Oilers should benefit from Eric Belanger’s steadying presence

There were a lot of contracts handed out in early July, but a big chunk of them seemed to go to guys whose best days are (allegedly) in front of them. That’s why it was especially satisfying to see journeyman checking forward Eric Belanger get a three-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers; the two-way center has done everything that teams asked of him during his quietly impressive NHL career, only to see those clubs pass on bringing him back (sometimes in seemingly unprofessional ways) as a free agent or trade him to a different city.

Naturally, there’s always the chance that the Oilers could continue that string of instability by scuttling him out of town at some point, but that three-year, $5.25 million deal gives Belanger the consistency he’s been fighting for. If his previous work is any indication, Belanger should be worth every penny – even if it’s just doing the dirty jobs that the team’s talented young players aren’t quite as proficient at.

Again, it’s been a tough road for Belanger. The Edmonton Journal points out that the Oilers will be his seventh team since the lockout ended, which is especially odd since he spent the first 10 years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. The constant changes of scenery have been rough on Belanger’s family, but the experienced forward has a healthy outlook on the situation.

“My oldest was nervous and crying on her first day. She’s eight and she didn’t want to go. It’s tough for her, trying to get some new friends,” said Belanger, who signed a three-year, $5.5-million US contract on July 1.

“This is her fourth school in four years. But we’re in a neighbourhood with lots of kids, which is great. It’s hard on my wife (Alexandra), but more so on my kids (Lola Pearl is in Grade 1) because they’re here because of me.

“But I know it’ll be fine.”

(snip)

“It’s the reality of the new NHL. You see lots of guys moving around. It’s not a bad thing. It means lots of teams want you. You’re doing something right. I actually was in one organization for 10 years, in Los Angeles. But since the lockout, I have moved around. Every place I’ve been has been nice,” he said.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a longer contract, the French-Canadian forward has another reason to be excited: the Oilers will be the first Canadian NHL team he’ll suit up for. He said that he grew up watching the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens, so it will be a treat to play in a hockey hotbed – especially after a season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Belanger brings tangible and intangible assets to Edmonton

Belanger said that he was surprised the Coyotes didn’t want him back, and looking at his numbers there, it’s tough to dispute his logic. While his offensive numbers were modest (40 points), he was the top Coyotes forward in overall ice time since Shane Doan missed 10 games. Belanger averaged 17:20 minutes per game, third among forwards behind Doan and hulking center Martin Hanzal. That’s an impressive nightly average for an under-the-radar player, with 1:47 of shorthanded time per game. Belanger was also a go-to guy in the faceoff circle, winning an impressive 55.3 percent of his draws – earning a tie with Travis Zajac for the 17th-best mark in the NHL.

Considering the Coyotes’ questions at center, it’s that much more surprising that they showed little interest in bringing Belanger back. Phoenix’s loss will be Edmonton’s gain, because the Oilers have struggled in the faceoff dot over the last few years.

Belanger brings a nice all-around game, plenty of experience and dominant faceoff skills to a team that needs more of all three elements. If you look at him as a replacement for departed center Andrew Cogliano, he represents an attractive opposite to the disappointing young player. Where Cogliano seemed like pure, unrealized potential, Belanger represents sheer productivity.

That’s not the kind of change that will propel the Oilers to a playoff spot, but if they improve in other areas, it could be a very underrated move.

Fisher also contacted by Canada for Olympics along with Doan, Iginla

Getty
Leave a comment

Add Mike Fisher to the list of veteran free agents who’ve at least been contacted to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hockey Canada VP of hockey operations Scott Salmond revealed as much to TSN 1040 on Thursday while also noting their interest in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

“As Hockey Canada we have tremendous respect for all of those players,” Salmond said. “There’s no question that their leadership and their experience could be invaluable to our team.”

(Read more about Canada contacting Doan and Iginla specifically in this post.)

Fisher, 37, shares certain similarities with Doan and Iginla. All three players have captained NHL teams, each brings a mixture of scoring ability and grit to the table, and they all obviously have plenty of experience.

Pending talks with Nashville

On the other hand, there are a few potential differences that make Fisher’s case interesting.

For one thing, Fisher hasn’t decided – or hasn’t shared his decision – regarding a return to the Nashville Predators just yet. That choice is expected to come sometime next week.

The thing is, Fisher at least has some say in that matter, as he might make the choice not to come back. In the cases of Doan and Iginla, they might struggle to find suitors in free agency (or at least find suitors willing to give them the specific deals they seek).

A first for Fisher?

While that might hurt Canada’s chances, there’s another wrinkle: Fisher hasn’t really gotten “the call” quite like Doan or Iginla have. Fisher hasn’t ever suited up for Canada in the Olympics and, according to Hockey Reference, hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2009 World Championships.

Perhaps that rare opportunity might trump playing another season in the NHL? A few weeks of international hockey wouldn’t represent the same wear-and-tear as playing through an 82-game season.

(There’s also at least the concept of playing in the Olympics and then trying to find a deal with the Predators, however unlikely that might be.)

While Doan and especially Iginla stand as bigger names, you could make a very reasonable argument that Fisher actually has more left in the tank. He’s also a center, which Canada might deem a lacking position heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For all we know, none of these three forwards will bite at the opportunity. This seems like one of those creative ideas that might not work out.

It’s easy to see why Canada’s reps would at least get the conversation going, and Fisher might just be the best target to aim for.

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

Getty
Leave a comment

The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

Getty
Leave a comment

Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

Getty
Leave a comment

The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.