National Hockey League
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS-Signed LW Ben Eager to a two-year contract.
American Hockey League
BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS-Named Michael Burkhed equipment manager.
National Hockey League
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS-Signed LW Ben Eager to a two-year contract.
American Hockey League
BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS-Named Michael Burkhed equipment manager.
Dmitry Kulikov hits Jakub Voracek
Dmitry Kulikov has a history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and they may be reacquainting themselves after the Sabres defenseman plowed through Flyers winger Jakub Voracek.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, 25, has already had to miss one game this season due to injury, and he could find himself watching more action from the sidelines in the coming days thanks to a suspension.
In Tuesday’s game against the Flyers, Kulikov saw an opportunity to crunch Philadelphia winger Jakub Voracek and took it, but the Sabres blueliner may have crossed the line. After a turnover inside the Sabres’ zone, Voracek was able to corral the puck before throwing a quick backhand pass to Travis Konecny.
Voracek continued on after making his pass, but by the time he could swing his head around to see any oncoming defenders, he was caught by Kulikov, resulting in a huge open-ice collision. The hit jarred Voracek’s helmet loose and immediately drew a crowd. Take a look:
That sure looks like it could be worthy of supplemental discipline, especially on the reverse angle. Kulikov’s back skate appeared to come up off the ice as he went in for the hit on Voracek and the contact seemed to be primarily with Voracek’s head. The referees working the contest judged the play to be outside the lines of fair play, too, slapping Kulikov with a minor penalty for charging.
If the NHL’s Department of Player Safety does judge Kulikov’s hit to be worthy of supplemental discipline, it won’t be the first time they’ve spoken with the Russian rearguard. In February 2015, he was suspended four games for a low-bridge hit on Dallas Stars sniper Tyler Seguin.
Thankfully for the Flyers, Voracek was able to remain in the game after Kulikov’s hit, and he even got the last laugh. Philadelphia picked up a shootout victory over Buffalo, and it was Voracek who netted the winner.
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With their top two goalies hurt, the Kings could pursue the likes of Ondrej Pavelec or Steve Mason, but their are limited by their salary-cap space.
With Los Angeles Kings goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff sidelined by lower-body injuries, there's growing speculation over how GM Dean Lombardi will address the situation. Jared Clinton notes there's talk of a trade, but points out the Kings' limited salary-cap space will hamper those efforts.
Winnipeg Jets former starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who's currently toiling in the minors, is seen as an obvious trade target for the Kings. However, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the 29-year-old might not be done with the Jets. He said the Jets remain unsure about their young tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, preferring to hang onto Pavelec as insurance.
Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said the Kings looked into the availability of Pavelec, as well as Philadelphia's Steve Mason, Florida's Reto Berra and Pittsburgh's Mike Condon. He wonders if they'll consider contacting the Anaheim Ducks about former King Jonathan Bernier.
Friedman observes the Ducks must shed salary to make room for restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm's new contract. He also said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford is a fan of Bernier's. For the time being, however, Friedman believes the Kings will attempt to make do with Peter Budaj and call-up Jack Campbell.
The New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis also weighs in, suggesting the New York Islanders as a potential trade partner. Noting they currently carry three goalies, Cyrgalis wonders if Lombardi could make a pitch for Jean-Francois Berube, whom the Islanders plucked off waivers from the Kings last year.
The Kings, however, only have $952,000 in cap space. That prevents them from acquiring Bernier, who's earning $4.15 million this season. Even if the Ducks agreed to pick up half of his salary-cap hit, it's still more than the Kings can afford. Same goes for Pavelec ($3.9 million) and Mason ($4.1 million). To land any of those goalies means shipping out additional salary to make room for their respective cap hits.
If necessary, Lombardi could place Quick on long-term injured reserve. That would allow him to exceed the $73 million cap ceiling to add a netminder. However, he'll have to become cap compliant when Quick returns to active duty later this season.
If Zatkoff is sidelined long-term and Budaj and Campbell struggle, Lombardi will need an affordable short-term option. Berra ($1.45 million), Berube ($675,000) or Condon ($575,000) could be his best bets.
The Kings goaltending injury woes created some trade chatter in Vancouver. The speculation suggests the Canucks ship them veteran Ryan Miller as a short-term replacement for Quick. The Province's Jason Botchford dismisses that notion, claiming Canucks GM Jim Benning doesn't want to trade the 36-year-old Miller.
Much of this Miller trade talk is based upon Jacob Markstrom's strong start to this season. Entering this week, the 26-year-old is 3-0-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Meanwhile, an abdominal strain sidelined Miller following the Canucks' season-opening 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 15. He returned to action Sunday, giving up four goals in a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Botchford points out Miller's low trade value, his $6-million cap hit and the Canucks lack of a third goalie works against trading the veteran netminder. However, that hasn't stopped the local conspiracy theorists from insisting Miller will be dealt soon to the Kings.
As with Pavelec, Bernier and Mason, the Kings simply don't have the cap room to take on Miller's cap hit, even if the Canucks agreed to pick up half of it.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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The Flyers celebrate a goal.
Enjoy the plethora of goals now because it's very likely goaltending improves, rookie stars slow down, and referees put their whistles away.
Much has been made of the plethora of goals that have been scored in the NHL so far this season. Dynamic players and suspect goaltending have combined to give goal judges a case of repetitive stress injuries from pressing the goal-light button so often during the league’s first 93 games.
And the numbers are there to back it up. So far this season, teams have combined to produce an average of 5.91 goals per game, which doesn’t take into account the goal awarded to teams that win shootouts. In addition, there are 54 players who have played at least four games so far who are averaging a point per game, and that includes nine defensemen and six rookies. One of those players – Zach Werenski – is both a defenseman and a rookie and, going into Wednesday night’s games, freshman Auston Matthews leads the league in scoring and is on a 137-point pace.
It’s impressive to be sure, but is it going to continue? Almost certainly not. Even though this season is a little more productive out of the gate than most, the reality is that scoring is usually higher during the first part of the season before levelling off. It has been speculated that it’s so much more dramatic this season because the offensive players have already found their groove after having participated in the World Cup, but defensemen and goaltenders were part of that tournament, too.
And it’s not as though this is unprecedented. In fact, not long ago, scoring was at the same pace as it is now after roughly the same period of time. After 92 games in 2009-10, teams were actually scoring more than they are this season, averaging 5.97 non-shootout goals per game. The season before, the average was just slightly lower, at 5.86 goals per game after 91 games. And what ultimately happened? Well, in 2009-10, things evened out and the league finished the season at 5.46 non-shootout goals per game, which is pretty much average for this era. The league had four 100-point scorers and a total of 23 full-time players who averaged at least a point per game. In 2008-09, the league had three 100-point men and 20 regulars who averaged a point per game.
It will be interesting to see where this season goes. You’d have to think that there are a number of goaltenders who will find their games before long. Having sleeker pants can’t possibly be making that much of a difference. But what will bear more scrutiny is how the rookies and young players continue to produce as the season goes on.
Remember, these rookies who are filling the net are going through the league for the first time at the moment. Once opponents get a book on them, it’s probably going to be that much more difficult to make the same kinds of eye-popping plays they’re making right now. And none of them has experienced the rigors of the NHL on a long-term basis. Even Connor McDavid played only 45 games last season, so nobody’s sure how good he’s going to be after 60 games of going against the top shutdown lines in the league.
But more than anything, NHL coaches are notorious for finding ways of shutting down offensive players. They will have their teams adapt defensively and as the season moves on, will be clamping down on star players a lot more closely. And that doesn’t even take into account the inevitable erosion in the standard of officiating that seems to happen every year. As the season goes on, the hooking and holding that occurs early often degenerates into tackling and full nelsons by the end of the season.
Perhaps none of that will happen, but recent history tells us that it almost always does. There’s a chance the quick feet, hands and minds of the young players who have dazzled us for the first eight percent of the season will continue to do so, undeterred by checking and officiating. But that being said, it’s far easy to destroy a masterpiece than to create one. By the same token, it’s easier to stop star players from scoring, particularly when you’re abetted by a league that seems to love parity as much as the NHL does, than it is to continue to create offense. This is a league that goes to great pains to point out how close its games always are, conveniently forgetting the fact that it’s impossible to have large margins of victory when nobody is scoring.
It would be wonderful to see this level of scoring continue or, shocker of shockers, even rise a little. Enjoy it now, but it would be unwise to count on it continuing in the long term.
Those around him paint a picture of an obsessive, analytical and tenacious GM. But Steve Yzerman's freakish preparation and dogged determination are what have made him the architect of a potential Tampa Bay dynasty.
The NHL draft floor is to hockey reporters what a zoo exhibit is to excited tourists. A steel guardrail separates the scribes from 30 tables hosting the front office staffs of every franchise. There’s no guarantee a GM or scout will emerge from the mist and approach for an interview. We can only hope and call out names. It’s the hockey media’s equivalent of tapping the glass or throwing breadcrumbs.
The executives have no obligation to talk on the floor in the middle of the draft, so it’s a treat when they do. And it was quite the surprise June 24 in Buffalo when bespectacled Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman chose to hold court with a scrum of reporters. After all, Steven Stamkos was five days away from hitting the open market as the most significant unrestricted free agent in NHL history. The will-he-or-won’t-he speculation crackled and popped. Yet there Yzerman was, oddly relaxed, taking questions, even musing on the fact he’d probably have to trade one of his goalies, Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy, before next year’s expansion draft.
It’s fair to wonder if Yzerman knew something the rest of the hockey world didn’t. Maybe Stamkos had all but committed to rejoining the Lightning, and the two parties merely had to iron out his eight-year, $68-million contract. We’ll never know. What we do know is Yzerman is used to winning. He won as a Hall of Fame player, captaining the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups. He won as an Olympian, even playing on one leg, helping Canada win gold in 2002. He won during his reign as national team GM, most notably at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. And he’s on the cusp of winning as GM in Tampa Bay.
The more we learn about Yzerman’s path to the front office, the easier it is to see why his Lightning, not some deep-pocketed new suitor, won the Stamkos sweepstakes. It suddenly makes sense why Yzerman found a way to retain Jonathan Drouin rather than trade him. And it’s no surprise Yzerman locked up Victor Hedman to a long-term deal. The Lightning were supposed to be the team in greatest flux this summer. Instead, they return with their entire young core intact. It’s the same group that had the Pittsburgh Penguins on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference final despite not having Stamkos and Bishop for almost the entire series. That’s why we’ve picked the Lightning to take home the Stanley Cup in 2016-17. And while it appears Yzerman pulled a magic act to keep his team together, his legacy as a GM to date all comes down to preparation and the bulldog mentality he had as a player.
Talk to the minds who mentored him on his way here and we get the picture of a man obsessively studious, analytical, intense and borderline paranoid. Yzerman, 51, didn’t fall ass-backwards into success as a GM. He planned it with the meticulous attention to detail of a world-class detective.
In fact, Yzerman knew he wanted to run an NHL team while he still played for one. After Ken Holland took over as Detroit’s GM in 1997, Yzerman had a clause inserted into his next contract promising him a front-office role when he retired. He even began negotiating his own contracts during the end of his playing days. He still had an agent advising him, but Yzerman specifically requested to sit in with Holland. “He wanted to go through the negotiating process face-to-face with me,” Holland said, “to gather and get information and get experience for when he was done playing.”
Dallas GM Jim Nill, a teammate of Yzerman’s in the late 1980s, worked as Holland’s assistant GM in Detroit from 1997-98 to 2012-13 and picked up on Yzerman’s affinity for team management. On flights or after practices, Yzerman picked his brain and absorbed whatever he could. “He’d say, ‘What’s the reason behind doing this or that?’ or ‘Why would you send this kid down now?’ or ‘Why would you sign him now?’ ” Nill said. “So he was very astute, very observant of what was going on. You just knew he had that feeling.”
"He’s determined. He’s intense. It’s not like you go from a player into the front office and you lose all those traits."
Yzerman had just turned 41 when he retired July 3, 2006, and the Wings officially hired him to their front office less than three months later under the title of team vice-president and alternate governor. He began his obsessive apprenticeship. A favorite of Holland’s were the many car rides involving him, Yzerman, Nill and Ryan Martin, the Wings’ current assistant GM, who was director of player personnel at the time. The quartet debated every detail about the franchise, every scouting assignment, every prospect, every contract, and the arrangement was always democratic. Holland had the final word, but he wanted and respected his brain trust’s opinions. One of Yzerman’s strongest was that Pavel Datsyuk would be worth every penny if the Wings handed him a seven-year extension starting in 2007-08. He had intimate knowledge of Datsyuk’s character, having overlapped with him as a teammate, and Holland trusted Yzerman’s word. He said Yzerman was instrumental in getting that deal done. Datsyuk responded with back-to-back 97-point seasons and a Stanley Cup to commence that contract.
Holland and Nill describe Yzerman in those early days as the ultimate sponge, a relentless and devoted tagalong. “He sat in our amateur meetings, our pro scout meetings, and he sat in with me at the trade deadline,” Holland said. “He was at the office every day. Many times he’d go into Jimmy Nill’s office, (senior vice-president of hockey operations) Jimmy Devellano’s office, my office and pick our brains. ‘How do you pick a chief scout? Why do you pick a chief scout? What do the chief scouts do? What do the pro scouts do?’ In the early couple of years he just wanted to gather knowledge and information.”
Years of absorbing information and attending junior and minor league games everywhere within a 300-mile radius of Detroit helped Yzerman learn how to mine talent. It helped him envision exactly the type of team he wanted to build, and it made him a man of rock-solid conviction. Former longtime Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson witnessed the 8transformation over Yzerman’s seven-year tenure as the national team GM, a.k.a. the planet’s most scrutinized roster builder. Nicholson and Wayne Gretzky, retiring from the gig as Canada czar, handpicked Yzerman as Gretzky’s successor after the 2006 Olympics. The Yzerman they got for the 2007 World Championship was an eager one, but he hadn’t yet found his confidence as a manager. He was so unsure about filling Gretzky’s gargantuan shoes that Nicholson had to broker an in-person meeting with the three of them, in which The Great One gave Yzerman his blessing.
In those early days managing Team Canada, right through to the gold medal Vancouver Olympic squad, Yzerman reportedly deferred a lot to his staff, which was smart considering it included minds like Holland, Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong. He had learned the democratic route from those car trips in Detroit and continued to play the role of relentless researcher. “Steve Yzerman is such a recognizable individual, yet he was just sneaking into buildings watching games,” Nicholson said with a laugh. “All of a sudden, ‘There’s Steve.’ ‘Here’s Steve.’ He was everywhere. He hit every rink in North America. That was his own preparation. And he utilized his people. He was always making sure he included everyone in decisions.”
The Yzerman helming the 2014 squad, in what turned out to be his final foray with Canada, was different. He was experienced. He knew exactly the team he wanted. He was the strongest voice in the room while assembling a Canadian squad that would allow just three goals in six games en route to gold at the Sochi Olympics. “The key difference in player selection in 2014 was that Steve and (coach) Mike Babcock really talked about how they would play before selections started,” Nicholson said. “So it was, ‘This is the style. Now let’s go find the players.’ ”
Four years earlier, around the time Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller between the legs in OT to clinch Canadian gold in Vancouver, Yzerman embarked on the fast track to becoming the fully matured GM he is now. In the months after the golden goal, Yzerman told Holland it was time to leave the Red Wings.
Yzerman’s resume since taking over the Lightning in 2010 suggests the years of study paid off. He’s built a track record of someone who rarely makes a bad decision – whether at the draft podium, on a trade or at the negotiating table. Look at the moves he’s made. On July 1, 2010, one of his first trades sent Andrej Meszaros to Philadelphia for a second-round pick in 2011. That pick turned out to be Nikita Kucherov, chosen 58th overall. Kucherov also signed a team-friendly extension recently. The Lightning also nabbed Vlad Namestnikov 27th, Nikita Nesterov 148th and, with the fourth-last pick, Ondrej Palat 208th. He’s outscored all but four players in the 2011 class.
Even the Martin St-Louis trade, the culmination of a rift that began when St-Louis was left off Canada’s initial Sochi Olympic roster, came up roses for Yzerman. He netted Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2014 conditional second-rounder that became another first-rounder when St-Louis’ new team, the New York Rangers, reached the Stanley Cup final. “Any time a player has his kind of success, he knows the team comes first,” Nill said. “I think that’s how he operates his business also. Nobody’s bigger than the team. And those situations he worked himself through, he made sure that was how he was going to implement whatever decisions he was going to make. He’s very confident, he’s been very successful, he knows what he’s going to do, and then he goes out and implements it.”
No GM is perfect, however. Yzerman whiffed on right winger Brett Connolly sixth overall in his first draft in 2010 (the next right winger to go was Vladimir Tarasenko at No. 16), and re-signing the injury-prone Callahan in 2014 for six years and $34.8 million looks like a mistake already. But it sure seems like Yzerman wins 90 percent of his transactions. “He’s strong-willed,” Holland said. “That’s one of the traits I thought made him a great player and a fierce competitor. He’s determined. He’s intense. It’s not like you go from a player into the front office and you lose all those traits.”
"He doesn’t talk in riddles. He doesn’t give you a couple of pieces to a 50-piece puzzle. He says, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s why I want to do it."
St-Louis went up against him and lost. The Drouin camp went up against him, and now it appears Drouin will be a Bolt for years to come. A league source told THN Yzerman not only tried persistently to honor Drouin’s trade request but had actually been shopping him prior to it. Yzerman, however, wouldn’t force the wrong deal. “I had conversations with a GM regarding the Drouin situation who said, ‘If it were me, I would’ve traded Drouin within two weeks,’ ” said a source. “ ‘I don’t like debris. I don’t like messiness hanging around. Player doesn’t want to be here? Situation is a distraction for everybody. I don’t let those situations linger.’ There aren’t many GMs who would’ve hung in there as long as he did.”
In the end, Yzerman kept his most prized prospect, brought him back to the team, and Drouin went on to be one of Tampa’s best players in the playoffs. The two camps agreed after the season they all want to keep the partnership going, and Drouin is now off the market. “He’s one of my favorite people to deal with, because there’s never a hidden agenda,” said Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh. “He doesn’t talk in riddles. He doesn’t give you a couple of pieces to a 50-piece puzzle. He says, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s why I want to do it.’ You really know the entire situation, and that level of frankness and honesty breeds trust.”
“Nobody crosses Steve Yzerman” is a fun idea, but it’s not the full picture. Yzerman makes his moves based on painstaking preparation and research, with the help of his staff, including assistant GMs Julien BriseBois and Pat Verbeek, senior advisor Tom Kurvers and director of player development Stacy Roest. In that group, Yzerman has his democratic panel, his version of the Detroit car-ride crew.
Those who deal directly with Yzerman experience and appreciate his transparency, but his inner circle is hard to penetrate. They describe him as an intensely private man, devoted to his wife Lisa and their three daughters. Nicholson calls him “someone you want to have a beer and a laugh with” but also “protective in all parts of his life.” Yzerman goes out of his way to stay out of the limelight. That’s why he and the Lightning declined to participate in this story.
Maybe that befits the modern Yzerman character sketch. He puts the team first and wants no part of any potential distraction. He prefers to focus on the one major honor that has eluded him as an executive. He won the 2014-15 GM of the year award but hasn’t captured a Stanley Cup. With his key pieces retained and a dominant team comprised almost exclusively of players still in their 20s, he’s in a plum position to get his wish.