The recent exodus of NHLers to Russia continued on Friday, but with a twist — this time, it’s a coach.
According to various reports, former Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice has agreed to coach Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. He’ll be joined by former ‘Canes goalie coach Tom Barasso, who was recently replaced in Carolina by Greg Stefan.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports there may have been a European bidding war for Maurice’s services. ZSC Zurich — the team Bob Hartley left to take the head coaching job in Calgary — had expressed interest, but it appears Metallurg put together a superior offer (rumored to be a one-year, $2 million deal.)
Maurice — who took the ‘Canes to an Eastern Conference and Cup finals — is the second big coup for Metallurg in recent days. The team also inked former Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, the fourth NHLers to move to Russia this June. The others are Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto and Curtis Sanford, with offers apparently being drawn up for Alex Semin and Alex Radulov.
According to Russian news outlet Sports.ru, SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL is set to begin contract talks with Washington Capitals forward Alex Semin.
The former 40-goal scorer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has indicated his time in Washington is over. While reports have suggested Semin’s desire is to remain in the NHL, a recent interview with Sport-Express suggested playing in the KHL is also a viable option:
Question: “Is there any clarity on where your career will resume in the next season?”
Semin: “I can’t say anything concrete at this time. I’m waiting for July 1st, until the negotiations in the NHL open, for now I am unemployed.”
Question: “Are your priorities in Russia or North America?”
Semin: “I can’t answer. I don’t know.”
SKA general manager Alexei Kasatonov — who played nearly 400 games in the NHL with New Jersey, Anaheim, St. Louis and Boston — had previously told Sports-Express that his club plans to pursue Semin when the free agency window opens.
It’ll be interesting to see how negotiations play out. Recent days have seen a flurry of NHLers depart for the KHL — Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto, Curtis Sanford — though none with the star power and talent level of Semin, who has averaged 31 goals per season since the lockout.
Of note, SKA is home to a number of ex-NHLers including Maxim Afinogenov, Vitaly Vishnevski, Dmitri Kalinin, Denis Grebeshkov and Petr Prucha.
Another day, another NHLer heading to Russia.
This time it’s Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Sami Lepisto, who has agreed to join Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL.
His signing coincided with news that Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford had also agreed to join Lokomotiv, the team that suffered the enormous tragedy of last September’s plane crash.
Lepisto, 27, broke into the NHL with Washington before spending time with Phoenix, Columbus and Chicago.
He appeared in 26 games for the Blackhawks last season and in three of six playoff games, earning himself a sweet bruise in the process.
According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Blue Jackets backup netminder Curtis Sanford has signed with Lokomotiv of the KHL.
“Not a back-up plan,” is how Sanford described the move.
He’ll be joining a Lokomotiv team looking to rebuild after last year’s plane crash tragedy that killed 25 roster players and 11 team staff members. (Ex-NHLers signed on for next year include Viktor Kozlov, Staffan Kronwall, and Vitaly Vishnevsky.)
Sanford’s decision to leave the NHL is a bit curious given how effectively he returned last season after a two-year hiatus. The 32-year-old appeared in 36 games for Columbus posting a 10-18-4 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.60 GAA — the W-L record was an eyesore, but he did play well in stretches, was named Columbus’ Masterton Trophy nominee and even got a Tuesday Tire Pump (remember that?) out of the deal.
The larger picture, however, is what the move does to an already svelte goaltending market. In the past 48 hours we’ve seen Tim Thomas go on sabbatical, Tomas Vokoun sign in Pittsburgh and Sanford bolt to Russia. That leaves the UFA goalie list highlighted by the likes of Jonas Gustavsson, Scott Clemmensen, Johan Hedberg, Josh Harding, Dwayne Rolson, Martin Biron and Chris Mason.
Barring a near-miraculous change of heart, the Columbus Blue Jackets will look very different merely by trading Rick Nash this summer. Still, there will be some familiar faces, with Todd Richards getting the “interim” tag removed from his job title and depth players getting locked up.
Aaron Portzline reports that Derek MacKenzie is that next fringe guy to ink a new deal, as the team is expected to announce a new two-year deal on Wednesday. MacKenzie’s physical was significant because his 2011-12 season was marred by concussion issues.
Beyond the obvious Nash question, Portzline reports that re-signing MacKenzie narrows GM Scott Howson’s off-season “to-do list” down (assuming he’s the one doing things still, of course).
MacKenzie’s signing leaves the Blue Jackets with two free agent priorities before July 1 – defenseman Nikita Nikitin and right winger Jared Boll, both restricted free agents. The Jackets may pursue a two-way deal with goaltender Curtis Sanford, depending on what other changes happen at that position.
Then again, with trading Nash and not screwing up the No. 2 pick on the docket, keeping everything else simple might be a solid plan.