, RW – London Knights (OHL)

The patience with the puck and the vision to find his man are two aspects of Marner’s game that are so fun to watch – unless you’re an opposing team. The Knights star displayed that in Canada’s 4-1 world junior camp win over Russia on Monday and there’s no reason to suspect the points machine will slow down anytime soon. Drafted fourth overall by Toronto in 2015.

Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS Turku (Fin.)

Thanks to an out clause in his Finnish contract, Rantanen could come to North America this season and I think he has a shot at the NHL. USA Blue found that out the hard way in Lake Placid as the big, gifted winger thrashed the Yanks for three assists in a 10-3 stomping on Monday. Drafted 10th overall by Colorado in 2015.

Dante Fabbro, D – Penticton Vees (BCHL)

One of two Vees to watch this season alongside center Tyson Jost, Fabbro is a smart, skilled blueliner who doesn’t mind jumping in the rush. His rocket shot netted him a goal for Canada Red in his second under-18 camp game and he had an assist in the other. Fabbro is currently looking at NCAA options. Draft eligible in 2016.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, RW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

The talented winger would have been a great candidate for the list thanks to his overtime winner for Canada White’s second win over Canada Red at the under-18 camp, but there’s more to Dubois. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder goes to the net, protects the puck and has great playmaking vision. Draft eligible in 2016.

Brock Boeser, RW – University of North Dakota (NCHC)

As I’ve been telling anyone who listens, scoring in the USHL is tough and Boeser was one of the best with Waterloo. Thanks to his hard shot, Sweden learned that the hard way in Lake Placid as the UND recruit threw up a hat trick in a 10-4 devastation of the Tre Kroner. Drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver in 2015.

Carter Hart, G – Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Though Hart doesn’t have ideal NHL size at six-feet tall, the netminder makes up for it with his athleticism and great post-to-post movement. A breakout underage star for the Tips last season, he’s been solid for Canada Red’s under-18 squad so far. Draft eligible in 2016.

Sonny Milano, LW – Flint Firebirds (OHL)

One of the most experienced players at Team USA’s camp, Milano makes his name by dazzling in the offensive zone. Those sick hands and quick feet helped him notch two goals in USA White’s 5-2 win over Finland. Drafted 16th overall by Columbus in 2014.

Julius Nattinen, C – JYP (Fin.)

A big, talented pivot who impressed scouts last season by adding some nice bite to his game, Nattinen had two goals in Finland’s 10-3 bombing of USA Blue. He’ll take on a bigger role with JYP’s top squad in 2015-16, where his puck control skills will be welcome. Drafted 59th overall by Anaheim in 2015.

Rasmus Asplund, C – Farjestad (SHL)

Asplund began to turn heads last season and has brought up comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg thanks to his all-around game. Though he is playing wing for Sweden in Lake Placid, Asplund is good on faceoffs and is dangerous on both special teams. He has two goals and three points through two games. Draft eligible in 2016.

The five least effective trade deadline deals of 2014-15

James Wisniewski (Debora Robinson/Getty Images)

For the past week, the Toronto Blue Jays have owned the sports news cycle thanks to the club’s big time acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price ahead of the MLB trade deadline. There’s one problem, though: there’s a possibility that neither trade will actually help get the Blue Jays into the post-season.

The Blue Jays currently sit two games back of a wild-card spot, and, even then, they may find themselves ousted in the one-game playoff between the wild-card teams. If that happens, they will have made two major trades and, especially with regards to the Price trade, have mortgaged their future in a non-playoff year.

This isn’t a problem specific to baseball, however. Every year, teams wheel and deal at the NHL trade deadline with hopes of getting that final piece to put them over the top. This season was a rarity, in that the Chicago Blackhawks’ key addition, Antoine Vermette, actually performed admirably throughout the post-season and helped bring another Cup to the Windy City. In other cases, though, the deals went bust. Such is the case when there can only be one champion.

Here are five deadline deals from the past season that fell flat: Read more

Rumor Roundup: Blueline buzz as free agency continues

Christian Ehrhoff (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets could add a veteran defenseman before the start of 2015-16. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports sources claiming Jackets management have had discussions with free-agent blueliner Christian Ehrhoff, who’s coming off a one-year, $4-million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Portzline suggests a deal between the Blue Jackets and the 33-year-old Ehrhoff is possible, provided the latter remains on the free-agent market long enough to drive down his asking price. Despite missing 33 games last season due to head injuries, the puck-moving rearguard could help the Blue Jacket’s power play.

The Jackets only have around $3.6 million in cap space for 2015-16, which Portzline believes is why they’re willing to be patient in their dealings with Ehrhoff. He also notes several other defensemen, including Andrej Meszaros, Cody Franson and Marek Zidlicky are available, but hasn’t yet confirmed if the Jackets are interested in them. Read more