The Toronto Maple Leafs continued to pick up bodies for their rebuild today, signing KHL defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year deal. This move has been long-rumored, but now that it’s official, the question becomes one of expectation.
Sure, Zaitsev was a top blueliner in the KHL, but does that mean anything for his NHL potential?
The NHL off-season has already begun for eliminated NHL teams. Among them are the Colorado Avalanche, and their starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov, has begun some personal free agent recruiting.
The man Varlamov wants in an Avs jersey next year: KHL superstar and former NHLer Alexander Radulov, who reportedly wants to try his hand at the NHL again. Radulov doesn’t have much left to accomplish in his native Russia. He’s a league MVP, a scoring champion and a Gagarin Cup winner. He was alternately tantalizing and frustrating in his two seasons with the Nashville Predators plus a brief return in 2012, so he has unfinished business in the NHL. He has good years left at 29 and, unlike in his previous comeback attempt, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
Varlamov, Radulov’s countryman, is home in Russia for the World Championship right now. According to translated quotes from Russian writer Slava Malamud, Varlamov told Russian newspaper Sport Express this week the Avalanche are “waiting for Radulov. He’ll be one of the leaders there.” Varlamov added, “All (Radulov) needs to do is dial Patrick (Roy) and his return will happen. I hope we can win the Cup with him.”
Say we accept that a Radulov signing will happen. Does it make sense?
Metallurg Magnitogorsk has captured the KHL’s Gagarin Cup for the second time in the past three seasons after downing CSKA Moscow in a back-and-forth, seven-game final.
Throughout the series, it appeared neither team would be able to get or hold an edge. After picking up Game 1, CSKA dropped Game 2 and the two sides traded wins until Games 4 and 5 of the series, which marked the only time in the seven-game set either team won back-to-back games. Three times in the final Magnitogorsk and Moscow went to overtime, and only Game 1 and Game 7 were decided by more than one goal.
In the final game, it was 35-year-old blueliner Chris Lee who was the hero. With seven minutes remaining in the first frame, Lee spotted a streaking Evgeny Timkin and connected with a perfect stretch pass that led to the game’s opening goal and, after CSKA tied the contest in the second frame, it was Lee who scored the game- and Cup-winning goal on a shot from the slot that found its way through traffic and past Moscow goaltender Ilya Sorokin. Read more
Steven Stamkos’ recent vascular surgery comes as a blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning entering the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. With a recovery time frame of one-to-three months, the 26-year-old might not return in time to help the Bolts in the post-season.
Given Stamkos’ UFA eligibility in July, his lengthy convalescence creates more uncertainty over his future. The Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly suggests Stamkos may have played his final game in a Lightning jersey.
TSN’s Gary Lawless doesn’t expect Stamkos’ surgery will scare away free-agent suitors or reduce what could be his expensive asking price. It’s expected he’ll make a full recovery from the procedure. Lawless wonders, however, if this will have an effect upon Stamkos’ future plans, and those of the Lightning.
Alexander Radulov’s name has been mentioned nearly every off-season in connection with an NHL return, but the KHL standout and former Nashville Predator may actually be on his way back to North America next season.
According to SovSport.ru, Radulov, who will turn 30 on July 5, has been offered a long-term deal with CSKA Moscow but has turned down the offer in hopes he can find a spot to land in the NHL next season. The news of Radulov’s potential departure comes as CSKA readies for the Gagarin Cup final against Eastern Conference champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Among the teams reportedly interested in Radulov’s services next season are the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and New York Islanders, but there will no doubt be at least a few other teams that at least kick the tires on Radulov, who was a first-round draft pick back in 2004. Read more
It’s been four seasons since Sami Lepisto last suited up in the NHL, but the 31-year-old defenseman could be heading back to North America next season after an impressive offensive season in the KHL.
In an interview with Championat.com, Salavat Yulaev GM Leonid Vaysfeld confirmed Lepisto is drawing some interest from NHL clubs and could return to the league as soon as next season. Lepisto has enjoyed one of his best offensive seasons during his first campaign with Salavat, scoring 11 goals and 30 points in 60 games during the regular season, and adding another six goals and 12 points in 18 playoff games.
However, with Salavat eliminated from the post-season Tuesday, the free agent-to-be is likely to start considering options for the upcoming campaign. Read more
The Ducks’ acquisition of Anton Khudobin in the off-season was a head-scratcher considering Anaheim boasted a reliable goaltending platoon in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson heading into the campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Khudobin, 29, has spent most of his campaign in the AHL and has only played eight games this season in the NHL. And considering his lack of playing time in the NHL — which comes after three full seasons as a backup netminder — it’s no surprise that Khudobin is looking at leaving North America after being mired in the AHL for the 2015-16 season.
Khudobin is in the final season of a two-year, $4.5-million deal that he signed back in 2014 while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, but it appears all but a done deal that he’ll be suiting up in the KHL next season. Read more
The Toronto Maple Leafs have long been mentioned among the frontrunners to land KHL all-star defenseman Nikita Zaitsev from CSKA Moscow this offseason.
According to AllHockey.ru, the Maple Leafs are in discussions with Zaitsev and there could be a deal in place for the 24-year-old blueliner to come over to Toronto next season.
Zaitsev went undrafted, but he has come into his own over the past few seasons in the KHL and had his breakout season in 2014-15 with 12 goals and 32 points in 57 games with CSKA. Named an alternate captain in the off-season, Zaitsev followed up with eight goals and 26 points in 46 games this season, and has added another one goal and six points in 12 playoff games so far this season. Read more