Oren Koules contemplates future NHL ownership while son participates in Research and Development Camp

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Around Hollywood, people know Oren Koules as the guy behind the Saw movie franchise and a producer for Two and a Half Men. Around hockey circles however, people know him as the guy who joined forces with co-owner Len Barrie to make the Tampa Bay Lightning the laughing stock of the league over the last few years. Ownership disagreements, financial problems, and a sale to Jeffrey Vinik later and Koules is out of the game of hockey.

Well, out of hockey as an owner.

The former Lightning owner has accompanied his son Miles Koules to this year’s Research and Development Camp in Ontario to show support. At 5’10,” the younger Koules managed 3 goals and 4 assists in 26 games for the U.S. National Development Team. Even though Miles is from Los Angeles, he went to the legendary Shattuck St. Mary’s to hone his craft before making the trek to Ann Arbor and Team USA. He’s committed to play next season with the University of North Dakota and the Fighting Sioux. He was good enough to earn a spot on International Scouting Services’ Top 50 players eligible for the 2012 Entry Draft.

Being around an NHL team at such an early age helped Miles as he looked towards taking the next step in his hockey career. By all accounts, he’s right on track to maximize his talent and possibly earn a spot in the NHL one day. From scout Dan Sallows:

“The experience was awesome to be able to see how professionals go about their business at such a young age. It mainly helped my game to be able to learn things on and off the ice on the ways to make it because they have already done so.”

It wasn’t Miles play on the ice that grabbed headlines this afternoon. While talking to a few reporters, Oren admitted that he had spoken to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding a possible return to ownership. He went on to talk to Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo! Sports about his time with the Lightning and even hinted why his next ownership venture would be more successful than his last:

“I had two problems. I had a partner that went bananas and the second problem is that the economy kicked us in the balls,” he said. “We went from 38 million in tickets to 17 million.”

As for his time with Barrie: “I signed documents to say I wouldn’t talk about it.”

Clearly the economy played a huge role in the downturn in ticket sales. At the same time, it probably didn’t help that the Lightning were the worst team in the Eastern Conference over a three year stretch from 2007-2010. When people have less money to spend, they’re less likely to spend their hard earned cash to head out to the rink—especially when the team is awful. Between an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and a renovated building in Tampa, new owner Jeffrey Vinik won’t have the same attendance problems next season that plagued the previous regime.

A quick look around the league shows that Bettman would be open to an infusion of new money. The Dallas Stars look like they should be in the final stages of their sale, but both the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes could use a legitimate ownership group to step up to the plate and kick down some serious money. Len Barrie and Koules originally bought the Lightning for a reported $200 million; only to sell the team to Vinik for $170 million.

Depending on the deal he can work out with the Glendale City Council, he could probably get a team in Arizona for a relative bargain.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.