Monday, June 30, 2008

Lightning most active on eve of free agent season

On the eve of the free agent season, a number of National Hockey League teams are jockeying for position to sign their own players as well as have hopes of nabbing a big ticket player to help the fortunes of their club.

With the new ownership in place, the drafting of the #1 overall pick in this year's draft in Steven Stamkos and the hiring of Barry Melrose as their new head coach, the Tampa Bay Lightning did not wait until tomorrow to get started on signing pending free agents.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay acquired the rights to forwards Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their pursuit of the two players paid off as each officially signed with the team earlier today.

The 27-year-old Malone, who spent his first four NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, put up a career-best 51 points (27 goals and 24 assists) in the 2007-2008 campaign and had another 16 in the Penguins' first playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 16 years. His contract is for 7 years with TSN reporting it is for $31.5 million. Because the Lightning signed Malone, the Penguins receive a 2009 third round draft pick as compensation for being allowed to negotiate a contract before hitting the free agent market.

Roberts at 42 years of age, signed a one-year deal worth $1.25 million, but will also get an additional $10,000 for every regular season game he plays. If he were to play in all 82, he could make as much as $2.07 million. He only had 3 goals and 12 assists in 38 regular season games in 2007-2008, but contributed 2 goals and 2 assists during the postseason for Pittsburgh.

Late last night, the Lightning then acquired the rights to forward Brian Rolston from the Minnesota Wild for a conditional draft pick in 2009 or 2010. If Tampa Bay is unable to come to terms on a contract with Rolston before 12:00 PM tomorrow, he will enter the free agent market completely unrestricted and can sign with any of the 30 NHL teams. Returning to Minnesota remains an option for the 35-year-old despite a breakdown in negotiations last week.

After acquiring the rights to Vaclav Prospal on June 18th, the team also came to terms on a new multi-year contract today with the 33-year old forward. Rogers Sportsnet reports the deal is 4 years for a total of $14 million. Tampa Bay also made another trade with Philadelphia in which they acquired defenseman Janne Niskala for a 2009 6th round draft pick.

We are hours away from the free agent derby getting started, but to catch you up to speed on those pre-July 1st deals, I shall provide what has been done so far since May 28th.

*The Boston Bruins re-signed defenseman Mark Stuart to 2-year, $2.6 million contract.

*The Buffalo Sabres re-signed forward Paul Gaustad to a 4-year, $9.2 million contract.

*The Calgary Flames acquired forward Mike Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings in a three-team trade during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft on June 20th that also involved the Anaheim Ducks. That same day, Calgary also traded forward Alex Tanguay and their 2008 5th round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the 25th overall pick in the draft (which ended up as Greg Nemisz). Then three days ago, the Flames re-signed forwards Craig Conroy, Daymond Langkow and Eric Nystrom plus goaltender Curtis McElhinney to new contracts.

*The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed forwards Patrick Eaves (3 years, $4.2 million) and Tuomo Ruutu (1-year, $2.25 million), defenseman Tim Gleason (4 years, $11 million) and goaltender Michael Leighton (2 years, $1.2 million).

*The Chicago Blackhawks re-signed forward Andrew Ladd to 2-year, $3 million contract.

*The Colorado Avalanche re-signed defensemen John-Michael Liles (4 years, $16 million) and Adam Foote (2 years, $6 million).

*The Dallas Stars re-signed defenseman Trevor Daley (3 years, $6.9 million) and forward Loui Eriksson (2 years, $3.2 million).

*The Detroit Red Wings re-signed defenseman Andreas Lilja to a 2-year, $2.5 million contract.

*The Florida Panthers re-signed forwards Rostislav Olesz to a 6-year, $18.9 million contract and Gregory Campbell for the next two seasons.

*The Minnesota Wild acquired defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2008 3rd round draft pick and re-signed defenseman Erik Reitz for the 2008-2009 season at $500,000.

*Prior to their draft day deal in which they had acquired Tanguay, the Montreal Canadiens re-signed forward Maxim Lapierre to 2-year, $3.75 million contract.

*After re-signing defenseman Ryan Suter to a 4-year, $14 million contract, the Nashville Predators traded forward Darcy Hordichuk to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2009 5th round draft pick. With an agreement in principle for a multi-year contract with goaltender Dan Ellis, Nashville traded goaltender Chris Mason to the St. Louis Blues for a 2008 4th round draft pick (traded to the New York Rangers on draft day). The Predators would later finalize a 2-year, $3.5 million deal with Ellis and re-sign defenseman Shea Weber at 3 years for $13.5 million.

*The Ottawa Senators re-signed forward Chris Kelly to 4-year, $8.5 million contract and traded forward Brian McGrattan to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 2009 5th round draft pick.

*Following two draft day trades which sent forward R.J. Umberger to the Columbus Blue Jackets and acquired forward Steve Eminger and a 2008 3rd round draft pick from the Washington Capitals for their first round selection (ended up being forward Anton Gustafsson), the Philadelphia Flyers signed Eminger for the 2008-2009 season yesterday. Back on Sunday, they finalized a 3-year, $15 million contract to bring back forward Jeff Carter.

*Five days ago, the San Jose Sharks finalized new contracts for three of their own players. They would be forwards Joe Pavelski (2 years, $3.3 million) and Jeremy Roenick (1 year, $1.1 million) as well as goaltender Brian Boucher (1 year, $650,000). Then tonight, forward Jody Shelley re-signed for two more years.

After an active month of June, especially after the Red Wings hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads for the 11th time in their history, this is where it is crunchtime for many general managers. The next 24 hours should be interesting to see what teams sign what free agents to position themselves for next season and beyond.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

2008 NHL Entry Draft first round selections

To no surprise whatsoever, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected forward Steve Stamkos as the first overall draft pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft last night in Ottawa.

Here are all thirty first round draft picks:

1. Tampa Bay - Steve Stamkos, C; Sarnia (OHL)
2. Los Angeles - Drew Doughty, D; Guelph (OHL)
3. Atlanta - Zach Bogosian, D; Peterborough (OHL)
4. St. Louis - Alex Pietrangelo, D; Niagara (OHL)
5. Toronto (from New York Islanders) - Luke Schenn, D; Kelowna (WHL)
6. Columbus - Nikta Filatov, LW; CSKA 2 (Russia)
7. Nashville (from Toronto) - Colin Wilson, C; Boston University
8. Phoenix - Mikkael Boedker, LW; Kitchener (OHL)
9. New York Islanders (from Florida) - Joshua Bailey, C; Windsor (OHL)
10. Vancouver - Cody Hodson, C; Brampton (OHL)
11. Chicago - Kyle Beach, C; Everett (WHL)
12. Buffalo (from Edmonton) - Tyler Myers, D; Kelowna (WHL)
13. Los Angeles (from Buffalo) - Colten Teubert, D; Regina (WHL)
14. Carolina - Zach Boychuk, C; Lethbridge (WHL)
15. Ottawa (from Nashville) - Erik Karlsson, D; Frolunda, Jr. (Sweden)
16. Boston - Joe Colborne, C; Camrose (AJHL)
17. Anaheim (from Calgary) - Jake Gardiner, D; Minnetonka, MN H.S.
18. Nashville (from Ottawa) - Chet Pickard, G; Tri-City (WHL)
19. Philadelphia (from Colorado) - Luca Sbisa, D; Lethbridge (WHL)
20. New York Rangers - Michael Del Zotto, D; Oshawa (OHL)
21. Washington (from New Jersey) - Anton Gustafsson, C; Frolunda, Jr.
22. Edmonton (from Anaheim) - Jordan Eberle, C; Regina (WHL)
23. Minnesota (from Washington) - Tyler Cuma, D; Ottawa (OHL)
24. New Jersey (from Minnesota) - Mattias Tedenby, LW; Sweden HV 71
25. Calgary (from Montreal) - Greg Nemisz, C; Windsor (OHL)
26. Buffalo (from San Jose) - Tyler Ennis, C; Medicine Hat (WHL)
27. Washington (from Philadelphia) - John Carlson, D; Indiana (USHL)
28. Phoenix (from Dallas) - Viktor Tikhonov, F; Cherepovets (Russia)
29. Atlanta (from Pittsburgh) - Daultan Leveille, C; St. Catherines (GHL)
30. Detroit - Thomas McCollum, G; Guelph (OHL)

Coyotes acquire Olli Jokinen from Panthers

This was a trade I was not expecting. Okay, maybe for the two teams that were ultimately involved, I was surprised.

Hours before last night's first round selections were made at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa, speculation grew to a heightened level that Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen was definitely on the trading block and ready to be had.

Steve Gorten of the South-Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the first hint early in the day yesterday that Jokinen was on the move as Panthers general manager Jacques Martin looked to make a trade in which he'd receive a first round draft pick. Within an hour of the draft, Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic revealed in his Ice Chips blog entry that the Phoenix Coyotes were a contender for Jokinen's services and trade negotiations were underway.

Within the first few minutes of TSN's telecast of the draft, it was announced that the Panthers traded Jokinen to the Coyotes for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton as well as the 49th overall draft pick in this weekend's draft. It wasn't the kind of deal many expected in what Florida received as compensation, especially because Martin wanted to get that first round draft pick.

Martin focused on acquiring players that can add depth to their blueline and he received that in Ballard and Boynton.

"I really felt we needed to improve our defense," Martin explained to the media after the trade was announced. "When you look at teams that are successful, you need defensemen who are mobile, defensemen that can move the puck. I feel Keith Ballard is a #2 defenseman. He's a tough player to play against, a real shutdown defenseman who can move the puck. He has good speed, a lot of grittiness, and he's physical. Nick Boynton is another who can play on our top four. He's a first-round pick, and (head coach) Peter (DeBoer) coached him in the World Championships."

Rumors had frequently circulated that Martin and Jokinen did not seem to see eye to eye during the three years they worked together. It came to a breaking point when the Panthers GM expressed his disappointment in Jokinen's production last season as discussed in a radio interview on WFTL-AM nearly a month ago.

Jokinen explained to Gorten last night that had a feeling his time had come where a change of scenery was needed.

"I was lucky enough to stay here for eight years. That's a long time," Jokinen said. "I would have liked to stay, but as a player, too, how long can you take it? Since Mike (Keenan) left, I think he was the guy who really wanted me here. So when he was gone, at that time I thought, 'It's just a matter of time before I'll have to leave."

But Martin denied the trade was a decision that was based on how he feels about Jokinen.

"It's not personal at all. I enjoyed working with Olli. He's an excellent player. I looked at improving our hockey club," Martin explained. "I don't look at things from a personal standpoint. At the same time, I wouldn't have made the trade if I didn't feel it was good for the organization."

Dave Joseph pointed out in his article at the Panthers official web site that the 25-year-old Ballard was surprised he got moved from Phoenix to Florida, but likes the trade that was worked out.

"I think it's a good deal for both teams," Ballard said in a conference call last night. "You look up front (with the Panthers) and they have a lot of good young players. And they have Jay Bouwmeester on the blue line. He's a real big defenseman, one of the better skaters in the league. He's the real deal."

On the Coyotes side, managing partner and head coach Wayne Gretzky said parting with two key players was no easy task in making the ultimate decision to pull the trigger on the trade.

"To get a good player, you have to give up good players," Gretzky said to Gintonio from Ottawa. "We know Keith is a hell of a competitor and Nick is one of the best team guys we ever had. But at the end of the day, we really needed a big centerman. We needed a guy that had a presence up front who could play 80 games with Shane Doan and have a big solid line."

Phoenix received the Panthers' all-time leading point scorer where he amassed 188 goals and 231 assists for 419 points in 567 games. This is despite the fact that the 29-year-old Jokinen was unable to lead his team into the Stanley Cup playoffs during his seven years in Florida. While the team captain during the last four years, his best season in the National Hockey League came during the 2006-2007 campaign when he put up 91 points for an entire 82-game schedule. While his numbers dropped some for last season, he still led the Panthers with 71 points, including 34 goals.

Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving spoke to the team's television color analyst Darren Pang to discuss the trade.

"One of the most difficult things to fill is that #1 hole," Treliving explained. "You look at our division and the (Joe) Thorntons, the (Ryan) Getzlafs, somebody that can match up, play big minutes and provide offense. Really going back, it's been a hole within the organization for a number of years. You have to go back a ways to find a true #1 center that's played there."

With the likes of Coyotes captain Shane Doan and promising young forwards Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and Kyle Turris, acquiring Jokinen may be the one piece to the puzzle to get Phoenix back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

"To get that big, big centerman was invaluable to us," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said to Matt Paulson of the East Valley Tribune. "It takes so much of the heat off a Kyle Turris or Marty Hanzal or whoever plays behind him. We're really, really happy things unfolded the way they did."

Certainly Jokinen is thrilled at the prospects of playing with Doan among others in the Valley of the Sun.

"Hopefully, I'll be the missing piece in Phoenix and we can take the next step," Jokinen said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to play on the same team with Eddie Jovanovski and Shane Doan. There's a lot of good talent over there."

Jokinen has two years left on his current contract at a total of $10.75 million and isn't eligible for free agency until prior to the 2010-2011 season. But for now, contract is not an issue at this stage. Just getting Jokinen was the most important part of the Coyotes building for future success.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Could Cablevision lose ownership of the Rangers?

For some New York Rangers fans, the idea of anyone owning this Original Six franchise other than Cablevision may be welcomed. For others, they may not care. It could depend on whether or not you're a satisfied season ticket holder or the Average Joe having the full access to watch the Rangers at the arena or readily on television at Cablevision's control.

But that debate is for another day. One way or the other in the present term, the fifth largest cable company in the United States is at war with the National Hockey League.

Madison Square Garden (a Cablevision property since 1997) filed a lawsuit last summer against the NHL in a claim that the league had overstepped their legal authority to oversee the 30 NHL teams in their operation and marketing practices, including advertising and merchandise sales.

The heart of the dispute lied with the use of the Rangers' official web site. MSG's lawsuit claimed they should not have had to turn over control of their then-alternate site "" to, couldn't sell branded merchandise in its own way online and that they couldn't provide games to Optimum Online subscribers via streaming video on its Web site. Madison Square Garden also disputes the NHL's ban on virtual advertising during MSG Network broadcasts.

But earlier today, Street & Smith's Sports Business Daily reported that the NHL had filed a countersuit against MSG. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman formally asked yesterday in a drafted letter for a New York district court to judically give him permission to discipline the Rangers and MSG internally for violating the league constitution.

"By calling into question the League's ability to market and exploit various rights on a collective basis, MSG has also damaged the League in its dealings with third parties and the Member Clubs in their dealings with third parties and/or prospective purchasers in an amount not present known," the NHL's letter to the court stated.

In final weeks of last summer in preparation for the 2007-2008 season, the NHL had re-branded all 30 team web sites to a more uniformed look, including the content of each site. They threatened the Rangers with a fine of $100,000 per day if the team did not turn over their official team web site to the league and end their own use of selling NHL-licensed merchandise independently from the NHL. MSG's lawsuit sought to prevent the NHL from collecting on those fines. After a November 2, 2007 court ruling that went against MSG, the Rangers web site had the style platform online in uniform with the NHL's other 29 teams.

If the court grants the NHL's request to proceed in leving sanctions against Madison Square Garden, this legal fight could really get nasty. The worst case scenario presents the possibility that NHL could go as far as suspending or terminating Cablevision's ownership of the Rangers.

MSG is already accusing the NHL of using "bullying tactics" in order to get their way from a business standpoint.

"Not surprisingly, the NHL is once again proving why an independent judge must address our claims," MSG spokesman Barry Watkins said in a statement to the Associated Press. "Despite trying to resolve our differences privately, the league has responded with excessive fines and now threats that have nothing to do with the merits of our position."

What's interesting about this dispute is that under the league constitution, owners aren't allowed to drag the league into court based on team operation issues. Either way, the local media and the fans will be keeping an eye on how this standoff plays out in the weeks and months ahead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lightning re-acquire Vaclav Prospal

With the Tampa Bay Lightning moving forward this offseason with their preparations for the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa plus finalizing the sale of the franchise to a new owner by month's end, Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster decided to bring back a familiar face.

It would be in the form of forward Vaclav Prospal, a player whom they traded to the Philadelphia Flyers just one day before the February 26th trade deadline for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a 2009 second round draft pick. This afternoon, Tampa Bay acquired the rights to Prospal from the Flyers for the Nashville Predators' 2008 seventh round draft pick.

The 33-year-old Prospal is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, so the Lightning would need to sign him to a new contract within the next 12 days before he is officially back with the team.

Despite the fact he put up respectable numbers in Philadelphia in which he had 14 points (4 goals and 10 assists) in 18 regular season games and another 13 points in 17 playoff games during the 2007-2008 campaign, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren wasn't confident Prospal was going to re-sign with them.

"Vinny really didn't express much of an interest in coming back and playing for us next season," Holmgren told the Associated Press in announcing the trade. "His heart is elsewhere."

Prior to joining the Flyers for the second time in his career, Prospal recorded 57 points (29 goals and 28 assists) and had 39 penalty minutes in 62 games for the Lightning. With one of the three key players from their 2004 Stanley Cup champioship team in Brad Richards having been traded away to the Dallas Stars, Feaster wanted to bring back Prospal to help out in point production.

"After assessing the pending free agent market and receiving a great deal of input from our prospective new owners, the decision was made to attempt to pursue Vinny Prospal for a return engagement to Tampa," Feaster said in the team's press release. "While we realize some of the risks involved in this strategy we also know that Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier have a very special chemistry together and getting Vinny back in the fold early would enable us to focus our time, attention and resources on other critical areas this summer while leaving our successful top line virtually in tact. At the end of the day, we felt that reacquiring Vinny now and attempting to negotiate a contract with him sooner rather than later was in the best interests of the organization."

According to Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, Prospal was hoping to earn at least $5 million per season on the free agent market, but given his love for the Tampa Bay area, likes playing with Lacavalier and that former head coach John Tortorella is no longer with the team, he is open to signing for less money to play for the Lightning for the third time in his career.

Now it is just a matter of getting Prospal signed on the dotted line.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Minnesota Wild alternate jersey concepts

I read this a few days ago at the NHL Tournament of Logos (soon to be re-named Icethetics) blog and it has my curiosity level up.

One of Chris Smith's readers who attended the Minnesota Wild fan appreciation day festivities in St. Paul last week had said that the team had displayed up to eight prototypes of possible designs for their new alternate jersey.

Obviously, this is partly an opinion post here as opposed to a news story.

Anyway, then yesterday, some fans started sending in concepts of what they think the prototypes could look like. In my opinion, I hope they don't ever see the light of day.

Out of any of them, I only support a white or light wheat version of their current home jersey, BUT... bring back last year's alternate turned home jersey! It is much better than the Reebok Edge version. I would even like to see a green version of the current home jersey, too. There were a couple images I saw back in February that shows not just a green one, but a white one, too. Not bad, I must say. I even like the idea of seeing what the primary logo looks like as the crest of their current home jersey.

However, but I also would support the exploration of a new secondary logo (even though I do still like the original that was unveiled on that very famous day in 1998). Check this out. You also get another look at what a green version to the current home jersey could look like, too.

How about this though? I would love to see what this idea looks like for real. This is from GhettoFarmBoy from the NHL Tournament of Logos blog as well as at Chris Creamer's Sports Logos page. Seriously, why this isn't explored for a third jersey is beyond me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reunion Arena set to close its doors

For Dallas Stars fans, memories of their successful 1999 Stanley Cup championship run can be traced back to Reunion Arena, the first sports venue the team called home after playing their first regular season game in North Texas on October 5, 1993.

Exactly eight years later, the Stars hosted the Nashville Predators in their first game in the American Airlines Center and have been playing at the $420 million facility ever since.

Those that enjoyed watching the Stars at Reunion Arena through 2001 will soon not be able to physically see it standing in the southwest corner of downtown Dallas. KXAS-TV originally reported on April 3rd that Reunion Arena would cease operations after a 28-year run since opening in 1980. The last scheduled event is Una Voz Profectica (a Spanish-language Christian rally) on June 21st.

Yesterday's edition of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Dallas City Council's economic development committee unanimously recommended closing the arena at the end of the month. So June 30, 2008 will go down as a day many in Dallas will never forget. But the final day in Reunion Arena history has yet to be determined. When that day arrives, the building will be demolished.

Much of the reason for the recommendation to close Reunion Arena is obviously the majority of the major sports and entertainment events being booked at American Airlines Center. Plus, according to the city, Reunion Arena has lost $6 million over the last 5 years.
Today's tough economic climate felt across the entire country makes keeping the city's two arenas in operation nearly impossible.