Tag: free agent signing

Tim Thomas;  Victor Oreskovich

Minor moves: Panthers and Coyotes make deal, Canucks sign Oreskovich

As training camp slowly approaches, there were a few minor deals around the NHL as teams look to round out their teams (and organizational depth) for the upcoming season.

The Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes completed a minor swap of prospects. The Panthers sent goaltender Marc Cheverie to the Coyotes in exchange for Justin Bernhardt. Both players spent the majority of last season with the ECHL affiliates. Bernhardt had 6 goals and 25 points in 47 games for the Las Vegas Wranglers, while Cheverie put up a 13-9-5 record and 3.11 goals against average with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Cheverie also saw action in 15 games with Florida’s AHL affiliate in Rochester—posting an underwhelming 2-7-1 record and a 3.91 goals against average. He goes from the Panthers (who have Jacob Markstrom waiting in the wings) to the Coyotes that have been impressed with goaltending prospect Mark Visentin.  Best of luck breaking through.

Both players will look to get their careers on the right track with their new organizations.

Up in the Northwest, the defending President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks rounded out their roster by signing winger Victor Oreskovich to a one-year, two-way deal worth $605,000. Oreskovich appeared with both Manitoba (AHL) and the Canucks last season before carving out a niche for himself in Vancouver on the 4th line. A quick look at the roster gives the Canucks about 32 players who can fight it out for a spot on the 4th line next season.

Vancouver Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman commented to the Vancouver Sun in regards to the signing:

“Victor made great strides last year, but this a year to establish himself. It’s a short term and as a result he has the ability, if he performs to a level, to use this year for a spring board for greater things.”

Oreskovich was originally acquired by the Canucks along with Keith Ballard from the Florida Panthers for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier, and a first round pick (Quinton Howden). The 25-year-old Whiby, ON native only played in 16 regular season games last season; but grabbed a hold of his opportunity with the big club by appearing in 19 games in the postseason. While still looking for his first goal in a Canucks uniform – he only had three assists in 35 total games last season – Oreskovich is the type of player who uses his 6’3” frame to battle down low, wear down opponents, and play a physical brand of hockey that is welcomed on a team that’s stacked with offensive talent.

Matthew Lombardi on the comeback trail

Matthew Lombardi

In some of the best NHL news we’ve heard in a while, newly acquired Maple Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi is making progress in his recovery from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of last season. At this time last year, many people (including myself) were looking at Lombardi as one of the best offseason acquisitions of the summer. His speed and underrated ability to score looked like a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators and their brand of hockey. What we didn’t know was that he was going to suffer a season-ending concussion on October 13th in Chicago when he, Dave Bolland, and the United Center boards all came together at the same time.

In the ten months since the concussion, Lombardi has seen his new team battle for a playoff spot, win their first series and franchise history, and battle the President’s Trophy winning Canucks in a hard-fought 6-game series—all while he was in the press box. Eventually, the speedy center’s time in Nashville was over as soon it started. Lombardi was traded with Cody Franson for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney in a trade that can only be adequately termed as a salary-dump. The Predators were forced to give up Franson in order to get rid of Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With his health in doubt, the Predators couldn’t afford to take the risk of $3.5 million sitting in the press box. It’s a gamble the Maple Leafs could afford to take.

If Lombardi is able to fully recover from his concussion, the trade will look like a steal for Burke and the leafs. Judging by a tweet from Darren Dreger yesterday, there’s reason for optimism:

“I’m told Leafs forward Mathew Lombardi is making progress. May not be ready for start of season, but isn’t far off… assuming no setbacks.”

Lombardi is only one of the major risks the Maple Leafs have taken on this summer. On the second day of free agency, Toronto went out and acquired often-injured free agent Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres. The former 5th overall pick in had 13 goals and 29 assists in only 68 games for the Sabres. The 68 games is important—it’s the second highest total for Connolly since the lockout. Even though he was a durable forward for the New York Islanders early in his career, he only averaged 50 games per season in six seasons with the Sabres.

If Connolly can replicate the 65 points he scored in the 2009-10 season, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Leafs cure their offensive woes. They were 23rd in the league with only 2.60 goals per game; they were 22nd in the league with a relatively ineffective 16.0% power play. The guys over at the Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets seem to think the team will need a little more than just Lombardi and Connolly to compete this season:

“Ho boy! Two 50-point scorers on our top 2 lines? They’d fit right along with our…(checks stats) two 60+ point and two 55+ point players already there….hmmmmmm. Now don’t get me wrong, Connolly is absolutely an improvement over Bozak at the 1C position, but to imply that two 50-point players are what the Leafs need to finally get over the hump, one of which isn’t even skating, well that’s just silly. Especially considering that Joffrey Lupul was on pace for a 52-point 82 game season in a Leafs uniform, it’s going to take more than the addition of a 50-point 1C to get this team into the playoffs”.

There are things that Toronto management can control in the offseason and there are things they can’t. They made the calculated risk to bring in Connolly as a free agent and trade for Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators. If they both can stay healthy, the two veteran acquisitions will be a boost to a team that desperately needs a few centers. Or top 6 forwards. Or both. The news that Lombardi is progressing should be greeted with cheers from all over Leafs Nation. If he can contribute this season, he’ll be a perfect fit for a team that would like to play with speed.

Here’s to hoping his rehab continues without any major setbacks.

How useful will Vinny Prospal be in Columbus?

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers

On Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets and GM Scott Howson announced that they had signed free agent forward Vinny Prospal to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. The team has already acquired an assortment of offensive firepower; but then again, they were a team that needed a great deal of offensive talent to compete. He’ll most likely slide into a top-line role while injured winger Kristian Huselius recovers from a torn pectoral muscle that is expected to keep him out for four months. His role is clear, yet his ability to fill said role isn’t as easy to figure out. Will he be able to produce at a high level and help Jeff Carter and Rick Nash become one of the most feared duos in the league?

That’s the million dollar question. For what it’s worth, Howson seems to think that he has found the answer for the first half of the season:

“Vinny Prospal is a proven top six forward in the National Hockey League and we look forward to him playing that role for our hockey club. We are very pleased to be able to add a player of his caliber to our team at this late date in the free agency process.”

Translation: When Huselius injured himself this offseason, we needed to find someone as soon as possible and this is what we could find. Howson further explained the move to Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch:

“He’s produced almost everywhere he’s gone. As we went through this process of finding somebody who could help us get through the first part of the season without Kristian, we kept coming back to him. He was at the top of our list in terms of players who were available.”

Even though some people in Columbus fear that Prospal’s reputation is a function of playing in New York, Prospal is the right player for the Blue Jackets at the right time. They aren’t depending on Prospal to carry the team on the first line—they’re just asking him to be able to keep up with Rich Nash and Jeff Carter until Kristian Huselius returns to the line-up. In short bursts, Prospal has proven that he can put points on the board. Just look at last season—even though he only played in 29 games last year, he was second on the team with .79 points per game.

Obviously it would be asking a lot for a 36-year-old playing on his seventh team to score 25 goals and 65 points next season. If teams expected that kind of output, it wouldn’t have taken him three weeks to find a job and he would have signed for more than $1.75 million next season. Most likely, he’ll be a little better than he was a season ago defensively and not quite as productive offensively. Columbus signed him for what he is: a potentially very good stop-gap measure. Once Huselius returns to the line-up, Prospal will provide decent scoring depth and help on the power play for a team that desperately needed help scoring goals last year. Andy Newman at Jackets Cannon understands the best case scenario:

“I’m most excited for what the lineup looks like when Huselius returns, even if that happens to be late January. This adds tremendous depth and will fill out the lineup just in time for the playoffs. With Prospal playing left wing, I imagine Nash will get moved back to the right side, where he has spent plenty of time the past two seasons.”

The most important factor to keep in mind with the Prospal acquisition in Columbus is expectations. For fans who expect him to come in and score at a point-per-game average, they will most likely be disappointed by the end of the season. But for those who understand that he is a streaky player who has the talent to play with the two elite offensive players who are responsible for carrying the Blue Jackets this season, they should be happy with the Prospal signing. He’s a temporary solution for a team that desperately needed someone who could fill a huge void for a few months. Anything beyond that should be icing on the cake. Considering he didn’t cost much and looks to be highly motivated, it should be a situation of the perfect player, fitting into the perfect role at the perfect time.

Healthy Steve Sullivan is excited to join the Pens

Nashville Predators v Anaheim Ducks - Game One
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Steve Sullivan must have felt like he hit the lottery. The 37-year-old winger was coming off another injury riddled season that sidelined him for 38 games. Last season it was a sports hernia that ruined most of the regular season—then a knee injury that cut his postseason short. This is the same Steve Sullivan that missed the entire 2007-08 season with a career threatening back injury. At some point, the unrestricted free agent had to wonder how many teams would come calling this offseason once he knew his days in Nashville were numbered. Plenty of people around the league still thought he still had something left in the tank, but it’s hard to figure out the demand for an aging winger who primarily relies on his speed to be effective.

He had at least one suitor. It just so happened to be the one he wanted. The former Predator admitted that that he hoped he’d hear from Pittsburgh when he hit the open market on July 1. Needless to say, Sullivan is excited for the opportunity to go deep into the playoffs with the Penguins:

“You just look at this team from top to bottom and the way they’re built, it’s got longevity to be a winner for a long time. For myself, this time around was all about winning. It was about a chance to win the Stanley Cup. So my number one choice was here. Thankfully we got the phone call.”

Sullivan was able to pot 10 goals and 12 assists even though he only played 44 games last season. The speedy winger has shown the ability to create his own offense throughout his career both at even strength and also on the power play. If he was able to produce with some lousy Blackhawks teams and some Predators teams that were thin on playmaking centers, just imagine what he’d be able to do with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Stall.

He signed a one-year deal with $1.5 million for the opportunity to chase the elusive Stanley Cup with the perennial contender. Even though he’s coming off an injury shortened season, there’s a good chance that he could have made more money from other teams who were spending freely in free agency. But this isn’t the first time a player has accepted a little less than they may have been able to earn in another city to play with the Penguins.

“Sullivan joins a long list of players who have picked the Penguins for who they are more than for what they can pay. In the past few years Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham (twice), Pascal Dupuis, Mike Comrie. Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and others have made that choice and have voiced an outlook about the Penguins similar to that of Sullivan.”

The new addition was quick to point out that all of his health problems are behind him. The back hasn’t been an issue since he his one-year sabbatical, the sports hernia is fully healed, and he’s fully recovered from the knee injury he sustained in the playoffs. For the moment, he’s a healthy man diligently preparing for next season with his new team. The last time he was able to play a full season, he racked up 17 goals and 51 points for the Predators in 2009-10. If his health can hold up for a full season playing next to Crosby or Malkin, there’s no reason he won’t match those totals as the Pens battle for the top spot in the East.

Between Sullivan and James Neal, Pittsburgh may have finally found a few wingers to go with their embarrassment of riches at center.

Cam Janssen bringing his fists back to New Jersey

Edmonton Oilers v St. Louis Blues

The New Jersey Devils were without an enforcer for all of about eight hours. After the Devils shipped noted pugilist Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to Calgary for a 5th round pick next year, they went out and signed another master of the fistacuffs in Cam Janssen. Terms of the one-year deal were not immediately released, but the acquisition shouldn’t cost the Devils much in the way of salary. Janssen has made anywhere between $550,000 and $600,000 over the last four years of his NHL career—it’s unlikely he’d be much of a raise.

The free agent signing brings Janssen back to the team that originally drafted him in the 4th round of the 2002 Entry Draft. Janssen’s agent Kevin Magnuson of KO Sports Inc. spoke to The Bergen Record about the deal:

“He’s very excited to be back with Lou (Lamoriello) and the Devils. It’s a great opportunity for Cam with Pierre being traded earlier in the day.”

Whether he’s been in the National Hockey League, the American Hockey League, or the Ontario Hockey League, Janssen has always been a man who’s known his role. No one is ever going to mistake Janssen for a valuable offensive hockey player. The man comes to drop bombs, entertain the crowd, stick up for his teammates, and challenge opponents to fights on Twitter. Let’s put it this way: in 260 NHL games, he has 10 points and 675 penalty minutes.

A player doesn’t rack up those kinds of numbers by obstructing and interfering. This is what he does:

It’s interesting that Janssen would replace Letourneau-Leblond as the Devils enforcer since the two will be forever linked in one of the longest fights in recent memory. Janssen will act as the nuclear deterrent on New Jersey’s bench next season. Opponents may think twice about going after Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise if they have to answer to Cam Janssen afterwards.

After all, it’s hard to imagine anyone would want to go toe-to-toe with this guy more than once.