Rumor Roundup: Do the Calgary Flames want Jason Spezza?

Jason Spezza (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The NHL’s buyout period has begun and runs to 5 p.m. EST June 30. This year is also the final one where teams can use compliance buyouts to shed contracts without the calculation counting against their salary cap.

The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently summarized the details of the buyout calculation and provided a listing of teams that have one or both compliance buyouts remaining. Only players under contract prior to Sept. 15, 2012 are eligible for such buyouts.

It’s expected Buffalo Sabres winger Ville Leino will receive such a buyout. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports Leino’s agent, Markus Lehto, has had a “few very short discussions” with Sabres GM Tim Murray regarding his client. Vogl notes Murray has said it’s a “very good possibility” the two sides will part ways.

Over the course of the playoffs there was growing speculation the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings could respectively buy out Brad Richards and Mike Richards. Of the pair, Brad is the most likely candidate. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes the center will “almost assuredly” be bought out to free up cap space to re-sign several notable free agents, including Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman.

Other compliance buyout candidates could include Columbus’ R.J. Umberger, Dallas’ Erik Cole, New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone and Vancouver’s David Booth.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports the Calgary Flames made a pitch for Spezza, offering up Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, possibly defenseman Dennis Wideman and one of their second- or third-round picks. Garrioch considers that offer insufficient and cites sources claiming the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are on Spezza’s 10-team “no-trade” list. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Let the trade battle for Spezza, Kesler & Thornton begin!

Spezza And Kesler (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since the end of the regular season there’s been speculation Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza could be traded. On Wednesday Senators GM Bryan Murray confirmed the center requested a trade.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claims the Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks called Murray about his captain’s availability. The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren suggests the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers as possible destinations.

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News includes the Toronto Maple Leafs on his list, but acknowledged Murray would prefer not sending Spezza to a team his Senators would have to face often. Larkin dismisses the possibility of the Canucks landing the 31-year-old center as “wishful thinking.”

Warren notes Spezza’s market value could be affected by the possibility of the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler and the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton being shopped at the same time. Garrioch reports the Senators rumored asking price is a player, a first round pick and a top prospect. Murray’s admitted a couple of clubs have expressed serious interest in Spezza, but the GM hasn’t informed teams as to what he’ll seek in return. He claims he doesn’t really want to trade Spezza, admitting he probably won’t receive full value in a trade. Read more

What would a 1-16 Stanley Cup playoff format look like?

Tyler Seguin

Since the Stanley Cup championship became a best-of-7 in 1939, there have been 20 sweeps. That’s 27 percent. And Scotty Bowman was a coach in nine of them – five series wins, four series losses.

But it hasn’t happened for a while. The last four-game sweep in the Stanley Cup final was completed by the Detroit Red Wings over the Washington Capitals in 1998. Bowman’s team did it to Philadelphia in 1997 too.

We’ve been lucky that 12 of the past 14 finals have extended beyond even five games, including six Game 7s. The post-2005 parity era has given us some pretty good championship rounds that have been tightly contested between West and East.

It appears this year will end that streak. Though the New York Rangers put up a valiant effort on the road in Games 1 and 2, they came away winless and were then shut out on home ice in Game 3. Sure, the script playing out in 2014 is very similar to the one in 2012, when Los Angeles won the first two games against New Jersey in OT, shut them out in Game 3 and the series went six games anyway. But, really, that result has no bearing on this series.

The Kings look prepped to wrap this sucker up in four games.

If the Stanley Cup is in fact awarded on Wednesday, it would be a shame to end these playoffs on such a low note. Most people will agree this has been the best post-season in years, so to end with a sweep would be to go into the off-season with a whimper.

This series speaks to the disparity between the competition in the East and West. Aside from maybe the Bruins, no Eastern team would have been a favorite in the Cup final. From the start, it was unlikely we’d get a final that would be better than the Los Angeles-San Jose series or the Chicago-St. Louis series. And while I’m a fan of the current divisional play down format – and recognize it’s the best, realistic option – there is another design that would set us up to get the best possible final more often than not.

The NHL has used a 1-16 playoff format for a few years before, though it won’t likely again because of travel costs. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the league pooled all of the playoff qualifiers into one ranking and re-seeded them each round based on regular season point totals. Rivalries may not be as easily fostered as they are through the divisional lineup, but it would provide fresh and intriguing matchups – and result in more quality conclusions.

What would a 1-16 format have looked like in Round 1 this year? Division winners automatically get the top four seeds. Read more

Backchecking: Nathan Perrott

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

Nathan Perrott is no stranger to the trials of training camp. His NHL career started at Nashville’s in 2001 and ended when he was released from New Jersey’s in 2006. He’d been through plenty of gruelling hockey trials, but nothing that could help him in the preparation needed for his current job: use of force, gun training, shooter situations, rapid troop deployment and advanced counterterrorism tactics.

It’s all Jack Bauer 24-type stuff, crammed into 12 weeks of boot camp at a military base. Not your typical NHL training camp and not your typical job. As a former NHL enforcer, Perrott used to get paid to defend his teammates with the Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, but now he’s part of a paramilitary team paid to defend the world’s second-largest nuclear power plant. He still wears a helmet to work, but he’s traded his shoulder pads and stick for a Kevlar vest and assault rifle.

And just like when Perrott played in the NHL, his team at the Bruce nuclear plant in Owen Sound, Ont., has its superstars. The Bruce tactical response team has won multiple SWAT championships in the U.S.

“They train hard, those guys,” Perrott says. “They’re right there with any of the NHLers for being in shape.”

His career has taken him through minor leagues, the NHL (four goals, nine points, 251 penalty minutes in 89 games), Russia and the pro boxing world, but Perrott never expected he’d grow up protecting the same nuclear plant where his mother worked during his childhood.

At 33, four years removed from playing in the NHL, Perrott was in nearby Walkerton, Ont., for a senior hockey game when a friend urged him to apply at Bruce Power.

“I realized it was time to turn the page in my life and I wasn’t getting any younger so my hockey skills were quickly diminishing,” he says. “I saw the security job and I thought that’d be a perfect fit for me.”

Nowadays, Perrott, 37, is fitting in as a skills coach with the Ontario League’s Owen Sound Attack and as an assistant minor hockey coach for the oldest of his three sons. And he’s got plenty of experience to share. After the Devils made him a second-round pick in 1995, Perrott later signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. But he didn’t play for either team. It wasn’t until Chicago traded him to Nashville in 2001 that he had his first regular season action. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Predators, Leafs and Stars before winding up with Chekhov Vityaz of the Russian Superleague in 2007.

Perrott played there for two seasons and witnessed the dawn of the Kontinental League, along with some of its early hiccups.

“They made everybody take a 20-percent pay cut,” he says. “The Russian guys always said, ‘Well, it’s Russia, what do you expect?’ ”

If Perrott learned one thing in Russia, it was to expect the unusual. He remembers the old lady who used to pay Chekhov players out of a shopping bag packed with millions in U.S. dollars.

“She’s coming from the bank, guys would line up by the (dressing room) door and they’d pay your bonus money,” he says. “This little old lady wouldn’t even have a guard with her.”

Chekhov Vityaz’s owner was the money guy behind Olympic boxing gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, whose Olympic training gym was near the Vityaz rink. Perrott soon started training there as a boxer and returned to North America for three pro bouts. He went 1-2, winning his debut fight over Makidi Ku Ntima.

“That was awesome because the guy was tough,” Perrott says. “I knocked him out right at the end of the fourth round.”

But even that taste of boxing glory couldn’t beat his greatest hockey memory. For most NHLers, that moment is a big goal or a title. For Perrott, it was an opening faceoff at the Air Canada Centre. It was the only time he started a game in the NHL and he was in good company. Ed Belfour was in net. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were on the blueline. And lining up at left wing, skating alongside Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, was lifelong Leafs fan Nathan Perrott.

“It was really exciting,” Perrott says. “You dream about it as a kid and it’s way better. The reality is better than anything you can imagine.”

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What the Boston Bruins can teach the Pittsburgh Penguins

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty)

Strange. In one part of the hockey world, the cries are deafening. In another, the silence is soothing. And yet both are in similar situations.

The Penguins and Bruins won their divisions going away during the regular season. In the playoffs, both got through the first round without going the distance and had their second-round series in hand before ultimately blowing them to teams they were favored to beat.

So why are the calls for radical change to the Penguins so loud and to the Bruins so silent? Before they get any louder in Pittsburgh, the Penguins brass best learn a lesson from Boston’s big mistake last summer (see Seguin, Tyler) before they do the same and trade a superstar center (see Malkin, Evgeni).

Read more

The Boston Bruins sure could use Tyler Seguin right now

Matt Larkin
Seguin Stars

I’m never one to pity Boston as a sports city.

These guys have everything. Three Super Bowl wins and five appearances since 2001; three World Series wins since 2004; a 2008 NBA championship and Finals appearance in 2010; and, of course, a Bruins Stanley Cup win in 2011 and trip to the final in 2013. ENOUGH ALREADY. WE GET IT. YOU’RE GOOD AT SPORTS. LEARN TO SHARE.

It’s a strange feeling, then, to watch the Boston Bruins this spring and realize they actually need something for a change. They’ve failed to score more than twice on Carey Price in three of their last four games. The reason: this team doesn’t have a game-breaking goal scorer anymore.

It’s nothing against what Boston does have. Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Lou Eriksson, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla (at this stage of his career) are capable 20-30 goal men with a penchant for clutch goals. They can get hot on any night, too. But The Bruins don’t have a deadly offensive weapon who makes the other team hold its collective breath in overtime. Chicago has Patrick Kane, Anaheim has Corey Perry, Los Angeles has Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik, Minnesota has Zach Parise, Montreal has Thomas Vanek, and the Penguins have you-know-who. The Rangers lack the a reliable sniper, too, and that could be their undoing in these playoffs.

It’s hard not to think of Tyler Seguin right now. The Bruins got a good return in last summer’s trade with Dallas, as Reilly Smith has been a revelation and Eriksson improved as the season progressed. But, as I noted the day GM Peter Chiarelli made the trade, the Bruins surrendered the highest-ceiling player in the deal. The reason: Seguin partied too much as a 21-year-old millionaire, a.k.a. blinked and breathed. His off-ice ways were a headache, and his game lacked consistency at times, but that was relatively normal at that stage of his career. With his speed, size and release, he always projected as an elite scorer, a franchise player capable of exploding on any given night.

One season later, Seguin finished fourth in league scoring. His banner season included a four-goal game, three hat tricks and six multi-goal performances. Nobody batted an eyelash, except maybe Chiarelli. Seguin was always supposed to do this. That’s why Boston drafted him second overall in 2010.

Read more

Ducks eliminate Stars in OT after remarkable two-goal comeback

Casey Ippolito

*** TRIGGER WARNING: Toronto Maple Leafs fans still haunted by their team’s 2013 playoff collapse should avoid this post, as it describes a familiar narrative ***

You’ve gotta feel for those plucky Dallas Stars.

They had the Ducks on the ropes in Game 6, up 4-2 after D-man Trevor Daley scored his second tally of the game. The Stars were under 10 minutes from sending the series to a seventh game. Read more

Top 5: Feel-good stories of the 2013-14 season

Josh Harding (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

By Jared Clinton

During the first half of the season, there was no story that struck a chord quite like Harding’s. In his second season since a shocking Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, Harding, last season’s Masterton Trophy winner, put the Wild squarely on his shoulders. Before the end of December, the 29-year-old goaltender had racked up an 18-7-3 record to go along with a league-leading 1.65 goals-agasint average and .933 save percentage.

Harding, drafted 38th overall in 2002, battled his way to the starting role, after being one of the best backups in the league. But Harding’s story became his health problems again as 2013 came to a close. Harding was shelved, albeit temporarily, with GM Chuck Fletcher citing a change in the goaltender’s medication. However, after just two starts, Harding again left the team for medical reasons. He has yet to return to the Wild lineup but continues to work out and practice with the team. Another return for the inspirational netminder seems to be in the cards. Read more