Tag: 2011 free agency


Alexei Yashin update: Agent claims that one NHL team sent an offer

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Earlier today, we discussed the far-fetched chance of Alexei Yashin returning to the NHL for the 2011-12 season. For the sake of discretion, we’d like to reiterate just how unlikely it would be to see the oft-criticized Russian center back in the league. (Dobber Hockey’s amusing “projection” of his NHL stats serves as a good indicator of the long odds.)

That being said, it’s still an amusing hypothetical situation to discuss on a slow day in mid-July. Yashin is looking for a new contract, after all, so it’s not like an NHL return is impossible.

Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov is often a great source of information on Russian hockey player news, whether he’s running an interview or translating reports that would be indecipherable for folks who admit that English is their first (and only) language. Chesnokov translated a report from Sovetsky Sport in which Yashin’s agent Mark Gandler claims that he received an offer from one NHL team.

Is there an interest in Alexei from the NHL?

“We have already received one offer.”

From the Islanders?

“I will not discuss what the club is. We are considering the expediency of the offer.”

Gandler added:

“We will meet with Alexei this week for the first time. We will discuss everything. We are not in a hurry. At this moment we have not had any serious negotiations with any club. It would have been unreasonable to do that until we are sure that everything is good health wise. As far as the leagues are concerned, we will look at both sides [the NHL and the KHL].”

Chesnokov points out the legitimate possibility that this supposed NHL interest is just a negotiating ploy, reminding us that Gandler tried to create a similar stir last year. Chesnokov also tabs foreign team Avtomobilist as a club that might be interested in keeping Yashin overseas.

So, again, it’s safe to say that Yashin’s NHL return would be a long shot. It’s like investing in an old sports car that certainly drives fast and loud, but has enough issues in its repair history to indicate that it is a lemon. If he wants to come back, the price would have to be right for both sides and both sides would need to be comfortable with that situation.

It’s still an entertaining scenario to imagine – even if it’s from a pure rubbernecking standpoint – though, isn’t it?

Ryan Miller responds to critics of his former teammate Tim Connolly

Ryan Miller, Tim Connolly

In the grand scheme of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a reasonable gamble by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this off-season.

It’s true that the price tag is a bit steep, but the term is what makes the deal solid for both sides. Connolly gets more security than the one-year offers you’d expect him to receive elsewhere (and also might benefit from some extra time to get his feet wet in the hyper-scrutinized atmosphere that is Toronto) while the Maple Leafs limit the risk that comes with adding a notoriously injury prone player.

James Mirtle did a nice job of succinctly pointing out the pros and cons of Connolly. Even after throwing out some struggles with injuries in his earlier seasons, the shifty pivot missed 190 games since the lockout. With that risk comes a considerable reward, though; Connolly scored 250 points in the 302 games he managed to play in since the lockout.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Signing Connolly is a substantial risk and while my main question would be about his health, The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons lingered upon character issues that have been raised. Simmons spoke with many who watched Connolly’s career, including the man who drafted him in 1999: Mike Milbury.

When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.

Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.

And one more thing: Supremely skilled.

“We thought he would be great for us,” said Milbury, who traded him after two seasons to Buffalo in a deal for Michael Peca after a trade with Boston for Jason Allison fell through. “It just didn’t work out for us the way we thought it would with Tim.”

Connolly’s time with the New York Islanders almost seemed too brief to truly gauge the man or the player, but he spent nine up-and-down years with the Buffalo Sabres. While there’s an impression that Connolly fell out of favor with members of the media and (in some cases) Sabres fans, his former teammate Ryan Miller stuck up for him  – and called out some “talking heads” in the process – on Thursday.

“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap,” Miller said Thursday.

“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.

“In my book, that’s all that matters.”

When it comes to the thoughts of Toronto media types and Maple Leafs fans alike, Connolly’s successes or failures during the next two season will be all that matters.

It’s likely that he’ll line up on the team’s top scoring line with Phil Kessel, another talented player who has his fair share of critics. That combination could go either way. The two talented forwards could mesh beautifully, with Connolly setting up Kessel for a staggering amount of goals. On the other hand, Connolly and/or Kessel might run into another wall of injuries and raise the ire of fans in the process. There’s also the chance that they could experience a little bit of both.

Either way, the Maple Leafs are a tough team to gauge going into the 2011-12 season. If nothing else, they should be a lot more interesting to watch, though.

Another big turnover: Chris Campoli won’t be back with the Blackhawks next season


Earlier today, Joe speculated that the Chicago Blackhawks’ small tweaks might be the end of Chris Campoli’s brief time with the team. His instincts appear spot-on because Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said that he won’t play for Chicago during the 2011-12 season.

In case your memory of the yawn-inducing 2011 trade deadline is (understandably) fuzzy, the Blackhawks paid pretty big for their brief time with Campoli. They traded a conditional second round pick and Ryan Potulny to the Ottawa Senators for the offensive defenseman, leading some folks to call them one of the “losers” of the trade deadline.

Campoli scored seven points in 19 regular season games for Chicago and had one point in the team’s seven game series against the Vancouver Canucks. Those numbers are mediocre enough for a defenseman whose greatest strength is in generating offense (and skating), but his season-ending turnover to Alex Burrows in overtime of Game 7 of the two teams’ first round series probably stamped his ticket out of Chicago.

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Campoli is scheduled for an August 3 salary arbitration hearing, but Bowman revealed that the team will probably make like the Atlanta Thrashers did with Clarke MacArthur in 2010 by walking away from the discussions altogether.

“It was apparent from the beginning their salary demands were just not in concert with where we see him fitting in our team,” Bowman said at the opening of the Blackhawks’ fan convention on Friday. “We had to make a decision (that) it wasn’t going to happen. We made our best offer and it wasn’t to his liking. He sees himself in a different category, price-wise.”

The Blackhawks could trade his rights (or maybe do a sign-and-trade if they’re feeling especially fancy), but Bowman reiterated that Campoli’s time with Chicago is over.

Campoli can be traded between now and his arbitration hearing or else the Hawks will “walk away” from the award, making him an unrestricted free agent.

“We’re working that out, but he’s not going to be back with us,” Bowman said.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a team in need of a half-decent, 26-year-old offensive defenseman might be interested in Campoli, but the Blackhawks shouldn’t expect to get anything too fancy in return. Campoli’s tendency to turn the puck over might place him in a category with borderline NHLers such as Marc-Andre Bergeron (or worse).

Calgary Flames retain Brendan Morrison with one-year, $1.25M deal

NHL Heritage Classic - Montreal Canadiens v Calgary Flames

From a sheer value standpoint, the Calgary Flames roster is not pretty.

Players who were once bargains are now making market value or better after Rene Bourque and Alex Tanguay received nice upgrades in salary. The Flames’ biggest star Jarome Iginla keeps chugging along even as people make semi-reasonable cases that he should be traded because of his age (34) and cap hit ($7 million per year through the 2012-13). The team is dishing out big money to should-be stars who don’t always fit the bill (Jay Bouwmeester at $6.68 million especially) and aren’t really skimping with their mid-level guys, either.

Some (myself included) would argue that the roster is dotted with mistakes made by former GM Darryl Sutter and current GM Jay Feaster. It’s tough to argue that the future is particularly bright for an expensive team* that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008-09 and hasn’t won a series since their Cinderella run in 03-04. There aren’t a ton of promising young players who hint at a light at the end of the tunnel, but the Flames seem just good enough not to get dismantled in favor of a rebuilding mode.

With this perceived mistake-prone management in mind, every decent deal seems like a breath of fresh air. It’s an overstatement to say that the Flames are a significantly better team with Brendan Morrison in the lineup, but he was a solid last minute addition during the 2010-11 season. He scored a respectable 43 points in 66 games at a bargain price of $725K. Morrison was also a versatile player for Calgary, averaging two minutes of penalty kill time per game (third among Flames forwards, behind only Curtis Glencross and retired pivot Craig Conroy).

Flames GM Feaster valued his all-around usefulness and occasional scoring prowess, rewarding Morrison with a solid one-year deal worth $1.25 million. His base salary will be $850K but he can also make an additional $400K if he reaches incentives.

Again, Morrison isn’t really a game-changer. There’s also the possibility that his role will be significantly reduced if – though it’s a big if – Daymond Langkow comes back somewhat close to his pre-injury form in 2011-12. Matchsticks & Gasoline points out that the Flames might have been wiser to add a player at “replacement-level” (read: somewhere close to the league minimum) money, but it’s ultimately not an awful move by Calgary.

At least compared to some of their head-scratching transactions from the last few years, that is.

* The Flames currently rank fifth in the NHL in overall payroll and have been one of the league’s bigger spenders in recent seasons.

Can Brad Richards revive Marian Gaborik’s career in New York?

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils

For one season, Marian Gaborik silenced critics who howled with laughter after the New York Rangers signed him to a risky five-year, $37.5 million contract. Gaborik played in 76 games in 2009-10 – not a small feat for the fragile winger – while tying a career high in goals scored (42) and setting a new high in total points (86). Gaborik was a consistent threat on a team that was very thin offensively that season, playing more than 21 minutes per game.

What’s to blame for Gaborik’s lousy 2010-11?

Of course, the question wasn’t ever really about Gaborik’s skill. The injury bug caught up to Gaborik to some extent last season, but even then, his lower productivity was noticeable. Even in other injury-ravaged seasons, Gaborik would approach or even best the point per game level. (He scored 23 points in his 17 games during his last season with the Minnesota Wild in 08-09.) Something was different in 10-11, though, as he only managed 22 goals and 48 points in 62 games.

When the NY Post’s Larry Brooks discussed Gaborik’s struggles, he pointed to injuries (Gaborik’s season was derailed by a separated shoulder and concussion issues) but also to a bevy of lackluster centers.

Fact is, Gaborik, who was limited to 62 matches primarily because of an early season separated shoulder and a late-season concussion, opened 21 times with Erik Christensen as his pivot; 21 times with Derek Stepan; 14 times with Artem Anisimov; five times with Vinny Prospal; and once with Chris Drury. Beyond that, Gaborik never started more than seven straight games with the same center, with that dubious milestone achieved with Anisimov from Jan. 16 through Feb. 1.

That brings up an interesting question: were Gaborik’s linemates that much better in 2009-10? Dobber Hockey’s line combination stats reveal that he spent the majority of his time with a combination of three players in 09-10: Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky and Vaclav Prospal. Really, though, there are only two major differences between those combinations and the 10-11 ones: he enjoyed less stability and didn’t line up with Dubinsky very often, instead drawing time with Artem Anisimov and Sean Avery last season.

Can Brad Richards save the day?

Now, there’s no denying that having more consistent linemates (and having more time with Dubinsky, one of the Rangers’ best forwards) might have helped Gaborik’s cause, but does that explain him dropping from an outstanding 1.13 point per game average to .77, the third-worst rate of his 10-year career?

The more important question is the one Brooks posed, though: can Brad Richards revive the free-falling Gaborik? One thing seems tough to deny: Richards is leaps and bounds better than any center Gaborik’s ever played with in the NHL.

For the first time since Wayne Gretzky’s first year on Broadway in 1996-97, the Rangers have an elite play-making pivot. And while it would be an overstatement to suggest the Blueshirts decided to pay Richards $60 million as a free agent simply to form a partnership with Gaborik, it would be a gross understatement to suggest that the 31-year-old Slovak’s plight and needs weren’t significant factors in the signing.

“I respect all the players I’ve been with but I am very excited to get the chance to play with Richie,” Gaborik told The Post by phone yesterday. “I’ve watched him play throughout his career and always admired his game; the way he sees the ice, the way he moves the puck, the way he makes his teammates better.

How much does Richards improve his linemates? James Neal’s 2010-11 season might be the best recent example, although it’s important to note how small the sample is. Neal scored 21 goals and 39 points in 59 games playing primarily with Richards and (fellow 2010-11 All Star) Loui Eriksson in Dallas. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Neal’s numbers plummeted to one goal and six points in 20 games. While it would be silly to draw too many conclusions from that drop (especially considering the offensive troubles in Pittsburgh), it did seem like Neal’s production suffered without Richards sending him beautiful passes.

Lots of big “ifs” for next season’s Rangers

Glen Sather’s haphazard team-building leaves the Rangers with an annual slew of huge “if” scenarios. That said, the Richards addition makes the questions a bit more tantalizing than usual. The Rangers could have two strong offensive lines if they re-sign Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, if Richards can find chemistry with Gaborik and if Gaborik can stay healthy.

The Richards-Gaborik scenario will cost more than $14 million in cap space and $19.75 million in salary during the 2011-12 season, but at least there’s a better chance that they won’t waste $7.5 million on an ineffective Gaborik. Still, if Sather hadn’t sidestepped a million bullets already, one would have to wonder if he will still be the Rangers’ general manager if the team the Rangers miss the playoffs this year.