Thursday’s small-time deals: Wings add former Penguin Chris Conner and more

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Free agent signings aren’t always going to grab you by the face and make you pay attention to them. Sometimes we have to grab you by the face and make you take notice too. Hey, not everyone is going to be an NHL superstar signing and after the list we showed you this morning about who is left, the pickings are already slim.

That said, here are a few signings that came down this morning that might affect these teams later down the road or, at the very least, in the AHL.

Red Wings signs former Penguins forward Chris Conner

Chris Conner was the Penguins’ good luck charm last season. No, really as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Seth Rorabaugh pointed out via Twitter, the Penguins went 39-14-7 when Conner was with the team and 10-11-1 when they were without him. With Pittsburgh, Conner scored seven goals and added nine assists. It’s also a bit of a homecoming for him as he hails from Westland, Michigan and played college hockey at Michigan Tech. The Wings are just hoping his good luck charm can change cities.

Vancouver signs defenseman Alexander Sulzer and goalie Matt Climie

Alexander Sulzer was once a promising defenseman in the Nashville system but he was sent packing to Florida last season for a conditional seventh round pick. So much for all that promise. In Florida he didn’t do all that much there either and now he heads to Vancouver to provide them depth. Matt Climie signing a deal in goal doesn’t mean that Cory Schneider’s got anything to worry about. Instead, Climie will head to AHL Chicago and work with prospect Eddie Lack in goal.

Buffalo signs goalie Drew McIntyre and forward Colin Stuart

Drew McIntyre escapes the Atlanta system and heads to Buffalo where he’ll likely get to play a ton in AHL Rochester. Colin Stuart is a depth forward who has seen a handful of games played in the NHL over the last three years with Atlanta and Buffalo. Stuart spent most of last season in AHL Portland as part of the Sabres system.

Montreal signs Brian Willsie, swings minor league deal with Columbus

Brian Willsie has been making his bones in the AHL for the better part of his career that’s seen him go from Los Angeles to Colorado and then to Washington. Back in 2005-2006 he scored 19 goals for the Capitals but since then it’s been life in the minors. He signs on with Montreal to try and crack their lineup but will most likely spend his days in Hamilton in the AHL. There he’ll get to meet up with newly acquired forward Mike Blunden who the Habs acquired in a deal with Columbus in exchange for forward Ryan Russell.

Oddly enough for Russell he’ll join his twin brother, defenseman Kris Russell, at training camp. If Ryan can make the Jackets roster out of camp we’ll have two sets of twin brothers running amok in the NHL. Good luck broadcasters.

Winnipeg signs forward Jason Gregoire

Jason Gregoire made a name for himself at the University of North Dakota as the team captain and source of inspiration for the Fighting Sioux and now he gets to go back home again. Gregoire, a Winnipeg native, signed a deal with the Jets to join their organization and maybe someday join them in the big leagues. Gregoire was a solid scorer in college and now the Jets will hope he can translate that play to the pros. Having a goal of playing in front of the hometown fans should motivate him plenty. Gregoire did belong to the Islanders but thanks to CBA loopholes, he became a free agent this summer. Fortunately for him his hometown just got an NHL team back.

Agent: Kucherov blasted Bolts out of frustration from missing playoffs

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Quite the situation developing in Tampa Bay.

Earlier today, the translation of Nikita Kucherov‘s interview with Sovietsky Sport hit social media and caught a number of people by surprise. In it, Kucherov said some of his Lightning teammates of “got their money and stopped working” this season, then complained about a lack of consistent linemates.

And that’s not all.

When reached for comment, Kucherov’s agent — Dan Milstein — didn’t deny the remarks were made. Instead, Milstein told the Tampa Bay Times they came out of frustration after Kucherov and the Bolts failed to make the playoffs.

More:

Here’s the full text of Kucherov’s remarks to Sovietsky Sport (translation courtesy the Times):

“Some guys overstayed in team. They’ve got their money and stopped working. They knew there’s no competition for their positions and the organization is not going to take someone else. They played not really well this year. You can see it in their stats and way of play. When we played together and I made a pass, they even were not expecting this. That’s why this season was hard for me despite good stats.

“We had great chemistry with [Vladislav] Namestnikov and [Steve] Stamkos at the start of the season. We understood each other really really well. And then Stamkos was injured, I was very upset. I think those nine games were my best in the NHL. After that coaches started shuffling lines. Partners were changing like in a kaleidoscope. It was very hard to get used to it, because guys didn’t play at Stamkos level. It’s hard to explain how I played with them. We had a lack of understanding of each other and there were some problems. I was suffering torments all season, because I couldn’t find perfect chemistry with other partners after Stamkos injury. We played with Jonathan Drouin once, and it was good. But coach didn’t put us together again for some reason.”

It’s unclear who Kucherov is referring to in the opening graph. He had numerous linemates this year, as mentioned in the second graph. As for the money angle, the most recent Tampa Bay forwards to get lucrative paydays were Alex Killorn (seven years, $31.5 million) and Stamkos (eight years, $68 million), both of whom were signed last summer.

Kucherov, as mentioned above, signed a three-year bridge deal at $4.766 million annually in October, then went out and provided the Bolts with terrific value. He emerged as a Hart Trophy candidate down the stretch, finishing the year with 40 goals (second only to Sidney Crosby) and 85 points (fifth-most in the NHL).

But while Kucherov had a great individual effort, the same couldn’t be said for the Bolts. Injuries and inconsistency derailed what was supposed to be a promising campaign, given the club advanced to the Cup Final two years ago, and the Eastern Conference final last season.

If there is a bright side to any of this, it’s that Milstein told the Times Kucherov wants to remain in Tampa Bay long term.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Wednesday, April 26

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

After disposing of the Calgary Flames in the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will look to take down another team from Alberta, while two red-hot goalies, Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne, go head-to-head.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

Green will be judged on progress of Canucks’ youngsters

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Expectations have officially changed in Vancouver.

Whereas the last few years the Canucks have tried to stay competitive and make the playoffs (failing miserably the last two seasons), the plan now is to develop their youth with an eye towards the future.

“I’m not sitting up here and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year,'” new head coach Travis Green said today.

“But I will tell you we’re going to get better.”

Green was hired after four seasons as head coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Utica. He understands that the Canucks need to keep injecting youth into their lineup. He knows that’s why he was hired, despite his lack of coaching experience in the NHL.

“We need to get younger, that’s no secret,” he said.

So, for Green, it will not be wins and losses that he’s judged on for the next year or two. Instead, it will be the progress of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, Brendan Gaunce, Olli Juolevi, Jonathan Dahlen, and any other youngsters in the organization.

A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games as a player, Green is not expecting this to be a smooth ride. Young players make mistakes. They are inconsistent. They can be immature. Sometimes they progress, only to regress.

“You have to let them learn on the fly, some of them,” said Green. “You have to give them rope. You want them to swim, you don’t want them to sink. (But) you want them to go through adversity as well. I think it’s good for young players to go through adversity.”

Green started his coaching career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. Combined with his AHL experience, he believes he’s learned a thing or two about getting through to younger players.

Not that he’ll be Mr. Nice Guy all the time. He intends to push his players. He’s more than willing to make them uncomfortable, if that’s what he thinks is required.

“I want my players to be accountable,” he said, “in what they do, how they prepare, how they practice. But I think if you build relationships and you communicate with players, they appreciate it — especially today’s player. I don’t play a lot of mind games. They always know where they stand. At the end of the day, when I was a player, you always wanted to know where you stood.”

The end goal — whether it’s two years down the line, or even three or four — is to produce a winning team that can compete for a championship.

“We know where we’re at,” said Green. “I know the management group understands that, I feel confident in that. But hey, I want to win. No one likes winning more than me. I want to see our team get better. I want to start the process and push the envelope with these players, and see improvement.”

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks

Report: Vegas’ first-ever game will be preseason tilt in Vancouver

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to be busy this fall, and they’ll reportedly start their work north of the border.

Per the Review-Journal, Vegas has finalized its preseason schedule and, pending league approval, will play its first-ever game on Sunday, Sept. 17 against the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights have submitted a loaded, compacted preseason schedule, which makes sense. The players selected in June’s expansion draft will have little to no familiarity with one another, meaning head coach Gerard Gallant has a massive task in trying to build chemistry.

More, from the Review-Journal:

On Sept. 19, they’ll travel to Colorado to face the Avalanche at Pepsi Center followed by a trip to San Jose Sept. 21 to face the Sharks at SAP Center. The road portion of the preseason concludes at Anaheim against the Ducks Sept. 24.

The first of the three home games at T-Mobile will be Sept. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings. The other home games are Sept. 28 against Colorado and Oct. 1 vs. San Jose.

Vegas team officials wouldn’t comment to the Review-Journal about the preseason schedule. According to the report, the timing of the Vancouver game hinged on the dates for the Canucks-Kings games in China this fall (Sept. 21 in Shanghai, and Sept. 23 in Beijing.)