Now that goaltender Devan Dubnyk has inked a six-year, $26 million contract with the Minnesota Wild, where does that leave Darcy Kuemper?
Kuemper had an opportunity to establish himself as Minnesota’s starter last season, but he barely played at all after the Wild acquired Dubnyk last season. Still, it sounds like there’s an opening for the workload to be far less one-sided in 2015-16.
“Well we’re still very excited about Darcy Kuemper,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, per the Star Tribune. “He’s a young man, and two seasons ago he had a tremendous year. Last year he was certainly more erratic. He started well and had a tough stretch in the middle of the year.”
Kuemper is just 25 years old and has enjoyed some good stretches. Overall he has a 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage in 63 career starts.
Meanwhile, Niklas Backstrom is set to begin the season as the team’s third-string goaltender as the 37-year-old plays out the final campaign of his three-year, $10.25 million deal. He played in just 40 games over the first two seasons of that contract.
Keeping three goalies on a team’s roster is typically not seen as ideal, but in Minnesota it’s fast becoming the norm.
“For a lot of the last two years, we’ve had to carry three goalies, and it looks like that’s how we’re going to have it to start this season as well,” Fletcher said.
Bryan Bickell knew it wasn’t a concussion, but he didn’t know what was keeping him out of the lineup at the most important time of the year.
It was eventually revealed that the Chicago Blackhawks forward was dealing with vertigo. He missed the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Final, returned for Game 3, and then wasn’t used for the remainder of the series.
Over the summer he discovered the likely explanation for why he was having so much trouble: He had an infection from a tooth that needed to be pulled, per NHL.com’s Brian Hedger.
So that’s one mystery we can likely close to books on, but a very different question is lingering for Bickell. Will he be traded this summer? Given his $4 million annual cap hit and Chicago’s cap problems, he’s been a popular name in the rumor mill and it seems like he’s acutely aware of that.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff is already thinking about how he’ll use Dallas’ latest additions and there’s no shortage of possibilities.
Dallas recently acquired Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks and then inked unrestricted free agent and former Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Combined with the earlier signing of goalie Antti Niemi and the Stars have added plenty of playoff experience.
“It’s really important for us to take that next step. These guys have been winners and know how to win. They should help us get there,” Ruff told the team’s website. “Ownership has really stepped up and said we can make this team better. I’ve got to give Tom [Gaglardi] and his family a lot of credit for making this team better with the last couple of pieces here. It’s been tremendous.”
Ruff could see Sharp being paired up with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, but he’s also considering going with more of a one-two punch with a top line that features Benn and Seguin followed by a second unit that includes Sharp and Jason Spezza.
Whichever route he decides to take, the potential is certainly there for the Stars to have two significantly more balanced lines than they did last season. Spezza meshed well with Benn and Seguin when the trio played together, but whenever Ruff opted to employ that star studded line, it came at the expense of the team’s offensive depth. That trio were the only Dallas players to record more than 40 points last season while just Benn and Seguin surpassed the 20-goal mark. The addition of Sharp could expand both of those lists.
As for Oduya, Ruff would like to see him play alongside Jason Demers, which would keep the John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski pairing from last season intact.
Dallas fell just short of making the playoffs last season, but even before these additions, there were reasons to believe that the Stars could do better in 2015-16. It certainly didn’t hurt that they finished with a 14-5-0 run.
Related: Lehtonen, Niemi see benefit in splitting goalie duties
With Paul Martin gone and current unrestricted free agent Christian Ehrhoff unlikely to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 21-year-old defenseman Derrick Pouliot has been presented with a golden opportunity.
The top-end blueline prospect got his first taste of NHL action last season, scoring two goals and seven points in 34 NHL contests. It made him realize that he needs to be in even better physical condition going forward, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In order to do that he’s been training with fitness guru and former NHLer Gary Roberts. He’s also made substantial changes to his diet.
“It’s about getting my conditioning up so if I get caught out there I’m not dying trying to keep up,” Pouliot said. “It’s a little bit of a lifestyle change. I mean I’m not really a picky eater.”
Pouliot’s goal is to become a two-way defenseman and take on more, or at least “harder,” minutes after averaging 17:32 minutes per game last season.
Even with two veteran defensemen gone though, he will still be competing with Olli Maatta, Tim Erixon, and Brian Dumoulin for one of potentially two or three roster spots.
Dominik Uher will get a chance to crack the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster again after signing a one-year, two-way deal, per the Penguins’ website.
He’ll come with a $575,000 annual cap hit if he plays in the NHL.
Taken with the 144th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the 22-year-old forward has spent the bulk of the last three campaigns with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. However, he did make his NHL debut on Dec. 23 and played again on Dec. 29. He was credited with two hits and one blocked shot while averaging 6:27 minutes of ice time per contest.
He also recorded 13 goals, 26 points, and 60 penalty minutes in 72 AHL contests in 2014-15. In total he has 57 points and 187 penalty minutes in 193 career AHL games.