They didn’t call defenseman Lou Fontinato, who died on Sunday at 84, “Leapin’ Louie” for nothing. He earned the nickname although by the time he became the undisputed favorite of New York Rangers fans in the late 1950s, some New Yorkers preferred the appellation Louie The Leaper, as in Jack The Ripper. No matter how you called him, the Guelph, Ont., native got that handle because his boiling point was so low that when called for a penalty Fontinato reacted like a gushing oil well, spurting all over the place as he leaped in protest.
But that wasn’t the beauty part of his game. Fontinato’s lust for hefty bodychecks, his unadulterated passionate play and, most of all, old-time, two-fisted fighting inspired fans to scream in delight at the old Madison Square Garden. I speak firsthand about my old pal, Louie, since we simultaneously broke in with the Rangers in 1954-55, him on the ice and me in the club’s publicity department.
It’s early July, so obviously there’s another important day coming up on the hockey calendar. Coming up next: the deadline for restricted free agents to file for arbitration, which is on the docket for Tuesday.
This will likely be a procedural day for many players because so few actually end up going the full distance in arbitration, but one thing it will do is tell us which players will definitely be in uniform for their teams at the start of training camp in the fall. That’s because arbitration forces a ruling on both sides, meaning the player is under contract for either one or two more seasons.
On the opening day of NHL free agency, 131 players signed contracts worth a combined total of more than $650 million, according to capfriendly.com. While Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, David Backes and Andrew Ladd dominated headlines, signing big-money deals as the best players available, most teams were also filling gaps in organizational depth with signings you may not have even heard about.
For most high profile free agents, July 1 is the day they cash in. For Eric Staal, it was a day to take an enormous haircut. It wasn’t long ago that people were talking about Staal as one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. But when the dust settled, he took a 58 percent cut in his average yearly salary on a three-year deal. A three-year deal.
If you’re looking for the newly signed free agent who has the most to prove and should be most highly motivated in 2016-17, Alexander Radulov is probably the first who comes to mind. But not far behind will be Staal, who will be on a quest to prove he’s still an elite center in the NHL. He certainly hasn’t looked like that since the lockout shortened season in 2012-13 and is coming off the most miserable season of his career.
Free agency opens on Friday, as teams will be officially allowed to sign players on the open market, and fans around the league should be excited.
No, wait, excited isn’t the right word. What’s the one I’m looking for? Terrified. That’s the one. You should all be terrified.
That’s because, despite the occasional success story, NHL teams tend to be terrible at signing free agents. They can’t help themselves. And it rarely takes long for the initial excitement of a big signing to give way to the realization that a team has just handed out too much money for way too many years.
As we count down to Friday’s deadline, let’s take some time to look back at some cautionary examples of how quickly a big deal can go bad. Here are my picks for the five worst unrestricted free agency signings of the past two decades.
In what has already been a busy day on the trade market, the Florida Panthers are getting in on the fun.
Looking to build their blueline, the Panthers have sent a sixth-round draft pick and conditional fourth-round selection to the New York Rangers for the negotiating rights to veteran blueliner Keith Yandle, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. The conditional selection will only be included in the deal if Yandle, 29, signs with the Panthers, and Florida will have little less than two weeks to make that happen before free agency opens on July 1.
Locking up Yandle would be a big get for the Panthers, who would end up the winners of the sweepstakes for arguably the top free agent rearguard. Yandle scored five goals and 47 points in his first and only full season as a member of the Rangers. Though he played a second-pairing role with the Blueshirts, Yandle would almost certainly become a top-pairing defenseman in Florida, especially if free agent-to-be Brian Campbell doesn’t end up returning to the Cats. Read more
The world is saying goodbye to Gordie Howe right now, but it isn’t really goodbye, is it? Mr. Hockey will always be a pillar of the sport, both for his incredible talent on the ice and his affable personality off of it.
While many great Howe stories have come to light since his passing, countless others can be shared. The man really had an incredible life. Here are five amazing tales from Gordie himself, from his autobiography, “Mr. Hockey: My Story.”
With the NHL draft and free agency fast approaching, speculation persists in the Boston media over what Bruins GM Don Sweeney will do to bolster his D-corps.
CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports free agency isn’t Sweeney’s preferred route this summer. However, he points out that puck-moving blueliners such as the New York Rangers’ Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski of the Dallas Stars could be available if the Bruins GM opts to dive into the free-agent pool.
Haggerty also reports of trade rumors suggesting young defenders such as Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets, Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche and Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks could be available. However, he worries the Bruins could lack the resources to land one of them.