<span class="vcard">Jason Brough</span>

Signing Barkov shows ‘commitment’ to long-suffering Panthers fans

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Back in 2009, the Florida Panthers knew they weren’t going to be able to re-sign Jay Bouwmeester. So instead of letting him walk away for nothing as an unrestricted free agent, they traded his rights to Calgary.

At the time, Bouwmeester was considered one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. The Flames immediately signed him to a five-year, $33 million contract.

For Panthers fans, Bouwmeester’s departure was just one of many departures they’ve been forced to accept over the years. Roberto Luongo. Olli Jokinen. Nathan Horton. Jason Garrison. Whether they simply wanted out or there wasn’t enough money to keep them, it didn’t matter, key players kept leaving.

To say the least, it was not a winning formula.

“In the past this organization has drafted players and developed them and then off they’ve gone,” GM Dale Tallon said today after the Panthers announced that 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov had signed a six-year contract extension worth a reported $35.4 million.

“It’s just a cycle that wasn’t very effective. The commitment from [owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] is to build a winning team and win the Stanley Cup is our goal. You can’t do that unless you lock up your core guys for a long time and make a commitment to them so that our fans know that we’re committed as well.”

Added Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko: “To be committed, you have to sign players and sign people. It’s not just the players. It’s Nick Bjugstad’s long-term contract, Barky’s long-term contract, but it’s also extending Dale Tallon, and bringing Tommy Rowe in here to support the organization, extending Gerard Gallant’s contract.”

Luukko could’ve included his own name there. He was a pretty significant hire himself.

Granted, the Panthers still haven’t won a playoff series since 1996. Much work remains, both on the ice and off.

But with all the young talent they’ve assembled through the draft; and with committed owners; and with a new deal with Broward County; and with the collapse of the Canadian dollar, which isn’t such a bad thing for lower-revenue American teams like Florida, things are definitely looking up for this franchise.

“I just think this is a good spot for me,” said Barkov. “The team is going in the right direction, and I love it here.”

Related: Despite Panthers’ history, Luongo ‘saw a bright future’ in Florida

Blues seek arena upgrades after departure of Rams

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 21: A general view of the exterior of Scottrade Center prior to the St. Louis Blues playing against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 21, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Blues want two local governments to renovate their city-owned downtown arena as part of a project that will also upgrade the city’s convention center and former home of its recently departed NFL team.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Blues officials and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission met with city and St. Louis County leaders last week to discuss a $100 million renovation of the 21-year-old Scottrade Center.

“We have a 21-year-old building that has had some investment over that time period, but we also know it’s at a point where it’s starting to fall behind with other cities who we compete with,” said Blues CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman.

The proposed project also calls for remodeling the America’s Center convention complex and the adjacent Edward Jones Dome, which was home to the St. Louis Rams before the NFL approved its move back to Los Angeles.

Supporters want to package the three projects together to maximize potential public financing.

Related: After Rams leave, Blues owner sticks up for St. Louis

 

To understand Drouin’s impatience, consider Barkov’s big payday

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The Florida Panthers made it official this morning, announcing they’d signed 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $35.4 million.

By putting pen to paper, Barkov became the first member of his 2013 draft class to really cash in. No bridge deal. Straight to the big money out of his entry-level deal. Invest wisely, don’t do anything stupid, and he’s set for life.

Others could soon follow from that 2013 class, including first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, fourth overall pick Seth Jones, sixth overall pick Sean Monahan, eighth overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen, and 10th overall pick Valeri Nichushkin. All five are pending restricted free agents. Perhaps some will end up signing a bridge deal, like fifth overall pick Elias Lindholm agreed to over the summer. But all five will have every right to push for the kind of money and security that Barkov got. 

Then there’s Jonathan Drouin. He was the third overall pick in 2013. He’s not even in the final year of his ELC yet, because he was sent back to junior after he was drafted. Now he’s suspended without pay by the Tampa Bay Lightning after refusing to report for AHL duties.

For his decision to request a trade, Drouin has been labeled a “crybaby” and a “quitter.” Said Ducks GM Bob Murray: “Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.”

And perhaps Drouin is being a tad petulant. It’s worth noting that, in announcing Barkov’s extension, Florida GM Dale Tallon lauded the youngster for his “exceptional game at both ends of the ice.” Worth noting, because it was Drouin’s defensive game that Bolts coach Jon Cooper said needed to improve.

But then, it’s also worth asking — what if Drouin had been drafted by the Panthers, a team that’s missed the playoffs the past three seasons, and not the Lightning, a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last year? Is it not conceivable that Drouin would have been given more of an opportunity to play regularly?

Of course it’s conceivable! It’s not rocket science. Ice time is harder to come by on good teams. Not only is there more competition on a Cup contender, there’s more at stake. Can’t be having young players making young-player mistakes with a championship on the line.

Case in point, remember when Cody Hodgson was with the Canucks? That was a very similar situation to the Drouin one, right down to the outspoken agent. Hodgson, a center, was eventually traded to Buffalo, where he didn’t have to play behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. He got way more ice time on a bad team and quickly cashed in with the Sabres. No bridge deal. Straight to the big money out of his entry-level deal.

That’s what Drouin wants. Not to follow Hodgson’s career path, obviously. But to receive a better opportunity.

So, bash him if you still want to. But it’s his career, not yours. If you were in Drouin’s shoes, you might look at the deal Barkov just signed and wonder when your big payday was coming, too.

Hamhuis on re-signing with Canucks: ‘maybe they want me and maybe they don’t’

Dan Hamhuis
AP
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Back in September, Dan Hamhuis said he expected to talk contract with the Canucks at some point during the season.

Well, it’s now just over a month until the Feb. 29 trade deadline and Hamhuis remains a pending unrestricted free agent. And with the 33-year-old defenseman targeting the first game after the All-Star break to make his return from multiple facial fractures, it’s possible the next month could be a showcase of sorts.

Hamhuis wants to remain a Canuck, but he understands the situation.

“I really believe in the team and I like the direction and the young guys and it’s something that I’d like to be part of for sure,” he told The Province. “We’ll see how things go because you never know. There are so many variables and maybe they want me and maybe they don’t and there are cap issues with the Canadian dollar. I’m not sure how it will play out.”

Hamhuis does have a no-trade clause that he could wield; however, if the Canucks don’t intend to re-sign him, he may be able to increase his free-agent value by agreeing to go to a contender for a playoff run. At the very least, he’d get a chance to play for a Stanley Cup, something he’s unlikely to get this year in Vancouver.

Canucks GM Jim Benning was asked recently if he’d consider trading Hamhuis or winger Radim Vrbata, also a pending UFA.

“If something makes sense, we’ll look at it,” said Benning. “But those guys are a big part of our team.”

And remember that making the playoffs remains the goal for the Canucks. Right now, they’re still in the race.

Related: Benning says Canucks have ‘too much pride’ to tank

Reimer wants ‘to be a Leaf my whole career,’ but isn’t sure what management thinks

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James Reimer picked a great season to have a great season.

A pending unrestricted free agent, Reimer has started 21 games for the Maple Leafs and has a .937 save percentage. Of the 35 NHL goalies that have started at least 20 games this season, that’s the highest save percentage of them all.

So yeah, pretty good timing there.

Reimer, 27, reiterated today that he’d like to remain in Toronto long-term. The only thing is, he’s not sure how management feels.

“I’ve loved being a Leaf and I’d like to be a Leaf my whole career, but obviously this unrestricted thing is sometimes a weird thing,” he told reporters, per TSN’s Mark Masters.

Certainly, Reimer has to be targeting at least what Cam Talbot got (three years, $12.5 million) from the Oilers. In fact, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the “educated guess of a few NHL management types outside of Toronto is five to seven years at $4.5- to $5.5-million per season.”

Which would be a big commitment, both salary- and term-wise, for a guy that’s never started more than 35 games in a single NHL season.

Also, his save percentage was just .907 last season.

Oh, and he has limited postseason experience, just seven games in all. He was between the pipes for Toronto’s infamous first-round collapse against the Bruins in 2013. Not long after that — and perhaps because of that — the Leafs went out and got Jonathan Bernier from the Kings.

Of course, a lot has changed in Toronto since 2013. Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello are in charge of hockey operations now, and Bernier has struggled badly during Mike Babcock’s first season behind the bench. The Leafs have reportedly made Bernier available on the trade market. He has a $4.15 million cap hit through next season.

If Reimer doesn’t re-sign with the Leafs, one team that could have interest is Calgary. Flames president Brian Burke was a big fan of Reimer’s when the former was in charge of the Leafs.

Related: Lamoriello will be busy at first deadline as Leafs GM