National Hockey League
ANAHEIM DUCKS-Assigned D Brett Festerling to Iowa (AHL).
WASHINGTON CAPITALS-Recalled D Brian Pothier and G Simeon Varlamov from Hershey (AHL). Assigned G Michal Neuvirth to Hershey.
National Hockey League
ANAHEIM DUCKS-Assigned D Brett Festerling to Iowa (AHL).
WASHINGTON CAPITALS-Recalled D Brian Pothier and G Simeon Varlamov from Hershey (AHL). Assigned G Michal Neuvirth to Hershey.
A salary cap league means getting bang for your buck is imperative, and these five players have been the best low-risk, high-reward pick ups of the off-season through the campaign’s first two months.
Sam Gagner has embodied the very definition of a low-risk, potentially high-reward off-season signing.
Having come off the worst year of his career, Gagner was looking for the opportunity to prove he still had something left in the tank. At 26, Gagner had just finished one of the most disappointing seasons he’s had to battle through. He managed just eight goals and 16 points with the Flyers, had been sent down to the minors during the campaign and the one time Edmonton Oilers first-liner had turned into a seldom-used bottom-six utility player in Philadelphia.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team who finally stepped up and inked Gagner, signing him to a one-year, $650,000 deal. It was a cheap signing and one that had little chance of blowing up in Columbus’ face. If it backfired, the Blue Jackets could simply shuffle Gagner to the minors and forget the whole thing.
The good thing is that the Gagner signing has been far from a disaster. Through 20 games, Gagner has eight goals and 13 points, he’s providing a bottom-six offensive punch and he’s been a good hand on the power play. And with a cap hit that’s not breaking the bank on a team that’s right up against the upper limit, that’s a useful kind of player to have.
Gagner doesn’t top the list of the most cost-effective off-season signings, though. Here are the five unrestricted free agents who have provided the most offense on a budget:
(Note: The players listed below have to have at least 10 points. Additionally, all players have to be in new locales. Matt Cullen, for instance, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins and has 10 points in 23 games at a $1-million salary. You won’t find him, or any other re-signees, on this list. All cap figures via CapFriendly.)
5. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers — Cost per point: $103,125
The only player who’s really tipping the scales in terms of annual salary on this list is Grabner, but he’s making his $1.65-million cap hit seem like a song for the Blueshirts. They just hope he can keep it up.
The 29-year-old has had a hot start and an unexpected hat trick is to thank for his big numbers. He opened the season with two goals in three games, went quiet for five games and then put up three on the Lightning on Oct. 30. He’s actually stayed pretty consistent since then, but he’s currently riding a five-game pointless drought.
His 12 goals are already the most he’s scored since 2013-14, and with 16 points, he’s only 11 shy of posting his best season in the past five seasons.
4. Radim Vrbata, Arizona Coyotes — Cost per point: $66,667
As far as cost per point goes, this is about as technical a case as it gets. As of right now, Vrbata’s cost the Coyotes next to nothing, but in the (albeit unlikely) scenario he doesn’t register another point in his next nine games, his cost per point is going to jump by 50 percent.
Vrbata signed a one-year, $1-million deal in Arizona, but it’s bonus-laden. He gets an additional $500,000 after 30 games, another $500,000 if he hits either the 20-goal or 40-point plateau and there’s an additional $1.25-million tied to playoff bonuses, though it seems rather unlikely he’ll be hitting many, or any, of those.
There’s something about Vrbata and the Coyotes, though. It’s uncanny. He’s always played his best hockey in Arizona, and his eight goals and 15 points in 21 games have him on pace to more than double his output from 2015-16.
3. Rene Bourque, Colorado Avalanche — Cost per point: $65,000
No one will forget where they were during the great Rene Bourque sweepstakes of 2016. The hockey world waited anxiously to learn where the 34-year-old would sign, in hopes that he could bring a boost and Stanley Cup dreams to…Who are we kidding? No one would have predicted this.
On a roster with players such as Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and intriguing rookie Mikko Rantanen, it’s Bourque, with eight tallies in 19 games, who leads the Avalanche in goals. That’s already good for the second-best goal scoring season he’s had since 2011-12.
His signing in Colorado was seen as the Avalanche taking a flyer on a veteran who could potentially have some scoring punch in him, with hopes he could recapture the three-straight 20-goal years from his days as a Calgary Flame. The one-year, $650,000 deal is looking pretty good so far with Bourque third on the team with 10 points.
2. Sam Gagner, Columbus Blue Jackets — Cost per point: $50,000
Gagner’s season is one to watch for reasons beyond the fact that he’s coming off of a terrible year, because not only has he found his game again in Columbus, he’s done so at a rate that could potentially make this the best campaign of his career.
The best season of Gagner’s career remains his rookie year, when he potted 13 goals and 49 points in 2007-08. That was good enough to earn him a handful of votes and finish seventh in Calder Trophy voting. His next best year was his lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, as he scored 14 goals and 38 points in 48 games, good for .79 points per game.
Gagner isn’t in line to bust that points per game pace, but he is staring at potential career highs in goals and points. Right now, he’s on pace to crack the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career and his 52-point clip would signal the highest scoring season of his 10-year career.
1. Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers — Cost per point: $41,667
If you saw this coming, you’re either a liar or a witch.
Over a span of just 23 games, Marchessault is one point shy of doubling his career point total in roughly half the games. He has already scored more goals this season than he did in 45 outings with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2015-16 campaign. Marchessault has been nothing short of outstanding in Florida, and the signing is proving to be a fantastic one by the Panthers.
There’s certainly some reasons for the uptick in scoring, such as injuries allowing him to play more than 18 minutes a night and skate on a line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, but credit where credit is due. Marchessault has been consistent and he’s been effective.
The only thing about this deal that bites is that Marchessault inked a two-year, $1.5-million deal. That means Florida doesn’t have to be in any hurry to re-sign him if he continues to have a big year, and the 25-year-old might have to prove himself again next year in order to get a payday.
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If the Coyotes don't start improving, they could start selling assets like Martin Hanzal, or even youngster Anthony Duclair.
Entering December, the Arizona Coyotes remain mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Their lack of improvement continues to stoke speculation that they could make a move or two.
Much of the talk earlier this season focused upon center Martin Hanzal. The 6-foot-6, 226-pounder is slated for unrestricted free agency next summer, sparking talk the Coyotes could move him if he's unsigned by the March 1 trade deadline.
In recent weeks, however, sophomore right winger Anthony Duclair rose to the fore in Coyotes trade chatter. Nearly two weeks ago, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported the 21 year old could be available, though he expected the Coyotes would seek “a pretty penny” in return.
Duclair enjoyed a 20-goal, 44-point performance as a rookie in 2015-16. This season, however, he's struggled to score, tallying only four points in 21 games.
TSN's Darren Dreger reports the Coyotes aren't shopping Duclair, but are listening to offers. Dreger believes they could move him if they get a significant return, such as a good young center. He also said Duclair's name popped up briefly back in June.
Despite Duclair's struggles this season, it seems unlikely the Coyotes want to move him. Still, it's worthwhile to at least listen to what's being offered by other clubs. Whether one of them is willing to meet the Coyotes' price remains to be seen.
SPOONER'S PLAY MAKES NEW DEAL UNLIKELY
The ongoing struggles of Boston Bruins left winger Ryan Spooner continues to make him a subject of interest in the rumor mill. Earlier this week, the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa suggested the 24-year-old's poor performance this season could hurt his chances of re-signing with the Bruins next summer.
After netting 49 points in 2015-16, Spooner has eight points in 22 games this season. That puts him on pace for only 29 points.
CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty observes Spooner was relegated to fourth-line duty in several recent games. He speculates the young forward's difficulties this season could be tied to playing on the wing, rather than his preferred position at center.
Spooner won't unseat Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci as the Bruins' top-two centers. It's worth noting he played largely on the wing last season, too.
Should Spooner fail to improve, Haggerty wonders if he might become part of a package deal to bring the Bruins a mobile defenseman A rival club could take that gamble on Spooner, but the Bruins could be forced to bundle him with a high draft pick and perhaps a top prospect to land a skilled puck-moving blueliner.
MAPLE LEAFS EXPECTED TO MOVE HOLLAND
Recent Toronto Maple Leafs speculation centers upon which of their young wingers they might trade for a top-pairing defenseman. Meanwhile, they're expected to part ways with center Peter Holland.
The Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby reports Holland's agent, Joe Resnick, said Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello intends to trade his client. Lamoriello also decided the 25 year old wouldn't accompany the club on its current road trip.
TSN's Darren Dreger said there's limited interest in Holland. He also believes the center could be placed on waivers.
Holland spent the past two seasons on the Leafs' checking lines, tallying 25 points in 2014-15 and 27 points last season. At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, he's a big, versatile forward who can skate at center or on the wing. With the Leafs bringing in younger talent this season, Holland's been a healthy scratch for all but eight games.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggests the Arizona Coyotes as a possible destination for Holland. With center Brad Richardson sidelined indefinitely with a broken leg, they're in need of size and experience down the middle.
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 1998 expansion draft results.
Let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts and how they managed to avoid ever actually playing for those teams.
Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have a name, a logo, and a future head coach, everyone is turning their attention to June's expansion draft. Who will the Knights end up with? Matt Murray? Jakob Silfverberg? Trevor van Riemsdyk? Maybe even an established veteran who waives a no-movement clause, like Dion Phaneuf or Rick Nash?
Those are all reasonably big names, and if the Golden Knights wound up picking any of them, you'd think it would make for a memorable moment.
Then again, maybe not. You see, sometimes NHL expansion teams end up taking big name players, and everyone just kind of forgets about it. That's because there's no guarantee that any player taken by an expansion team will ever actually play for that expansion team.
So today, let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts of the past, and how they managed to avoid ever actually suiting up for the fledgling franchises that chose them.
Tim Kerr, 1991
Early NHL expansion drafts of the 60s and 70s were fairly standard. A handful of good players were picked, including names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Bernie Parent. But for the most part, the established teams didn't offer much in the way of talent, and the expansion franchises patched together a team with whatever they could find. That's why most of the early expansion teams were awful.
But by the time the second wave of expansion had hit in the 1990s, the new teams were willing to get a little more creative. Oh, they'd still be awful. But they realized that just because they drafted a player didn't mean they had to keep him, and it became common to see trades worked out as soon as the expansion draft was over (and sometimes even sooner).
Take the 1991 draft, for example. That was the weird expansion/dispersal hybrid that featured the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota North Stars, which we covered in some depth over the summer. The most famous weird pick from that draft was the very last one, in which the North Stars picked quasi-retired Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur because they didn't want any Quebec Nordiques and the rules wouldn't allow them to pass. But another well-known sniper was also taken that day.
That would be Tim Kerr, a four-time 50-goal scorer for the Flyers who'd been slowed down by injuries. By 1991, he hadn't put together a full season in four years. But he was still scoring at well over a point-per-game pace when he did play, and seemed like the sort of guy who could be a good gamble for a contender.
The Sharks weren't a contender, but the Rangers were. And so the Sharks grabbed Kerr off of the Flyer's unprotected list, and then immediately flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for Brian Mullen. It was a smart deal for San Jose; Mullen ended up being their second-leading scorer in their debut season. It worked out worse for the Rangers, as Kerr struggled through another injury-shortened year before being dealt to Hartford.
Daren Puppa, 1993
Here's a fun way to confuse hockey fans of a certain age: Ask them how Daren Puppa ended up with the Lightning back in 1993.
Chances are, they'll tell you some version of the same story: Puppa was splitting time in Buffalo with newcomer Dominik Hasek, then was traded to the Maple Leafs in the big Grant Fuhr/Dave Andreychuk blockbuster. He backed up Felix Potvin in Toronto for their epic playoff run, then went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in that summer's expansion draft.
Just about everyone remembers it that way. But there's a slight problem: The Lightning were already in the league in 1992-93. Their expansion draft had been the year before, when Puppa was still with the Sabres.
That glitch in the matrix can be explained by an oddity of the 1993 expansion draft: There were actually two of them. The first stocked the two new teams, the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The second allowed the three most recent teams, the Sharks, Senators and Lightning, to pick players from those two newcomers.
That's what happened with Puppa. It was actually the Panthers who snagged him from Toronto. Then the Lightning took him off of the Panthers' hands.
Fellow goaltender Glenn Healy followed a similar path, but with an additional stop. He went from the Islanders to the Mighty Ducks to the Lightning over the course of the double draft. But he didn't stop there. The Lightning turned around and flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for a third round pick.
Not too many players get to be the property of four teams within a few hours, but it all worked out well for Healy. He won a Stanley Cup in New York the next year, backing up superstar Mike Richter.
Speaking of whom…
Mike Richter, 1998
As every Rangers fan knows, Richter played his entire 14-year career in New York, debuting in 1989-1990 and sticking with the franchise until 2003. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.
That's why it may come as a surprise to see Richter's name show up as one of the picks in the 1998 expansion draft. But indeed he was, taken by the Predators and becoming an inaugural member of the first NHL team ever put together in Nashville.
For six days. Then he became an unrestricted free agent. Then he re-signed with the Rangers.
That sounds ridiculous, but what the Predators were doing actually made perfect sense. This was back when the NHL had a weird draft pick compensation rule for teams that lost free agents. The Predators knew that Richter would never play for them, but when they technically "lost" him to the Rangers, they got a free draft pick from the league for their troubles. They did the same with another one of their expansion picks, Uwe Krupp.
(By the way, that same rule led to Richter departing New York a second time, this time in a trade to the Oilers in 2002. Once again, he simply re-signed with the Rangers a few days later.)
Mathieu Schneider, 2000
In addition to being a very good defenseman for most of his career, Mathieu Schneider is one of the great "played for everyone" guys of his generation. He had a 20-year career, during which he played for a staggering 10 different teams. He was traded seven times, in deals involving everyone from Kirk Muller to Wendel Clark to Sean Avery. He got around.
So you'd assume that he must have suited up for an expansion team at least once. Nope. But he was drafted by one in 2000, when the Blue Jackets joined the league.
Schneider had finished up the 1999-2000 season with the Rangers, because apparently they need to be involved in every one of these things. He was scheduled to hit UFA status, so you can probably see where this is going. Yes, it's another one of those shady compensation pick deals, in which the Blue Jackets wound up claiming a fourth-rounder in the 2001 draft after Schneider signed with the Kings later that summer.
The Blue Jackets probably didn't mind too much, since Schneider was already 31 at the time and only had a few years left in him. "A few" ended up being a full decade's worth; he played until 2010.
As a side note, the Blue Jackets ended up flipping that fourth-round pick to the Panthers in a deal that brought Ray Whitney to Columbus. So in a sense, Whitney and Schneider were sort of traded for each other. I'm not sure how many trades in NHL history involve two players who could account for 42 seasons and 18 teams, but I'm guessing it's not many.
Mike Vernon, 2000
We'll close with yet another goaltender, since there's something about the position that just seems to attract expansion draft shenanigans. Marc-Andre Fleury, keep your head up.
By the time the 2000 offseason rolled around, Vernon had just about done it all over the course of a long career. He'd won a Cup with two different teams, been a Vezina finalist, won the Jennings and the Conn Smythe, and pummeled Patrick Roy. He had a good run.
The one thing he hadn't done was get picked in an expansion draft. The Minnesota Wild took care of that, plucking him from the Florida Panthers in a move that made everyone go "Wait, Mike Vernon once played for the Florida Panthers?"
He did, for a few games at the end of the 1999-2000 season. But he never played for the Wild. They turned around and traded him that same day, sending him home to Calgary to finish his career. Other familiar names that were picked by the Wild and then immediately traded include Joe Juneau and Chris Terreri.
As for Vernon, he played parts of two more seasons in Calgary before retiring as a Flame in 2002.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Craig Cunningham’s recovery is progressing but “there's a lot more progression and healing to be done,” according to friend and former teammate Milan Lucic, who visited Cunningham recently.
Tucson captain Craig Cunningham has remained in the thoughts of the hockey community since the moment he collapsed on the ice ahead of an AHL contest between the Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose on Nov. 19, but information regarding the health of the 26-year-old has been sparse.
The Arizona Coyotes, the parent club of the Roadrunners, have updated Cunningham’s status from time to time, often saying only that there has been little or no change, which is to say that Cunningham remains in critical but stable condition.
However, a promising update has come along regarding Cunningham from his friend and former teammate, Milan Lucic. The Oilers winger, who played with Cunningham with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and again as a member of the Boston Bruins, said he couldn’t get into too much detail, but offered some positive news.
"The good news is he's progressed a lot from the state he was in last weekend," Lucic said, according to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown. "He's heading in the right direction, but obviously there's a lot more progression and healing to be done.”
Even with the good news, though, Brown reported that Cunningham “has not regained consciousness since collapsing.”
No cause for the collapse has been given by either the Coyotes or Roadrunners, but Tucson GM Doug Soetaert told the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 21 that Cunningham was “critically ill.”
Cunningham was a fourth-round pick, 97th overall, of the Bruins in 2010, and has played 63 NHL games over the past several seasons. He was acquired by the Coyotes via waivers in 2014-15, finishing the season by playing 19 games with the Coyotes and recording one goal and four points. He skated in 10 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16, picking up an assist.
Cunningham was named the captain of the Springfield Falcons, then the Coyotes affiliate, in 2015-16 and had arguably the best AHL season of his career, posting 22 goals and 46 points in 61 games. He held on to the captaincy with the newly minted Roadrunners this season and had four goals and 13 points in 11 games.
The Roadrunners postponed two additional games following Cunningham’s hospitalization, but returned to action this past Saturday.
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