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Beefing up: Senators add Zenon Konopka, Predators sign Zack Stortini

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For better or worse, enforcers aren’t going away anytime soon in the NHL. Sure, a more skill-friendly league is making it tougher for guys who do little beyond serving up hearty knuckle sandwiches, but they keep finding ways to earn paychecks for punching and getting punched.

There’s not anything wrong with that, one just wonders how much longer it will take for fighters to go from “marginalized” to “obsolete.” For all the perks that coming with having a guy to protect a superstar player, there’s that snag about them also needing to be able to skate with that person to truly play that role (and not just menace offenders after they commit grisly acts).

It never hurts to at least have the option of plugging your lineup with a guy who can hurt someone, though, especially when they come at the right price. Two teams added pugilists via affordable deals today.

  • The Ottawa Senators signed Zenon Konopka to a one-year contract worth $700K. The best part for Konopka might be that it’s a one-way deal, too; he gets the same paycheck whether he’s throwing his fists or wearing a suit (or maybe playing in the minors?).

To be fair to Konopka, he’s proficient with his hands in one other way that might actually make him an everyday player: the guy can win faceoffs. He won 57.7 percent of the draws he took last season, good enough for the fourth-best rate in the league. It’s not like he only received a handful of FO’s either; he took 1,075 (winning 620) in 82 games played in 2010-11. That’s an average of 13 per game. Considering the fact that he lead the league for the second year in a row in penalty minutes (307), he actually might bring a little something to the table when he’s not breaking noses.

Don’t get too excited, though; he only scored nine points for the New York Islanders. (Still, his faceoff skills are an undeniably nice bonus.) If you ask Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun, the trio of Konopka, Chris Neil and Matt Carkner might make the Senators the toughest team in the NHL.

  • The Nashville Predators probably won’t expect to get much more than some fights out of Zack Stortini. That’s OK, though, because the one-year deal they signed him to is a two-way contract, allowing them to yo-yo him from the NHL to the AHL and back whenever they need a fighter. Stortini should hope he receives a lot of time at the big-league level; he’ll earn at a $550K pace when he’s in the NHL and just a $75K pace in the AHL.

Stortini appeared in 32 games for the Edmonton Oilers and 29 for their AHL affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons last season. Who knows if that half-and-half ratio will be a decent barometer for the Predators since they’re a higher-level squad than the woeful 2010-11 Oilers.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo
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Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.