Chris Conner

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.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.