Cam Tucker

President Obama: Gordie Howe defined hockey ‘for a lifetime’

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Tributes have been coming in all day for the legendary ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe, who passed away Friday at the age of 88.

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement on Friday, saying Howe “defined” the sport of hockey “for a lifetime.”

Obama’s full statement, as per NHL.com:

The list of hockey players who suited up in six different decades, including returning to the ice after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, is a short one: it starts and ends with Gordie Howe.

But the list of kids who skated around the pond until dark, picturing themselves passing, scoring, and enforcing like Howe, dreaming of hoisting the Stanley Cup like him – that one comprises too many to count. Howe’s productivity, perseverance, and humility personified his adopted hometown of Detroit, to which he brought four championships and which he represented as an All-Star more than 20 times. The greatest players define their game for a generation; over more than half a century on the ice, Mr. Hockey defined it for a lifetime. Michelle and I send our condolences to his sons and daughter, his family, and his loyal fans from Hockeytown to Hartford to Houston and across North America.

A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame with four Stanley Cups, six Hart Trophies and six Art Ross trophies, Howe played 25 of 26 NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, before eventually playing one final NHL season in Hartford at the age of 51.

Remembering Gordie Howe:

Video: Dan Patrick reflects on the legacy of Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky: A legendary bond

NHL mourns loss of the ‘incomparable Gordie Howe’

Facts about Gordie Howe (that often feel like fiction)

 

Panthers move Marc Savard’s contract and a 2nd-round pick to Devils

Marc Savard, Peter Chiarelli
AP Photo
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The New Jersey Devils picked up a second-round pick in the 2018 draft and Marc Savard — and his contract — from the Florida Panthers in exchange for minor league forwards Graham Black and Paul Thompson in a trade Friday.

The 38-year-old Savard, who hasn’t played a game since the 2010-11 season due to concussion issues, has a cap hit of $4 million on his contract through 2016-17, as per General Fanager.

A year ago, his contract, which has a salary of $575,000 for the upcoming season, was traded from Boston to Florida in the deal involving Reilly Smith and Jimmy Hayes.

Black spent this season in the American Hockey League with the Albany Devils, scoring seven goals and nine points in 50 games. Thompson scored 13 goals and 35 points in 56 games with Albany, and played three games with New Jersey this season.

UFA of the Day: Radim Vrbata

Radim Vrbata, Frederik Andersen
AP Photo
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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Radim Vrbata

Radim Vrbata’s time with the Canucks can be summed up as a difference of night and day from his first season in Vancouver to the second.

With free agency approaching, that team could lose the skilled veteran forward for nothing after failing to move him at this year’s trade deadline.

After signing for two years at a total of $10 million with the Canucks in the summer of 2014 — Jim Benning’s second big signing in his early tenure as GM — Vrbata was sold on the idea of playing on the right wing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Deft playmakers with the puck, it seemed like the perfect fit, especially given Vrbata’s mentality to shoot and his right shot.

Vrbata was matched up with the Sedin twins in that first season. In the 565 minutes of five-on-five time together, they had strong possession numbers and were productive as well, with 2.23 goals-for per 60 minutes and 1.59 goals-against per 60 minutes, as per stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

Vrbata scored 31 goals that season. And 63 points in 79 games. Twelve of those goals were on the power play, as were 23 of those points.

But the 2015-16 season was entirely the opposite. He scored 13 goals and 27 points in 63 games.

Vrbata’s time on a line with the Sedins was drastically reduced — between 169:30 to 173:24 at even strength. His production slipped in part because of a slow start, no points in the first six games. He played most of the season with sophomore center Bo Horvat and spent more time on a line with rookie Jared McCann than the twins.

He seemed increasingly frustrated, as the Canucks pushed in a new direction with younger players and with last summer’s trade of Nick Bonino.

“At my age, I know what my game needs to be successful,” Vrbata told Postmedia. “That’s why I signed here in the first place, to play with Hank and Danny.

“This year it was a different story. Nothing really clicked. It’s so hard to be successful if you don’t have chemistry. There just wasn’t the right chemistry.”

So, yeah, to reiterate, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back in Vancouver.

OK. So, what could be next?

Vrbata is about to turn 35 years old but is only a year removed from that 31-goal campaign.

Under the old management regime with Don Maloney as GM, the Coyotes and Vrbata actually seemed close to a new deal two years ago before he inked with Vancouver. The line in the sand appeared to be over no-trade/no-movement clauses.

In May, the Coyotes hired 26-year-old John Chayka as their new GM, but they also gave head coach Dave Tippett the title of executive vice president of hockey operations. Chayka will work side-by-side with Tippett, Vrbata’s former coach, on hockey personnel decisions.

Vrbata’s best collection of seasons came when he was with Tippett and the Coyotes, a team with only eight forwards under contract for next season, as per General Fanager.

Is past history enough to open up the possibility for a future reunion between Vrbata and Tippett? Or has that ship sailed given the new direction with the Coyotes. 

Citing Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, the Vancouver Sun reported in March of 2015 that Vrbata had “at least six teams were bidding for his services.”

It will be interesting to see how many teams show interest in Vrbata this summer, following two polar opposite seasons in Vancouver.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

Report: Former Wild goalie Backstrom signs one-year deal in Finland

Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) of Finlandskates around during a timeout during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
AP Photo

Niklas Backstrom, the former Minnesota Wild goalie and franchise leader in numerous statistical categories at that position, is on his way back to Finland.

Now 38 years old, Backstrom still leads the Wild franchise with 409 games played, 194 regular season wins and 28 shut outs. He was traded from the Wild to the Calgary Flames, who absorbed his contract, at the deadline this year.

In March, with his new team, Backstrom recorded his first win in a 15-month period.

His best season with the Wild was in 2008-09, when he had 37 wins and a .923 save percentage.

 

Stars re-sign Ritchie to one-year deal

Pittsburgh Penguins v Dallas Stars
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The Dallas Stars have re-signed forward Brett Ritchie, the club’s second-round pick from 2011, to a one-year contract extension.

The 22-year-old forward has spent most of the last four seasons in the American Hockey League, with the Texas Stars, where he had 14 goals and 28 points in 35 games this season.

He played in eight games for the NHL’s Stars during the 2015-16 regular season, recording one assist. He also appeared in two playoff games for Dallas.

Ritchie’s season started late due to a wrist injury that required surgery as per an announcement from the organization in September. Stars GM Jim Nill said the prospect forward would be out three to four months.

As a result of the injury, Ritchie’s first game in the AHL this season was in early December.