Alex Burmistrov

So, who else could jump from the KHL to NHL?

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This week, two major outlets — Sportsnet and Yahoo! — both detailed how the KHL is less of a threat to the NHL than it’s ever been.

Why? Well, in the last five months alone we’ve seen a number of prolific KHLers hop the pond: Evgeni Kuznetsov and Jori Lehtera finally joined the Caps and Blues, Leo Komarov re-joined the Leafs (followed by Petri Kontiola, who also inked in Toronto) and Jiri Sekac signed with Montreal.

It was a pretty big influx of talent, highlighted by Lehtera — the KHL’s ninth-leading scorer last year — and the reasoning behind the moves, according to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, was simple: These guys wanted to play against the best.

“I think that players all know that the NHL is the best league; it’s got the best players,” Armstrong explained to Sportsnet. “You can make good money in the KHL but if you want to compete against the best you have to be in the NHL.”

With that in mind, what other players could be on their way over to North America in the future? A few suggestions throw your way:

Alex Burmistrov

Still property of the Winnipeg Jets, Burmistrov — 21st in the KHL last year with 38 points — has been the subject of rumors claiming he’s eying a return to North America… but is being held up by the remaining time on his contract with Ak Bars Kazan.

From the Winnipeg Sun’s report at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft:

There were some rumblings that Alex Burmistrov’s name was in play, but a source said the fact it was unclear if he could get out of his KHL contract with Ak Bars Kazan is a stumbling block to a potential deal.

Still only 22 years old, Burmistrov already has a ton of NHL experience (194 games; he debuted shortly after being the eighth overall pick in 2010) and would probably slide back into an NHL lineup easily, should he choose to return. The Jets retain his North American rights but it’s safe to assume a trade might be in order after his falling out with the club (granted, a percentage of his beef stemmed from a bad relationship with ex-head coach Claude Noel.)

Sakari Salminen

A bit of a late bloomer, Salminen, 26, spent the early parts of his professional career with Assat of the SM-liiga before making the leap with KalPa in 2010-11. He saw his goal totals climb from 12 to 24 to 26 before KHL club Torpedo jumped in with a contract offer — last year, his first in the KHL, Salminen had a very productive campaign by 48 points in 54 games, sixth-most in the league.

Given all the interest in Finnish players like Kontiola, Komarov and Lehtera following the Sochi Olympics (where they won bronze), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Salminen — who replaced Valtteri Filppula on the roster for Sochi — get some interest as well.

Per Elite Prospects, Salminen is under contract with Torpedo through ’14-15.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Rumors of a Kovalchuk return to the NHL were so prevalent this summer that Randy Miller of NJ.com wrote an entire piece rebuking the rumblings:

Here’s what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to say last summer after Kovalchuk retired from the Devils with 12 years and $77 million on his contract, and then went home to Russia and signed a four-year contract with the Kontinental Hockey League:

1. Unless Kovalchuk sits out a full season of professional hockey anywhere in the world, he cannot return to the NHL without consent from all 30 franchises until 2018-19.

2. If Kovalchuk sits out a full season of pro hockey, he can only return with the Devils’ consent until 2018-19.

3. Beginning in 2018-19, Kovalchuk will be 35, removed from the league’s voluntary retirement list and free to sign with any NHL team as a free agent.

In an email to the New York Post, Daly wrote Kovalchuk returning to the NHL “would require unanimous consent at any point at which the player tries to return to the League without having been out of professional hockey [anywhere in the world] for a full calendar year. Once he sits out for a full calendar year, he can only come back with the Devils’ consent.”

So, Kovalchuk playing for the 2014-15 Devils seems impossible because there is no chance all 30 teams give consent.

This one seems doubtful unless Kovalchuk is willing to come back at the start of the ’18 season. You can put it on the backburner, though!

Dustin Boyd

Of all the North American ex-NHLers currently plying their trade in Russia, Boyd has perhaps the most complete resume (220 games) and youth (27 years old) to make a comeback. He had a solid year for Barys Astana in ’13-14, scoring 38 points in 49 games, and also has a couple of quality NHL seasons on his resume — specifically, an 11-goal, 22-point effort with Calgary in 2008-09.

Boyd is under contract with Barys Astana until the end of 2015, per reports.

Devils sign star French d-man Auvitu

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 05:  Rapahel Herburger (R) of Austria and Yohann Auvitu (L) of France battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Austria and France at o2 Arena on May 5, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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New Jersey has won the Yohann Auvitu sweepstakes.

On Friday, the Devils announced they’ve signed Auvitu to a one-year, two-way, entry-level contract for the upcoming campaign. The 26-year-old Frenchman had previously garnered widespread NHL interest, largely due to a ’15-16 campaign in which he won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga — an award that’s previously gone to the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brian Rafalski.

Auvitu had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games, then six goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

There were only three French-born players were in the NHL this season: Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Detroit’s Xavier Ouellet, and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel. It’ll be interesting to see if Auvitu can make it a quartet. He recently played alongside Bellemare for France at the Worlds, scoring three points in seven games.

Dethroned? Kings reportedly strip Brown of captaincy (Updated)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Dustin Brown
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Dustin Brown, who captained the Los Angeles Kings to the only two Stanley Cups in franchise history, has been relieved of his leadership duties, per TSN.

Brown, 31, was named the 13th captain in team history back in 2008, and has worn the “C” ever since. He’s also served as an alternate captain for Team USA’s silver medal-winning side at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

While there’s been no confirmation or report, one has to think this paves the way for Anze Kopitar to assume the club’s captaincy. Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million extension with L.A. in January, and has been Brown’s alternate captain since ’08.

While Brown achieved great things during his run as Kings captain, the tenure ended badly. He’s been largely ineffective over the last two seasons, and his lackuster play has been called out by head coach Darryl Sutter on a number of occasions (see here and here and here.)

Compounding things is Brown’s contract. Despite the fact he’s now essentially a bottom-six forward, he’s still owed a whopping $5.875M annually through 2022. That’s a lot of scratch for a guy that’s posted career-lows in goals (11) in back-to-back seasons.

Compounding that is the fact L.A. doesn’t have a ton of cap space moving forward. Brown’s hit could prevent them from re-upping with pending UFA Milan Lucic, or finding some blueline help in free agency.

Perhaps we should’ve seen the writing on the wall for Brown a couple weeks ago, when Kings GM Dean Lombardi extended Sutter’s contract.

Lombardi admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.” He also suggested there would be significant changes throughout the team, and that those changes would be difficult.

“To get this back on track,” Lombardi said, “there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

If TSN’s report holds true, the first punch has already been thrown.

Update:

For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

San Jose Sharks Name Peter Deboer Head Coach
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In Pete DeBoer’s first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went to the Stanley Cup Final with a roster that was headlined by two pretty talented players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

For DeBoer and the Devils, it never got better than that. By the time he was fired, the team had missed the playoffs two years in a row, Kovalchuk and Parise were elsewhere and the roster was looking pretty, darn barren.

Now, in his first season with San Jose, DeBoer is once again off to the final, this time with a Sharks team that’s headlined by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Why, you could almost draw the conclusion that a head coach has a much better chance to win with a roster full of talented players.

Certainly, the teams DeBoer had in Florida wouldn’t hurt that theory.

A motivated roster is nice to have as well, and DeBoer definitely had that when he took over in San Jose.

“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.

“I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re pissed off, they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

DeBoer was also the benefactor of some fine work by GM Doug Wilson, who signed veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin in free agency and got goalie Martin Jones in a trade. Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi out of Europe, a year after he did the same with Melker Karlsson. Throw in a few draft picks that have come along — youngsters like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Matt Nieto — and it’s hard to find a real weakness on the roster.

“The additions that Doug made, it just came together,” said DeBoer.

“They were coming off a down season, but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They’d been well-coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time.”

Related: DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose

Panthers expect Campbell to test free agency

Brian Campbell
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The Florida Panthers are operating on the premise that veteran d-man Brian Campbell will go unrestricted on July 1.

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

[GM Tom] Rowe said that the Panthers told Campbell and his agent they want to re-sign him but it appears Campbell, who turned 37 on Monday, will test the market first.

Campbell will be one to watch on the open market. A terrific puck-mover, he finished with six goals and 31 points for Florida last season while averaging a healthy 22:17 TOI per game.

He rarely gets hurt — Campbell hasn’t missed a game in five years — and has excellent skating ability. All of these attributes mask the fact that 1) he’s not overly physical, 2) he’s not what you’d call a “defensive defenseman,” and 3) he’s had an albatross of a contract.

Signed to a whopping eight-year, $57.1 million deal back in 2008, Campbell has been pulling down $7.14M annually, which has sort of skewed perceptions of him. His $7M+ cap hit puts him alongside the likes of P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.

But at a lesser price, Campbell might be a really good acquisition.

And what’s more, the market for transitional defensemen is already heating up.

Earlier this week, GM Don Sweeney said the Bruins would be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a puck-moving blueliner.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault conceded his club had a puck-moving problem this year, and could lose both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle off the blueline.

Finally, there are those Campbell would be up against on the open market.

It’s not an especially deep class for defensmen: Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Russell headline the list, which makes Campbell all the more valuable.