So here we are, less than two weeks from the opening of NHL training camp and a few key restricted free agent’s still haven’t re-signed with their teams. Top of that list is clearly Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi mentioned last week that the two sides were communicating after not talking for a month this summer and the Kings had submitted a number of different choices for contract length to Doughty’s camp which he is said to be still considering.
Helene Elliot of the LA Times puts the numbers between six and eight years, which would mean the Kings would be buying up between four to six unrestricted free agent years. I’d put the price tag in the neighbourhood of $7.5 million AAV.
Brad Marchand of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins is proving to be a tricky signing for B’s GM Peter Chiarelli which speaks to the nature of players coming off their entry-level deals after only putting up good numbers in the final year of it. And in Marchand’s case, mainly in the playoffs (not to discount the 21 he had in the regular season) where his 11 goals turned heads around the NHL.
As I've mentioned before, I never thought for a second that players like Doughty or Steven Stamkos would get offer sheeted since there was zero chance their teams wouldn't match but the offer sheet's biggest value is for players…er...targets like Marchand, whose value is tough to pin down.
Leafs blueliner Luke Schenn had the proverbial breakthough NHL season last year and now he's coming off his rookie deal. Schenn averaged over 20 minutes a game, led the league in hits by a defenseman with 251 and put up 22 points. He's the future of the Leafs blueline and the team's most consistent player on the backend. This deal will get done before camp with the compensation probably coming in at around $4 million but don't expect the term to have much length. Leafs GM Brian Burke doesn't do deals of that nature so I don't expect to see many, if any, UFA years.
Zach Bogosian of the Winnipeg Jets was rumoured in trade talks all last season, and through the summer as well, but there's a very good reason why the franchise never pulled the trigger: He could turn into one of the biggest studs in the league. Many thought Bogosian would have distinguished himself as the cornerstone on the blueline of this franchise by now but we're still dealing with 'potential' as opposed to 'actual' with the hulking blueliner. Many still believe he'll anchor the rearguard of this team for years to come but he hasn't displayed in on a consistent basis -- yet. Bogosian showed the ability to take over games in junior (Peterborough Petes), destroying guys with big hits and leading his team. The Jets would like to see more of that now that Bogosian has close to 200 NHL games under his belt. That's what makes this deal tricky.
In case you missed it over the weekend Jay Pandolfo will attend New York Islanders training camp on a tryout basis. Pandolfo, who is still being paid by the New Jersey Devils on a buyout to the tune of $833,333, said over the weekend if it doesn't work out this time around with an NHL team he's done. Pandolfo played 12 games for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL last season.
Got my first hockey fix of the season Saturday afternoon in Guelph taking in the OHL's Storm facing off against the Mississauga St Michael's Majors.
Yup, preseason junior hockey, I love it.
Plus, I wanted to be there for the coaching debut of someone who is not only a colleague but someone I also consider a valued friend, Brad May. May's the assistant coach of the Majors and Saturday made it official. Now, I think May could have a long and accomplished broadcasting career in both TV and radio, he could also turn out to be the worlds greatest real estate agent if he put his mind to it but it just seemed to fit seeing him behind the bench working with the kids on Saturday afternoon. Like he was born to do it. One game down, many more to come, I'm sure. Congrats Bradley.
Even though I gave up cheering for teams years ago, Guelph has always kinda' been close to my heart. I went to university there in the early '90s when the Storm boasted a team that featured players like Jeff O'Neill, Jeff Bes, Todd Bertuzzi, Alek Stojanov, Chris Hajt, Mark McArthur, Rumun Ndur, Ryan VandenBussche, Sylvain Cloutier, Ken Belanger and Aaron Downey. It was high-end skill mixed with toughness and I seldom missed a game.
I try to make as many trips to the Sleeman Centre as I can and even though it's not the same rink I went to in my university days, in fact it's plunked down at the end of a shopping mall, I still get that same feeling I did going to games 20 years ago. It's Guelph. It's hockey. The two go hand-to-glove with me.
Although it was an exhibition game, a couple of players on the Storm caught my eye.
Andrey Pedan is a Russian defenseman who was picked up in the third round by the New York Islanders in last year's NHL Entry Draft and is looking like another outstanding selection by Garth Snow and company. He was the top player in the game, hands down. Controlling the play, anchoring Guelph's power play while moving well up and down the ice -- look for Pedan to have a breakthrough junior year this season.
Even though I thought Pedan was the best player on the ice on either side I kept coming back to watching a rookie who was playing in his first OHL game, Ben Harpur. The Niagara-on-the-Lake-native is not draft eligible until 2013. Remember the name. If you get out to a Storm game this year you can't miss him, he's the huge 6'5 guy on the backend. Speculation is, when he fills out, Harpur will come in somewhere around 6'6, 230 (right now he's hovering around 185) and is already drawing comparisons to Chris Pronger. And not just because of the size but also because he's an above-average skater (his midget coach in Niagara Falls Rick Ferroni has a reputation of putting a sharp focus on skating with all his kids and Harpur is proof). Harpur has the mobility of a much smaller player who has a nasty streak as well. He played forward his entire life (right wing specifically) and didn't take a shift on the blueline until last December but took to the position effortlessly. Come to think of it, given that fact perhaps comparisons to Brent Burns may be better than Pronger?
Look, I'm no scout (I don't have enough black in my wardrobe for that gig) but this player really impressed me and knowing the Storm organization, they'll do the right thing and bring him along slowly.
Today in Hockey History
1941: Dave Dryden born in Hamilton, Ontario. Quick: who did Wayne Gretzky score his first professional goal against as a member of the WHA's Indianapolis Racers?
1950: Jack Adams, Cy Denneny and Tiny Thompson were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Let's focus on Denneny here for a second. You know your entire life how people have told you that Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were the first to curve the blades on their sticks to increase the velocity of their shots. Folks, you were lied to. It's one of hockey most enduring myths but let try once again to put it to bed. Denneny was a star left-winger in both the NHA and NHL was the first player use a curved blade who in the '20s. He'd soak them in water and then twist the blades to his exact specifications, which produced one of the best shots the game had ever seen to that point. In fact, some goalers (more on that later) reported that Denneny's shot would not only curve as it approached the net about also drop before it got there. He was like a baseball pitcher with great junk.
1955: Stan Jonathan born in Oshweken, ON. We all know the story of the 1979 Stanley Cup semi-final series between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens where the B's finally had the Habs against the wall with a third period lead in Game 7. Well, until the most-famous too-many-men call led to a Guy Lafleur game-tying goal and an Yvon Lambert OT winner for Montreal. To this day former Bruins head coach Don Cherry refuses to publically name who the player who botched the change but it was Stan Jonathan.
1958: Don Maloney born in Lindsay, ON. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it bears noting that the Maloney family lost a loved one on that day. Don's brother-in-law, Thomas Palazzo, was one of 684 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed when United Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Centre at 9:03am.
1997: The Florida Panthers sign free agent Esa Tikkanen. "The Grate One". Did you know that Tikkanen worked as a stick boy for Team Canada in 1982 at the World Championships? It's true, they were held in his hometown of Helsinki.
1999: Phoenix signs free agent goaler Bob Essensa. First off, I love referring to 'tenders using the old vernacular. I've been trying to figure out when it switched from 'goalers' to 'goalies' because I have a huge box of old Hockey News magazines and right up into the 1970's goaltenders were referred to s 'goalers'. Now only Cliff Fletchers call them that. I feel a new crusade. Join me, won't you? Essensa, right. When he took the Jets to arbitration in 1992 he won an award of $1.25 million, which at that point was the largest ruling in the history of the league.