Nichols: Mitchell symptom-free

June 22, 2010, 5:22 PM

Willie Mitchell vows to play hockey next season and the 33-year old defenceman told The Vancouver Sun he is finally symptom-free after suffering a concussion on January 16th. He has resumed strenuous training.

“I’ve got a big part of my life back,” Mitchell said. “I have no uncertainty; I want to play hockey. It took a little longer than I expected [to recover], but I’m looking forward to next season. I’m really excited. I feel normal again.”

Mitchell has little direct fantasy value, but he is an important cog in protecting his goalie’s stats. He has apparently been weight training and bike riding for about two weeks. The tricky part is that he doesn’t plan to skate until mid-July and free agency obviously opens July 1st.

“I think he’d need to get back on the ice first,” Canucks GM Mike Gillis told The Sun. “When that occurs, we’d like to bring him in and do some testing.

“We want to see him get healthy, No. 1. If there is a deal available to do, for sure we’d like him back. There are multiple things you can do [contractually].”

The article notes that the team is in no position to wait for Mitchell and will aggressively be courting at least one top-four defenceman. By the time Mitchell skates in Vancouver, the money required to sign him may already be spent.

SOURAY TO SENS?
It’s not a surprise for Ottawa-area fans, but Senators GM Bryan Murray confirmed Monday to The Sun that discussions have stalled with Anton Volchenkov’s agent and the shot-blocking defenceman will likely become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

He’s believed to be looking for $4.5-$5M and the Sens will likely try to deal his negotiating rights at the draft this weekend.

“I’ve talked to his agent several times. I believe he’s going to go to the market. That’s the impression I got,” said Murray.

The Sun indicates that if Volchenkov leaves, Murray said he will try to get a more mobile defenceman as a replacement and it’s believed the club has mild interest in Edmonton blueliner Sheldon Souray. The Ottawa Citizen also touched on this topic today with another quote from Murray.

“I’m a little bit handcuffed at the moment, simply because of the uncertainty on defence,” he said. “Our priority has to be a defenceman at this moment, whether it’s Anton or somebody else, that will eat up some money. So I sort of have to play through the draft weekend, in all likelihood, to see what happens. But I’ve been told very clearly that both Matt and Andy would love to come back to Ottawa.”

Souray will be counting a $5.4M cap hit on the last two seasons ($4.5M in actual salary per year) of his current deal and his booming point shot could benefit many teams, including Ottawa. Injury concerns and defensive lapses are generally the arguments against bringing him on board any team.

Veteran Filip Kuba and burgeoning star Erik Karlsson are the best offensive options for this team on the back end right now.

NIEDS’ DECISION
The Orange County Register reports that Scott Niedermayer spoke with Ducks GM Bob Murray on Monday evening and it’s expected that he’ll formally announce whether he will come back for a 19th NHL season or retire within the next couple of days.

His decision will then no doubt have a direct impact on what both Teemu Selanne and then Saku Koivu decide to do. Selanne seems more likely to retire sans Niedermayer, while Koivu would be unlikely to return to Anaheim with both Selanne and Nieds out of the picture.

COOKE’S NEW DEAL
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes that “C” is for contract, and the Cookie Monster is staying in Pittsburgh.

Left wing Matt Cooke has reached a verbal agreement on a three-year contract with the Penguins. Term was agreed upon Monday night and the contract has been sent to NHL central registry to be made official. Cooke, who earned $1.2M each of the last two seasons, will count $1.8M against the salary cap each of the years on his new contract.

All things considered, that’s not too bad of a price. Cooke will now be able to stay in Pittsburgh and maintain his L3 agitator’s role beside Jordan Staal, which Cooke does so well, while also potentially having a few more cracks at another Stanley Cup ring. He could have likely earned more money with a new deal from another club.

Cooke doesn’t have a whole lot of fantasy value, but he’ll likely be worth adding when the Pens and Bruins meet up next season for some more post-Savard hit ill will.

RYAN CONCERNED ABOUT CONTRACT
The OCR also indicates that RFA-to-be winger Bobby Ryan admitted he’s concerned about the lack of progress in contract negotiations with the Ducks but he stopped well short of saying that he is angered by the situation.

Ryan said he hasn’t heard an update on talks from his Toronto-based agents Don Meehan and Mark Guy of Newport Sports Management. “I haven’t heard a single peep,” the winger said by phone on Saturday.

Ryan did express that he hopes to get a deal done by July 1.

“I’m not frustrated to say the least,” he said. “I’m just kind of worried. I don’t want to force their hand and I don’t want them to force mine. I want to get it closed out before hand. There hasn’t been anything that’s gone in the right direction. But there’s no hostility from everyone or anything.”

Ryan made it clear to the OCR that he isn’t seeking to become the Ducks’ highest-paid forward. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both on five-year contract extensions with identical salary cap hits worth $5.325M.

“Not even close,” Ryan said of seeking comparable or better salaries. “I completely understand that nobody makes more than Getzlaf and Perry. I have no problem with that. I never expected that. I know those are the two guys and we build from there.

“I also feel like in the past couple of years, I played in a position where I can be mentioned among them.”

Ryan,23 , finished third in team points (35-29-64) this season and he easily led the team in goals. Perry had 27, while Selanne had the same total in his 54 GP. Ryan’s fantasy value really took off in ’09-10, with his PIM total rising to 81 (from 33 in 64 GP in ’08-9) and his SOG results swelling to 258 (from 174). He also saw his ice time increased from 15:26 in ’08-9 to 18:29 this last year.

In short, Ryan is clearly developing into the valuable power forward he was projected to become when he was drafted second overall in 2005. He isn’t necessarily a star yet, but he’s highly likely on his way to becoming one and then some. As such, the Ducks need to tread carefully because if this contract situation drags out beyond July 1st then they’d find themselves in offer sheet territory from other teams.

The OCR indicates that the club does have the cap space this time around to match an offer sheet, which Ryan acknowledged that he may need to look at if an agreement isn’t reached.

“I would have to if nothing happens,” he said. “First and foremost, I definitely would like to have it settled before then. But you have to take care of yourself.”

The article also notes that the Ducks have stated that they have no intention of trading Ryan. The winger is well aware of the speculation that he could be dealt away, whether it’s to places like Toronto (where ex-Ducks and current Toronto GM Brian Burke resides) or Philadelphia (near his hometown).

“I know the Toronto for one is whatever reason people say because of the Burke connection,” Ryan said. “I’d be very surprised if I were moved before I signed or before July 1. I just work out and I try to enjoy Southern California.

“If I were traded, I know there’s places I’d like to go and places I wouldn’t like to go. That’s something that still out of my hands. But if someone e-mails me another Toronto article, I’m going to lose it.”

FLEISCHMANN CONTRACT TALKS
According to The Washington Post, the agent for pending RFA Tomas Fleischmann (who has been qualified by the team) said he’s been engaged in negotiations on a potential multi-year deal with the Caps but that the sides are “not close”. If a deal can’t be reached, Fleischmann will use arbitration to make sure he’s locked in for next season with the Caps.

I’ve made this analogy in the blog before, but Fleischmann was kind of like duct tape for the Caps in ’09-10. Wherever the team seemed to break, Bruce Boudreau was able to put Fleischmann in that role and he generally did fairly well to stem the tide. He absolutely had his share of struggles too, but considering how he was jockeyed around from the wing to centre on any one of the top three lines he still produced decent results (23-28-51 in 69 GP). He was also a regular on the first power play unit with the big boys for much of the season.

“In my mind, he was one of their top guys when [Alex Ovechkin] was out [hurt],” agent Rich Evans told The Post. “But coming in without a summer of training is going to impact you negatively at some point. He didn’t have a break at the Olympics, either.”

Evans believes Fleischmann, given the time to learn the intricacies of playing centre, could be the second-line pivot the Caps covet.

“It will be interesting to see what the Caps do with Flash next year,” Evans said. “When he was scoring all those goals he was playing centre. They may have their second line centre right there. …If they leave him at centre and give him a couple of wingers, he’ll adjust to those guys and he’ll figure it out. He’s got the right skillset to do it. It’s just a question of getting some experience.”

Marcus Johansson, who was signed to his entry level deal last month at the same time that Nicklas Backstrom inked his 10-year contract, is more likely this team’s longer-term answer to the L2 pivot slot question. Fleischmann’s age and experience give him the edge for now though, barring another inexpensive veteran signing this summer. Fleischmann’s versatility at wing and centre will make him a pretty good in-season add for most fantasy formats though, especially if he continues to log a lot of power play minutes.

EXTENDED QUOTABLE
Tyler Myers, via the Buffalo News, reflecting on his impressive rookie campaign that saw him post 11-37-48 in a full 82-game campaign. The rookie defenceman also easily led his team in ice time (23:44 compared with the next-nearest, Henrik Tallinder, at 20:37).

On having time to reflect on the whirlwind that was his jump from junior to the NHL: “It was a long season,” Myers said by phone. “I had a lot of fun with it. It was definitely an adjustment. I think when the season ended I took a little time to actually start to realize what actually just happened, and it was definitely a year I won’t forget.”

On potentially winning the Calder Trophy: “It would mean a whole lot,” Myers said. “Just to be nominated, it’s a great honour. Obviously, it’d be really great to win it, but at the same time I’m not too worried about the outcome. I’m happy to be there, and I’m just going to enjoy the experience.”

On only two defencemen (Barret Jackman in 2003 and Bryan Berard in 1997) having won the Calder in the past 19 seasons: “As far as not as many defencemen winning, I couldn’t really tell you why,” Myers said. “This year I tried to have the best year I could and it’s pretty cool to be put in a position that I’m in with the other two guys, able to go to Vegas for my first time.”

BRUINS IN ON HORTON?
The Boston Herald notes that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has four picks among the first 45 selections in this weekend’s draft and he has the opportunity not only to fortify the future, but also do some wheeling and dealing to get his stuck-in-the-second-round club over the hump.

“We want to improve our team now and in the long term,” Chiarelli said on a conference call yesterday. “If we do make a deal with one of these picks, not our top pick (No. 2 overall), we’re going to make sure we end up with a good player.”

The article says according to one source, the B’s are one of several teams involved in trade talks with Florida for Nathan Horton. But with Horton scheduled to pull down $4M for the next three seasons, the B’s would need to dump significant salary.

No matter what, it looks like this could be an interesting weekend for hockey fans looking for trades.

“I think you’re going to see more deals than usual for the reason that the free agent market is relatively thin,” Chiarelli told The Herald. “I’ve just noticed that there’s significantly more talk last week than I’m used to in my years in management. There’s just more activity and you saw a couple of deals on the weekend and I think you’ll see more.

“It may not be the blockbuster draft day deals, but I think you’ll see more deals this week.”

There was also a quick note on UFAs-to-be Johnny Boychuk and winger Mark Recchi.

“I’m making some progress with some of them, whether it’s imminent I can’t really say,” Chiarelli said. “But we’ve had continued talks with a few of them. You may see a deal this week, you may not. I can’t say that they’re imminent, but we’ve made progress.”

QUOTABLE
“I’m really excited,” New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur told Fire & Ice about the hiring of John MacLean as head coach. “I think it’s long overdue for him to get the job. He paid his dues as an assistant coach and almost an associate coach when Lou was coaching (in 2005-06 and 2006-07). He went to the minors and put his head down and paid his dues.

“Like other guys said, whenever players were called up from [Lowell] they always had good things to say about him as the head coach. And he the guys that came up were always ready to play. “It’s also great that Larry (Robinson) is coming back (as an assistant coach).”

Brodeur also was happy when he heard about the trade for Arnott.

“That put a big smile on my face,” he said. “I get along really well with him. He was one of my good friends when he was here and it’s going to be good to see him and his family back here.”

MODANO ON THE MOVE?
The Dallas Morning News reports that veteran centre and soon-to-be UFA Mike Modano, who is 75% sure he wants to play another season, said Monday he is open to the idea of playing for another team and will study that option when free agency begins July 1. He said he has not been told by Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk that there is not a place for him in Dallas, “but that’s just the vibe I’m feeling.”

Modano isn’t much of a fantasy option anymore (14-16-30 in 59 GP in what was generally an L3/L4 role), but he’s still a class act it would be a big deal if he switched franchises at this point. He was drafted first overall by Minnesota in 1988 and has played for the North Stars/ Stars ever since. A move is at least a possibility though.

“I’m definitely to the point where I am considering it,” said Modano, who turned 40 on June 7, told the DMN. “I think I had a taste of it last year at the trade deadline and now this would be another chance to at least look at it.”

The articles notes that Modano could have been dealt to three different teams at last year’s deadline, including Washington, but he wanted to help his Stars try to make that last playoff push. He said familiarity with any organization would be key.

“I want it to mean something if I play for another team,” Modano said. “I want to be comfortable with the coaches or the players and I want to know that I have a role there. Those are things I would definitely ask about.”

It’s also possible that staying with the Stars in a management role might be the best option, were it available.

“There is so much up in the air that I just want to have some options and know where I’m going and what I’m going to do,” he said. “There is a big part of me that still wants to play, but I could also see that if I had an important role with this team, then I might just retire. I think I’ll have a much better idea of what I might do by July 10.”

QUOTABLE
“I just had two-hour conference call with all the pro scouts and (assistant general manager ) Paul Fenton,” Nashville GM David Poile told The Nashville Tennessean.

“Now that we’ve made this trade with (Jason Arnott), we’re looking at our forwards and seeing who’s available either at a wing or centre position that we could acquire. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. But we’re certainly looking into it and I’m going to sit down with the coaches when we get out to L.A., get their thoughts on where we are with our forwards and see if we can put our heads together and can come up with — maybe through trade or (free agency ) — another forward.”

ST. LOUIS GOALIE PROSPECTS
The Blues have gone from having no clear, long-term number one goalie to potentially having a really good one after trading for Jaroslav Halak. But how will this deal impact netminding prospects Ben Bishop and Jake Allen? Developmentally, the Post-Dispatch reports that it won’t.

“Nothing changes,” Davidson said. “We want Ben and Jake to really develop. There are two jobs down the road. Plus, it’s like the old days with the different contracts … it can change in a hurry.

“If they don’t play for one team, they can play for another team. Look at what happened to (Carey) Price and Halak — one of them got moved. It’s in our best interest that these guys improve and become No. 1, and it’s in their best interest to improve, too.”

Fantasy leaguers in deep keeper leagues with farm teams should absolutely take the same approach when it comes to developing their own talent. Trades and contract situations can change things in the drop of a hat, so trying to pick the best prospects vs. any given organization’s depth chart is never a bad strategy. You just don’t know what’ll happen within any franchise a few years down the line.

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