Here’s what we know about veteran tough guy Chris Neil.
He won’t be back in Ottawa, the city where he’s spent his entire 15-year career. But he does want to keep playing. What’s more, he’s not ready to accept a two-way deal or training camp PTO, because offers for a one-way deal have already come in.
“The offers I’ve had so far haven’t been [two way or PTO]. They’ve been a one-way deal,” the 37-year-old forward said, per the Ottawa Sun. “For me, that’s what I’d be looking for.
“It’s up in the air right now. There’s some interest. There’s some teams you’d prefer over others.”
Neil was informed by the Sens last month that he wouldn’t be brought back next season, which marked the end of an era. Ottawa took Neil in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, and he made his NHL debut three years later. He went on to become one of the club’s most recognizable players, in large part to his pugilistic ways — during the 2003-04 campaign, he fought a remarkable 24 times.
That trademark toughness could be something teams are interested in bringing aboard. There were rumblings St. Louis was eyeing him after trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, with Fox Sports Midwest reporting that Neil had three offers on the table.
If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that Neil believes he can still play. After learning that he wouldn’t be brought back to the Canadian capital, he had some choice words for Sens head coach Guy Boucher and the perceived lack of opportunity Boucher afforded him.
“I have a lot of respect for Randy [Lee, Sens assistant GM] and Pierre [Dorion, GM] … I think, if it was up to them, I’d be back,” Neil explained, per the Citizen. “But they kind of put it in the coach’s hands and that had a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, Guy [Boucher] never really gave me the chance to show I can play.
“Even before I got hurt, I was a healthy scratch for a couple of games and I saw the writing on the wall.”
For Reilly Smith, the anticipation of playing for Las Vegas next season goes beyond playing for the league’s newest team.
It’s also about playing for his old coach, Gerard Gallant.
“I think he kind of embodies the motto that it’s a players-first league and everything kind of revolves around that,” Smith said, per the Golden Knights website. “I know particularly last year in the Florida Panthers organization, there was a lot of change and things going on and I know one of the main messages that he always put forth was that whatever goes on outside, make sure you guys are a tight-knit group inside and play for each other.
“That was one thing that he definitely tried to convey to the team and try to get us to rally behind.”
Smith’s time in Florida was a two-part tale.
After coming over from Boston as part of the Jimmy Hayes swap — Marc Savard’s contract was also shipped to Florida — Smith had a terrific ’15-16 campaign under Gallant, posting career highs in goals (25) while helping the Panthers qualify for the playoffs.
In the postseason, he was a consistent scoring threat, finishing the series with four goals and eight points in six games.
Year two wasn’t nearly as successful.
Gallant was fired early on — controversially so — and Smith’s production dropped off. He ended with just 15 goals and 37 points, disappointing figures that were exacerbated by the big five-year, $25 million extension he signed in the offseason.
Reading between the lines, fair to suggest Smith struggled with the coaching change from Gallant to Tom Rowe. Things came to a head in early March, when Rowe called out Smith following a loss to Dallas.
On the Stars’ first goal, Smith seemed to lose his man in front of the net. Rowe was asked about it, and responded.
“We went over that exact play in team meeting and we haven’t learned our lesson yet,” he said. “That is the problem.”
Rowe wasn’t done there. Later, he was asked about Dallas’ winning goal, which may have been deflected in off a skate. The criticism went back to Smith.
“I don’t know,” said Rowe. “All I know is Reilly Smith was blowing the zone doing exactly what he is not supposed to be doing.”
Smith will certainly be a guy to watch this season. He’s still only 26 years old, looking for a bounce back, and noted that Gallant gave him the opportunity to play a larger role than he had with the Bruins (and, prior to that, the Stars).
One wonders if that’ll happen again, this time in Vegas.
The Montreal Canadiens’ defense looks a lot different than it did two years ago.
For the second offseason in a row, the Canadiens have walked away from a seemingly important puck-moving defenseman. Last summer, they traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, and yesterday they announced that they were parting ways with Andrei Markov.
Markov and Subban played a lot of minutes together during their time time in Montreal. The two even became good friends (Subban attended Markov’s wedding earlier this month).
Needless to say, when Subban found out that Markov wasn’t going to be returning to the Canadiens, he was pretty surprised.
“I can’t really envision the Montreal Canadiens without Andrei Markov on the blue line. That’s No. 1. Even before I played for the team, I watched him play for the team and be their best defenseman,” The Preds defenseman told NHL.com’s Arpon Basu. “Even while I was there, I still thought he was our best defenseman, even though a lot of people thought because of what I got paid it was me. You can’t really put a price tag on how he plays because he’s so smart, the way he sees the ice.”
With those two players no longer on the team, it’ll be interesting to see who moves the puck for the Habs. Shea Weber is still playing at a high level, but carrying the puck up the ice isn’t his strongest attribute.
Is there another move on the horizon?
Well, Montreal has a huge hole on the left side of their defense and they have over $8 million in cap space. Maybe there is something brewing.
–The Vegas Golden Knights added a number of quality prospects this offseason, but their knowledge of (questionable) ’90s songs is underwhelming. They had a hard time differentiating between Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. Nick Suzuki is the prospect pictured at the top of the page. (Sportsnet)
–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” preview. This time, they analyze what the Columbus Blue Jackets will look like in three years from now. That top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is gonna be pretty tough to play against, but goaltending is clearly a question mark. (The Hockey News)
–If you’re not following Canucks defenseman Michael Del Zotto on Instagram, you’re missing out. His page is pretty interesting. There’s a picture of him filming a movie, another photo of him holding a baby lion and he has an action shot of him DJing an event. (NHL.com/Canucks)
–The Score is revisiting a number of key moments from the 1992-93 season, including Teemu Selanne’s incredible rookie numbers. James Bisson writes: “The electrifying winger known as the Finnish Flash put together the most incredible rookie season in NHL history, racking up 76 goals and 132 points to establish a pair of records that haven’t been challenged since. In fact, no first-year player has even come within 20 goals of Selanne’s mark – making it one of the most incontestable records in league annals.” (The Score)
—Johnny Gaudreau is giving back to the community that helped him develop into the hockey player he has become today. Later today, he’ll be hosting a golf tournament to raise money for the Gloucester Catholic School in Jersey. “We made it possible for Johnny and his family to come to Gloucester Catholic and they wanted to give something back so we decided to have this golf tournament and all proceeds go to Gloucester Catholic financial aid/scholarship fund. Last year was the first year and it was very successful. Last year we cleared $55,000 and we hope to do better this year through sponsors and participants.” (Courier-Post)
—Patrick Marleau may have spent many years in San Jose, but now that he signed with the Maple Leafs, it’s time for him and his family to move on. Here they are in Maple Leafs jerseys (his wife admitted she shed a tear when they got dressed up in Toronto blue):