Veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky could be on his way overseas.
Per a report from Slovakian news outlet Novy Cas, Visnovsky is entertaining the option of starting the year in Europe — possibly in the Czech or Swiss League — while waiting on a potential NHL offer.
Back in late June, the 38-year-old — who has spent the last three years in New York — said he was “definitely” going to play next season, but Isles GM Garth Snow promptly threw cold water on a potential return to Long Island.
“I don’t anticipate Visnovsky coming back,” he explained. “So there’s potential for one of our young defensemen to earn a spot, whether it’s [Scott] Mayfield, [Ryan] Pulock, [Griffin] Reinhart, we’ll see what happens via the trade route at the draft and then look into free agency.”
Since then, the Isles traded Reinhart to Edmonton and were pretty quiet in free agency, with the only real splash on defense coming in the form of Thomas Hickey’s three-year extension.
If the Isles don’t eventually come calling — and it looks highly unlikely they will — Visnovsky will be hard-pressed to catch on elsewhere. While he had a decent offensive campaign in ’14-15, with 20 points in 53 games, he struggled defensively at times, and often looked a step slow.
The departure of Thomas Greiss and a record-breaking AHL season apparently aren’t enough to inspire the Pittsburgh Penguins to tab Matt Murray as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, as the team website reports.
Management’s explanation is simple enough: Fleury is the No. 1 guy, so why not allow Murray to get more reps as the top dog in the AHL instead of being glued to the bench?
“He’s not coming in here and beating out Marc-Andre Fleury and taking over this team,” Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said. “We love what we have down the line here, and it is down the line. He just turned 21. He needs to play hockey games. You can’t develop if he’s sitting on the bench. That’s just a fact.”
Although he said the Penguins knew he was good, Fitzgerald admitted that they didn’t expect him to generate the kind of 2014-15 campaign he did, winning the AHL’s goalie of the year award while putting up big numbers.
A devil’s advocate take might be that it’s sometimes wise to ride out surprise hot streaks with goalies. The Ottawa Senators rode Andrew Hammond’s out-of-left-field surge to a playoff berth while Devan Dubnyk went from the scrap heap to saving the Minnesota Wild’s season, and neither team anticipated either scenario, right?
Regardless, the good news for the Penguins is that Murray seems fine with both scenarios.
“I think either way could be good for me,” Murray said. “I think playing in the AHL wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but also practicing with the best players in the world wouldn’t be a bad thing either, so the way I look at it, either way I can take the positives out of it. Wherever I end up, I’m still going to have the same determinations and play the same way each and every day and let things take care of itself.”
Matching a record-breaking season might be asking for too much, but if Murray’s for real, he’ll get his big chance sooner or later.
One of the biggest fish left in free agency says more than a few lines have been cast his way.
Cody Franson, the 27-year-old UFA defenseman that’s still yet to sign, says he’s been speaking with five or six teams about possibly signing — a group that includes the Boston Bruins.
“With the trade they made with [Dougie] Hamilton and some of the other stuff they’ve done, they’re one of the teams that we’re in talks with,” Franson told TSN 1040 Vancouver on Tuesday. “Boston would be an interesting spot. It’s obviously an awesome city, and they’ve got a great organization and all those things that come with it.”
It’s not surprising Boston’s in the mix. The club’s blueline has been badly depleted since going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 — gone from that team are Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Matt Bartkowski. That’s left the B’s in a rather precarious spot; if the season started today, Boston’s top-four would be comprised of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid.
Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow and Matt Irwin would (presumably) be battling for spots Nos. 5 and 6.
Franson’s also a good fit to replace Hamilton. Both are rangy, right-hand shots with offensive upside… thing is, it might not work financially. The Bruins have just under $5 million in available cap space, and it sounds like Franson is looking for a deal with a fair amount of money — and something more long-term.
“Obviously, I’d like to get something a little more than one year,” he said. “I’m sick of doing one-year deals.”
Per an earlier report from PHT’s Dhiren Mahiban, it’s believed Pittsburgh and Buffalo are also interested in Franson.
If nothing else, the Edmonton Oilers seem willing to pay to improve their defense. Did they do enough to finally see some actual results, though?
In a way, Justin Schultz symbolizes the team as a whole: expensive, hyped-up and disappointing.
His possession stats have been disastrous at times. At a glance, his offensive numbers look reasonable enough, yet he’s really been given every opportunity to produce even more. The 25-year-old’s even been a healthy scratch on a defense that’s been downright terrible at times.
The Oilers haven’t done themselves any favors by pronouncing his potential to be Norris-level and boxing themselves into a corner with bloated contracts, including Wednesday’s one-year, $3.9 million deal. All in all, it’s been an ugly start to his NHL career.
Still, a lot of people believe that he still has a chance to be a difference-maker … in a good way, that is.
Long story short, the jury’s out regarding Schultz’s potential, but what about Edmonton’s defense as a whole? PHT’s Jason Brough took a quick stab at what the Oilers’ blueline might look at, while Mike Halford also threw Griffin Reinhart’s name in the hat:
There are a few things that stand out while pondering potential pairings:
- Most obviously, that’s a pretty expensive group, especially considering the middling (at best) results. War on Ice pegs their 2015-16 defense spending at $22.92 million, and that’s assuming Darnell Nurse isn’t in the mix.
- It’s highly mercenary. As much as the narrative revolves around the Oilers being built off of high draft picks, it’s remarkable just how many of their defensemen have come from free agency (especially if you count Schultz) and trades. There isn’t much “homegrown” talent involved.
- Improvement is indeed feasible. Andej Sekera is a possession darling, while Mark Fayne came in with some solid credentials last summer. Nurse could very well be a gem, as his draft status would indicate. People continue to await Schultz’s growth. Maybe most importantly, Todd McLellan is arguably the most qualified coach the Oilers have employed in a long time.
Of course, it remains to be seen if “improved” means much, as there was a significant gap between the Oilers and the NHL’s defensive elite. Schultz remains a microcosm once more, as both the player and the group are absolutely at the “put up or shut up” juncture heading into 2015-16.
They had to trade Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic to get it, but the Boston Bruins finally have some breathing room under the salary cap.
The question now is if they can take advantage.
“If we have any opportunities come up, we now have the flexibility to act on them,” club president Cam Neely told CSN New England. “If something happens now all the way through training camp where we feel we can improve our club, we have a better chance of adding without saying, ‘Okay, now who do we have to subtract?'”
With the loss of Hamilton, which came less than a year after the loss of Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins’ defense is a major question mark heading into 2015-16.
While GM Don Sweeney has called it “a great opportunity” for some of the “kids” — and Neely doesn’t disagree — Neely insists that “by no means are we closing the books and saying this is what we’ve got.”
Unrestricted free agents on defense include Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson. The former is willing to sign a one-year deal, which may be attractive. But Franson, a right shot like Hamilton and Boychuk, may be a better fit.
The Bruins are believed to have made a bid for Mike Green, also a right shot, who signed with Detroit on July 1.
Related: Sweeney explains Hamilton trade: ‘We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer’