This Fourth of July for the Minnesota Wild was a little less eventful than the last.
Still, the Wild made another holiday splash by bringing in more help for their blue line.
The Wild announced Thursday they agreed to terms on a two-year contract with defenceman Keith Ballard, who was available after being let go by Vancouver earlier this week with a compliance buyout to clear space under the salary cap.
The Wild said paperwork for Ballard's deal would be filed Friday, when the free agent market opens. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported Ballard's contract is worth $3 million. He was scheduled to make $4.2 million in each of the final two seasons of his previous deal with the Canucks.
The 30-year-old Ballard managed just two assists in 36 games for Vancouver in 2013. Over three seasons there since being acquired in a draft-day trade in 2010 with Florida, Ballard had only 16 points in 148 games. He was hindered by several injuries.
Before that, though, the former University of Minnesota star was far more productive. Over five seasons with Phoenix and Florida, he averaged nearly 30 points while playing in 97 per cent of the games. As a rookie with the Coyotes in 2005-06, Ballard had eight goals and 31 assists and played in all 82 games. In his first year with the Panthers in 2008-09, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Ballard had six goals and 28 goals with a plus-14 rating while again playing all 82 games.
Ballard will essentially replace defenceman Tom Gilbert, another local guy, who was dumped by the Wild with a compliance buyout this week. Ballard is from Baudette, Minn., on the Canadian border. He won two NCAA championships in his career with the Gophers.
Another Minnesotan, centre Matt Cullen, will be moving on as the Wild's most prominent unrestricted free agent. Cullen told the Star Tribune that Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher informed him he couldn't offer him a fair contract given the team's cap constraints.
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The Oilers are very likely bound for the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and former No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be crucial to their success.
Without a doubt, the resurgence of the Edmonton Oilers this year is being driven by Connor McDavid. The sophomore phenom is in position to win the Art Ross or the Hart or both, while his team is firmly locked in a playoff position for the first time in more than a decade.
I feel at this point we're past talking about if the Oilers will make the post-season and can move on to what they will do once they arrive there. Because as great as McDavid has been for the offense, the Oilers will need balance. And that’s where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins comes in.
Remember the Nuge? He’s not exactly obscure, being a No. 1 overall pick overall. But like fellow Edmonton lifer and linemate Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins has toiled in Alberta for years without playoff hockey. That’s about to change and for a player who has largely been out of the limelight for some time, Nugent-Hopkins will be crucial to Edmonton’s long-term success this season.
Right now, Nugent-Hopkins is below his usual career offensive clip, but the Oilers are also winning a lot more and have a healthy McDavid in the lineup ahead of him.
“Every team in the league has two or three scoring lines now, it seems,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Obviously Connor’s a great player and I want to produce offensively as well, but I have to be a 200-foot player and grow my defensive game.”
Nugent-Hopkins is a decent possession player and is better on faceoffs than McDavid, though neither is great. The Nuge can take on tough defensive assignments and that will be important going forward, unless the Oilers bolster their forward corps with a trade for another responsible center.
It’s interesting to see where Nugent-Hopkins is at this point in his career. He was the top prospect in the 2011 draft, though it wasn’t a fever year in that regards – while Adam Larsson and Gabriel Landeskog were also thought of highly, the best players to date from that class are probably Johnny Gaudreau (104th overall), Nikita Kucherov (58th) and Mark Scheifele (seventh).
Nugent-Hopkins was seen as a slight player with incredible vision who may have needed one more year of junior before hitting the big time, but he bucked those predictions and went straight to Edmonton, earning All-Rookie Team honors in the process.
Unfortunately, in the center’s six NHL seasons, he has already had six coaches with the Oilers. That’s one of several factors that have kept Edmonton out of the playoff picture and undoubtedly hurt the development of some players (Nail Yakupov comes to mind). But with Todd McLellan now in his second year with the squad, Edmonton has a coach who has seen a fair share of playoff games and owns a Stanley Cup ring from his days as an assistant coach in Detroit.
“He’s been great,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s definitely an experienced guy, being in San Jose for a lot of years. He brought that to us – we were a younger team and we still are. He keeps us accountable and definitely teaches us, so it’s good.”
The next step will be the most fun and the most daunting. All of a sudden, there are expectations for the Oilers outside of Northern Alberta. We all want to see how this team will handle playoff hockey and while McDavid is the head, he can’t be expected to go it alone. Cam Talbot must be great in net and the defense will have to hold up. If Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle can be that secondary scoring threat while also playing sound 200-foot hockey, the Oilers will be more than just a nice story in the post-season.
With 1,000-plus points and nearly 500 goals, Patrick Marleau has been one of the most consistent scorers the league has seen over the duration of his career. Is he Hall of Fame calibre, though?
Patrick Marleau had a third period to remember on Monday night. Less than three minutes into the frame, he scored his 13th goal of the season. Minutes later, he potted goal No. 14. By the midway point, he registered the fifth hat trick of his career, and he capped the frame off with a fourth goal with less than four minutes remaining.
Marleau’s big night made him only the seventh player 35 or older in the past 30 years to score four goals in a night, and the first player to complete the feat since Martin St-Louis managed four goals against the San Jose Sharks almost three years earlier to the day, on Jan. 18, 2014.
It was just another feat in what has been a spectacular career for Marleau, and one that almost certainly ends with him being the last player to ever don No. 12 in San Jose.
He’s the Sharks all-time leader in goals with 497, in points with 1,060 and his 96 game-winning goals isn’t only the best mark in San Jose’s history, but the eighth-most in the recorded history of the statistic. He became the 83rd player in league history to score 1,000 points, has four playoff overtime winners to his name and captured a Western Conference championship with San Jose this past season. During his time as a Shark, Marleau has also won two Olympic gold medals, two World Championship gold medals and has added a World Championship silver.
Even will all that, though, it’s hard to say Marleau’s destined for the Hall of Fame, and he might be the perfect example of a player who would earn his way into the Hall of Very Good.
This is something that was touched on when Henrik Sedin was on the cusp of his 1,000th point, but one of the biggest deciding factors for the Hall of Fame can’t be points alone. There’s a multitude of reasons why that’s the case, but chief among them is that past scoring skews exactly how great a point-scorer some players were and that scoring alone shouldn’t constitute what a Hall of Fame calibre player looks like. Rather, there should be something discernible to show the player was, at one time or another, among or atop the very best players in the game.
For a player such as Sedin, he has the individual awards to prove his dominance. He won both the Hart and Art Ross Trophies during his fantastic 2009-10 campaign, and Daniel Sedin following up with an Art Ross of his own to go with the Lester B. Pearson Award is why he’s deserving to join his brother in the Hall of Fame one day. That’s not to mention that both Sedins were adjudged league All-Stars at season’s end in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.
For Marleau, individual accolades have been hard to come by. He didn’t capture the Calder as a rookie, his best finish in Hart voting was ninth-place in 2009-10, he came in eighth place in Selke voting that same season and he’s twice been the second runner-up for the Lady Byng. And while he’s represented the Sharks at three All-Star Games, he’s never been an end-of-year All-Star, though he came close in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2013-14.
If a player doesn’t have the individual accomplishments, then sometimes it can be the team accolades that put them over the top in Hall of Fame contention. Everyone knows how that has gone in San Jose, though. Marleau has always been a fixture of the Sharks and one could argue a few of those teams were as true as title contenders come. The results were never there, though. All Marleau has to show in terms of team achievement is a Western Conference championship. That could change before Marleau hangs up his skates, but will that combined with his points even be enough?
Even if you wanted to debate Marleau’s Hall of Fame merits on points, it’s hard to see what would put him over the top. There are 31 players in the 1,000-point club who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, including eight active NHLers: Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Patrik Elias, Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Sedin and Marleau. Of the 31 non-Hall of Fame 1,000-point players, Marleau ranks 30th in points per game, ahead of only Dale Hunter. When using Hockey-Reference’s point adjustment figures to help even out the change in scoring across eras, Marleau’s points per game only rises to 23rd, ahead of players such as Rod Brind’Amour, Brian Propp, Dave Andreychuk and Pat Verbeek.
And compared to the 1,000-point players, which includes both active and retired players who are no-doubt Hall of Famers like Jagr, Selanne and Ovechkin, Marleau sticks out. 26 of the 31 players have at least one or some combination of an end-of-year All-Star nod, individual award or Stanley Cup. Hunter, Propp, Bernie Nicholls and Jeremy Roenick are the retired players without any of the three, and among active 1,000-point scorers, Marleau is the only one who fails to check that box.
Marleau deserves to see his jersey retired in San Jose someday and he’ll go down as one of the greatest Sharks in franchise history. And when it comes to the Hall of Fame, Marleau might be close, but he’s not quite there.
In applications to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, the CHL describes itself as "professional." That might prove crucial in deciding if a class-action lawsuit can proceed.
When the Canadian Hockey League tries to convince the courts that its players are amateur athletes and not paid professionals, and therefore don’t deserve minimum wage, it may want to consult its own application for trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
First, the news. None of this will be decided for another couple of weeks, Feb. 7 to be exact. That’s the day a Calgary judge will make a couple of crucial decisions. The first one will be whether the CHL will be granted a sealing order over all financial records, some of which the CHL made public media last week. The hearing for that was supposed to be held Tuesday, but has been pushed to Feb. 7, the same day the judge will decided if the plaintiffs have grounds to proceed with a class-action lawsuit.
Now, the context. The crucial question here is whether junior hockey players are amateurs or pros. Part of that answer might be contained in the CHL’s trademark application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, a document that is being used as part of another lawsuit in which the CHL is involved involving a trademark issue. The trademark was last renewed in 2014.
Here’s a list of all the goods to which the CHL applied to be able to trademark: Coffee mugs, shot glasses, drinking glasses, flat glass, water bottles, bubble gum, bubble gum cards, trading cards, hockey cards, buttons, caps, hats, gloves, hockey pucks, sponge pucks, picture pucks, jackets, mitts, pennants, scarves, shirts, jerseys, sleep wear, stickers, bumper stickers, toques, vests, running shoes, jean shirts, t-shirts, neon t-shirts, shirts, muscle shirts, crew neck shirts, cut off sleeve shirts, sweat pants, sweat shorts, bunny jackets, v-neck sweaters, shorts, hockey t-shirts, sweaters, pants, jackets, tank tops, badges, sew-on crests, stick-on crests, hockey sticks, goalie sticks, hockey uniforms, hockey jerseys, hockey pants, hockey gloves, socks, dolls, toy figures, cardboard collector board, board games, opera glasses (binoculars), sunglasses, paper weight holders, cartoon comic books, magazines, greeting cards, autograph sets, lithographs, posters, sports bags, wallets, rod hockey games, towels, adhesive bandages, first aid kits, bulletin boards, calculators, clocks, lamp shades, calendars, embroidered picture frames, magnets, neck warmers, oil dip stick cleaners, playing cards, stained glass window ornaments, sun visor radios, sweat bands, vinyl stickers, wood plaques, wristbands, infants’ and children’s short sets, leisure suits, shots, sweat shirts, turtlenecks, belts, buckles, coasters, ear muffs, flags, inexpensive jewelry, namely lapel pins, stick pins, pendants, charms, earrings, rings, tie racks, cuff links, leather bracelets, key fobs/key chains, foam fingers, noise makers, place mats, towels, watches, phone cards, hip pouches, knapsacks, license plate frames, miniature bells, money clips, spoons, pens, pencils, bottle cap openers, soap (namely deodorant soap, skin soap, toilet soap and liquid soaps for hand, face and body), game of hockey played with cards, radio earphones, videos, video games, arcade and pinball machines, snack foods (namely ice cream, hot dogs, soft drinks, hamburgers, candy and popcorn).
Wow, that’s thorough. Because you never know when every man in the world is going to lose his mind and begin using leisure suits as a fashion statement. As thorough as it was, though, under the Services portion of the application, the CHL is responsible for, “(1) Operation of a hockey league and entertainment services through participation in professional and amateur ice hockey contests, and promotion and benefit thereof…”
Hmmm. Professional and amateur ice hockey contests? Not exactly sure what that means, but you’d have to think the word professional gives you an idea of what the CHL thinks of its players. I mean, the word is right there, isn’t it? Professionals are not amateurs.
Another area that would go a long way to making a distinction would be whether or not the players receive earning statements such as T4 slips. Well, there’s where the picture gets murky. It seems players did receive them in the past, but in the past few years the standard player contract has been altered to reflect that players are being “reimbursed” or paid an “allowance” to offset their expenses of playing junior hockey. But according to one agent who is also a lawyer, the semantics might not matter.
“This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised,” said Anton Thun, who has represented OHL players for about 25 years. “The definition is something that is relevant, but I would say it would go by however it would be defined by the Employee Standards Act. And part of the problem is, the employment laws might be different if you play for the Erie Otters or the Flint Firebirds than they would be if you play in Ontario.”
The good thing is, there’s only two more weeks of sleeps before we might start getting some answers to these questions.
The trade deadline is only five weeks away and with the Blues and Lightning both struggling, they could be in the market to make some major trades. Perhaps, even with each other.
With the NHL's March 1 trade deadline nearly five weeks away, several notable pending unrestricted free agents are garnering considerable attention in the rumor mill. At this point, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop top the list of potential trade candidates.
According to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, things are quiet on the Bishop trade front. He thinks the 30-year-old netminder could finish the season with the Lightning. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a swap of Bishop for Shattenkirk.
Some of the stars mentioned as possible trade fodder still have term left on their contracts. For the last several weeks, Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog were frequent subjects of conjecture among NHL insiders.
Duchene, 26, carries a $6-million annual cap hit through 2018-19. The 24-year-old Landeskog's is $5.5 million through 2020-21.
Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has also been the subject of media trade talk. The 32-year-old is signed through 2018-19 at an annual salary-cap hit of $5.75 million. Because the Penguins want to protect Matt Murray in the June expansion draft, it's assumed they'll try to move Fleury at the trade deadline.
Having such noteworthy talent frequently mentioned as possible trade candidates provides some spice to a stagnant season for player movement. It remains to be seen, however, if any of those stars end up with new teams by the trade deadline. There are plenty of variables that must be addressed.
Until a week ago, the possibility of Shattenkirk being traded seemed absurd. The Blues were comfortably entrenched among the Western Conference playoff clubs. Despite his UFA status in July, it appeared they would retain him for the post-season.
However, the combination of Jake Allen's struggles in goal and a lack of skilled depth at center have the Blues in danger of tumbling out of playoff contention. That set tongues wagging that perhaps Shattenkirk could be in play.
Some pundits envision Shattenkirk being dealt as a rental player to a playoff contender so as to free up salary-cap space for a deal with another team for a goalie or center. Others speculate he could be moved in a one-for-one swap.
Bishop and Fleury should be attractive trade options for clubs seeking experienced goaltending help. But among the playoff contenders, only the Blues, Dallas Stars and perhaps the Calgary Flames could be considered possible landing spots.
Given Bishop's UFA status, clubs with interest in him won't be willing to part with very much. With the Lightning now at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and their playoff hopes fading, they could prefer a return that provides immediate help. Offering up a draft pick and a prospect won't do.
Bishop carries a no-movement clause, but he reportedly considered waiving it last summer to join the Flames. That deal feel through, but it does suggests he won't stand in the way of a deal to a club he deems acceptable.
As for Fleury, he could prove a worthwhile insurance policy this season for the Penguins. Murray's recent injury history could be a concern. They could decide to retain Fleury for the remainder of the season and worry about moving him once the playoffs are over.
Fleury's modified no-trade clause could also make it difficult for the Penguins to move him. If they can't find any trade partners before the June 17 due date for submitting their expansion draft protection list, they could buy out the remainder of his contract.
Duchene and Landeskog are younger assets who could prove attractive for clubs in need of scoring depth. The Avs' reportedly high asking price for both players, however, will complicate things.
While the Avalanche require a much-needed rebuild, Terry Frei of the Denver Postbelieves GM Joe Sakic shouldn't settle for lesser offers near the trade deadline simply for the sake of making a trade.
Duchene or Landeskog could be dealt before the deadline. However, the assumption of the punditry is Sakic could wait until this summer in hopes of finding better offers.
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.).