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
When Mikhail Grabovski signed a four-year deal with the New York Islanders that will pay him $5 million a season, he pretty much hit the jackpot. Not the Vincent Lecavalier jackpot, mind you, but the windfall was still mind-boggling.
That’s because Grabovski is one of 28 players who are being paid not to play hockey for the teams that originally signed them under the leagues’ compliance buyout system. You know the one. It’s the buyouts that essentially have given teams a mulligan on bad contracts that were signed before the last collective bargaining agreement. It’s also the one the NHL Players’ Association seemed dead-set against having part of the new system, although when you see the money that teams threw around, you’d have to wonder why. Read more
The CHL Import Draft is complex. On the surface of course, it’s straight-forward: Every team from the Ontario, Western and Quebec League has the opportunity to select two European players, assuming they have two import slots open on their roster.
But if one of your Europeans went in the first round of the NHL draft, you can keep the rights to three, in case the first-rounder bounces between the pros and junior (it’s basically the Mikhail Grigorenko rule). And you’re not allowed to take goalies anymore, which is protectionist and ignores the fact American netminders have been “taking jobs” from Canadian kids as much as Europeans were.
Also, some folks will tell you it’s not quite a draft because some teams have unofficial deals with players beforehand – which led to last year’s awkward situation where Washington Capitals pick Andre Burakovsky thought he was going to Windsor, only see to Erie scoop up his rights first. After a lot of fuss, Burakovsky went to the Otters and helped Erie make a nice playoff run.
The 2014 installment of the Import Draft happened on Wednesday and as always, there was drama, beginning with the first pick. The OHL’s Sarnia Sting tabbed Czech power forward Pavel Zacha first overall, but the youngster’s agent, Allan Walsh, immediately took to Twitter to announce that Zacha, a potential top-10 NHL pick in 2015, has a contract with Liberec back home and that Sarnia just wasted the pick.
You’d hope by now it wouldn’t need to be said that the real winners of the NHL’s annual first day of free agency are at least as often as not the teams that don’t throw lavish contracts at every flavor of the summer. Today’s impulse buy can become tomorrow’s cold-blooded buyout quicker than ever – ask former Rangers captain and new Blackhawks center Brad Richards – and nobody can predict with absolute certainty how any player will fit into his new environment.
Nevertheless, when all teams come away from this first day spinning it as working in their favor, somebody has to try and make sense of it all. That’s what this free agency winners/losers column is all about: one opinion on which teams can realistically claim to have improved, and which ones you can argue have hurt themselves with their activity – or, as the case may be, their lack of action:
The Stars signed winger Ales Hemsky to a very reasonable (three-year, $12-million) deal and added worker bee forward Patrick Eaves and backup goalie Anders Lindback via free agency, but their best acquisition Tuesday was the trade with Ottawa for center Jason Spezza. Nill made his team significantly better up front at very little cost to the roster – and, just as importantly, he’s given up virtually no contract flexibility (he’ll have some $35.4 million in cap space to spend next summer) to do it. In this day and age, that’s as much as you can ask for on free agent day.
After a couple years of trade rumors, Sam Gagner is finally on his way out of Edmonton. Coming in to the Oilers is another offensive winger in Teddy Purcell.
In terms of scoring, Edmonton gets the more productive and more healthy player over the past few seasons. And Gagner’s days as Edmonton’s second line center were all but over after another season without improvement and with his no-trade clause about to kick in. But the acquisition of a top-six winger is curious. The move creates a convenient roster hole for center Leon Draisaitl, who the team picked third overall in Friday’s draft. Not that they would make a trade like this to create an automatic opening on the second line for an 18-year-old (at least, we don’t think so), but without many other acquirable centers available, the opportunity will be hanging there for the German. Read more
PHILADELPHIA – Bits and bytes from the 2014 NHL draft that didn’t quite make it into cyberspace, but have full blog potential when compiled as a compendium:
KAP TALK To say that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has been scouting Kasperi Kapanen for a long time would be an understatement. Rutherford made history Friday night when he became the first GM in NHL history to draft both a father and a son. Back in 1995, he drafted Sami Kapanen 87th overall for the Hartford Whalers, then 19 years later, took Kasperi 22nd overall for the Pittsburgh Penguins in this draft.
“Do you know anybody else who’s done that?” Rutherford said of drafting the father-son combo. “We drafted Sami in 1995 and he had a son in 1996. I used to watch (Kasperi) on the ice when he just started skating and I end up drafting him.” Read more
Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony DeAngelo were two of the most controversial players available in the 2014 draft class and it had nothing to do with their hockey skills. In fact, both are gifted producers. But character issues dogged both Ontario Leaguers in the run-up to the first round, casting doubt as to whether they would be picked on Friday at all.
As it turned out, DeAngelo went 19th overall to Tampa Bay, while the New York Islanders traded up to take Josh Ho-Sang with their second pick of the evening 28th overall. The draft is always nerve-wracking, but for DeAngelo, who hails from the Philadelphia area and has seen more games than he can count at the Wells Fargo Center, being up for the draft at home was a double-edged sword.
In one day – so far, at least – the Vancouver Canucks shaved $5.6 million off their cap and that’s what the Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison deals were about. Yes, the Canucks are moving into a new phase and the cap space they’ve picked up will help them achieve it.
Now, Vancouver can get a little more aggressive in acquiring the elite futures they couldn’t get in a Kesler trade. For instance, they could go after a top four pick in this draft, or a good young player or two from some other team, and have the ability to take back an overpriced contract to help facilitate such a move. It also gives them plenty of room to chase free agent Ryan Miller in a few days, if GM Jim Benning so chooses.
Either way, Vancouver’s first two moves Friday are only the beginning of a much bigger shift, it seems Read more