Top 10 off-season NHL signings

Christian Ehrhoff (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the beginning of NHL training camps draws closer, it’s natural for fans to debate and discuss which teams had the most productive off-season. And although the answer to that question won’t be confirmed for months, if not years, that won’t stop us from ranking the 10 best off-season unrestricted free agent signings:

10. Thomas Vanek, Wild (3 years, $19.5 million). Granted, Vanek didn’t help his contract negotiating stance with a poor playoff showing for the Canadiens, but his regular-season production has been dependably above-average – and given that Minnesota struggled to put pucks in nets last season (their 207 goals-for was third-worst in the Western Conference), he’ll help a great deal and isn’t locked up to a contract with an onerous term.

9. Ales Hemsky, Stars (3 years, $12 million). The 31-year-old Hemsky hasn’t reached the 20-goal mark since he had 23 for Edmonton in 2008-09, but he’ll play on Dallas’ second line – alongside former Senators teammate Jason Spezza, with whom he enjoyed some solid chemistry in his 20-game stint in Ottawa last year – and should perform well playing in a non-fishbowl market with increased minutes.

8. Radim Vrbata, Canucks (2 years, $10 million). Vrbata has been under most people’s radar playing in Phoenix, but the 33-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable 20-30-goal-scorer. On the rejigged Canucks, he’ll see time on the same line as the Sedin twins and will get first-unit power play minutes. The term of this deal also makes this a win for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Read more

Eric Brewer hopes to help turn around the Prince George Cougars

Prince-George-Cougars

Eric Brewer and Dan Hamhuis are old hands at the NHL game. Both are veteran defenseman out of British Columbia and both played their junior hockey with the Prince George Cougars. Now, as part of a new ownership group, Brewer and Hamhuis are hoping to help their old Western League team out of the doldrums and back to glory.

“It’s a city where the team and the organization has room for improvement,” Brewer said. “We want to re-establish the team.”

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Steve Moore’s brother Mark says “there is no deal yet” with Todd Bertuzzi

Rory Boylen
Steve Moore

Tuesday, there was a report that the lawyers representing Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore had come to an agreement on a settlement ahead of their Sept. 8 court date.

Today, that settlement isn’t so clear anymore.

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, Steve Moore’s brother Mark claimed there has been no settlement in the lawsuit.

From Westhead:

“I got a text message from Steve last night and he’s very concerned,” Mark Moore told TSN. “He says there is no deal yet and isn’t sure what to do about all the media speculation.

“Because of the injury he has trouble making decisions and so he doesn’t know how to handle the media.” Read more

Report: Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi case settled out of court

Rory Boylen
In a game on March 8, 2004, Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore. Moore never played in the NHL again and is seeking damages. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi lawsuit has been hanging over the NHL for the past 10 years, but as the Sept. 8 trial date draws near, it appears the case has been settled out of court.

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Originally, Moore was seeking $38 million in damages from the incident, but recently increased his demand to $68 million. His lawyers estimated Moore would have made $35 million over his NHL career and blossomed into a top six forward. They would also have argued the Harvard graduate could have made upwards of $65 million in a post-hockey career. Read more

Alex Burrows and the Canucks are ready to come back from desolation

Ryan Kennedy
Alex-Burrows

I didn’t really have a true sense of how rough Alex Burrows’ season was until I looked at his game-by-game results. When I did that, I realized that there was only one week in which he actually found the back of the net.

From March 12-17, the Vancouver Canucks left winger scored five goals in four games, the only goals he would score in a 49-game campaign marred by injuries. But Burrows won’t simply sooth himself by blaming bad puck luck.

“Satisfaction is the beginning of regression,” he said. “Never be satisfied, keep working hard. I had a tough year with injuries and broken bones, but it’s a new year, a new chapter. A lot of us weren’t too happy with the season we had and it’s a fresh start for a bunch of us.”

The Canucks, who easily could have gone into rebuild mode after trading away Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler, instead went for a reload instead, with new GM Jim Benning making a big dent in free agency. Vancouver brought in Ryan Miller to be the No. 1 goaltender, while Radim Vrbata and his consistent goal-scoring prowess improves the offense.

“He’s a give-and-go player,” Benning said of Vrbata. “We feel he’ll work well with the Sedins.”

Of course, Burrows has usually been Henrik and Daniel’s running mate, but the agitating point-producer isn’t going to cut up Vrbata’s skate laces before camp this fall, even if the Czech veteran is poised to usurp his role on the top line.

“Funny story,” Burrows said. “I used to play junior with Radim in Shawinigan. He was a first-liner, I was a fourth-liner, but I got to play with him for a few games back then. During the past decade, I’ve always talked to him during warmups. We’ve gotten along. If he’s with the twins, great, or if I’m with them – at the end of the day, winning is more important than personal stats. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

The Canucks will be in tough to get back into the playoffs after missing out this past season. The West isn’t getting any easier and the razor-tipped Pacific Division is a far cry from the old Northwest, where Vancouver basically just had to show up to get the banner.

The new-look forward corps will include the Sedins, Burrows, Vrbata and new second-line center Nick Bonino (acquired from Anaheim in the Kesler trade). And while the Canucks do have some talented youngsters coming up the pipeline – Bo Horvat jumps to mind – the new GM isn’t going to throw them into the fire.

“I come from Buffalo and Boston, where we didn’t rush players,” Benning said. “That’s the philosophy I bring to Vancouver.”

Perhaps Horvat or Nicklas Jensen can make a big impact in camp, but right now the Canucks will rely on their top end and that means everybody, including Burrows, will have to bounce back from a season to forget.

Rumor Roundup: Where will Dustin Penner & Michael Del Zotto land?

Dustin Penner

As the NHL off-season drags on, former New York Rangers and Nashville Predators defenseman Michael Del Zotto remains unsigned.

Only 24, Del Zotto is just two years removed from a 41-point performance with the Rangers in 2011-12. Unfortunately, his stock tumbled significantly last season, largely because of his poor play in his own zone.

Recent speculation linking Del Zotto to the Vancouver Canucks was denied by his agent, who claims there’s “no chance” his client ends up with the Canucks. It’s been rumored the Detroit Red Wings could have interest, but he’s a left-handed shot and the Wings seek a right-shooting blueliner.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks cited an NHL club claiming Del Zotto’s reputation was “in tatters.” He believes now is the right time to “buy low” on the young rearguard and wonders why the New York Islanders haven’t pursued him. Read more

Hall Monitor: Does Luongo’s trajectory have him making it?

Brian Costello
Columbus Blue Jackets v Florida Panthers

First things first, in the interests of full disclosure, I want to mention a little bet I have regarding Roberto Luongo.

Early in Luongo’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks, I wagered with THN managing editor Edward Fraser that Luongo would at some point in his career win a Stanley Cup. Fraser didn’t like the cut of Luongo’s jib and took the career disappointment side.

When Luongo was among the top two or three goalies in the game and the Canucks were a powerhouse, the bet was looking good in my favor. But now…forget it. He ain’t winning the Cup. No biggie. The bet was for ice cream and Fraser is now a vegan so it’s a painless loss.

But is Luongo’s career on a trajectory that will lead him to the Hall of Fame? That’s a tricky one.

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Bob Clarke didn’t want Russians in the NHL…and he wasn’t alone

Red Alert

Russians have had a huge impact on the NHL and the way the game is played, but their arrival in North America wasn’t without controversy.

In the August, 1989, edition of The Hockey News, a wave of Soviet stars, riding the crest of glasnost, broke down barriers and signed to play with NHL teams. Slava Fetisov and Sergei Starikov inked in New Jersey. Alexandr (that’s how he spelled it in ’89) Mogilny officially became a Sabre. And Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov were brought into the Vancouver Canucks fold.

Some natives, however, remained suspicious and opposed.

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