Dale Hawerchuk made it look easy, but hard work earned him the first big UFA contract

Dale Hawerchuk (Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Twenty years ago this summer, the first crop of elite-level Group III unrestricted free agents went on the open market. The NHL was coming off its first protracted work stoppage, and the 1994-95 season was reduced to 48 games for each of the league’s 26 teams. The new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ association granted unconditional free agency for any player 32 or over once his contract expired.

Among the first players to act was future Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk. By that time, ‘Ducky’ was already a veteran of 14 NHL seasons and had 489 goals and 1,314 points. But this was his first real chance to cash in – he signed a $7.5-million deal over three seasons – and his first real opportunity to challenge for a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues were loading up that summer 20 years ago, also signing UFAs Geoff Courtnall, Grant Fuhr and Brian Noonan. But it was Hawerchuk they really wanted, and negotiations with agent Gus Badali took just a few minutes. St. Louis coach-GM Mike Keenan knew he was getting an aging superstar who still had a lot to offer, because Keenan had watched Hawerchuk develop and dominate for the better part of a generation. Read more

5-year-old Oshie fan who was upset by trade gets surprise from Capitals

Jared Clinton
Libby Lu with her Capitals gear, courtesy of her hero, T.J. Oshie. (via Monumental Network)

Shortly after T.J. Oshie was dealt from the St. Louis Blues to the Washington Capitals, a video surfaced of a young Blues fan upset by the trade. But Thursday, 5-year-old Libby Lu may have become one of the biggest fans of Oshie rocking the red.

Oshie and the Capitals, after hearing about the video and seeing how upset Lu was, put together a care package for the Blues fan that may have her changing her allegiance this upcoming season. The package included an autographed Oshie jersey and Capitals mini stick, stickers and clothes. Not a bad haul. Read more

Why hasn’t your team done anything this off-season?

Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’ve seen plenty of turnover on NHL rosters so far this summer, setting up what appears to be even crazier parity than normal in each division. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks made major moves in the Pacific. The Washington Capitals jazzed up their top two lines in the Metropolitan. The Chicago Blackhawks did anything but sit on their championship team, making over a quarter of their roster.

A bushel of franchises, however, have been oddly quiet so far. Some are justified in their thought process. Others have their angry fans yelling “DO something!”

Why do some of these teams appear to be deer in the headlights right now? There’s a plausible explanation for each, though some are more maddening than others.

Read more

Rumor Roundup: Time up in Carolina for Eric Staal?

Eric Staal & Cam Ward (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

In recent weeks, there’s been little word regarding the status of Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward. Both have a year remaining on their respective contracts and are eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency.

Of the pair, Staal is the most important and expensive. The 30-year-old center is still considered their franchise player and earns an average cap hit of $8.25-million, though in real salary he’ll be drawing $9.5 million for 2015-16. ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside wonders what dollar figures will work best for both sides. If unable to reach an agreement, Burnside suggests GM Ron Francis could be forced to part with Staal.

Appearing on TSN’s That’s Hockey, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press said he believes Staal has been in a funk for several years, largely because of the Hurricanes’ lack of talent. Lawless feels he needs to move on, believing the Hurricanes could get a top-line player, top prospect and a high pick in return. Read more

Which teams have had the best and worst off-seasons according to the numbers?

Jack Eichel (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly two weeks since free agency opened and most of the big fish have landed, which means it’s time to evaluate the winners and losers of free agency. There’s still some great players out there that can help teams, but the bulk of signings have already been made so right now is a perfect time to see how each team has done so far.

Usually, grading a team’s offseason in July is a fool’s errand because a lot of things will change during the season, but with recent advances in hockey analytics, it’s possible to get a reasonable estimation. Just like our post before free agency began, we used wins above replacement from war-on-ice.com over the last three seasons to project what a player will do next season. Using our off-season movement tracker, we looked at who’s in and who’s out for each team and added up their WAR totals to get wins added (or lost) from this offseason.

Of course, wins aren’t everything in the offseason, especially in a salary cap league. The value of the wins added is important too. With that in mind, here’s all 30 teams’ wins added compared to how much salary they added. Above the red line means a team got less for their money, while below means teams got more. (Keep in mind that WAR is generally skewed towards forwards and goalies so a team that added a big-time D-man, like Calgary, won’t look as great as they should here). Read more

Memorial Cup winning goaltender Appleby hoping to use camps to get contract

Ken Appleby (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

In order to win the Memorial Cup, the Oshawa Generals relied on one of the stingiest defenses in the history of major junior hockey. At the center of it was goaltender Ken Appleby.

Appleby, 20, backstopped the Generals to the Memorial Cup, helped Oshawa defeat Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters for the OHL championship and was the OHL’s leader in most goaltending categories. Even still, he couldn’t parlay it into finally getting selected at the draft and was passed over for the third straight season. So, Appleby’s going another route: for the second consecutive year, he’s taking to NHL camps and hoping he can land himself an NHL contract. At present, Appleby’s at prospect camp with the St. Louis Blues.

“Being third year eligible to be drafted, I didn’t really expect much,” Appleby told NHL.com’s Louie Korac. “I had heard some talks, but to not be drafted is kind of a good opportunity for me to be able to choose teams like St. Louis or whoever else gives me offers for camps so I can kind of choose which way I want to go. It’s a good position.” Read more

Blues’ Tarasenko says all he’s dreaming about is the Stanley Cup

Jared Clinton
Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko inked a massive eight-year, $60 million contract with St. Louis Tuesday afternoon that will keep him as a Blue until after his 31st birthday. But with contract talks concluded and having signed on the dotted line, Tarasenko is already putting his new deal in the past and turning his focus to improving, if that’s somehow possible for the blossoming 23-year-old star.

“This is going to be (my eighth year) of pro hockey,” Tarasenko said. “In these eight years I’ve had a lot of stuff happen, a lot of hard situations. But I’ve worked all my life to make this deal, and I’m not stupid to quit working and stop improving myself. That’s what my parents and my grandfather told me when I was young: it doesn’t matter how many goals you scored, you need to score more every year.”

That Tarasenko, who scored 37 goals and 73 points in 2014-15, says he wants to score more is a terrifying prospect for goaltenders throughout the league.

At times throughout his NHL career, Tarasenko has looked near unstoppable and 2014-15 saw him score a number of how-did-he-do-that style goals. Even still, he’s aware that big numbers will be expected from him with the $7.5 million cap hit he’ll carry. He’s ready to meet that challenge, he says, but his eyes are fixed on a bigger prize.

“We still don’t have a Cup,” Tarasenko said. “So all that I’m thinking about, all that I’m dreaming about, is to win a Cup.” Read more