Tag: unrestricted free agent


Sheldon Souray looks to fit in with Stars

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Of all of the free agent signings on July 1st, Sheldon Souray’s deal with the Dallas Stars may be one of the more fascinating deals. Most people know that Souray and his contract were sentenced to the AHL last season; NHL teams wouldn’t even sign the veteran blueliner as he passed through waivers. When the Oilers cut ties with Souray this summer making him a free agent, Stars stepped up to give Studly Wonderbomb a chance to show that he still can play at the NHL level. Perhaps more importantly, they gave him the chance to show that he can stay healthy for an entire 82-game NHL season.

Not surprisingly, Souray is already in Dallas preparing for his new coach with his new team. He took the time to talk to Mark Stepneski after skating at the Dallas Stars practice facility:

“I just hope to come in here and complement them, whether it’s playing big and using my size and my experience. If I get a chance to play some special teams, chip in there. I am just looking to jell with the group early. They’ve got guys who have been here for a while, guys who know what the systems are and what the organization is like. I think with a new coach we all start on a new page a little bit. There’s a canvas that needs to be painted and I want to be one of the guys that helps all the guys. I may be the oldest guy here now.”

Even though the Stars have Stephane Robidas, Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, and Nicklas Grossman who are all slated for big-time minutes next season, a guy with Souray’s skill-set will receive every opportunity to make the team. He (and his shot) will be a welcomed addition to a team that will desperately need to find alternative sources of scoring after watching Brad Richards leave for New York.

The Stars are gambling that Souray can find the consistency (and health) that helped him score 23 goals and 53 points in the full season he was healthy (2008-09). Dallas Stars blog DefendingBigD.com is hoping for the best:

With Souray being so motivated to prove that he still “has it”, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a comeback year for Souray. That chip on Souray’s shoulders is the key here — a motivated player is exactly what the Stars want as he will be determined to contribute wherever possible, whenever possible. Souray is signed for one season, so if the Stars-Souray experiment does not play out on the optimistic side, the team has given some veteran experience to their relatively young defense while not overcommitting time or money.

When he’s at his best, Souray is a defenseman who can score from the point, play a physical style of game, and stick up for his teammates. More precisely, he’s at his best when he’s actually on the ice (not in the pressbox). If Souray can stay healthy for 82 games this season, the move has the potential to be one of the better bargain signings of the offseason. Even if he isn’t the player that he was a few years ago, the Stars still have defensemen that can log major minutes while Souray fills in as a third-pairing defenseman.

If the Stars get the motivated and healthy player they think they signed, Souray could be a perfect fit in Dallas.

Pascal Leclaire’s ailing hip leaves him longing for a NHL job this summer

Pascal Leclaire

We’ve seen most free agent goalies find their way this summer save for a pair of guys. Marty Turco and Pascal Leclaire are the two NHL-experienced guys we haven’t seen land a new job around the league and while a guy like Ray Emery gets a shot to win a spot with the Blackhawks, both Turco and Leclaire are left wondering what’s going on.

While Turco’s case is a bit more curious given that he’s healthy and able to play, Leclaire’s free agency is a bit more perilous. Leclaire’s season came to an end last year thanks to an injured hip and while injuries are nothing new in his career this time around it’s keeping him from staying involved in the NHL.

Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen catches up with Leclaire and finds out that his surgically repaired hip isn’t responding the way he’d like it to.

A free agent offer in July from an NHL team — he won’t say which one — fell through when he couldn’t pass the medical tests. Considering the small world that is the NHL, it didn’t take long for the word to spread.

“It’s frustrating, but it will be much more frustrating when (training camps) get started,” Leclaire said Tuesday, following an informal scrimmage with some of his former Senators teammates and other NHL players who call Ottawa home.

“There has been some progress [with his hip], but it’s not good enough to play at the NHL level,” he said. “The league is too good to try and go at 80 per cent … I don’t even know if I’m 80 per cent.”

Seeing Leclaire deal with this problem while another guy like Ray Emery continues his comeback from a degenerative hip condition that saw a radical surgery get him back on the ice makes for a bizarre coincidence for the former Senators goalies. Making it even harder for Leclaire is seeing that he had an offer to play but wasn’t healthy enough to get the deal done. At his age (29 years-old) and his status as a former first round pick of the Blue Jackets (8th overall in 2001) makes it a bit sadder to see his career essentially wind up in a stand-still.

That said, it’s not as if his career is over it’s just that his chances of earning an NHL team’s confidence in him take another hit thanks to his struggle in coming back from this latest setback. His injury history in the NHL is extensive from his time both in Columbus and Ottawa and with how slow his rehab is taking him now, a team will need to be in a tough spot to rely on him as an NHL-level guy again. You certainly can’t view him as a potential starter without proof he can handle the workload and wanting him to be a backup is tough because if he gets hurt again his team would be back at square one.

For now, Leclaire will just have to stick to it and keep trying to get back to 100%. If he can do that, he’ll find a way back in the league. If not, his story might end up being an unfortunate one.

Boudreau says Brooks Laich is a “modern-day Bob Gainey”

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Five

One of the biggest free-agent signings this offseason actually occurred before the July 1 feeding frenzy. Before hitting the open market (where he would have been a highly sought-after commodity), Brooks Laich chose to keep his roots planted in Washington when he signed a 6-year deal worth $27 million. It’s a sizable contract for any player, let alone a center that was coming off a 16 goal season with 48 points.

In the days following Laich’s contract, there were those who thought the Capitals overpaid for their 28-year-old center. Sure, he’s a valuable two-way forward. Sure, he’s only missed four games in the last four seasons. Sure, he’s one of the heart-and-soul leaders in the locker room. But he still only put up 48 points last season. Then again, the only forwards who have scored more points for the high-powered Capitals over the last three seasons are Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.

The offensive numbers are only half of the story with a player like Brooks Laich. Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau talked to XM’s NHL Home Ice today (and Lindsay Applebaum from the Washington Post transcribed the colorful coach’s comments regarding Laich). Needless to say, he’s happy that he’ll have his two-way forward around for the next six seasons.

“But I think of him as a modern-day Bob Gainey. He can skate, you can put him in all situations, he can play center, wing, he’s gonna contribute on the power play, great penalty killer, he never tires, he plays as much as you want, he’s in tremendous shape, and he’s the consummate hockey player.

“He’s the kind of guy… that lives and breathes hockey. He’ll get up and his training regimen in the summer is almost legendary, how hard he works. If I told him he had to do this and this and this to be better, he’d be the guy who does this, this and this, and he takes everything to heart. His whole goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I thought it was a real important signing.”

Laich embodies the characteristics that every coach in the league wants from his players. He dependable, he’ll play on both sides of the puck, he leads by example, and he can produce points. It’s not only coaches—Laich is the type of player that fans only truly appreciate after watching him for an extended period of time. There are games where he’ll stand out—but most of the time, he’s the player who always makes the solid play at the right time. He’s the guy who makes his teammates better.

The Capitals will need both Laich and Marcus Johansson to step up at the center position if they want to fulfill The Hockey News’ Stanley Cup champion predictions. Either Laich or Johansson will be depended upon to fill Jason Arnott’s skates in the offensive zone on the second line; while the other will be depended upon to give the team some much needed scoring depth. Despite great regular seasons over the last handful of years, one of the knocks on the Capitals has been their play at center. Locking up Laich for the next six years should help solidify their depth—if he can improve up his offensive statistics, he’ll give Washington the center play they desperately need.

Regardless, Laich will continue to do all of the little things that make him worth every single penny of his new contract.

Coyotes already looking to lock up Doan

Detroit Red Wings v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Four

Even though the 2011-12 season hasn’t even started yet, the Phoenix Coyotes are already looking towards the future. Shane Doan is still under contract for one more season—but that doesn’t mean the Coyotes haven’t already started thinking about his next contract. Officially, they were permitted to start negotiating with Doan’s camp as of July on a contract extension. GM Don Maloney and the Coyotes would like to get a head start on the process even though he won’t be a free agent until June 30 of next year.

Maloney spoke to USA Today’s Kevin Allen about their intentions for their passionate leader:

“I would like to start dialogue to see where he is at, and what he is thinking,” Maloney said. “He is certainly a guy we would like to re-sign, and I would rather do it now and not next June 30.”

The heart-and-soul captain of the Coyotes has been with the organization since he was drafted 7th overall in 1995. The Alberta native immediately made the team playing 74 games as a 19-year-old for the then-Winnipeg Jets. Now he’s the guy who has played 1,119 games and racked up 738 points in two cities for one franchise. But as anyone around the Coyotes will tell you, his importance to the team goes far beyond the stat sheet.

Doan’s been the captain and emotional leader of the team since 2003. Even though he’s now a 34-year-old veteran on a team with plenty of young prospects, he’s still the go to man on a team that has made back-to-back playoff appearances. GM Maloney went as far as to say that he was the team’s best player for Phoenix during their brief playoff opportunity last April. The year before he provided the spark for the Coyotes against the same Detroit Red Wings before an injury slowed him for the rest of the series. If anyone had doubts about his importance to the team, the Coyotes were a different team without him in the lineup.

GM Maloney isn’t ready to think about post-Doan era just quite yet.

One of the aspects that make Doan’s negotiations different than any other contract conversation is the cloudy ownership situation surrounding the Coyotes. Every single conversation concerning the Coyotes future – whether on the ice or off of it – seemingly comes back to ownership. As most know, the team is currently under the watchful eye of the NHL while they try to sell the team to an investment group or interested buyer. They have to balance putting a good team on the ice to make them appealing to purchasers while still closely watching the bottom line. It’s not every day that Maloney would be willing to commit funds to a player before the last minute—but it’s not every day that Shane Doan is up for unrestricted free agency.

Yes, he’ll be 35-years-old this October. Throw in the wear-and-tear that 1,100+ NHL games can put on a body and usually there’d be a little hesitation to extend an aging veteran. He currently makes $4.55 million per season and is the highest paid forward on the Coyotes roster (3rd highest player overall). But if the Coyotes want to keep their current fans in place and continue to grow their fanbase, extending Doan as soon as possible is a no-brainer. There’s plenty of uncertainty around the team and ownership, so the team will jump at any bit of consistency they can solidify in the meantime.

Besides, nothing says Phoenix Coyotes hockey like Shane Doan. It sounds like the team already knows it.

Ehrhoff meets the press in Buffalo

Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

A month and a half after becoming the Sabres’ $40 million man, Christian Ehrhoff finally met face-to-face with the Buffalo media. It might not be as pressure packed as the media circus in Vancouver, but with that shiny new contract in hand, Ehrhoff can expect more pressure than he’s ever experienced in his career. Such is life when he’s the new guy in town and just signed a contract that pays $10 million next season and will keep him in Buffalo for the next decade.

Forget “good.” “Good” is an adjective reserved for guys who come-and-go and make millions less. Ehrhoff better be spectacular. If he is, it’ll go a long way towards making the Sabres legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference and possibly the Stanley Cup.

At least Ehrhoff knows what he’s getting into. For his part, he knows the weight that will be on his shoulders:

“Pressure is part of the business and you have to deal with those expectations and that pressure. I played in Vancouver before. It’s a very pressure-filled city and I think I’ve dealt with that pretty good.”

Part of the pressure is the vital role he’s expected to play on the team. The Sabres are expected to be an up-tempo team and Ehrhoff’s transition game should play right into their team philosophy. His booming slap shot has the potential help the Sabres improve upon their 19.4% power play that was good for 9th in the league last year. His 14 goals were good for 6th among defenseman; his 50 points was 7th among blueliners and a career high. This just in: he’s an offensive defenseman.

His up-tempo game should be a perfect complement to another defensive newcomer: defensive stalwart Robyn Regehr. Head coach Lindy Ruff is excited to see Ehrhoff excel with his new team:

“Christian fits the way we play,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “We’re a team that has our defense involved and gets up ice. If you look at the way Vancouver’s defense played and were involved in the offensive side of the game, it’s an automatic fit.”

For his part, Ehrhoff thinks it should be a good fit as well. Once he dealt with the disappointment of getting traded from the Canucks (he thought they were making progress), he turned his attention to his future. Yes, he was looking for a raise from the $3.4 million contract that he earned last season. But at the same time, he wanted to play for a championship. Many will remember that he turned down a deal worth more per year from the New York Islanders a day before the Sabres acquired his negotiating rights.

Ehrhoff says he signed in Buffalo for the opportunity to win with the Sabres.

It also sounds like he did his due diligence before signing on the dotted line with Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Co. After weighing his options and asking former teammates, he was comfortable with the situation.

“Everybody had good things to say about the city of Buffalo being a great place to live with your kids and a good place for them to grow up – which was another criteria I was looking for. And since Terry (Pegula) took over the team he has showed that he is very committed to putting a team together that can win the Stanley Cup. For me it made a lot of sense and that’s why I joined the team.”

All of this is the easy part. For the time being, Ehrhoff has a honeymoon period with the media and fans alike. He’s the new guy who brings hope and the promise of success. If he fits in as Ruff expects and produces like he has for the Canucks over the last two seasons, then $4 million will be a relative bargain for a top-flight point producing defenseman. But if he struggles, the stories won’t be as positive as they are today. $4 million can sound like a good deal for a guy playing well—but the flip side to Ehrhoff’s contract is that his $10 million could look like a huge mistake if he is anything less than magnificent.

But like he said, he’s dealt with the demands of Vancouver. Playing with daily pressure should be nothing new for the German newcomer. We’ll see.