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

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

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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

The top 10 undrafted players at NHL development camps

Scott-Savage

Many NHL teams have prospect development camps going on this week, with some already underway. These sessions are a great way to teach new draft picks how the organization works and get them familiar with their peers from past draft classes who are also attending. Usually there’s some sort of tournament or scrimmage at the end.

But the camps aren’t just for draft picks. Along with previously signed free agents, teams bring in kids on tryouts. Not only does this fill out the roster, but it also gives the franchise an opportunity to get a longer look at some players they may have overlooked in the draft – or simply ran out of picks before they could snag. Here are some of the best names in that cohort.

Scott Savage, D – Boston College (San Jose, Anaheim)

The California native is double-dipping back home, taking part in camps hosted by the Sharks and Ducks. Coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Savage was a physical, defensive D-man without ideal size. But he’s always had mobility and put up decent numbers with the Eagles this past season.

Bobo Carpenter, LW – Austin Prep (Toronto)

The son of ex-NHLer Bobby Carpenter, ‘Bobo’ is short for Robert and he’s the third generation of that name. After his high school season ended, Carpenter put up nine points in nine games for Sioux City in the United States League and despite his obvious offensive talent, he didn’t hear his name called at the draft in Philly. Skating might be a factor, but the Maple Leafs are giving him a whirl.

Ken Appleby, G – Oshawa Generals (Arizona)

Appleby has excellent size, standing 6-foot-4 in the crease, but as a backup to Carolina prospect Daniel Altshuller, he didn’t see enough time to intrigue an NHL team. His .920 save percentage actually edged Altschuller’s .917 mark and perhaps that’s why the Coyotes would like to see more from the youngster.

Joe Hicketts, D – Victoria Royals (Detroit)

One look at Hicketts’ measurements – he’s 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds – and you can see why NHL teams may have been scared off at the draft. There was also a shoulder injury that truncated his season, but the blueliner can put up offense and he’s feisty out there; physical play is no issue. The Red Wings were intrigued enough to bring him along to their camp.

Sam Anas, LW – Quinnipiac Bobcats (Montreal)

Another smaller player, Anas will fit in perfectly in Montreal. Ha ha! Just kidding. But seriously, the 5-foot-8 winger is tremendously talented in the offensive zone and put up more than a point per game this past season while playing on Quinnipiac’s top line. The Habs are giving the college kid a chance to shine in the summer now, too.

Damian Bourne, LW – Mississauga Steelheads (Calgary)

At the other end of the spectrum is 6-foot-4, 209-pound Bourne, who never really got on track offensively this year. A big, powerful winger, Bourne can dish out the punishment and perhaps he’s destined to be a bottom-sixer. Whether or not he develops into a power forward, the Flames wanted another look.

Kevin Tansey, D – Clarkson Golden Knights (Ottawa)

Tansey has been to a camp before in Toronto, but now it’s the hometown Senators giving him a shot. The physical, defensive blueliner missed all of 2012-13 due to a concussion and injury to his ribs, but rebounded this season and put up solid numbers in the ECAC.

Blake Clarke, LW – Saginaw Spirit (Detroit)

Clarke went through a dreadful scoring drought this season and was traded from North Bay to Saginaw in between. The big winger also dealt with a shoulder injury that messed with the mental side of his game, but he’s been a scorer in the past and clearly the Red Wings want to see if he can rediscover that touch.

Jordon Cooke, G – Kelowna Rockets (Los Angeles)

At 5-foot-10, Cooke does not have ideal size for a modern netminder, but he did have great numbers for one of the best teams in the nation. Was that because of the players in front of him, or was he part of the reason the Rockets succeeded? Cooke was named CHL goaltender of the year, so there’s a pretty good clue there. At the least, the Kings are intrigued.

Jack Flinn, G – Owen Sound Attack (Toronto)

Again, we have opposites. Flinn comes in at 6-foot-7 with lots of potential but poor numbers. He was the backup in Owen Sound this year, but split the playoff workload with starter Brandon Hope. The Leafs are willing to test out Flinn’s huge frame at their camp this week.

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

Rumor Roundup: Lecavalier, Kane & Gonchar buzz

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The Philadelphia Flyers recent signings (defenseman Nick Schultz, backup goalie Ray Emery and winger Jason Akeson) pushes them above the $69-million salary cap by just more than $3 million. That’s the most of any NHL team this summer, putting pressure on GM Ron Hextall to find a way to become cap compliant before the 2014-15 season starts in October.

Hextall reportedly almost had a deal in place that would have sent center Vincent Lecavalier to the Nashville Predators.  The deal, however, fell through because the Predators wanted the Flyers to pick up half of Lecavalier’s remaining contract. The 34-year-old has four seasons remaining worth $4.5-million annually. He has a full no-movement clause, but his agent was given permission by Hextall to explore trade possibilities with other clubs.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports Hextall and Predators management revisited the possibility of a Lecavalier trade. Another suitor could be the Ottawa Senators. CSNPhilly’s Tim Panaccio reports the Senators want the Flyers to not only pick up part of the Lecavalier’s salary but also want something else included. Read more

David Legwand signs with Senators, but he could be traded in short order

David Legwand (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Senators dipped into the unrestricted free agent pool Friday when they signed center David Legwand to a two-year, $6-million deal. There’s no question Legwand will make the Sens better – indeed, after captain Jason Spezza was dealt to Dallas earlier this week, Ottawa needs all the help it can get – but if you’re expecting him to remain in Canada’s capital for the duration of his new contract, you might want to reconsider. Because it may well turn out that, like many veterans changing teams at this time of year, Legwand only sticks around for a season – or less.

Legwand isn’t the player he once was – the quiet-but-effective cornerstone in Nashville for 14-and-a-half of his 15 NHL seasons – but he showed he still had something left in the tank after he was dealt to Detroit at the trade deadline last season (four goals and 11 points in 21 games as a Wing). That said, he’s no Spezza and if he produces at above a .5 points-per-game pace, Sens management will be overjoyed. Not because his contributions are going to turn Ottawa into a playoff team, but because it will make him more attractive as a trade chip either at the next deadline or next summer.

He’s not alone in that regard. Read more

Five things we’ll never forget about Alex Kovalev

Alex Kovalev scored 430 career goals in the NHL. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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