Cam Tucker

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 07:  Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders looks on before a face off against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Islanders 5-4.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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There is plenty of reported interest in pending UFA Okposo

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Did you hear? Steven Stamkos is the “big fish” — the most coveted free agent this year, should he go to the open market on Friday.

That said, another scoring forward that is reportedly garnering plenty of attention, as teams are now allowed to talk to pending unrestricted free agents, is Kyle Okposo, the 28-year-old right winger who has scored at least 20 goals in three of the last five seasons.

In the final year of his five-year contract worth $14 million, Okposo scored 22 goals and 64 points this past season for the Islanders. It’s been no secret of late that the Islanders aren’t expected to re-sign Okposo, who is due for a substantial raise in free agency.

The Sabres and Panthers would certainly make for interesting destinations for Okposo.

The Sabres are also one of the teams interested in Stamkos, while the Panthers have already made a big move prior to the draft by acquiring the rights to defenseman Keith Yandle and then signing the pending UFA to a seven-year deal, a move he described as such: “You feel like it’s an all-in organization.”

Both teams also have plenty of cap space heading into the week. The Panthers have more than $18 million in cap space, while the Sabres have more than $19.5 million in space, according to General Fanager.

Eric Lindros could get long-awaited Hockey Hall of Fame call

Eric Lindros
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The weakest first-time eligible group in decades has left the doors open to the Hockey Hall of Fame for several players who have been awaiting the call.

Eric Lindros has been waiting six years, Mark Recchi three, Dave Andreychuk eight and Sergei Makarov 16. This could finally be the year as the Hall of Fame selection committee determines the class of 2016 on Monday.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, defenseman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Milan Hejduk and Vinny Prospal headline the first-year eligible players.

Lindros’ case is the most polarizing because he was one of the most dominant players in the world while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1990s, but had his career cut short by injuries.

Related: PHT Morning Skate: Should Lindros have been in the ’15 HHOF class?

Lindros won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1995, led the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final and averaged over a point a game in the regular season and playoffs.

Concussions and other injuries limited him to 760 regular-season games, so his 372 goals, 493 assists and 865 points don’t jump off the page. But Lindros’ mix of skill, production and physicality is unique in the history of the game.

It’s complicated.

“That’s a tough one because he should’ve been one of the greatest players of all time,” former teammate Rod Brind’Amour said. “Injuries kind of, I think, slowed him down and kind of ended what should’ve been a Hall of Fame career. … I understand the debate on that, for sure.”

Every skater except Lindros who has been MVP since 1945 is in the Hall of Fame already. The 18-member committee values winning and longevity, but Pavel Bure and Cam Neely were inducted with fewer games played and fewer points and like Lindros neither got his name on the Stanley Cup.

Lindros rubbed the hockey establishment the wrong way when he first refused to sign with the junior team that drafted him and then refused to sign with the Quebec Nordiques when they selected him first overall in 1991.

In a blockbuster deal that included future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg as part of the return, they traded him to Philadelphia. He endured tumultuous times off the ice, namely his icy relationship with Philadelphia general manager Bobby Clarke, who feuded with Lindros’ parents and stripped him of the captaincy.

But Clarke is now on the selection committee and is a strong proponent of Lindros getting enshrined in Toronto.

Ron Hextall, who was also part of that trade and was the Flyers’ goalie during the 1997 Cup Final run, argued Lindros would have won two championships like Forsberg if he were on that team that moved from Quebec to Colorado.

With Teemu Selanne and Daniel Alfredsson up for consideration in 2017 and more difficult years ahead, this is the best opportunity for Lindros to get his due. Another potential inductee in the builder category is the late Pat Quinn, who coached Lindros and Canada to the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics.

Here are the cases for several other potential members of the class of 2016:

MARK RECCHI: The productive winger won the Cup three times with three different teams (Penguins, Hurricanes and Bruins) and put up 577 goals and 956 assists for 1,533 points over 22 NHL seasons. Brind’Amour said of Recchi: “I don’t know what more you need to do to be a Hall of Fame player.”

SERGEI MAKAROV: His 384 NHL points and Calder Trophy season as rookie of the year must be combined with his dominant international career for the Soviet Union when Makarov averaged 1.37 points a game, won two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships.

DAVE ANDREYCHUK: The captain of the 2004 Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning put up 1,338 points in 1,639 regular-season games over 23 seasons.

ALEXANDER MOGILNY: Second only to 2015 inductee Sergei Fedorov in NHL points among Russians with 1,032, Mogilny won the Cup and was a six-time All-Star in 16 seasons.

PAUL KARIYA: Like Lindros, concussions cut Kariya’s career short, but he finished with 989 points in 989 games over 15 seasons and made the All-Star Game seven times.

JEREMY ROENICK: His 1,216 points rank him fourth among U.S. players and the top three – Brett Hull, Mike Modano and Phil Housley – are all in.

CURTIS JOSEPH: Not winning a Cup hurts a goaltender, but his 454 victories are the most of any not in the Hall.

ROD BRIND’AMOUR: Was captain of the 2006 Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, had 1,184 points and won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward.

THEO FLEURY: Overcame his 5-foot-6 size disadvantage to put up 1,084 points and win almost everything: the Stanley Cup, Canada Cup, Olympic gold medal and world junior gold medal.

CHRIS OSGOOD: Won the Cup twice as a starting goalie and again as a backup, but benefited from playing on talented Detroit Red Wings teams.

 

Report: Canucks plan to buy out Higgins, keep Burrows (Updated)

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 20:  Chris Higgins #20 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on before a face off in the second period against the New Jersey Devils on February 20, 2015 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Like every other team in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks go from the draft to a pivotal week in their off-season, with free agency set to open on Friday.

General manager Jim Benning has already declared his intentions to at least call representatives for pending unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos, as well as his interest in forward and pending UFA Milan Lucic.

(For the former move, as well as revealing that he spoke with the Montreal Canadiens about P.K. Subban, Benning now finds himself in hot water, facing discipline for tampering.)

While it looks like the Canucks will try to make a splash in free agency, the organization also has important decisions to make when it comes to veteran forwards Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins.

For months, there has been talk the Canucks could potentially buy out both players. The window to do so closes Thursday.

From ProHockeyTalk earlier this month:

Burrows, 35, and Higgins, 33, each have a year left on their contracts, with cap hits of $4.5 million and $2.5 million, respectively. Buying out the former would mean a $2.5 million cap hit next season, and a $1 million hit in 2017-18. Buying out the latter would mean an $833,333 hit in each of the next two seasons.

Matthew Sekeres of TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver provided this report Sunday morning:

The Canucks have not made an official announcement.

Updated: Speaking to CKNW in Vancouver on Sunday, president Trevor Linden said “there’s been no determination” about the futures of Burrows and Higgins with the team. (Click here to listen.)

Higgins, 33, was cleared waivers in January and was assigned to the AHL’s Utica Comets. He was later recalled in March, finishing the NHL season with three goals and four points in 33 games.

In Vancouver, the rags-to-riches rise to prominence on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, not to mention scoring one of the biggest goals in franchise history — in overtime, Game 7, against Chicago in the first round of the 2011 playoffs — has made Burrows a popular figure with Canucks fans.

But as mentioned, he’s 35 and coming off a season in which his production declined.

Following Vancouver’s final regular season game, Burrows admitted he needed to be better in order to remain with the Canucks, adding days later that his summer workouts for the 2015-16 season started late because of a rib injury.

Even if the Canucks land a notable free agent, they still have a host of young players — Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce and third-year center Bo Horvat up front. At the end of the season, Burrows believed he could help provide leadership as the organization looks to transition to a new core.

U-S-A! Record 12 Americans taken in first round of draft

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The 2016 NHL Draft started with Auston Matthews going first overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It ended with a record number of American-born players getting selected in the opening round.

A total of 12 American-born players were taken in Friday’s first round, with Trent Frederic of St. Louis, Missouri, the last as he went to the Boston Bruins with the 29th overall selection.

As per Adam Kimelman of NHL.com, the previous record of 11 American players selected in the first round was set back in 2010.

Matthews also became the first American-born player to go No. 1 overall since the Chicago Blackhawks took Patrick Kane in 2007. The move served Chicago well, with three Stanley Cup championships in seven years and Kane capturing the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Hart Trophy for the 2015-16 season.

A historical night for Matthews. He’s also from Scottsdale, Ariz., which wouldn’t necessarily strike people as a hockey-mad region.

“I mean, it’s been a great reception,” said Matthews about what people in his home state have been saying to him about the top pick.

“I think it’s been great not only for Arizona, but the whole southwestern region. It’s continuing to grow, and it’s just cool to be a part of it.”

There were a few trends in this draft.

Finland saw three of its players taken in the top five.

The British Columbia Hockey League, a tier II junior circuit, had three players taken in the top 20.

But as the night went along, the number of American players hearing their name and taking those cherished steps to the podium kept increasing. Five of those players — Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Logan Brown, Luke Kunin and Trent Frederic — grew up in the St. Louis area.

Tkachuk, who has experience with the U.S. U-18 and world junior teams, went sixth overall to Calgary.

Keller of the U.S. U-18 team went seventh overall to the Arizona Coyotes.

“It’s huge, and nobody would have ever thought that there would be this many Americans projected to go in the first round . . . but it’s going to continue in the right direction for USA Hockey,” said Tkachuk.

“And the U.S. National Team Development Program has done everything in its power to make sure that we’re ready for the NHL and we’re ready for this draft stuff and media and all that, and they do everything.”

It also helps having NHL experience within your family lineage.

Tkachuk and Kieffer Bellows can now call themselves first-round picks, just like their respective fathers, Keith Tkachuk and Brian Bellows, while Brown and Jakob Chychrun had fathers that also played in the NHL.

Jeff Brown played 747 games in the NHL and Jeff Chychrun played 262 games.

List of American-born players selected in first round of 2016 NHL Draft:

Canucks opt to bolster blue line, select Olli Juolevi fifth overall

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In January, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning declared his intentions that he’d like to take a defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft.

On Friday, that’s exactly what he did.

After the Columbus Blue Jackets made waves by taking Pierre-Luc Dubois at third overall and the Edmonton Oilers had Jesse Puljujarvi fall into their lap at fourth overall, the Canucks opted to bolster their blue line by selecting Olli Juolevi at fifth overall.

This season in the Ontario Hockey League, Juolevi scored nine goals and 42 points in 57 games with the London Knights. He followed that up with 14 points in 18 playoff games.

From Ryan Kennedy, in PHT’s Get To Know a Draft Pick segment:

“Intelligent, smooth with the puck and blessed with pretty good size, Juolevi models his game after Hampus Lindholm and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Juolevi was an all-star at the world juniors, where he helped the Finns win gold at Hartwall Arena, his dream rink as a kid in Helsinki.

By taking the Finnish defenseman, the Canucks decided to pass on forward Matthew Tkachuk.

For the first time since 2005, the Canucks have selected a defenseman in the first round.

That year, they took Luc Bourdon, however he tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident at the age of 21.

A true stud for a No. 1 defenseman is something you can argue the Canucks are lacking and have been for years, even decades.

Interesting to note that Benning admitted he wasn’t sure if there was a true No. 1 defenseman in the opening round of this year’s draft, but can Juolevi eventually evolve into a top-pairing defenseman?

Benning seems optimistic, especially after watching Juolevi play for Finland as a 17-year-old at the world juniors, recording nine assists in seven games.

“He’s a high hockey sense guy. In his own end, we call it defensive awareness where he uses his hockey sense to get in lanes, to put sticks in lanes. He gets the puck and he can move it up ice fast,” said Benning, as per TSN 1040.

“He’s the new style of transitional defenseman that we’re seeing a lot of in today’s game.”

It’s the second high-profile move Benning has made this off-season to help build their defensive corps. Earlier he moved rookie forward Jared McCann and a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson, who can now slot into their top-four mix.

The Canucks’ defense now includes Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Ben Hutton and Gudbranson in the top four, while their bottom five through seven — with Luca Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin, Andrey Pedan and Alex Biega vying for spots — is a work in progress and needs improvement.

They also needed to stock up on more defensemen in their prospect pool, which right now includes Jordan Subban and Troy Stecher, among others.

Matt Bartkowski and Yannick Weber, pending unrestricted free agents, will not be back in Vancouver next season. Dan Hamhuis is also a pending UFA.