Andrew Ference is returning to North America after playing in 21 games with Ceske Budejovice HC of the Czech League, according to the team’s official website.
Ference skated in his final game with them on Sunday and thanked the fans for “one of my most memorable nights of hockey.”
He had two goals and seven points during his tenure with the squad.
Several other former or locked-out NHLers have played with Ceske Budejovice HC this season, including Ales Kotalik, Vaclav Prospal, Milan Michalek, and Martin Hanzal.
It remains to be seen what Ference will do next, but obviously so much of it depends on what happens over the next few weeks with the NHL negotiations. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly suggested that the season will be canceled if there’s no new CBA by mid-January.
If the season is lost, then we could see a new wave of NHLers flocking to Europe.
Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski is expected to return from his concussion on Tuesday, according to Columbus Dispatch writer Shawn Mitchell. That’s one of the few bright spots in what has been an otherwise disappointing season for Wisniewski.
After inking a five-year/$33 million with Columbus over the summer, Wisniewski was suspended for eight regular season games after he hit Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck in the head during a preseason contest. By the time he returned, the Blue Jackets were already 0-7-1. He also ended up missing time because of a broken left ankle, groin problems, and roughly two weeks because of the concussion. At this point, he’s only played in 45 of Columbus’ 79 contests this season.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that when he signed with the Blue Jackets, they were selling themselves as a franchise on the cusp of making the playoffs. Although they missed the postseason by 16 points in 2010-11, they thought that by adding Wisniewski, Vaclav Prospal, Jeff Carter, they could reverse their fortunes. Instead they did even worse in 2011-12. The face of their franchise and biggest star Rick Nash is interested in being traded and now it looks like Wisniewski will be part of a lengthy rebuilding effort.
Saturday night will be a special one for Boston captain Zdeno Chara when the Bruins take on the Kings in Los Angeles.
The 35-year-old rearguard will become just the 277th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games and the 13th to accomplish the feat this season.
While Chara spent the early parts of his career with both the Islanders and Senators, he’s come into his own as a member of the Bruins. Since signing with Boston out of the lockout he’s won a Stanley Cup, Norris Trophy, Mark Messier Leadership Award, Plus-Minus Award and three All-NHL team spots.
“Obviously it’s a milestone,” Chara told the Boston Globe. “When you think about 1,000 games, you’ve got to be averaging, what, like 70-75 games for 14 or 15 years to do that, right?
“I don’t think anyone playing their first game thinks ahead to 500, 800, or 1,000 games. That’s just so far away. But when you get down to five more to go, 10 more to go, sure, you can’t help but think, it’s a lot of games, a long time.”
Given he’s only 35 and armed with a seven-year deal that runs through 2018, it’s possible Chara could enter the rarefied air of 1500 or more games played. Only 13 players in NHL history have accomplished the feat and only four — Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Ray Bourque and Johnny Bucyk — played for the Bruins.
Chara’s got a good shot at being No. 5. He’s durable (only missed 12 games since the lockout), remarkably fit (see: 2009 ESPN Magazine Body Issue) and loves playing the game.
He also has a few tricks on how to maintain his high level of success.
“Just try to get better every year,’’ Chara said. “Never get satisfied with what you’ve done the previous season. That’s been my approach from the start, and it still is.
“Keep all my routines the same, for day of game, day after the game. I’ve followed that for 15 years, never changed. And the trick is to do that and not get tired of it.
“And you know what? I don’t. I still loving doing it, and I still love my job.’’
We’re still over a month away from the NHL’s trade deadline (Feb. 27), but that doesn’t mean deals can’t be struck before then. In fact, with so many teams with the cap flexibility to make moves, there are bound to be GMs that don’t want to wait until the last minute, lest they find themselves in a bidding war for, say, one of the following forwards that ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun believes are in play…
Derek Roy, Brad Boyes and Drew Stafford in Buffalo; Vaclav Prospal, Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius in Columbus; Ales Hemsky in Edmonton; Tuomo Ruutu in Carolina; and the suddenly hot Jason Blake in Anaheim.
Most of those names have been bandied about already, though given what’s happening in Buffalo these days, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Stafford and Roy in the next little while. (No offense to Boyes, but who would want him?)
Stafford, a 26-year-old big body that doesn’t mind using his size, is coming off a 31-goal season, so he’s already proven he can snipe. Plus, he’s signed until 2014-15 with a very manageable cap hit of $4 million. If he’s truly available, there’ll be plenty of suitors.
Roy, 28, probably wouldn’t garner as high a return as Stafford. He’s got lots of talent, but he’s small and only signed until the end of next season (cap hit of $4 million.)
Apparently firing coach Scott Arniel was only the beginning.
Columbus general manager Scott Howson told reporters today to expect more personnel moves in an effort to salvage something from the Blue Jackets’ disastrous season. (Or, at the very least, cut payroll and mitigate what are sure to be significant financial losses for ownership.)
“We anticipate that we will be trading away some of our players,” Howson said.
Though the embattled GM wouldn’t specify, the potential trade candidates are many:
Pending UFA forward Vaclav Prospal has playoff rental written all over him.
Forward Samuel Pahlsson might not be worth his $2.65 million cap hit, but with an expiring contract, the veteran could be a worthwhile addition for a playoff team at the deadline. Remember, cap space isn’t an issue for a lot of contenders.
Forwards RJ Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Derrick Brassard – along with defenseman Marc Methot – are each signed for multiple more years, but neither has a no-trade clause.
Rick Nash has been at the center of trade speculation, though Howson has denied interest in moving his star forward.
Jeff Carter has a no-trade clause; however, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t waive it to get the hell out of, er, if Columbus wanted to move him.