Getty

Brian Campbell officially hangs up his skates

2 Comments

Veteran defenseman Brian Campbell officially announced his retirement. The 38-year-old broke the news during a radio interview in Chicago on Monday morning.

Campbell spent the 2016-17 season with the Blackhawks, where he put up five goals and 17 points in 80 contests.

In 1082 career games (17 seasons) with the Sabres, Sharks, ‘Hawks and Panthers, he scored 87 goals, 504 points and 277 penalty minutes.

His best year came in 2007-08, as he collected five goals and 43 points in 63 games with Buffalo before adding three goals and 19 points in 20 games after being traded to San Jose.

Campbell put together a solid career. He was named to the All-Star game four times (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12), he was on the NHL’s second All-Star team in 2007-08, he won the Lady Byng Trophy in 2011-12 (he had just six penalty minutes in 82 games), and he hoisted the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2009-10.

The Blackhawks also announced that he’ll be joining the team’s front office, where he’ll assist with marketing as well as community and youth hockey initiatives.

“I’m excited to transition into the next step in both my professional career and life,” Campbell said in a release. “I’m grateful to the countless number of teammates, coaches, team staff and fans that I have crossed paths with throughout my playing career in Chicago, Buffalo, Florida and San Jose. The Blackhawks organization has allowed me to take on this challenge and I’m thankful for this new opportunity.”

Blackhawks sign Gustafsson; Kings avoid arbitration with Gravel

Getty
2 Comments

A couple of 25-year-old defensemen signed contract extensions today.

First in Chicago, where Erik Gustafsson has re-upped for a year. No financial details were released by the club.

Gustafsson has not played for the Blackhawks since the 2015-16 season.

From the press release:

Gustafsson, 25, registered a team-high 25 assists and led club blueliners with 30 points in 68 games with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs during the 2016-17 regular season. He also led the team with 185 shots and ranked second with 14 power-play points (1G, 13A). The Nynashamn, Sweden, native has posted 41 points (8G, 33A) in 95 regular-season games with the IceHogs over the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Kings avoided an arbitration hearing with Kevin Gravel, who got a one-year, two-way contract extension.

From the press release:

The 25-year-old (born March 6, 1992) 6-4, 212-pound native of Kingsford, Michigan appeared in 49 games last season with the Kings, posting seven points (1-6=7), a plus-3 rating and six penalty minutes.

He registered his first NHL point on Nov. 8 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 23 against the Boston Bruins.

Gravel’s deal is worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

DeBrincat one to watch when ‘Hawks hold prospects camp

Getty
4 Comments

The Chicago Blackhawks will hold their prospects camp next week — and when they do, expect all eyes to be on Alex DeBrincat, the 19-year-old forward who’s piled up points as an OHL star but whose NHL ceiling is a matter of debate.

DeBrincat, listed at just 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, is coming off another stellar season with the Erie Otters. In 63 games, he scored a whopping 65 goals with 62 assists. For comparison, the second-most goals in the league was 48, by Sudbury’s Dmitry Sokolov.

With those offensive totals, one wonders if DeBrincat might be able to replace Artemi Panarin on Patrick Kane‘s line. After all, Panarin’s not a big guy, either, and he had great chemistry with Kane and Artem Anisimov.

But until DeBrincat plays an NHL game, there will be questions about his size and strength. In December, he was surprisingly cut by the U.S. World Juniors squad that went on to beat Canada for gold.

“It’s going to be a big summer for him,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told the Chicago Tribune in February. “If he can get his strength up to NHL-caliber, no question he has the ability. He has that innate sense of how to get into open areas and score goals. That’s probably an overlooked talent. You can’t really teach that. It’s an instinct and he has it.”

Click here for the entire ‘Hawks prospects roster. It also includes DeBrincat’s Erie teammate, defenseman Darren Raddysh, who signed with Rockford last month.

Raanta is ready for the No. 1 job with Coyotes

Getty
6 Comments

Antti Raanta has spent the past four seasons backing up two of the NHL’s best goalies in Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks) and Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers). After handling those duties as well as just about any other backup in the league, not to mention performing better than a lot of the league’s starters, he is finally going to get an opportunity to get a No. 1 job with the Arizona Coyotes after the team acquired him, along with center Derek Stepan, in a blockbuster trade centered around the No. 7 overall pick.

It is a role that Raanta seems to be more than ready for.

He talked about that preparation, along with what he learned from playing behind Crawford and Lundqvist, with Dave Vest of the Coyotes’ official website.

“I have been privileged to play behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and Henrik Lundqvist in New York, and working with great goalie coaches in Chicago and New York,” Raanta said. “… It’s been kind of like a step-by-step process for me. Last year, I kind of felt that my game was finding the right way and my confidence level was going better and better all the time. I felt like I was giving the team the chance to win every night. There’s going to be other goalies and there’s going to be a battle for the No.1 spot (in Arizona), but I feel my game is going in the right direction … and I feel like I’m ready to take one more step and be playing more and get the No. 1 spot.”

He has certainly earned the opportunity to get a No. 1 spot.

Over the past three seasons his .924 save percentage ranks third (behind only the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray) among the 61 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games during that stretch. His .931 even-strength save percentage is tied for fourth.

He even had a stretch last season where he was playing well enough to take a few starts away from Lundqvist. It’s probably not realistic to expect him to continue to maintain that sort of performance in a No. 1 role (bigger work load, not always getting the most favorable matchups, and all of those variables), but all he has done in the NHL is perform at a high level when given the opportunity.

Probably one of the best case scenarios for the Coyotes is that Raanta is able to duplicate what Cam Talbot has done since the Rangers traded him to the Edmonton Oilers two years ago. Talbot, Lundqvist’s backup before Raanta came along, was also 27 at the time he was traded and had performed extremely well in a limited backup role.

He has been an above average starter with the Oilers ever since.

The Coyotes have made some significant changes this offseason, parting ways with coach Dave Tippett, trading Smith, letting Shane Doan leave and bringing in Stepan, Raanta and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. Those veterans join a young core being built around Max Domi, Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and, of course, standout defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It has been a rough few years for the Coyotes on the ice, but they have young talent to build around and added some outstanding veterans to that core this summer.

In supporting McDavid, Oilers face bigger cap tests than Pens, Blackhawks

13 Comments

The Edmonton Oilers officially confirmed Connor McDavid‘s contract as the richest in NHL history: eight years at a tidy $100 million.

Remarkably, that $12.5 million cap hit is actually a big break for the Oilers, as McDavid could’ve justifiably demanded more. Either way, what’s next?

GM Peter Chiarelli gave the “no-comment” treatment when asked about Leon Draisaitl, instead praising McDavid for “caring about his teammates.”

Chiarelli’s seen the Blackhawks and Penguins struggle with salary-cap challenges, and the scary thing is that the Oilers must climb a bigger mountain.

Oilers lack some advantages Penguins, Blackhawks enjoyed

As tough as things have been for Chicago and Pittsburgh, Edmonton lacks some of those franchise’s significant edges.

For one thing, signing Sidney Crosby to a 12-year deal with an $8.7 million cap hit wouldn’t be possible today. Edmonton could only sign McDavid for a maximum of eight years, limiting the Oilers’ ability to parallel deals for the likes of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

It’s worth noting that the Blackhawks haven’t won a Stanley Cup since Jonathan Toews‘ and Patrick Kane‘s matching $10.5 million cap hits kicked in, deals that were more costly with the max-year loophole closed.

Yet, even in Chicago’s case, they managed to get a huge-term bargain under its belt during the old CBA. Duncan Keith brings Norris-level defense for a dirt-cheap cap hit of about $5.54 million through 2022-23.

Edmonton must find other opportunities to save money.

Bargains are crucial, and they’re where Chiarelli must “earn his money”

However you slice it, teams must bargain-hunt, and they often need to be creative to make things work.

The Penguins spent assets to land Phil Kessel, and they convinced the Maple Leafs to retain a crucial chunk of his cap hit. They’ve managed to integrate younger players like Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and especially Matt Murray into a mix of established stars. Of course, they’ve also enjoyed some luck along the way, most notably in convincing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas.

In many ways, Chicago set a template for the Penguins in discovering the likes of Artemi Panarin while also finding success with the likes of Ryan Hartman. Both Stan Bowman and Jim Rutherford have been willing to take chances on players and part ways with guys who weren’t deemed essential.

Such a thought explains why Kris Russell and Milan Lucic stand as polarizing signings; if those two struggle, that’s $10M poorly spent.

Not all bad

Look, Chiarelli faces some difficult challenges, yet he also has some things working in his favor.

Most obviously, this is a largely young core, with players who can improve. It’s reasonable to believe that McDavid and Draisaitl could make other, cheaper wingers better when Edmonton’s budget gets especially tight.

Cam Talbot‘s also been a revelation, and while his $4.2M cap hit expires after two more seasons, it’s a nice bargain to have.

There are also some decent deals on defense.

Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson combine for an affordable, solid trio. Klefbom and Larsson are also in their prime years, likely to deliver value for Edmonton going forward.

Once you shake off concerns about Lucic and Russell, the slate is actually fairly clean for Edmonton. That’s especially true if they make another tough call and move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if his $6M is too much to stomach.

***

The Oilers aren’t in an impossible situation, just a very challenging one. With McDavid as a sure thing alongside other nice pieces, it comes down to Chiarelli providing the supporting cast needed to collect some Stanley Cups.

Signing McDavid was the easy part.