To acquire negotiating rights, or not to acquire negotiating rights?

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Why would a potential unrestricted free agent sign with a team before July 1 when he could consider all possible offers?

That’s what ESPN’s Craig Custance wanted to know when he spoke to Scott Howson, the Columbus general manager who acquired the rights to James Wisniewski from Montreal last June 29, two days before the defenseman was set to become unrestricted.

Howson, of course, was successful in his pursuit – which cost the Jackets a fifth-round pick – locking up Wisniewski for six years and $33 million before any other interested parties could bid.

“I don’t think we would have got him without [acquiring his rights beforehand],” Howson said. “At 12 o’clock [on July 1], it would have started and Columbus would have been just another team…It was important for a team like ours, a city like ours, to get in front of James early and let him meet us.”

Said Wisniewski after he met with the Jackets and decided to sign: “I felt like they really wanted me, and I want to play for an organization that wants me.”

In 2009, the Calgary Flames pulled off a successful sales job of their own, convincing Jay Bouwmeester to sign a big contract after paying the Panthers for the right to a brief, exclusive negotiating window.

Granted, the risk doesn’t always pay off, as the Flyers and Penguins found out with Dan Hamhuis and the Islanders with Christian Ehrhoff.

Which brings us to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise – this summer’s two big potential UFAs.

Suppose the Predators and Devils are unable to reach a deal with Suter and Parise, respectively. Would, say, the Red Wings roll the dice and offer Nashville a pick/prospect/player for one (or both) of their rights?

According to Detroit GM Ken Holland: “Yeah, absolutely. If the price is right and it’s a player we’re interested in.”

And to gain a bit of leverage, maybe the Wings (or any team that acquired their rights) could offer Suter/Parise a big, tempting contract, with the only stipulation it was off the table at 11:59am on July 1.

A risky tactic, yes. But if you’ve done a good job selling a player on the opportunity, there’s a good chance he’ll sign. If not, you probably won’t get him anyway.

Related: Preds GM Poile on Suter meeting: “Very, very good”

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”