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: Where will Ryan Kesler be traded?

Ryan-Kesler-VAN

With the Vancouver Canucks having hired a new GM (Jim Benning) and coach (Willie Desjardins), the focus returns to center Ryan Kesler, who remains the target of recent trade speculation.

Earlier this month it was reported Kesler informed Benning he still prefers a trade. There’s been some recent confusion, however, over where the 29-year-old prefers to be dealt. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claims the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are Kesler’s only preferences, prompting The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek to note the difficulty that would create for the Canucks to move him.

The Blackhawks have limited cap space ($4.6 million) for 2014-15 and restricted free agents (Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Antti Raanta) to re-sign. They’ll have to either do a dollar-for-dollar swap with the Canucks or convince them to pick up part of Kesler’s salary to squeeze him under their cap. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp has been mentioned as a trade candidate, but Sharp has a modified no-trade clause, meaning he’ll have to agree to the deal. Read more

Big-name UFA Ryan Miller was a bad fit with the Blues. What about San Jose?

Matt Larkin
Ryan Miller (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ryan Miller and St. Louis sure looked like an ideal match at first. He went 7-0-1 in his first eight games after arriving from Buffalo via a trade in late February. The Blues were THN’s Stanley Cup pick, and we viewed Miller as the goalie to take them all the way.

The honeymoon phase fizzled quickly, however. The Blues ended the regular season with six straight losses and Miller started five, allowing at least three goals each time. The slump cost St. Louis the Central Division and led to a matchup with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Miller wasn’t the reason St. Louis lost in six games, but he didn’t steal any. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews beat him with backbreaking overtime winners in Games 4 and 5. He posted an .897 save percentage.

Miller’s future is cloudy for the second straight summer. He’s 34 in July and an unrestricted free agent. Pundits can’t decide if he’s overrated or underrated, one good situation away from recapturing his 2010 Vezina Trophy form or doomed never to win the big game. Miller declined a request to discuss his future.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, for his part, reserves judgment given the sample size.

“I wish we had more practices with him,” Hitchcock says. “Because we had played four or five less games than anybody, our March and April were absolutely packed. We had very limited time working with Ryan and the rest of the players.” Read more

Top 5 defensemen/forwards of all-time (sorry, we couldn’t come up with 10 good ones)

Dustin-Byfuglien-WPG

There was an item that came out of Toronto this week about the Maple Leafs toying with the idea of moving Jake Gardiner from defense to forward.

GM Dave Nonis told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery the club’s brass has ruminated on the notion, since Gardiner had played some of his formative years up front, but indicated it’s not likely to transpire.

And that’s not surprising. At the NHL level, it’s rare for players to move between the back end and forward for a couple reasons.

Read more

Seven centers who could move this summer – and where they’ll end up

Joe Thornton

It’s an unusual year for centers. When you build a team these days, this is a position you really need to be strong in. The Kings are deep down the middle, just as the Hawks were when they won and the Bruins in 2011. It’s a key spot on the depth chart, so when you get a good center, you tend to want to hang on to him.

This summer, though, there are more than a few pivots who are potentially available. Whether it’s by trade or free agent signing, if you’re looking to fill a center spot on your roster, there are actually options this off-season. They’re not all equal, but they’re all available.

Here is a look at seven centers your team may be able to acquire this summer and the most likely destination for each.

Jason Spezza: He’s already requested a trade and since he’s one year away from unrestricted free agency, he’ll be gone somewhere this summer. Where is the most likely landing spot for the Senator? Even though I think Ryan Kesler is the better fit in Anaheim, I think the Ducks are the most likely destination for Spezza. They’re in the West, well away from Ottawa, and they have piles of young assets with which to barter. Exactly what the Sens need. The Ducks have a pile of cap space and it’s no secret they are going to chase after a second line center this off-season. A 1-2 punch of Ryan Getzlaf and Spezza would make up one of the better playmaking center combos in the league.

Joe Thornton: A lot could happen in San Jose this summer and Thornton has been at the forefront of those rumors. A superior playmaker and solid possession player, Thornton may be 35 at the start of next season, but he’s coming off a 76-point year. He’s also got a fresh new three-year contract kicking in that, inconveniently for the Sharks, has a no-movement clause. So even if you did want to trade Thornton, you’d have to do it on his terms – and he’s not likely going to want to go to a team that won’t win the Cup in the next three years. The Sharks committed to Thornton and Patrick Marleau when they re-signed them this season. If a big shake up is what needs to happen in San Jose, GM Doug Wilson should explore trade options for Brent Burns and even Joe Pavelski first. But Big Joe needs to stay for a ton of reasons, not least of which is that the market would be narrow. Most likely destination for Thornton? Right back in San Jose. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Do the Calgary Flames want Jason Spezza?

Jason Spezza (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The NHL’s buyout period has begun and runs to 5 p.m. EST June 30. This year is also the final one where teams can use compliance buyouts to shed contracts without the calculation counting against their salary cap.

The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently summarized the details of the buyout calculation and provided a listing of teams that have one or both compliance buyouts remaining. Only players under contract prior to Sept. 15, 2012 are eligible for such buyouts.

It’s expected Buffalo Sabres winger Ville Leino will receive such a buyout. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports Leino’s agent, Markus Lehto, has had a “few very short discussions” with Sabres GM Tim Murray regarding his client. Vogl notes Murray has said it’s a “very good possibility” the two sides will part ways.

Over the course of the playoffs there was growing speculation the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings could respectively buy out Brad Richards and Mike Richards. Of the pair, Brad is the most likely candidate. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes the center will “almost assuredly” be bought out to free up cap space to re-sign several notable free agents, including Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman.

Other compliance buyout candidates could include Columbus’ R.J. Umberger, Dallas’ Erik Cole, New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone and Vancouver’s David Booth.

SPEZZA-TO-FLAMES RUMOR BURNS OUT QUICKLY
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports the Calgary Flames made a pitch for Spezza, offering up Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, possibly defenseman Dennis Wideman and one of their second- or third-round picks. Garrioch considers that offer insufficient and cites sources claiming the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are on Spezza’s 10-team “no-trade” list. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Let the trade battle for Spezza, Kesler & Thornton begin!

Spezza And Kesler (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since the end of the regular season there’s been speculation Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza could be traded. On Wednesday Senators GM Bryan Murray confirmed the center requested a trade.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claims the Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks called Murray about his captain’s availability. The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren suggests the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers as possible destinations.

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News includes the Toronto Maple Leafs on his list, but acknowledged Murray would prefer not sending Spezza to a team his Senators would have to face often. Larkin dismisses the possibility of the Canucks landing the 31-year-old center as “wishful thinking.”

Warren notes Spezza’s market value could be affected by the possibility of the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler and the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton being shopped at the same time. Garrioch reports the Senators rumored asking price is a player, a first round pick and a top prospect. Murray’s admitted a couple of clubs have expressed serious interest in Spezza, but the GM hasn’t informed teams as to what he’ll seek in return. He claims he doesn’t really want to trade Spezza, admitting he probably won’t receive full value in a trade. Read more

Joe Thornton would accept a trade if “the fans didn’t want him in San Jose”

Rory Boylen
Joe Thornton

Remember when the San Jose Sharks held a 3-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings and were outscoring them 17-8 in the series?

Good times, those.

Of course, the Sharks lost the next four and the Kings have imposed their will on everyone else as they now glide across the Stanley Cup finish line. Meanwhile, San Jose is in complete panic mode. Is Antti Niemi able to bounce back and win with this team? How will the Sharks replace Dan Boyle, beyond moving Brent Burns back to the blueline? Is this team a real contender, or should it get blown up?

Conventional wisdom is that something needs to change to answer such a miserable exit. Boyle is already gone and Havlat will be bought out at some point – but lately the conversation has shifted towards a much bigger star.

Do the Sharks need to trade Joe Thornton? Read more