10 RFAs who missed training camp and how their disputes were resolved

Jamie Benn (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Ryan Johansen’s contract negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets are…contentious. Yesterday started with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen drawing a line in the sand by insinuating the start of training camp as a cut off point. Later on, team president John Davidson took aim at Johansen’s agent Kurt Overhardt by saying the numbers he was throwing out made no sense and were embarrassing.

This sounds like it could be one of the bigger RFA battles the NHL has had in recent years, but there’s still a little time before training camps open. And it’s not like it would be the first time a player has missed the start of training camp with a contract dispute.

It actually used to happen a lot more in the NHL. In the 1990s, it was a regular, yearly thing most teams would have to deal with at one point or another. The only great leverage an RFA without arbitration rights has is to stay home and make the team sweat. It maybe doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but the Johansen situation is hardly unique to the NHL today. Heck, Torey Krug, Jaden Schwartz, Reilly Smith, Darcy Kuemper and Cody Eakin are going through their own, less-publicized negotiations right now too.

We take a look at some of the more recent RFAs who missed all or a portion of training camp over a contract dispute and what the outcome was. We didn’t want to look too far back at every situation because market conditions have changed, especially when looking back past the 2004-05 lockout. Anything before then is basically no influence on Johansen’s situation. Just don’t call these guys holdouts.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
Prior to last season, Stepan missed 16 days of training camp before settling on a bridge deal with the Rangers. Stepan ended up signing a two-year deal that has a $3.075 million salary cap charge. Read more

The Montreal Canadiens won’t have a captain this year – will P.K. Subban get it next year?

Rory Boylen
Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban. (Courtesy the Montreal Canadiens)

Ever since Brian Gionta signed with the Buffalo Sabres, there has been plenty of speculation on who would be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Would it be Max Pacioretty? Andrei Markov? Tomas Plekanec? Or how about Norris winner and face of the franchise, P.K. Subban?

How about all of the above?

Monday, the team announced that each of those players would act as assistant captain this season, instead of selecting one to wear the ‘C’ full time. Since NHL rules dictate that only three players can wear an ‘A’ during a game where there is no captain, the four will be on a rotation. Read more

Top 10 NHL personalities

Roberto Luongo (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

More than ever, the professional sports world focuses on personality to help sell their products. In the hockey business, that’s been tougher to do thanks to a culture that discourages individualism in the name of team success. But the NHL still has a number of vibrant personas who’ll be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) on in 2014-15. Here are the top 10 hockey personalities this season:

10. Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils. The veteran winger has filled notepads and digital recorders all across North America because he’s an intelligent guy with a healthy sense of humor and good head on his shoulders, and he understands that having opinions and showing the public he’s more than a hockey automaton won’t affect his on-ice performance. Here he is on the Canadian TV comedy series “Mr. D.”:

Cammalleri deserves kudos for putting himself out there. That said, let’s have a moment of silence for that charm now that he’s signed on with the Devils, who are the Bermuda Triangle of personality.

9. Jaromir Jagr, Devils. Yes, I also can’t believe two Devils are on this list. But Jagr is still one of the game’s great characters. He’s capable of going off on a hilarious tangent at any point, but he can also speak with tremendous insight about the game and his experience playing it:

Soon enough, the 43-year-old will be retired and back in his native Czech Republic. Enjoy him while you can. Read more

Former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu retires, but his amazing legacy will live on

Adam Proteau
Saku Koivu (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Saku Koivu’s NHL career came to an end Wednesday when he announced his retirement, but the ideal manner in which he conducted himself over 18 seasons in the sport’s top league – and the courage he showed in triumphing over cancer – will resonate in the hockey community for years to come.

When Koivu arrived in North America in 1995, he had already established himself as the best player in his native Finland, winning the Finnish Elite League’s regular-season and playoff MVP awards. But none of that could’ve prepared him from life in the hockey pressure-cooker that is Montreal. As the Canadiens’ first round pick (21st overall in 1993), he had expectations placed on him from the get-go, but he amassed 20 goals and 45 points in 82 games of his rookie NHL season.

His physical challenges began in his sophomore campaign, which saw him miss 32 games because of a knee injury. From that point on, Koivu played just one more 82-game season thanks to a slew of ailments that included concussions, as well as injuries to both knees and one of his eyes. Many of those injuries came because he was an undersized player (listed at 5-foot-10) who never shied away from physical contact. He was as brave as any player and respected by all of his teammates for the way he played the game and the way he lived his life. Read more

Top 10 players/coaches on The Hot Seat

Rick Nash (Photo by Rebecca Taylor/NHLI via Getty Images)

The most daunting challenge when it comes to forming a list of people on The Hot Seat™ for 2014-15 is keeping the list to just 10. Heck, you could have 30 just by placing every coach in the league on there. Because as your trusty correspondent recently pointed out, coaches and GMs are getting whacked at a dizzying rate these days.

But some, obviously, are feeling the heat a little more than others. You wouldn’t think the Los Angeles Kings would be too concerned about Darryl Sutter if they don’t get off to a great start this season. And during football season, is anyone going to notice if Bill Peters can’t turn the moribund Carolina Hurricanes around?

With that in mind, we’ve kept our list to 10, evenly divided between coaches and players. These are people who will be under pressure to produce results or face either (a) the prospect of being fired, in the case of coaches; or (b) the prospect of feeling shame, in the case of players.

So, here we go:

10. Ken Hitchcock: The St. Louis Blues coach has done everything right with this team, with the exception of win a playoff series. Since he took over in 2011-12, the Blues have won just one playoff series and compiled an 8-13 record in the post-season. There were rumbles that Hitchcock was in jeopardy after the Blues lost in the first round to Chicago, but they were quelled by GM Doug Armstrong. But if Hitchcock can’t find a way to get his team over the Chicago/Los Angeles hump, there might be no choice but to make a change.

9. Ryan Johansen: Even though they appear to be playing hardball with him, the Columbus Blue Jackets will sign Johansen at some point. But after an acrimonious summer in which Johansen felt his team’s offer was a “slap in the face,” there will be pressure on Johansen to prove he was worth all the off-season angst, particularly if he misses training camp or some of the regular season. Johansen is at a critical point in his development as a player and he has every right to sit until he gets what he feels is a fair deal. But with that comes the pressure of living up to it.

8. Bruce Boudreau: The Anaheim Ducks coach is quickly becoming known as The Man Who Can’t Win Game 7. The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title last season, but the fact they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the regular season cost them in the playoffs. Boudreau will have to do the delicate dance between being good enough to compete in the west, while not burning his team out for the time when the games get really important.

7. Alex Ovechkin: How does a 50-goal scorer end up on the list of players on the hot seat? By piling up points on the power play, being an uninspired player 5-on-5 and not leading his team to the playoffs, that’s how. Ovechkin might be one of the least-feared 50-goal scorers in the history of the game, primarily because he does precious little other than feast when the Capitals are on the man advantage. He’ll also have to adjust to a new coach in Barry Trotz who will demand more defensive accountability. For real.

6. Todd McLellan: There were rumors the Sharks coach was on his way out of San Jose and to Toronto after last season, but GM Doug Wilson opted to keep him after his team blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. Instead of firing the coach, which would have been the convenient thing to do, the Sharks instead emasculated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If the Sharks stumble out of the gate, McLellan might be an easy target.

5. P.K. Subban: The Montreal Canadiens defenseman became the first player in NHL history to reach a contract agreement after an arbitration hearing and before a decision was rendered. And what an agreement! Subban will undoubtedly face pressure to justify his $9 million-per-season cap hit, but he will be courting trouble if he internalizes it and tries to do so every time he touches the puck.

4. Paul MacLean: There were rumblings that MacLean lost his golden touch last season with his players and mismanaged his players last season. Not surprisingly, he was not able to coax the results out of his team that he got in 2013. Even though the Senators are closer to being a lottery winner than a playoff team, expectations are always high in Canadian markets. And if the Senators get off to a disastrous start, the only guy at the Canadian Tire Centre with a bushy moustache will be MacLean’s doppelganger in the first row.

3. David Clarkson: The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is a classic example of expectations gone awry because of a huge contract. Clarkson was never going to be able to live up to the deal he signed with the Maple Leafs, but even by those standards, his 2013-14 season was an unmitigated disaster. Clarkson’s best course of action would be to forget the contract and resist the temptation to be something he’s not.

2. Randy Carlyle: Clarkson’s coach with the Maple Leafs is undoubtedly on the shortest leash of any coach in the NHL right now. With analytics gaining more prominence in the game, the Leafs cannot afford to continue getting Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis. The Leafs have significantly improved their bottom six, but if they don’t tighten up defensively, Carlyle will likely become the first coach looking for work this season.

1. Rick Nash: The New York Rangers winger led the team in goals with 26 last season, but Nash simply can’t produce when his team needs him most. Including all his NHL playoff games and the two Olympics in which he has participated, Nash has seven goals in 54 games. There was a time when Nash seemed to be able to carry players on his back on his way to the opposing net. It seems now he can’t even get himself to the net, which is why he finds himself on the periphery so much.

Weekend odds and ends: Stamkos’ unsatisfactory explanation; Brodeur in Montreal; and young Ducks goalies

Steven Stamkos (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

On the first weekend in September, here are a few medium-sized hockey thoughts for your consideration:

Lightning star Steven Stamkos addressed the media in Tampa Bay Thursday and talked in greater detail about his adventures on social media this summer. Stamkos said he mistakenly pressed the favorite button on a Tweet from THN’s account linking to my story on him potentially coming to his hometown Maple Leafs when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

“You press the favorite button by accident and an hour later Twitter blew up,” Stamkos said. “But you live and learn and I’ll be more careful on the favorite button the next time around.

Sounds reasonable, right? Who among us hasn’t made a similar slip? And here’s the thing – if it was only one tweet, I’d be inclined to take Stamkos at face value. But Stamkos didn’t just favor one tweet. He subsequently favorited a second tweet linking him to the Leafs.

Now, one mistaken favorite, I understand. Two? And both just happen to be about the same topic? Sorry, but I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation of how that happened. Read more

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

NHL players hit their peak by 29. How wise is the eight-year contract?

Jason Kay
P.K. Subban will only be 33 when his eight-year deal expires (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).

The NHL took a hard stand during the 2012-13 lockout when it came to maximum contract length, fighting fervently for five years, then compromising at eight (for re-signings).

Since then, up to the pact agreed to by P.K. Subban in early August, 11 players had won max term. In the big picture, it’s a small number, representing a tiny fraction of all deals. But due to the dollars and profile involved, the question remains: is eight great?

The answer depends on your perspective. If you’re demanding equal value across all seasons, prepare to be disappointed. The evidence shows that, apart from notable exceptions, returns diminish on players beginning in their early 30s.

Read more