James O'Brien

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 31:  Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers in action against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 31, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Panthers 3-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Kulikov on trade to Sabres: ‘Change is sometimes for the best’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Dmitry Kulikov was initially excited upon learning the Florida Panthers had acquired and then signed free-agent defenseman Keith Yandle to a long-term contract last week.

Little did Kulikov realize that Yandle’s addition would lead to him being the odd man out a few days later, when the Panthers traded the seventh-year defenseman to the Buffalo Sabres.

“I was comfortable with Florida,” Kulikov said during a telephone conference call on Tuesday. “I didn’t think that something like that was going to go down. But it did. It’s part of the business. And I’m excited for the future.”

The 25-year-old took the move in stride because his role as a top-four defenseman isn’t expected to diminish in Buffalo. By acquiring Kulikov in a trade made early in the second round of the NHL draft on Saturday, the Sabres addressed a critical need by adding a left-shooting defenseman.

Though Buffalo’s defensive pairings won’t be set until training camp, Kulikov is expected to open next season playing alongside either Rasmus Ristolainen or Zach Bogosian.

It’s a familiar role for Kulikov, who averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time per game over the past five seasons.

“I’m happy to take on that responsibility,” said Kulikov, who spent much of last year playing alongside Aaron Ekblad. “I think change is sometimes for the best. Maybe, whatever happens, happens for a reason. So maybe I’m meant to be in Buffalo.”

In exchange for Kulikov, the Panthers acquired defenseman Mark Pysyk, who struggled establishing a regular role during four seasons in Buffalo. The teams also swapped second-round draft picks in a move that helped the Panthers free up $3.25 million in salary cap space.

The Russian-born player is in the final year of his contract, and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kulikov played more of a defensive role in his recent seasons in Florida, which selected him in the first-round of the 2009 draft. He had one goal and 16 assists in 74 games last season. Kulikov’s career high for goals is eight, in 2013-14, and points is 28, in 2011-12.

The Sabres believe Kulikov has more offensive potential, and were impressed with his goal and three assists in Florida’s first-round playoff series loss to the New York Islanders in April.

Kulikov believes he can up his offense, too.

“I haven’t been as productive as I wanted to be in the NHL and obviously, I want to grow in that part of the game,” he said. “I’m just happy for a fresh start and happy for the opportunity in Buffalo.”

Kulikov isn’t expected to be the only new offseason addition for the rebuilding Sabres, who intend to be active once the NHL’s free-agency period opens on Friday. Buffalo is among a number of teams that have already expressed interest in center Steven Stamkos, should the Lightning captain not re-sign with Tampa Bay.

Kulikov is intrigued by who Buffalo might add.

“The more better players we’re going to bring into the organization, the more successful we’re going to be, and the faster we’re going to be successful,” Kulikov said.

Report: Weise draws interest from 10 teams, including Canadiens

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Dale Weise #22 of the Montreal Canadiens awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Dale Weise is drawing plenty of free agent interest, including from his former team, the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs rank among 10 teams who are inquiring about Weise’s services, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

If a reunion happens with Montreal, it would have to come at the “right price,” ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports. Apparently the two sides batted around possible contract scenarios before the Canadiens sent Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks around the 2016 trade deadline.

Weise knew a move was likely while noting his “love” for Montreal before the trade.

Plenty of Canadiens fans loved him back, in no small part thanks to his recurring role as an unlikely hero. Weise even saw spot first-line duty during the peak of his time with the Habs.

His reps would be wise to emphasize his best moments in Montreal rather than his quiet run as a Blackhawks rental.

56 games in 2015-16 with Montreal: 14 goals, 26 points
15 games in 2015-16 with Chicago: one assist (plus a goal in four postseason contests)

Those flashes of brilliance and his character serve as selling points.

Still, the bigger picture presents a buyer beware, at least for anyone tempted to go the extra mile for Weise. The Canadiens seem to know that, too.

Despite his denial, Milan Lucic to Oilers rumors are heating up

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 14:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Los Angeles Kings in action against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 14, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Kings 1-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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We’re still in the “interview/conversation” period before free agency begins, so Milan Lucic and the Edmonton Oilers would be very unlikely to back up the heavy rumors that they’ve got a deal done.

Such talk is all over the place on Tuesday, though.

Sportsnet’s Gene Principe reported that the two sides were somewhere between 95 and 100 percent certain to reach a deal once July 1 rolls around, according to his sources.

The Edmonton Journal’s Curtis Stock notes the same, crediting a “good source.”

As the Edmonton Journal notes, the Oilers are high on Lucic’s list of landing spots.

Oilers insider Bob Stauffer has said the Oilers are #2 on Lucic’s list of likely destinations, after the Anaheim Ducks. Stauffer added he thought it was more likely the Oilers would trade for a right shot d-man than sign Demers.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie said earlier today on Vancouver radio that Lucic might be willing to give the Oilers a “hometown discount” because Lucic is keen to play with Connor McDavid in the new arena.

That’s a lot of smoke, yet Lucic showed some fire in downplaying the rumors.

Some wonder if Lucic’s denial mainly comes down to this being a time when it’s a little fuzzy as far as how specific you can get regarding the parameters of a deal.

One thing seems indisputable: there are plenty of teams who covet the power forward.

Lucic can bring some size and snarl to the Oilers’ finesse-heavy forwards group, yet there’s no denying that Edmonton’s bigger area of need is defense.

The Edmonton Journal’s Stock also reports that they’re eyeing Jason Demers in that regard:

This is a situation heavy in “if” statements, but one divisive “if” revolves around the belief that signing Lucic would prompt a Taylor Hall trade.

Again, don’t expect anything official until Friday.

Once the free agent frenzy rolls around, we might see some real fireworks from Edmonton.

More on Lucic

Testing the market

His UFA of the Day entry

Early connections to Oilers and Canucks

Here’s what Eric Staal is looking for in free agency

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29:  Eric Staal #12 of the New York Rangers skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You won’t find many free agents with as mysterious a path as the one that’s ahead for Eric Staal.

How much of a step back will Staal be willing to take following a whopping $57.75 million contract? Will a tepid rental run with the New York Rangers and lean years with the Carolina Hurricanes make for a really weak market?

Staal’s agent Rick Curran faces a delicate balancing act in managing offers and Staal’s pride. He shed some interesting light on the situation to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti on Tuesday.

Who is interested

Most interestingly, a Hurricanes reunion isn’t totally out of the question:

Carolina leaned toward nostalgia by retaining Cam Ward, yet initial indications were that they wouldn’t do so with Staal.

Curran says there are three-to-four suitors overall, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.

What Staal wants

We know that E. Staal is looking for the following factors, via reports from Shannon and Gulitti:

  • He wants a top-six role and wants to play as a center.
  • To help his cause, Staal isn’t expecting a long-term contract.

Of course, the most interesting question (“Can Staal stomach a huge drop in money?”) wasn’t answered.

A quick look at Staal’s value

Again, Staal was a borderline disaster with the Rangers, especially in failing to generate a single point in New York’s five-game playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He was also the face of a Hurricanes franchise that didn’t get a sniff of the playoffs in ages.

Simply put, he struggled to justify his enormous former contract. That said, if you can look beyond declining scoring numbers, his possession stats indicate that he can at least help someone.

Curran deserves every penny from his cut of a deal if he can get Staal a generous dollar amount and the prominent role he craves.

Shaw laments leaving ‘second home’ in Chicago, but excited for Montreal

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 10: Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the puck against the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on January 10, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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MONTREAL (AP) A day after adding forward Andrew Shaw in a draft-day deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, the next step for the Montreal Canadiens is getting the pending restricted free agent signed to a deal.

Shaw had a quick chat with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on Friday night. He added they’ll likely talk again over the weekend.

“I signed my first deal with him, my entry level, so I’m excited that we have that relationship already,” Shaw said Saturday on a conference call.

“I know my agent Pat (Brisson) and him are friends as well. So hopefully it helps things go smoothly. I’m sure it will.

“I’m just excited and waiting patiently, no rush obviously – they have the draft and everything this weekend and free agency coming up – so I’ll just sit back and wait for that phone call.”

Bergevin, a former assistant GM in Chicago, said Friday that Shaw is a “character guy” who knows what it takes to win. Shaw was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2011 and won two Stanley Cups over five seasons in the Windy City.

“I’ve got a fresh start with a new team,” Shaw said. “I’m excited about that. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited to meet the guys on the team and get in that locker room. But at the other end, obviously I’m going to miss all my friends and teammates in the organization and all the fans there in Chicago as well. Obviously I’ll miss the city as well too.”

Shaw had 14 goals and 20 assists in 78 regular-season games last season in the final year of his $4 million, two-year contract. He added six points in six playoff games.

“I think we were pretty close to making a deal, but obviously they have cap issues,” Shaw said of the Blackhawks.

“It’s tough to get around, especially this time of year with the draft coming, free agency coming. It was tough, I thought we were close (to a deal). I loved being in Chicago obviously, it’s a second home to me. A lot of great memories there.

“I had some fun playing there. I had a lot of friends and family in that city. So I’m going to miss it dearly, that’s for sure.”

The Canadiens gave up a pair of second-round draft picks to acquire Shaw.

“When it’s all said and done, I’m happy,” Shaw said. “I’m excited. I want to be a part of this. I’m three hours from home, which is pretty big for me and my family. So it should be a fun year.”

Montreal also traded forward Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals on Friday for second-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018.