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Veteran Players Hoping To Prove They Aren’t Expendable

With NHL training camps about a month away there are still many NHL free agents looking for a new home.  Among them are some distinguished veterans.  They have won awards, Stanley Cups and Olympic medals and most of all are respected throughout the league.  Critics were shrugging their shoulders at the premiere of the hollywood relase The Expendables, with an aging cast including Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  The Expendables showed that those veterans still had a lot to offer action movie fans as it took first place at the box office for its first two weeks in theatres.  Here is a list of ten veteran NHL free agents still on the market.  Some are still productive, some have left their best years behind them.  But they all in their own way could help the right NHL team.  They are all hoping to prove, like Sly and the gang, that they are anything but Expendable.

Doug Weight (age 39): Career (1220 games, 276 goals, 748 assists, 1024 total points)

How can the recent Islander not be looked at as a positive veteran presence in any dressing room.  One of the premier set-up men in his prime Doug Weight is now more of a role player and team leader as he was most recently as the captain of the New York Islanders.  His best years behind him Weight still contributed to the Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup championship in 2006 and would either be a nice contributor to a team close to contending or a solid veteran leader on a youth oriented club.

Owen Nolan (age 38): Career (1200 games, 422 goals, 463 assists, 885 total points)

Owen Nolan only knows how to play the game one way, and that’s like a bull in a china shop who’s only goal is to score while knocking anyone and everything over in his path.  Although injuries have always been a problem, primarily with Nolan’s back, he has always proven to be an effective player.  An impact physical player who can still produce (25 and 16 goals the past two seasons with Minnesota) a healthy Nolan would certainly boost the hopes of an emerging contender.

Paul Kariya (age 35): Career (989 games, 402 goals, 587 assists, 989 total points)

The knock on Paul Kariya has always been his size.  Many didn’t seem to mind when he was one of the premier snipers in the NHL from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s.  The last few years, however, Kariya has been more a power play specialist and second line winger.  He managed to pot 18 goals in 75 games with the St. Louis Blues last year after only playing 11 games the year before.  On the right team, and specifically the right power-play, Kariya can still be a boost offensively.  His character is never in question as is his sportsmanship, Kariya has won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy twice.

Bill Guerin (age 39): Career ( 1263 games, 429 goals, 427 assists, 856 total points)

The one thing Bill Guerin brings to any team is experience.  The two time Stanley Cup champion (1995 with NJ, 2009 with PIT) is a gritty performer who can create more space for a skilled linemate while still being able to put the puck in the net.  Guerin would work well as a mentor on a young team (similar to his role with the Islanders from 2007-09) however I feel like after winning Lord Stanely again in Pittsburgh he’ll be looking to hitch his wagon to a Stanley Cup contender.

Brendan Morrison (age 35): Career (829 games, 187 goals, 360 assists, 547 total points)

Dependability and durability are really the best two ways to describe the classy veteran centre.  Always more of a playmaker than a scorer, Morrison is more than adequate in the offensive zone while playing responsible in his own end of the ice.  Once a member of one of the most feared lines in the NHL (with Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund in Vancouver) Morrison is still a strong 3rd line centre who can jump up to a top two role in a heartbeat.

Manny Legace (age 37): Career (365 games, 187 wins)

Mostly just a strong backup other than a few seasons in Detroit and St. Louis, Legace has always been a reliable saviour when his team’s number one goaltender has been injured.  He has done nothing lately to prove he is anything but a reliable second option, however he is at the point now where he can help a team by playing behind youth and helping mentor a young up and coming goalie.

Jonathon Cheechoo (age 30): Career (501 games, 170 goals, 135 assists, 305 total points)

At age 30 you would think he’s still a bit young to be on this list, but Cheechoo plays like a guy who is closer to his 40’s.  The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Tropy winner just a few years ago (2005-06) Cheechoo’s injuries have taken their toll and completely stalled his scoring touch.  It was thought a fresh start in Ottawa would be the ticket but when Cheechoo fizzled early he spent 25 games in the AHL and was bought out at the end of last year.  There are some that believe in the right situation, and if truly healthy Cheechoo can still contribute a 20 goal campaign.  He may become a cheap stop-gap option that pans out.

Willie Mitchell (age 33): Career (586 games, 19 goals, 100 assists, 119 total points)

Really posting Mitchell’s stats are laughable because the guy really isn’t a point producer.  He is however, one of the strongest shut down defensemen in the NHL.  He is physical, positionally sound, a strong shot blocker and a born leader.  Mitchell’s problem seems to be staying healthy although he isn’t resting on his laurels and travelling to interested teams (Washington, L.A., Vancouver) and working out for them in an effort to prove he still has some gas left in the tank.

Jose Theodore (age 33): Career (548 games, 245 wins)

I’m not sure anyone knew when Jose Theodore won both the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Vezina Trophy with the Montreal Canadiens in 2002 that it would be as good as it gets.  A solid regular season goaltender who seems to struggle in the playoffs, Theodore was surplanted two playoffs in a row by the younger, less experienced Simeon Varlamov in Washington.  With the goaltending market seemingly dry it will be interesting to see what path Theodore’s career takes next.

Miroslav Satan (age 35): Career (1050 games, 363 goals, 372 assists, 735 total points)

The one thing Satan has always been able to do is score.  The enigmatic winger has often left fans wanting, however has always been able to light the lamp.  He finally won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and proved again last season with the Bruins as a mid-season additon that he can still help kick start an offense scoring 9 goals in only 38 games.  Satan then added 5 goals and 5 assists in 13 playoff games for the Bruins proving he can produce in the playoffs as well.  Satan is pretty much a one-dimensional player but the one thing he does, score goals, he does really well.  He could be a boost to a team looking to add a little pop to their offense.

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Could others join Kovalchuk in free agency?

So arbitrator Richard Bloch’s ruling that Ilya Kovalchuk’s deal with the Devil(s) is null and void because it circumvents the integrity of the collective bargaining agreement was a blow to the NHL.  I for one thought it surprising in that the NHL let this go on with others (see Luongo, Hossa, Pronger, Zetterberg etc.) although not quite to this extent.  It figured they couldn’t just say something like “Ok this is getting out of hand NOW” and get away with it, but apparently they have.

Amongst the revelations is that due to Mr. Bloch’s ruling the NHL is still investigating other contracts of a similar nature.  Canucks GM Mike Gillis has admitted the NHL has contacted them on an on-going basis regarding Luongo’s deal and it seems Pronger and Hossa are also still being investigated.

How crazy would it be if with this ruling in their back pocket the NHL voided deals such as Pronger’s, Hossa’s and Luongo’s.  How crazy would it be if these players ended up free agents again and would anyone have room to add them?  My bet is these were rubber stamped originally and after playing a year of the agreement it is hard to take the contract away.  Although I’m betting quietly behind closed doors Hawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn’t fight it.

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10 things to watch this NHL season

Here we sit in the dog days of summer starving for hockey news.  We are waiting for the Ilya Kovalchuk arbitration ruling to kick start the second stage of UFA signings.  There are still many solid if not spectacular players on the market including aging stars Bill Guerin, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.  Useful role players like Raffi Torres, Aaron Asham and Eric Belanger are waiting to join a team in the hopes their grit will help push their new club to the next level.  And with Marty Turco taking a huge pay cut (1 year at $1.3 million) to play with the Blackhawks, one has to wonder what goalie Jose Theodore will have to settle for in order to find another NHL job.

But we all know these points as the present state of NHL affairs.  Hockey nerds like myself are already looking ahead to the NHL season, putting together line combinations for our favourite teams and contemplating the season that will be.  In saying that … here is my list of 10 things to watch this NHL season.

10. Will a big ticket player be sent to the minors to save cap room?

This is a theory that has been bandied about since the dawn of the salary cap era but so far no player of consequence has been sent to the minors for the sole purpose of saving on cap space.  Could this be the year it actually happens.  There are already whispers the Rangers would consider paying Wade Redden to play for their AHL affiliate in Hartford and save the $6.5 million cap hit in the process.  The Toronto Maple Leafs, it has been suggested, could send the overpaid Jeff Finger and his $3.5 million hit to the Marlies should they need the room to acquire some scoring punch.  Could this be the year a big contract player is sent packing to the AHL?  Time will tell.

9.     Halak vs Price

This will be the most interesting comparison of former teammates leading into the upcoming season. Did the Habs make a mistake trading Halak, the man who took the fabled franchise on his back as they rode into the Eastern Conference Finals, and hitching their wagon to the unproven and often shaken Carey Price.  Bob Gainey was always of the mind Price had the higher upside and his heir Pierre Gauthier took that advice to heart.  My money is on Halak being the more solid goaltender this season and I fear things could get ugly in Montreal if Price fumbles early.

8.     Will the NHLPA get its house in order.

Most hockey fans are sick of hearing about unions of any kind, (need I remind us Torontonians of the garbage strike last summer), let alone million dollar hockey players who can’t seem to agree on anything.  However, a healthy union is important for the players and if they happen to land current consultant Donald Fehr (former Executive Director of the MLBPA) as the new Executive Director, Commissioner Bettman better beware of the shark in the water.

7.     Have the Leafs done enough to push themselves into a playoff spot?

The culture in Leafland is definitely changing with Tomas Kaberle being the only significant member of the John Ferguson Jr. era still on the roster … for now.  Dion Phaneuf is ushered in as the new captain with the hopes his verbal enthusiasm and swagger will motivate and energize the young Leafs core as opposed to grating on his teammates like he did in Calgary.  Also added are current Stanley Cup Champion Kris Versteeg – expected to add more punch to the offense, hard hitting agitator Colby Armstrong and former Red Wings D-man Brett Lebda who is expected to help with the puck moving should Kaberle be shipped off.  For my money the Leafs will live and die by goaltending, and the tandem of J.S. Giguere and “The Monster” for a whole season will be enough to have them fighting for one of the bottom playoff spots in the East.

6.     Can the Capitals, Sharks or Kings take the next step?

For the Sharks this is old hat.  We have been asking if they can take the next step for a while now but last year felt different.  The Sharks were spectacular all the way to the Western Conference Finals until they ran into the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks.  With Marleau resigning, the machine-like offense remains in tact with the big question being whether Antero Nittymaki can improve the goaltending in big games.  For Washington, goaltending is also the big question  With most of the main offensive players returning can Simeon Varlamov finally grab the number one spot and lead the Caps deep into the playoffs.  The Kings took a HUGE step forward and although they lost Alexander Frolov and missed out on Ilya Kovalchuk they still have around $13 million in cap space.  If they add some veteran scoring punch and their young players continue to grow they should continue their climb up the Western Conference.

5.     Do the New Jersey Devils have another run in them?

With a cast of aging stars including: Martin Brodeur (38), Patrik Elias (34), Jamie Langenbrunner (35), Brian Rolston (37) and after picking up veteran centre Jason Arnott (36) it would appear that Lou is trying to squeeze one more championship out of his aging core.  On the plus side he has a young core including Ilya Kovalchuk (hopefully), Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and David Clarkson.   Add in a veteran backup tender in Johan Hedberg who should be able to give Brodeur more of a rest than he has had in the past.  It should be enough for the Devils to make one final run in the Eastern Conference.

4.     Can Steve Yzerman turn the Lightning around?

Perhaps one of the most sought after NHL front office executives in ages,  everyone knew Steve Yzerman was prime to be an NHL general manager.  That he ended up with Tampa Bay was a surprise to some however a quick turnaround is not out of the question.  The Bolts have always had offensive flair with Lecavalier, St. Louis and rising star Rocket Richard winner Steven Stamkos.  Add veteran Simon Gagne and hard working Dominic Moore to the list with agitating offensive threat Steve Downie and the forward depth looks solid.  Tampa’s week link has always been the back end.  With young phenom Victor Hedman in place and ex-Canuck Mattias Ohlund adding leadership Yzerman added former Lightning Cup winner Pavel Kubina to help solidify the defence.  He also picked up underrated Dan Ellis from free agency who should win the goaltending battle over Mike Smith.  Things are looking up in Tampa.

3.     Sid vs Alex on the NHL’s biggest stage.

The annual Outdoor Classic on New Year’s Day is one of the few NHL related events that has caught on with American viewers in mass numbers.  With the NHL’s two biggest stars on two of the NHL’s most exciting teams battling it out on a historic football stadium the Washington Capitals visit the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.  This is a can’t miss event for the NHL with the trash talking already beginning to fuel the fierce rivalry when Penguin’s pest Maxime Talbot called out the Great 8 for his questionable conduct and personality.  No matter what side you sit on in the Sid vs Alex debate this game should be pure gold.

2.     Will Taylor Hall and/or Tyler Seguin make instant impacts.

Last year’s draft was one of the most interesting and exciting in years with scouts clearly split on who should be the number one selection: Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.  In the end the Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall first and the Boston Bruins (with the Maple Leafs pick from the Phil Kessel trade) chose Tyler Seguin.  With both players bursting with potential there appear to be no losers here.  The question is can either have an immediate impact at the NHL level.  Despite Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin bursting on the scene and tearing up the league in their rookie season, more recent top picks Steven Stamkos (23 goals, 23 assists in rookie year) and John Tavares (24 goals, 30 assists in rookie year) had solid yet modest beginnings to their NHL careers.  Taylor Hall is hailed as the saviour in Edmonton and will be given every opportunity to shine in Alberta.  Equally big things are expected for Tyler Seguin in Boston, but the pressure to perform right away is lessened by a deeper team at forward.  My prediction is that despite the ice time Taylor Hall will get, Tyler Seguin will have the stronger rookie season based on the quality of players surrounding him.

1.     Can the Chicago Blackhawks survive the roster purge.

There has never been anything like it in the history of the NHL and we may never see anything like it again.  After capturing both the Stanley Cup and the hearts of the Chicago faithful the Hawks salary cap woes reared their ugly head quickly and it was a mass exodus of quality players.  Fan favourites like Dustin Byflugien and Kris Versteeg as well as solid performers Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel were sent packing to ease the cap strain.  On top of that Antti Niemi was awarded a 1 year, $2.75 million dollar contract in arbitration and GM Stan Bowman deemed it too rich and walked away.  He instead chose to sign veteran UFA Marty Turco to a more reasonable if short-sighted 1 year, $1.3 million dollar deal.  The good news is Chicago kept a core of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathon Toews, Stanley Cup winning goal scorer Patrick Kane, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, always the bridesmaid and finally the bride Marian Hossa and the solid and ever improving Brent Seabrook.  While losing a lot of fan favourites and good vibes the Hawks core should be enough to compete at the top of the Western Conference for many years.

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