Randy Hernandez isn’t the son of a famous NHLer. He didn’t grow up playing on backyard ponds and his first words weren’t the name of his favorite hockey team.
“Actually, I didn’t watch hockey at all when I was little,” he said. “I didn’t watch until I was 12.”
Hernandez just completed his first full season of AAA hockey, in fact. But this year, he’ll be a member of one of the most exclusive teams on the continent, the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-17 squad. How he got there is remarkable.
(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)
Without so much as making a single signing, the Portland Pirates have likely improved enough this off-season to make a significant climb in the Eastern Conference standings.
Thanks to a change in affiliation, the Pirates are no longer the AHL representative of the Phoenix Coyotes and, in a sense, this upcoming season’s Pirates team will be the same club that the West Division champion San Antonio Rampage iced in 2014-15.
That means gone are the likes of Alexandre Bolduc, Brendan Shinnimin, Jordan Martinook and Dylan Reese, and in come the likes of Connor Brickley, Brett Olson and Rocco Grimaldi. That said, the Rampage, and in turn the Pirates, did lose two of their top three leading scorers as both Bobby Butler and Mark Mancari signed in Europe. Replacements are coming, though.
This off-season the Panthers signed 26-year-old Shane Harper, who scored 32 goals and 50 points with the Chicago Wolves in 2014-15, and he’s likely to spend the year in Portland. Up front, the club also added Rob Flick, who had 19 goals and 24 points with Providence and Gregg McKegg, while defensemen Cameron Gaunce, Sena Acolatse and Brent Regner will also join the roster. That’s not a bad group to add to your AHL ranks. Add to it that goaltender Mike McKenna will stay in Portland — his contract with Arizona ended and he was signed by Florida to a two-year deal — and you’ve got the makings of a team that could make some noise in the Atlantic Division.
Because of the AHL’s structure, a franchise can sometimes get a boost simply due to the business side of the NHL. In 2015-16, it looks like San Antonio will be a beneficiary of one of those bumps. Read more
The Florida Panthers were far and away one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this past season, but goaltender Roberto Luongo says it’s time for the Cats to take the next step.
In an interview with Panthers broadcaster Steve Goldstein, Luongo said that last season no one was sure what to expect out of Florida in 2014-15, but with the club coming only a handful of points shy of a post-season berth there are expectations — especially from inside the dressing room — of what the upcoming campaign should hold for the Panthers.
“Last year we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get; we had a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff,” Luongo said. “This year it’s time to take that next step. It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable. I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”
Problem is, though, this may not be a team that’s built to make the playoffs. Read more
The Pittsburgh Penguins made a move yesterday that flew a bit under the radar, signing center Matt Cullen to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
Cullen, who has played in more than 1,200 games over his career, has been a steady middle of the lineup player throughout his career. Cullen can give the Penguins some veteran depth, so it’s not a terrible signing, but what’s shocking about the deal is that Cullen is inching closer to his 39th birthday.
The Penguins also signed Eric Fehr this off-season, but Fehr, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons, is still 10 years Cullen’s junior. That’s no small age gap. Even still, Cullen barely cracks the five oldest players this season. Here are the NHL’s elder statesmen with contracts for the upcoming season: Read more
Welcome to my new mailbag, a spot where I will answers questions from readers who reached out to me on Twitter using the hashtag #thnfutures. The idea behind this space is to bring you info on prospects and the draft, so anything in that world is game. There was a pretty good crop of questions right off the bat, so if you don’t see yours answered this week, check back next Friday. Here we go:
We’ve seen plenty of turnover on NHL rosters so far this summer, setting up what appears to be even crazier parity than normal in each division. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks made major moves in the Pacific. The Washington Capitals jazzed up their top two lines in the Metropolitan. The Chicago Blackhawks did anything but sit on their championship team, making over a quarter of their roster.
A bushel of franchises, however, have been oddly quiet so far. Some are justified in their thought process. Others have their angry fans yelling “DO something!”
Why do some of these teams appear to be deer in the headlights right now? There’s a plausible explanation for each, though some are more maddening than others.
The increase in the NHL salary cap ceiling from $69 million to $71.4 million does little to help the Chicago Blackhawks escape from salary cap hell for 2015-16. They have over $64 million invested in cap payroll, leaving only $7.3 million to invest in new contracts. With restricted free agents Brandon Saad and Markus Kruger to re-sign plus several UFAs to re-sign or replace, the Blackhawks must shed salary.
It’s widely assumed left wingers Patrick Sharp ($5.9-million annually for two more seasons) and Bryan Bickell ($4-million annually, two years) are the likely trade candidates. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reports that, as of Monday evening, the Hawks weren’t far along in trade talks about any player.
When it comes to future prospects, the Florida Panthers are the envy of many teams around the NHL. But when you have a top-five pick in four of the past five drafts, you’d better be stockpiling some young players who will eventually show the way. That’s why so much of the strength in the Panthers prospect list is already on the NHL roster. There isn’t much star power among the Panthers’ non-NHL youngsters, but Florida can remedy that in this draft with the 11th overall pick – a player who should be good enough to contribute, since it’s such a deep draft, but not one who will face the pressure of stepping into the lineup right away.
Round 1, pick 11
Round 3, picks 77, 88
Round 4, pick 102
Round 5, picks 132, 147
Round 6, pick 162
Round 7, picks 192, 206
The Panthers were just 25th in goals scored. Their leading scorer had only 54 points, and their power play ranked 24th in the league. This team desperately has to find a way to create more offense 5-on-5 and with the extra man. Read more