NHL NEWS: Tonnes of (non-Cup Final related!) stories.

Oh Philly, you do crack me up.

Now that I have returned from the land that brought hockey the likes of Mariusz Czerkawski (awesome), Wojtek Wolski (kind of) and Krzysztof Oliwa (who?), I shall now attempt to briefly cover some of the more notable stories of the past week.

CANUCKS SIGN ERIKSSON

As per TSN, the Vancouver Canucks have signed free agent goalie Joacim Eriksson to an entry-level contract.  The deal is reportedly for 2 years at $925,000 per season should he play in the NHL, or $70,000 in the AHL.  Eriksson was highly sought after following Chicago signing top European goalie Antti Raata.  The 23 year old Swede was orginally drafted by Philadelphia in 2008 but was never signed – quite hilarious when you think about it – and has since become one of Sweden’s premier goaltenders.  He had a record of 21-9-0 this year with Skelleftea, with a 1.67 GAA and .931 SV% – sterling numbers in any league – and was even better in the playoffs with a 1.06 GAA and .952 SV% in 10 games as Skelleftea romped to the league title.

This was a somewhat surprising signing, much like Raata to Chicago, given the quality of Vancouver’s goalies, but it looks almost certain now (if it wasn’t already) that one of their goalies is on the way out, with Eriksson looking to duke it out with Eddie Lack for the backup spot.

VIGNEAULT CONFIRMED FOR RAGS GIG

Former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault has been hired by the New York Rangers to a 5 year, $10m contract.  At $2m per season, that makes him one of the best paid coaches in the league, but with good reason.  In 7 seasons with Vancouver, Vigneault led the team to a 313-170-57 record in 540 games, including 6 Northwest Division titles and 2 President’s Trophies (an extremely underrated achievement) not to mention being one win away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.

He had a great team to work with, no doubt, but the way he used them took advantage of each players skills to the max.  Examples include playing the Sedins in the offensive zone an extraordinary amount, and giving Manny Malhotra an unholy amount of defensive zone work.  He may be able to do the same with the Rangers, with players like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (if he’s still around) able to provide great offence and the likes of Brian Boyle more defensive play.

Without a doubt, Vigneault is one of, if not the best, coaching candidates available this year, and has a terrific career record over the last several years.  Whilst a hard taskmaster, he should be somewhat less combative than John Tortorella, and certainly more affable with the media.

PREDATORS TRADE BUTLER FOR BRENNAN, RE-SIGN PISKULA

The Nashville Predators have been one of the busier teams over the last few days.  First, they traded forward Bobby Butler to the Florida Panthers for defender TJ Brennan.  Butler, a former NCAA standout, has 128 NHL games to his name and 48 points in that time.  A very good minor leaguer, he has had some good stretches in the NHL but since being signed by New Jersey in 2012 he has struggled a bit.  He only had two points in 14 games for the team this year, and was placed on waivers in March where Nashville claimed him.  He was pretty good for the Preds, notching 9 points in 20 games.

The Predators obviously didn’t feel they needed a player who could put up a few points, given their current offensive prowess… So they decided to trade him for 24 year old Brennan.  Brennan was a fairly high draft pick – 31st overall – in 2007, but has yet to blossom into the player many thought he could be.  He’s a very good AHL player, and this season did take a step forward in his NHL career after being traded to Florida from Buffalo.  Defenceman do take a long time to develop, so perhaps he is just coming into his own now.  Either way, both teams got some pretty good depth players in this deal.

The Predators then opted to re-sign defenceman Joe Piskula to a one year, two-way contract.  Acquired from Calgary in February, the 28 year old is largely a minor league player, with 393 AHL games under his belt and just 10 NHL games.  He’s  a pretty good AHLer, but no better than replacement level at the NHL, so this is a pure depth signing – no bad thing, but unlikely particularly at his age to affect the NHL roster.

RED WINGS RE-SIGN MILLER

Detroit has re-signed utility forward Drew Miller to a three year contract worth $4.05m total.  Claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in 2009, Miller has been a pretty good player for the team, chipping in some offence and being a pretty decent defensive player.  At 29 years old, he’s still got a good few years to go yet and 3 years is neither too short nor too long for a player like him – a good signing.

CANUCKS NEW FARM TEAM: UTICA COMETS

More Canucks news.  Vancouver has announced that they have established a new AHL franchise in Utica, New York.  Nicknamed the Comets, they will play at the 4,000 seat Utica Memorial Auditorium, and this move brings back AHL hockey to a city that once housed the New Jersey Devils’ farm team, as well as UHL and NEHL teams.

This move comes following the news that the Canucks had purchased St Louis’ AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, and announced the decision to relocate the franchise.  The Canucks’ previous AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, will now be affiliated with the St Louis Blues.

STARS RE-SIGN CONNAUTON

23 year old defender Kevin Connauton, acquired from Vancouver in April in the Derek Roy deal, has re-signed with the Dallas Stars.  The new deal is three years long and is structured in a very interesting way.  The first year is a two-way deal, meaning he’ll make $100k if in the AHL or $600k if in the NHL.  However, the final two years are both one-way deals, worth $650k in the second year and $800k in the third year no matter where he plays.  Long considered a very good NHL prospect, Connauton has struggled to find traction in the NHL although it didn’t help being stuck behind a defence as good as Vancouver’s.  He should be able to find more opportunity in Dallas, particularly given their partial-rebuild that seems to be going on.

Drafted out of the NCAA in the 3rd round in 2009 by the Canucks, Connauton moved to the WHL where he enjoyed fantastic success, and then has had three quality years in the AHL as an all-around player.  If he’s going to make the NHL, now’s the time.

FLYERS TRADE FOR STREIT’S RIGHTS, RE-SIGN HIM TO 4 YEAR DEAL

In yet another hilarious move by Paul Holmgren, aka Paul LOLmgren (thanks, Twitter), the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Mark Streit’s rights from the New York Islanders for a minor league forward (Shane Harper) and a 4th round draft pick in 2014 – that’s not the funny bit – and then proceeded to sign him to a 4 year, $21m deal – that’s the funny bit.

Streit is not a bad player, in actual fact he’s quite a good one in spite of what many will tell you.  He puts up a considerable amount of offence from the blueline (179 points in 286 games for New York), and generally drives the play in the right direction.  He has suffered from terrible +/- figures at times, and has been known to give the puck away, but that will always happen to players like Streit, who handle the puck a lot – he played the second most minutes of any defenceman on the team this year, and was one of the top four PKers.

The problem is, he’s not quite the player he used to be.  He’s still very capable, but at age 35 he’s not going to get any better.  That’s why this deal with the Flyers is so hilarious.  For a team that has cap issues, several aging players and issues on defence and in net, they go and sign an aging offensive defender on the downside of his career to a long and expensive contract.  Huh.

What’s the bet that Shane Harper and the 4th round pick next year will end up being quality players for the Isles?  They do seem to find value in those sorts of deals, so who knows.

WILD RE-SIGN SCANDELLA

The Minnesota Wild announced on Monday that they have re-signed 23 year old defenceman Marco Scandella to a two-year one-way contract.  The deal will see Scandella earn $900,000 in the first year and $1,150,000 in the second for a cap hit of $1.025m per season.  It seemed that last season Scandella had made the NHL, impressing enough with his all-round play to earn 63 games in the NHL, but he found himself back in the AHL this year (except for a 6 game stint, plus 5 in the playoffs) for more seasoning.

This is a bargain contract for just two years.  As such, if Scandella continues his impressive development then this will be a bargain; if he doesn’t – and I don’t expect that to be the case – then it’s not a difficult contract for the Wild to bear.

SAN JOSE SHARKS EXTEND LOGAN COUTURE

Star forward Logan Couture has agreed to terms with the San Jose Sharks on a 5 year contract worth $6m per season.  The former first round draft pick in 2007 has 232 NHL games under his belt, scoring 89 goals and 167 points in that time.

Couture, who plays centre and left-wing, is a terrific player who is a dominant possession forward, and this past season added penalty killing to his resumé.  Whilst this contract is somewhat on the expensive side and I wouldn’t want to see him paid any more than $6m – the Sharks are clearly paying for what he will do rather than what he has done, even though he’s been great – he probably will end up just about being worth it.   He’s a damn good player, but let’s not forget that in 4 NHL seasons he hasn’t really been close to a point-per-game in any season.  He’s had a couple of terrific playoff runs, but he hasn’t been elite over a full season, yet.  That’s certainly not to say he won’t reach that status, though.

L.A. KINGS EXTEND SLAVA VOYNOV

The Kings have agreed to a new deal with flavour-of-the-month defenceman Slava Voynov.  The deal for the 23 year old will see him paid $4.167m per season for 6 seasons.  Voynov has been highly thought-of for a number of years now, since he was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft (that also netted them superstar defenceman Drew Doughty), and he improved greatly on his already outstanding rookie season from last year with 25 points in 48 games this year, not to mention 6 goals and 13 points in 18 games in this years playoffs.

Whilst that production from the playoffs certainly shouldn’t be expected to continue, Voynov has proven so far to be a fantastic two-way defenceman, highly skilled on the attack and pretty good on defence too – although his shot differentials could stand to improve somewhat.

This deal, should he maintain his development and established level of ability, could prove to be an absolute bargain, and is somewhat comparable to the deal Tom Gilbert signed with Edmonton back a few years ago for the same term and similar money.

Yet another draft win for the LA Kings, phenomenal.

DATSYUK, WINGS AGREE TO NEW DEAL

The player acknowledged by many to be one of the greatest of the last several years, Pavel Datsyuk has agreed to a 3 year extension with the Red Wings.  The deal will see him earn an average of $7.5m per year for 3 years.  That’s a lot of cash in the NHL, and a sizeable chunk of a team’s cap hit, but there are two important things to remember here.  Firstly, Datsyuk is a fantastic player.  Secondly, it’s only 3 years long, so isn’t going to handicap the team should he flame out (he won’t).

As a guy who takes on tough competition, he’s a puck possession monster and is frequently regarded as the best defensive forward in the league.  Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, at least not any more, he’s still incredible in that aspect, and I think what makes it so much more impressive is that he combines it with incredible offensive ability.

At 34, he should be on the downside of his career, but doesn’t seem to be slowing down as he scored 49 points in 47 games this past year, increasing his career totals to 767 points in 779 games.  He’s also a 3 time winner of the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, and a 4 time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanlike play, as well as having won 2 Stanley Cups, all with Detroit.

CALGARY FLAMES ACQUIRE CORBAN KNIGHT

The Calgary Flames have traded a 4th round pick in this year’s draft to the Florida Panthers for highly regarded centre Corban Knight.  Thought to have been a battle between Calgary and Edmonton to win that deal – what with Knight being a native of Alberta – the Florida Panthers had agreed to let teams talk to Knight to persuade him to sign with them on the condition that if he did, then Florida would receive compensation for his rights.  Florida was unable to agree to terms with Knight on a contract previously.

Knight was an outstanding NCAA forward, piling up 146 points in 161 games, and being at or over the point per game mark in all of his final 3 seasons at North Dakota.  He was also a +64 in that span.  The 22 year old was also a Top-10 finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker award as the top collegiate player.

Corey Pronman, the prospect guru for Puck Prospectus, rates Knight as “one of the best two-way players in the country”, and calling him a “great puck possessor who displays puck skills to go along with very good hockey sense at both ends”.  Not flashy, but highly-talented and hard-working.  Perhaps the only negative is that he isn’t any better than average at skating, but that’s a minor issue when everything else is so good.  Pronman projects him as a good second line center who takes on tough assignments.

One hell of a signing for Calgary’s depleted prospect pool.

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