James O'Brien

Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings

Soderberg didn’t hesitate in signing with Avs

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If it seemed like things moved very quickly between the Colorado Avalanche and Carl Soderberg this offseason, that wasn’t an accident.

The former Boston Bruins forward told the Denver Post that he didn’t really want to deal with the process of being a free agent, which explains the quick turnover between being traded and signing a five-year, $23.75 million deal.

“I was waiting for Boston to come back to me,” Soderberg said in a phone interview from Sweden. “When they didn’t have room for me, my agent told me Colorado was interested in me. There was no doubt for me. Colorado is a great hockey club. I said go ahead, and then everything went really fast.”

Then again, when you consider the circumstances, the 29-year-old probably would have been foolish to drag his feet.

Most obviously, it’s a significant raise for a player – valuable or not – who hasn’t racked up crazy offensive numbers thus far.

The on-ice situation seems pretty positive for the Swede, too. While it’s worth noting that line changes come fast and furious in many situations, Soderberg’s penciled into an enviable situation as the center of a line that features Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. (He called the assignment “inspiring.”)

Honestly, it’s tough to imagine his situation getting any better than this, but we’ll have to see if the happiness and excitement lasts.

Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’

Andrej Meszaros, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brian Gionta
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The biggest winners of the Buffalo Sabres’ summer of resounding improvements might just be the players who suffered through the 2014-15 season (not to mention the fans).

Veteran winger Brian Gionta probably isn’t very familiar with seasons like that, so it makes sense that he seemed excited about the additions of Dan Byslma, Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and so on. He praised Sabres GM Tim Murray’s work to USA Today on Friday.

“Look at the moves he’s been able to make,” Gionta said. “You can say you want a better team, you want to bring in better players, but for him to actually pull that off and make the moves he did, it shows that he means business. That excites guys in the locker room.”

Back when he was hired by the team in May, Bylsma said that he sees a bright future for the team, as the Buffalo News reported. Even so, one would guess that Bylsma, Gionta and possibly even Murray are all a little surprised by just how much progress the Sabres have made in mere months.

(They certainly don’t seem out of place on “most improved teams” lists like this one by NHL.com.)

Naturally, it’s not that tough to improve upon the disaster that has been the Sabres for the past two seasons – the phrase “historically bad” came up uncomfortably often – but it remains to be seen how much these moves will translate into results.

It might take some time, yet it’s also plausible that the rebuild will be more rapid than expected, a notion that isn’t lost on veterans such as Gionta.

(H/T to The Score.)

Byron (wrist) hopes to be ready for Flames’ training camp

Paul Byron

Paul Byron avoided salary arbitration with the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Now he aims to get healthy by the time training camp rolls around.

The 26-year-old told the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson that he will be getting pins out of his wrist during the first week of September. That may cut it close as far as healing up by training camp, but he’s hoping that the situation works out.

Not surprisingly, he said what many players have before him: avoiding arbitration was a big relief.

Byron played in 57 regular season games with the Flames in 2014-15, scoring six goals and 19 points, the second-best run of his NHL career (he scored 21 points in 2013-14). He’s fared quite well for a sixth-round pick, as he was selected 179th overall by the Buffalo Sabres back in 2007.

The Flames’ immediate list of concerns may now boil down to Michael Ferland, although the team has some serious work to do regarding players who are entering the last year of their contracts, as Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau rank among the many who need new deals after 2015-16.

Can the Blue Jackets justify their big spending?

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets
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Much of the narrative surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets revolves around what this team can do with even a reasonably clean bill of health. It overshadows a key question, though: can they live up to the hype?

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace shines a light on this situation, as the market isn’t accustomed to the Blue Jackets coming into a season with such aspirations.

So, Jackets fans ought to doff their cap to majority owner John P. McConnell. Whatever else one might say about the man, he has been willing to spend on talent. That is all one can ask of an owner. The rest is on management and on the players.

The first and last time the Jackets were a “cap team” was in 2011-12, after the big-ticket acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. That team was a chic midsummer pick, too. Carter was a dog and begged out of town, but not before he poisoned the locker room. Then, Rick Nash asked for a trade for the (cough, cough) betterment of the franchise. That season was a disaster.

Interesting stuff, and it really does spotlight something many haven’t considered: the stakes are pretty high for this edition of the Blue Jackets.

Married to some pricey players

The Blue Jackets are under pressure to show that this roster will be competitive both in 2015-16 and in the future, as a ton of their contracts are hefty and long-term.

Brandon Saad ($6 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.8M), Nick Foligno ($5.5M), David Clarkson ($5.25M) and Scott Hartnell ($4.75M) all boast contracts that run through 2018-19 or later. Sergei Bobrovsky ranks as one of the NHL’s most expensive goalies with his $7.425 million cap hit. Ryan Johansen’s a huge steal right now at a $4 million mark, but a big upgrade is looming as his deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.

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Long story short, the picture is pretty clear. The injury angle screams “plenty of room to improve,” yet the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly in a place where they have nothing to lose.

In fact, the franchise might not be able to afford another disappointing season, lucky or not.

Hurricanes won’t force Hanifin to make immediate NHL jump

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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Noah Hanifin stands as the sort of defensive prospect the Carolina Hurricanes badly need, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll use him right away.

For every 18-year-old blueliner who weathers the storm of an immediate NHL jump (see: Aaron Ekblad), there are plenty of young players who benefit from more seasoning before they play at the highest level. The Canes seem comfortable taking a patient approach with Hanifin, as the Charlotte News & Observer reports.

“We don’t want to force him in there if he’s not ready,” GM Ron Francis said. “We’ll give him time to develop. I’m certainly not ruling it out, but we want to be careful and make sure we do what’s right for Noah.”

Frankly, the slow-and-steady approach might be wise for both sides. Let’s ponder a few reasons why:

  • Defensive prospects often take years to develop – Again, Ekblad is probably the exception to the rule.
  • The Hurricanes are expected to be mediocre, at best – OK, there’s always the chance that a team might make a surprise turnaround, and there is indeed talent on this roster. Still, most would probably agree that Carolina is in a “transitional” period, and probably won’t make many preseason playoff prediction lists.
  • Bang for the buck – People frequently forget that there are perils when it comes to “burning” years off of entry-level contracts. Why not take advantage of built-in cheaper years for Hanifin?

Those stand as some compelling reasons to allow Hanifin to marinate, but the Hurricanes must also consider the risk of stunting his growth at too low of a level if he is ready for the big time.

And, as you can see from this post, their defense could use all the help it can get heading into 2015-16.