Author: Jason Brough

Antti Niemi

Stars acquire rights to Niemi


SUNRISE — The Dallas Stars have acquired goalie Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks. As Niemi is a pending unrestricted free agent, the return was limited to a seventh-round pick (193rd overall) in today’s draft.

The Stars now hold Niemi’s negotiating rights until June 30.

Dallas was expected to address its goaltending this offseason. The position was a major issue for the Stars last season — perhaps the number-one reason they missed the playoffs.

In Niemi, they get a former Stanley Cup winner and Vezina finalist.

“Antti is a proven goaltender who has played and succeeded at the highest levels,” GM Jim Nill said in a release. “He’s one of the hardest working goalies out there and we look forward to working towards an agreement.”

If Niemi signs, he’ll presumably form a tandem with fellow Finn Kari Lehtonen, who still has three years left on his contract.

Related: UFA of the Day: Antti Niemi

How much better will the Sabres be next season? Murray says: ‘quite a bit’

Tim Murray

The Buffalo Sabres are going to be better next season.

In part, because it’d be hard to be worse.

But mostly because the roster has been significantly improved by GM Tim Murray, who not only drafted Jack Eichel yesterday, but also added Ryan O’Reilly, Robin Lehner, Jamie McGinn, and David Legwand in trades.

We’ll assume Eichel goes pro and does not go back to school, though he still hasn’t announced a decision. The Sabres will also have Evander Kane, the goal-scoring winger they got from Winnipeg. And Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick in 2014, should be ready too.

On top of all that, they’ll have a Stanley Cup-winning head coach in Dan Bylsma.

Though Murray believes it may take some time for the group to gel, he was clearly happy with how his plan had come together.

“I can tell you that our players back home are excited,” Murray told reporters, per “I got a couple texts from different guys, and if that excitement that they showed today carries over into training camp, I believe we can improve by quite a bit. In saying that, we’ve got a long way to go to improve to get to be competitive or a playoff team.”

Julien ‘pretty impressed’ with Sweeney’s moves


Claude Julien has a weaker roster today than he did entering the draft. Gone in separate trades are Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, in return for prospects.

But the Bruins’ head coach struck a supportive tone late Friday when asked about his rookie general manager, Don Sweeney.

“First of all, I think you’ve got to give Don a lot of credit,” Julien said, per the Bruins’ website. “He’s come into this in this role and there was a lot on his plate, and a lot going on, and there were some tough decisions to be made, and personally, I’m pretty impressed with how he’s handled it.

“And that’s not to say that I’m happy that Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic are gone – we just lost two pretty good players, but those are moves that probably had to be made, obviously with the situation we’re in with the cap and everything else and the future.”

The decision to trade Hamilton was the most surprising. Sweeney offered a cryptic response when asked yesterday for an explanation.

“I think everyone considers Dougie as a foundational-type player,” said Sweeney, “and it was indicated to us that that might not be the case going forward in Boston.”

Regardless of why Hamilton left, the Bruins’ defense, a group that struggled last season to make up for the loss of Johnny Boychuk, will now have to try and make up for another big loss.

Sweeney called it “a great opportunity” for some of the “kids” on Boston’s defense — a sentiment with which his coach agreed.

“I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” said Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and there’s some more time here to maybe add if we need to.”

With belief in building ‘from the back end out,’ Flyers take d-man Provorov

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

SUNRISE —  Even with an “obvious” need at forward, the Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to select Ivan Provorov with the seventh overall pick at today’s draft.

Provorov, an 18-year-old who was born in Russia but starred last season for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, is considered by many to be the best defenseman in the draft.

Yes, even better than Noah Hanifin, the Boston College blue-liner that Carolina took fifth overall.

Provorov had 61 points in 60 games for Brandon. He’s been lauded for his ability to create offense in the attacking zone and beat the forecheck in the defensive zone. Oh, and he’s pretty good at stopping opposing players, too.

“We believe that you build from the back end out, and Ivan is going to be a big part of our defense moving forward,” GM Ron Hextall said. “We’re really excited to have him. Really good all around player, great hockey sense.”

The Flyers’ defense, a weakness since Chris Pronger was forced to stop playing, is going to be very different in the near future. Before today, they already had well-regarded prospects Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim. Radko Gudas and Michael Del Zotto, both 25, could also be part of the future group. Plus, they signed Russian Yevgeny Medvedev, and who knows how that works out?

For Hextall, the challenge before next season may be to shed one, two or even more of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, or Nick Schultz.

Related: Flyers won’t trade Del Zotto, but ‘something will have to give’ on crowded blue line

Panthers select big Lawson Crouse, despite modest point totals

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

SUNRISE — Buoyed by the ovation from the BB&T Center crowd, Lawson Crouse strode confidently up to the stage after the hometown Florida Panthers had drafted him with the 11th overall pick.

But he might’ve expected to hear his name called sooner.

Crouse went into the draft ranked No. 5 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. However, the big winger had to sit and watch as a handful of players who’d been ranked below him got taken before him.

Perhaps it was his modest point totals with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs — just 51 of them in 56 games in 2014-15 — that convinced other teams to pass.

“I don’t think my points were horrible, but I know they can improve, and I know there is a long ways to go,” Crouse conceded Thursday.

“I do a lot of other things well. That’s the part of my game that stands out for me.”

To be fair, the Frontenacs were a mediocre team that didn’t score many goals. Crouse actually led them in scoring.

In Florida, he’ll join an up-and-coming group that came into today’s draft hoping to “add one more final piece to the core that will be our core for hopefully close to the next 10 years.”

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Lawson Crouse