New York Rangers are on the right path with Zuccarello

Ryan Kennedy
Mason-Zuccarello

Avoiding arbitration, the New York Rangers and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello agreed on a one-year pact Tuesday that will pay the 5-foot-7 winger $3.5 million for the 2014-15 campaign.

According to New York Post scribe Larry Brooks, the two sides continue to work on a long-term deal for the Norwegian national and that’s great news for Rangers fans.

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Rumor Roundup: Brodeur’s patience will extend into the season

MartinBrodeur

Former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur remains available in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market. The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti recently reported Brodeur spoke with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay about their backup jobs, but both clubs went with other options.

Gulitti also reports Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan confirmed on June 28 his club expressed interest in the future Hall of Famer as a backup for Jonathan Bernier, but said at Brodeur’s age (42) “it’s really about fit”.  The Leafs still hold the rights to James Reimer, who has an arbitration hearing slated for July 28 unless he and the Leafs reach an agreement on a new contract.

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Rumor Roundup: O’Reilly to arbitration can’t have a happy ending

2014 NHL Awards - Inside

The NHL’s salary arbitration hearings begin Monday, July 21 through Aug. 1 in Toronto. While 23 hearings were scheduled (20 player-elected, three club-elected), as of July 15 four players – Boston’s Matt Bartkowski, Dallas’ Cameron Gaunce, Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and Ottawa’s Derek Grant – avoided arbitration by re-signing with their teams. Another, St. Louis’ Vladimir Sobotka, has jumped to the KHL.

Most NHL arbitration cases never reach an arbiter, as players often re-sign with their teams before the hearing takes place. It’s a process both sides prefer to avoid. It’s ego-bruising for the player as management makes its case over why he’s not worth the salary he seeks. Management subsequently risks losing that player to unrestricted free agency once his arbiter-awarded contract has expired.

In most cases, arbitration is used as a negotiation tactic by both sides. For the player and management, it establishes a deadline toward reaching a new contract without negotiations dragging on into training camp and pre-season. When a team takes a player to arbitration, it’s also to prevent him from receiving an offer sheet from a rival club, except for a five-day window from July 1-5.

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The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Three playoff teams who could miss in 2014-15, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Datsyuk nailed

If only the puck bounced this way or that way. If only Wade Dubielewicz hadn’t stood on his head in a random shootout performance on the last day of the season. Making or missing the playoffs often comes down to a few chance occurrences. It’s thus reasonable to forecast a few teams falling on the reverse side of the coin a year later. Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, Vancouver and the Islanders swapped spots with Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Colorado this past season.

Here are three 2014-15 candidates to slide from in the big dance to out – and three to slide from out to in.

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These 23 players can go to arbitration, if they’re not signed to extensions first

reimer

The NHL’s arbitration process is scheduled to begin later this month. Twenty NHL players have filed for arbitration, while three players were taken to arbitration by their teams. Usually, these contracts are settled before the team and player have to face off in front of an arbiter, so expect most, or all, of these to be settled before the process begins.

Arbitration cases will be heard between July 20 and August 5. Here are the eligible players:

Arizona Coyotes
Brandon McMillan - A third round pick by Anaheim in 2008, McMillan played 22 games with the Coyotes in 2013-14, scoring two goals and six points. He also played 46 games with the american League’s Portland Pirates, scoring 11 goals and 26 points. The 5-foot-11 winger was acquired by the Coyotes last year in a trade that sent Matt Lombardi to the Ducks.

Boston Bruins
Matt Bartkowski - A seventh round pick by Florida in 2008, Bartkowski averaged the fourth-most minutes among Bruins defensemen in 2013-14 and scored 18 assists. He was acquired by Boston in what turned out to be an awful trade for Florida, which sent Bartkowski and Dennis Seidenberg to the Bruins for not much at all. Bartkowski has emerged as a physical defensive blueliner who fits in nicely with Boston’s brawny way. Read more

Top 5 controversies of the 2013-14 season

John Tortorella (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

1. TORTORELLA CHARGES FLAMES DRESSING ROOM
Every NHL team has its best-and-worst-case scenarios laid out before each season begins, but there’s no way the Vancouver Canucks could have envisioned the nightmare that was to unfold. The franchise stumbled and bumbled on and off the ice and fell from third in the Western Conference in 2012-13 to 12th in 2013-14. And it’s hard to say which mistake was worst.

If you go back to the summer of 2013, the trading of goalie Cory Schneider certainly qualifies as a contender. After years of grooming Schneider to be Vancouver’s starting goalie for the next decade or more, then-GM Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world when he shipped the 28-year-old to New Jersey for the ninth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Schneider and veteran Roberto Luongo, who had nearly been dealt at the 2012-13 trade deadline, were dumbfounded by the move. But that was only the beginning of the madness. Read more

Five things we’ll never forget about Alex Kovalev

Alex Kovalev

Drafted 15th overall in 1991 – right after Pat Peake – Alex Kovalev became a prolific, if somewhat mercurial, NHL scorer. He had the size and the skill to take over NHL games, but at times he also left you expecting more. Kovalev retired from professional hockey this week after spending the 2013-14 season playing in Switzerland.

His last NHL season was with the Florida Panthers in 2012-13 and he finishes his career with 430 goals and 1,029 points in 1,316 games. He reached the 30-goal mark three times and set a career-high of 44 goals in 2000-01 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2002-03, Kovalev was one of the best players available on the trade market and he fetched the beleaguered Penguins Rico Fata, Mikael Samuelsson, Joel Bouchard and a few million dollars. Kind of underwhelming, wouldn’t you say?

He may not be beloved like Jaromir Jagr and Kovalev is certainly not a Hall of Famer, but he still brought us moments we’ll never forget. Here are five of them: Read more