Author: Mike Halford

Phil Kessel

PHT Morning Skate: Ron Wilson expects Phil Kessel ‘to score at least 40 goals this year’


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Ron Wilson — Phil Kessel’s former coach in Toronto, who once ripped Kessel for being “uncoachable” — says the former Maple Leaf is destined for great things with the Penguins. “Pittsburgh is building a team that wants to win the Stanley Cup now, and I think Phil is only going to add to their success, so I expect him to score at least 40 goals this year and be a dominant player again.” (

Sounds like the Oilers will hire University of Alberta bench boss Ian Hebers as one of Todd McLellan’s assistants. (Edmonton Journal)

Are the NHL and NHLPA looking to score $8 million in jersey sponsorships fees from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? (TSN)

Fancy stats are being utilized in arbitration hearings. (TSN)

Nashville has re-upped with depth defenseman Anthony Bitetto on a one-year, two-way contract worth $665,500 at the NHL level and $60,000 at the AHL level. (NHL)

After a busy and important offseason, highlighted by the Brandon Saad trade, the Blue Jackets “have to go out and perform,” according to team president John Davidson. (NHL)

Despite rumors, Linden says Canucks haven’t tried to trade Higgins

Chris Higgins

On Monday, Canucks president Trevor Linden addressed trade rumblings surrounding one of his team’s most veteran skaters, Chris Higgins.

“Chris Higgins is an important player on our team,” Linden said in a statement, per The Province. “We have not talked to any clubs about trading him.

“We value Chris both for his on-ice abilities and his leadership in the locker-room.”

That Linden responded to the Higgins rumors was telling… because, um, Linden’s kinda the reason they’re out there.

Last week, he and Vancouver GM Jim Benning caught heat during a ticketholder event, as fans voiced their displeasure over the club’s offseason moves. Benning was actually booed after revealing he could’ve traded veteran goalie Ryan Miller rather than fan favorite Eddie Lack.

After the event, Linden reportedly pulled aside some of the more vocal attendees for a mini-hotstove.

From The Province:

It was not an easy night for Linden or Benning.

“When you’re sitting in this chair, it’s not as easy as you think,” Linden said.

What he did do, when it was over, was call over the biggest critics of the night for a 10-minute session.

It was a nice gesture, but may have been ill-advised.

In it, Linden revealed several tidbits, including his pitch that the Canucks have been trying to trade Chris Higgins but have found they cannot move his contract.

In short order, the comments were all over social media, and then on the radio. The Higgins trade horse is officially out of the barn.

Maybe they’re hoping something will change in August — unlikely — or people will forget to ask Higgins when he comes back to town in two months. Again, unlikely.

(Take this for what it’s worth, but one attendee apparently recapped meeting Linden on HF Boards.)

It’s hard to know where this leaves Higgins, 32, who’s heading into the third of a four-year, $10 million deal with a pretty affordable $2.5M average annual cap hit. It’s not a Benning contract; Higgins was extended by Benning’s predecessor, Mike Gillis, and the deal includes a Gillis staple — a no-trade clause (granted, it’s a limited NTC.)

As such, it wasn’t surprising to hear rumors of the Canucks trying to move Higgins. Benning’s already shipped out Gllis-era holdovers like Lack, Kevin Bieksa, Zack Kassian, Jason Garrison, Ryan Kesler and Tom Sestito in his attempt to reshape the club — in that light, it would make sense that Higgins, who had 12 goals and 36 points last year, was dangled in potential trade talks.

Unless, of course, he wasn’t.

Pens re-sign AHL tough guy Farnham

Brenden Morrow, Bobby Farnham

Pittsburgh has re-upped with Bobby Farnham on a one-year, two-way deal worth $575,000 at the NHL level, per the Post-Gazette.

Farnham, 26, made his NHL debut with the Pens last season and appeared in 11 games, going scoreless with 24 PIM. He also fought 15 times — four with Pittsburgh, 11 with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — and it’s that sort of pugilism that will (presumably) keep Farnham in the mix for recalls moving forward.

The Brown University product has made a name for himself over the last two AHL campaigns as an undersized (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) yet willing combatant. In ’12-13, he fought 21 times while racking up a staggering 274 PIM and in ’13-14, Farnham fought 12 times while taking 166 penalty minutes.

In a January USA Today profile, Farnham explained his (slightly different) approach to fighting at the NHL level:

Farnham proudly notes that he’s started turning down fights, something he never did in his first year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, when he got in 25 fights and would go with just about anyone who glanced in his general direction. He fought big guys even, guys way out of his weight class, guys who’d put him down in seconds. He’s stopped that.

“I’ve earned that right. I tell guys to [expletive] themselves now. I’ll say that, too. I’ll say: ‘Go [expletive] yourself.’ I can do that now.” He pauses, then laughs.

“Well, I can do that down in the AHL. I can’t do that up here.”

Related: Pens recall AHL tough guy Farnham prior to Flyers tilt

Sabres, Varone avoid arbitration with one-year, $600K deal

Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders
1 Comment

Just over a week after filing for arbitration, Phil Varone has avoided the hearing by agreeing to a one-year, $600,000 deal with the Sabres.

The contract is of the two-way variety.

Varone, 24, split last season between the Sabres and their AHL affiliate in Rochester, appearing in a career-high 28 NHL games while scoring five points. With the Amerks, he had 15 goals and 44 points in 55 games — and it was the AHL part of his contract that led to the original arbitration filing, per the Buffalo News:

Varone had a pro-rated NHL salary of $595,000 last season and made $62,500 in the AHL. The Sabres tendered him his NHL qualifying offer by last week’s deadline, which would push his NHL salary into the $655,000 range. He’s likely looking for a much bigger salary for the AHL portion of his deal, given the large minor-league salaries the Sabres handed out last week in free agency.

Buffalo will be paying former Utica Comets captain Cal O’Reilly $700,000 next season to play in the AHL, while defenseman Matt Donovan would make $400,000 with the Amerks, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti would make $300,000 and forward Jason Akeson would be at $250,000.

Varone will be in tough for minutes with Buffalo next season. The team will be dramatically different at center, with Ryan O’Reilly as the new No. 1 and both Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart looking to crack the roster and be full-time contributors.

GM Tim Murray also added some depth in veteran David Legwand, acquired from Ottawa in the Robin Lehner deal.

Wild sign ’15 first-rounder Eriksson Ek

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Minnesota has agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract with Swedish forward Joel Eriksson Ek, the 20th overall pick at this year’s draft.\

“We’re excited to officially have Joel under contract,” Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr said in a release. “He’s a top young player with an exciting package of size, skill, hockey sense and character. We are committed to working with him in the development process and look forward to seeing him in a Wild uniform in the near future.”

Per the Star-Tribune, Eriksson Ek will return to Sweden next year and play with SHL Farjestad (he’s under contract for the next two years). That he’s headed back home isn’t much of a surprise; Eriksson Ek split last season between Farjestad’s senior and junior teams and only turned 18 in January.

What’s more, there aren’t a ton of roster spots available at forward in Minnesota.

An overage of bodies saw the team cut ties with the likes of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Chris Stewart this summer, and it’s expected GM Chuck Fletcher will use the organization’s internal options (Jordan Schroeder, Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, etc.) to fill the few spaces available.