Nathan Skytta takes some time from his busy summer schedule to take a look at the NHL offseason and its many twists and turns. Note: Article written Aug. 14.
Just over two months ago, fans of the NHL witnessed the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1960-61 season. Now, with the countdown just over fifty days away from the drop of the puck in Helsinki, Finland, the Blackhawks have dismantled their championship team, the most prized free agent is still unsigned and those are just the beginning of the highlights that have made this summer so interesting for the fans of the NHL.
The Kovalchuk Puzzle
The highlight of the offseason was the signing, or so we thought, of Ilya Kovalchuk by the New Jersey Devils. The agreement was for 17 years and over 100 million dollars, but as soon as it was signed, the NHL rejected it. The arbitrator assigned to the dispute upheld the NHL’s ruling that the contract went against salary cap regulations and therefore was illegal. We are now in the middle of August, and the most heralded free agent on the market this offseason, remains just that.
Getting back to the Hawks, Antti Niemi, who was in net when the Hawks won the cup, won an arbitration hearing and was awarded a 2.75-million dollar salary. Because they are so close to the cap, the Hawks had no choice but to let Niemi, 26, become a free agent. The Hawks had a plan in place just in case they were forced to let Niemi go. The Hawks turned around and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco. Turco, a three time all-star, had been let go by the Dallas Stars earlier this summer and was looking for a new home. Niemi remains unsigned and there’s no word on where he may end up.
Clipping more Hawks wings
Along with Niemi, the Hawks parted way with players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd. When the Hawks raise the banner on opening night against rival Detroit, they will have a roster that has many people wondering if they will be able to repeat.
More Interesting Moves
Some other highlights of the offseason include former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signing to play in the KHL (Russia), Mike Modano, a Michigan native, heading home to play for the Detroit Red Wings after signing a one-year deal, the Philadelphia Flyers either acquiring or signing every free agent defenseman on the market—not really but at one time they had 10 defenseman on their roster—and Steve Yzerman taking over the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in hopes of bringing another championship team back to the Sunshine State.
A New Season Emerges
In the last 65 days since Patrick Kane snuck the championship-clinching shot between the legs of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, teams have been revamped, players have changed addresses, and some big names remain on the market. Along with the aforementioned Kovalchuk, players like Paul Kariya, Miroslav Satan, and Lee Stempniak remain unsigned.
In the next few weeks, teams will begin reporting to camp and start writing the script on what they hope is a championship season of hockey. With two outdoor games scheduled this season, a new roster for the Blackhawks, and many teams making changes to their rosters, anything can happen. So fans, get the jerseys out, the hockey packages ordered on your cable network, and get your vocal cords ready for what’s going to be another fantastic season of NHL hockey.
Quite the Olympic hangover for the Sharks as they lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3. San Jose showed the national audience about three minutes of competence, which was surrounded by 57 minutes of Latvian play.
I don’t even know who I was watching for the first 48 minutes of the game — really. Obviously going from the Olympics to the NHL regular season is a ginormous step down in pressure, but wow. I had hope that the Olympics would be like ankle weights; take them off and absolutely fly. Nope. Thank you, come again.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan was like “W-T-F, man?!” Poor sell-out crowd. They waited two weeks after that Buffalo loss just to see another clunker.
The second period is when things really fell apart. Evgeni Nabokov was seeing Canada jerseys again (come on now, the Devils jersey do resemble them) and let in three soft goals. Bad, bad, bad. One goal dropped behind him, and while Nabby did his trademark “peek behind,” he couldn’t spot the puck.
Devils goal number two was a slapshot from the point that went in cleanly. No excuse for that. I don’t remember anyone being in front of Nabby directly.
Devils goal number three was a wrister from the point by fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Again, stoppable. Again, unaccetpable.
Third period rolls around and Patrick Marleau tried being Captain Canada when he ignored Doulgas Murray’s pleas to defend Travis Zajac. Patty tried to steal the puck away from another Devil — fail. Wrister in the net from Zajac.
Oh, but wait. The Sharks transformed into a Zach Parise-Ryan Kesler hybrid at the 12-minute mark of the third period. You know — late-game heroics, energetic skating — the whole enchilada.
Devin Setoguchi struck twice in two minutes on Canada-reject Martin Brodeur (yes, I said it). Joe Pavelski buried a third goal a minute later, and the Shark Tank was a-rockin’.
Side note: Before that third goal, I actually saw Thornton skate the hardest I’ve seen in a long time for a loose puck. Those five seconds of brilliance were awesome.
But the Devils coach ruined all the fun with a timeout, and the Sharks couldn’t manage a fourth goal. They were just too stupid earlier in the game. Shame.
An unfortunate start to the homestretch, but at least the loss is to an Eastern Conference opponent. And Manny Malhotra was back tonight after missing some games before the break. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is still out, though. Lower-body injury is what they say.
The Devils only took one penalty the whole game. Granted the Sharks did score on the power play, but you have to draw more penalties on a trap team like New Jersey. They’ll lull you to sleep, a la Phoenix.
Hit-O-Meter: SJ 29 NJD 14; Niclas Wallin and Murray both had four.
Olympics thoughts: I don’t think there could have been a worse scenario than watching Crosby score that overtime goal. Now the Crosby worship will reach levels I could have never imagined. I cannot stand that guy. U-S-A, U-S-A!
The Canadiens come to town Thursday.