James O'Brien

Alex Galchenyuk

Canadiens move Galchenyuk to center


The Montreal Canadiens could take a big step forward if Alex Galchenyuk does the same, so perhaps that will happen as he moves to his natural position.

That good news surfaced on Thursday, as the team discussed his transition from left wing to center heading into 2015-16.

It doesn’t sound like it was the easiest decision.

“Centerman is a hard position to learn,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. “There’s a lot of responsibility as a centerman, offensively and defensively. There’s signs that hockey people, our staff, look for, and we felt that he wasn’t ready at the time. Now we feel that he is getting really close, and it’s time for us to know and for him to know if he can really fill that role.”

Galchenyuk isn’t just sliding into a more defensively taxing position; he’s doing so for a defensive-minded head coach in Michel Therrien.

It sounds like Therrien is taking a supportive approach, or at least he’s continuing to portray himself as a kinder and gentler bench boss.

“I don’t want Alex to lose any confidence,” Therrien said. “I think that’s a big part of having success as a player. But we’re at a time in his career where we have to go to the next level. This is what I shared with Alex and he embraced the challenge. He’s looking forward to it and I can’t wait for training camp to start.”

Therrien won’t be forced to stick with Galchenyuk if he flops down the middle, especially when you consider how rapidly coaches tweak line combinations.

Even so, it sounds like the team hopes to take a step forward along with the talented 21-year-old.

Bettman: overwhelmingly players do the right thing

Gary Bettman

This off-season presents a slew of bad headlines for the NHL, something its players and commissioner both notice.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun caught up with some of the league’s biggest movers and shakers to find out how they feel about these situations.

In the case of the players, stars like Tyler Seguin and Sidney Crosby said that you must learn to be careful.

The league itself may try to do something a little more concrete to prevent or least limit future issues, including what Bill Daly describes as “an additional educational program.”

Even so, Gary Bettman seems confident that most players conduct themselves properly. He also argues that the NHL is doing its part, too.

“… We’ve had a variety of programs in place, we’re constantly looking at what we can do to make sure that the programs are touching the right bases and are effective, but we focus on what we think is best for our players and our game,” Bettman said. “As I’ve said, overwhelmingly our players do the right things.”

It’s been a week of updates regarding legal situations for the likes of Slava Voynov, Patrick Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Mike Richards, yet closure has been tough to come by. With proceedings getting postponed, these negative headlines continue to reverberate.

Going forward, the league can only do so much, but officials would indeed be wise to consider every avenue.

For more thoughts from Bettman, Crosby, Seguin and others on this subject, check out LeBrun’s full article.

Quick work: Blackhawks sign Kruger for one year

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

In case it wasn’t already clear, the Chicago Blackhawks did indeed move Kris Versteeg to make room for Marcus Kruger‘s newest contract.

The team hasn’t revealed the dollar terms of the deal, but the Blackhawks confirmed that Kruger was signed to a one-year contract on Friday.

General Fanager estimates Chicago’s cap space at about $2.43 million, yet GM Stan Bowman would likely prefer to fill one more roster spot with at least a minimum wage player, so it’s not guaranteed that Kruger ate up every cent of that remaining money.

The 25-year-old plays mostly a defensive/depth role with Chicago, although it’s possible that the team might want more from Kruger considering this tumultuous off-season.

One assumes Kruger might drive a harder bargain for his next contract:

Update: It’s worth $1.5 million, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Trade: Blackhawks send Versteeg to Hurricanes

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

The Chicago Blackhawks needed to shed some salary to re-sign Marcus Kruger, so why not ship out Kris Versteeg, aka the guy who always gets traded?

That’s what happened on Friday, as the Blackhawks made this deal with the Carolina Hurricanes:

To Carolina: Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom, plus a 2017 third-round pick

To Chicago: Prospect defensemen Dennis Robertson and Jake Massie, plus a 2017 fifth-rounder

Most obviously, the Blackhawks save money; Versteeg carries a $2.2 million cap hit that expires after the 2015-16 season. That’s actually a discounted rate stemming from the swap that sent him from the Florida Panthers to Chicago, but that still ended up being too rich for the ‘Hawks. Nordstrom’s cap consideration was pretty negligible at $605K.

One would feel bad for Versteeg, 29, although he managed to win two Stanley Cups with Chicago despite bouncing around the NHL like a pinball.

Just looking through the archives of PHT alone, check out his recent history of being traded:

November 2013: Blackhawks got him back from Florida

July 2011: Flyers send him to the Panthers

Feb 2011: Maple Leafs traded Versteeg to Philly

June 2010: The other time Chicago traded him

Versteeg is becoming a solid yet constantly traded journeyman. Think of him as hockey’s answer to former NBA player Chris Gatling, only with goofy hair and hopefully without the legal issues.

Sabres know what they want from Franson

Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators

Once you get beyond the class of elite players who can dominate under just about any circumstance, you move to those who can excel if placed in the right situation.

Nashville wasn’t the best scenario for Cody Franson late in the 2014-15 season. With top-shelf scoring threats on the blueline in Shea Weber and Roman Josi, Franson got lost in the crowd.

The Buffalo Sabres nabbed him for a bargain price on Thursday, and to the delight of fans, it sounds like they’ll have a much better chance of getting the most out of a talented defenseman.

More specifically, it seems as though GM Tim Murray envisions the 28-year-old as something of an offensive specialist.

In case you don’t want to watch the video, Murray touched on some specifics:

  • He doesn’t expect Franson to be a heavy-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman. It sounds like any big checks will just be “gravy” to the Sabres.
  • The blueliner sounds primed for a role on the first power-play unit.
  • While Murray pencils Franson in as a “top four or five” defenseman, he noted that new head coach Dan Bylsma will try to put him into advantageous on-ice matchups and emphasize offensive zone starts for Franson.

Murray paints a picture of Franson in his ideal situation: sending crisp passes that hit the likes of Evander Kane in stride or firing a well-placed shot from the point.

Buffalo’s off-season presents such a drastic change that it’s difficult to gauge expectations for this team. If the Sabres touch the right buttons with players like Franson, this team could be awfully intriguing, awfully quick.