With the start of NHL training camp only three weeks away, several notable unrestricted free agents remain available.
Topping the list is goaltender Martin Brodeur. Earlier this month THN associate editor Matt Larkin suggested the Winnipeg Jets could make the most of Brodeur’s services. Larkin expects the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer could await an injury to open up a spot with an NHL club.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff seems content with his team’s tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and the inexperienced Michael Hutchinson. If the pair struggles in pre-season, however, the Jets could contact Brodeur. But they might not be the right fit for him, as it’s believed he prefers signing with a playoff contender.
Earlier this month the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe proposed left winger Dustin Penner as a potential replacement for the departed Devin Setoguchi, who recently signed with the Calgary Flames. Wiebe also reported the Jets offered gritty Jordin Tootoo a one-year, two-way deal, but the winger rejected the deal.
Alexander Burmistrov – remember him? – still has one season remaining on his contract with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan. Last season, he scored 10 goals and 37 points in 54 games to lead the third-place Eastern Conference club and finish just outside the top 20 in KHL scoring.
In the NHL, Burmistrov wasn’t that kind of scorer in three seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
But he was an important piece of a very mediocre Jets lineup. Towards the end of last season, when the Jets flopped to the bottom of the Central Division with 84 points, Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless called on the team to “Bring back Burmi.”
Part of the reason Burmistrov left for the KHL when his entry-level contract expired after the 2012-13 season was that he butt heads with then-coach Claude Noel over playing time. In the two years Burmistrov spent in Winnipeg with Noel as his coach, the Russian’s average ice time dropped by a minute (16:39 to 15:38) from 2012 to 2013. His shorthanded time dipped as well, though by an average of only 15 seconds.
In an interview (in Russian) with Prosports.ru, Burmistrov spoke about his eventual return to the NHL. “I do not believe that my story in the NHL is over. I will almost certainly return there,” he said. “For me, the money does not play any role. The dream (of playing in the NHL) is still alive.”
He then added: “I don’t have any preferences, but I’d like to get to a team where I’d play a lot.” Read more
These truly are the dog days of summer. Players, GMs and coaches get their brief time off between the free agency boom and training camps. Media have time to do fun stuff like rank every logo in the NHL. With no hockey, we spend our nights watching
Bachelor in Paradise baseball.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening in the NHL. If you squint, you’ll notice several important questions still unanswered, such as…
1. Will Columbus mend fences with Ryan Johansen and sign him long-term?
The most recent reports out of Columbus had restricted free agent Johansen and the Jackets still $3 million apart. Per season. That’s a Grand Canyonesque gap. So far, the P.K. Subban story isn’t working as a cautionary tale about short-term bridge contracts. After his bridge, Subban won the Norris Trophy and his new long-term cap hit is probably about $2 million more than it would’ve been had Montreal ponied up two years ago and paid him, say, Drew Doughty money.
The Jackets want Johansen to prove his 33-goal breakout was for real, just as they wanted Sergei Bobrovsky to back up his Vezina Trophy campaign when they inked him to a bridge deal last summer. The difference? Nothing about Johansen’s development says fluke. He has pedigree as the No. 4 overall pick in 2010. He was always supposed to be this good. There’s every reason to trust him. Columbus could live to regret a bridge contract. The East is wide open, and this team can contend with its top pivot signed and happy.
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
The Toronto Maple Leafs recently avoided salary arbitration with defenseman Jake Gardiner and goaltender James Reimer. Gardiner re-signed a five-year, $20.25-million contract, while Reimer inked a two-year, $4.6-million deal.
Both players were frequently mentioned in trade rumors last season. While their new deals suggest the Leafs won’t be peddling either player soon, it’s done little to fully dampen trade speculation.
Gardiner’s new deal indicates the Maple Leafs see him as part of their defense corps for the long term, but his new contract lacks a no-trade clause. Should he continue to struggle under coach Randy Carlyle, trade rumors will continue to dog the 24-year-old blueliner.
The NHL will be a poorer place this season without the on-ice presence of icon Teemu Selanne, who retired at the end of last year after a 21-year, first ballot Hall of Fame NHL career. But fans will have another chance to let the gentlemanly Finn know how much they appreciate him when the Anaheim Ducks retire his No. 8 before a January 11 game against his former Winnipeg Jets team.
No one would argue Selanne deserves the honor, as he became one of the most universally beloved NHLers in the modern era. Here are three reasons why he became such a hockey treasure:
1. His skill. Let’s face it, if Selanne wasn’t such a wizard with the puck – his 684 career regular-season goals place him 11th on the NHL’s all-time goal-scorer’s list, and his 1,457 points in 1,451 games are good for 15th overall all-time in league history – we wouldn’t have invested nearly as much time and effort into following him over the years. But he was an incredible force, as this video recap demonstrates:
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.
For those NHL players who don’t step willingly into retirement, there eventually comes a day when UFA stands for unwanted free agent rather than unrestricted free agent.
As July ends and August begins, we’re now closer to the start of NHL training camps than we are the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For unsigned UFAs, that’s an added layer of anxiety. What if nobody wants me and I’ve played my last NHL game?
Take a browse through capgeek.com and you’ll see half the NHL teams are already at the 23-man NHL roster limit. Another nine teams are at 22 players. And that doesn’t even include the several dozen or so non-roster rookie prospects who will surely make big-league rosters in October.
So not a lot of roster openings remain.