Mike Halford

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19:  Thomas Vanek #26 of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the first period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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‘Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,’ says Vanek

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Two years ago, Thomas Vanek said signing for his hometown Wild was “beyond my wildest dreams.”

Now?

Slightly different tune.

“For me the biggest thing was Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,” Vanek told the Buffalo News over the weekend. “It is what it is. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. It didn’t work out.”

Though this assessment was pretty obvious — the Wild certainly agreed, buying Vanek out of the last year of his contract in June — it’s still interesting to see Vanek sum up his time in Minnesota so succinctly.

A former star with the Golden Gophers that helped the school capture the 2003 NCAA championship, Vanek scored 21 goals in his first year with the Wild, only to disappear in the playoffs (no goals in 10 games).

Then there was the distraction of his ties to an illegal gambling ring.

This year, things went further south. He scored a career low 18 goals and 41 points. He was made a healthy scratch on a few occasions — by both Mike Yeo and John Torchetti — and didn’t play at all in the postseason, while dealing with an upper-body injury.

To be fair, Vanek had danced around the notion of Minnesota being a bad fit before. There was that time he sort of complained about the Wild’s centers, saying “If I wanted points and goals, I would have signed with the Islanders and had a center like Johnny [Tavares] and a winger like Kyle [Okposo].”

Vanek then doubled down by saying “we don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”

Now on a one-year deal with Detroit, the 32-year-old figures he’s in a much better situation. Vanek told the News he should benefit from the fact the Red Wings play “with smaller skilled guys,” adding a return to the Eastern Conference “is going to help me.”

Ottawa signs Bartkowski to PTO

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 10: Matt Bartkowski #44 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Calgary Flames on October 10, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, we passed along a report that Ottawa had “kicked tires” on veteran d-men Kris Russell and Dennis Seidenberg, with GM Pierre Dorion adding the club might bring in a blueliner on a PTO.

On Friday, Dorion pulled the trigger.

The Sens announced that Matt Bartkowski would attend training camp on a tryout basis. Bartkowski, 28, spent last year in Vancouver and was a lineup regular, appearing in 80 games while recording 16 points.

A good skater, Bartkowski’s downfall has been his defensive awareness — the lack of it, primarily. It landed him in Claude Julien’s doghouse in Boston and played a big part in Vancouver cutting ties after just one year.

In Ottawa, Bartkowski should push for a bottom-pairing or seventh defenseman spot. Prized prospect Thomas Chabot got torched after an unimpressive development camp, so this could be a move to push him.

The Sens aren’t exactly loaded on defense, either. Their projected bottom two, Chris Wideman and Fredrik Claesson, are pretty green — Wideman, a quality producer at the AHL level, is just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds with only 64 games of NHL experience.

Claesson, 23, has even less experience, having only appeared in 16 career contests.

Former Oilers d-man Nikitin signs in KHL

Nikita Nikitin
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Nikita Nikitin, whose name is fun to sing to the tune of Hakuna Matata, has rejoined the club of his youth.

Oh Friday, KHL side Avangard Omsk announced it signed Nikitin, reuniting him with the club he played for from 2003-10.

Nikitin, 30, split last season between Edmonton and its AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Saddled with a two-year, $9 million contract that the Oilers eventually saw as an albatross — yes, even though they negotiated it — Nikitin was the subject of trade rumors last year, none of them coming to fruition.

So the Oilers tried to find other ways to salvage the situation. Nikitin was waived ahead of the start of the regular season, but recalled twice during the year.

In his prime, Nikitin was a fairly useful defenseman, and netted a career-best 32 points in just 54 games with Columbus during the ’11-12 campaign. His play steadily declined over the last few seasons, though, and there were questions about his fitness level in Edmonton.

 

Devils sign Gibbons to PTO as Shero’s Pittsburgh-to-New Jersey train rides again

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 4:  Brian Gibbons #49 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2014 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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More like the New Jersey Penguins, right?

C’mon, it’s not the worst lede you’ve read on this site.

On Friday, the Devils announced that diminutive winger Brian Gibbons — who the Penguins signed as a undrafted free agent in 2011 — would be attending training camp on a professional tryout, continuing GM Ray Shero’s theme of bringing in guys from his time with Pittsburgh.

Shero signed Gibbons out of Boston College, and Gibbons eventually worked his way up to the NHL, peaking with 17 points in 41 games during the ’13-14 campaign (and another three in eight playoff games).

Since leaving the Pens organization, Gibbons has spent time with both the Blue Jackets and Rangers organizations, though mostly with their American League affiliates.

As mentioned above, Shero loves him some Penguins.

His coach in New Jersey, John Hynes, came from the Pittsburgh organization. So too did his assistant GM, Tom Fitzgerald.

And players? Oh yeah, Shero loves his old Pittsburgh players. Since taking the New Jersey GM gig in May of 2015, Shero has brought Lee Stempniak, Bobby Farnham, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, David Warsofsky, Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy into the fold.

Related: New Jersey also gave Anders Lindback, who has shockingly never played for Pittsburgh, a PTO

Devils ink journeyman goalie Lindback to training camp PTO

Anders Lindback
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The New Jersey Devils are bringing in some veteran netminding for training camp, as Anders Lindback will join the club on a professional tryout.

The move will put Lindback on his sixth team in six seasons. He spent the ’11-12 campaign with Nashville and was then acquired by Tampa Bay, where he spent the next two seasons.

After losing out on the Bolts’ starting gig to Ben Bishopremember when that was a thing? — Lindback signed in Dallas but struggled mightily, and was flipped to Buffalo at the ’14-15 trade deadline.

The 28-year-old then caught on with Arizona last season, and appeared in 19 games before suffering a freak accident — Lindback hurt his Achilles while getting up from a pregame stretch in February, and damaged the tendon so badly that it required season-ending surgery.

A veteran of 130 career contests, Lindback has good size (6-foot-6) and has always managed to find work, despite not putting up very good numbers for the last few years.

It should be noted, however, that Lindback might be nothing more than a warm body for Devils camp.