The publishers that comprise the
Hockey Alliance have teamed up
this Summer to provide news notes from around
the league. This week's column
focuses on the free agent market and what teams
are faced with this off-season.
Take a spin with the latest installment of the
Well despite many rumors the Sabres did the
unthinkable on draft weekend; they stayed pat and made
no trades at all. Instead the Sabres kept the #5 pick
overall and selected Thomas Vanek, a prospect that has
some Sabres' fans quite excited. Vanek has two
attributes lacking on Buffalo's roster: he's big and
he can score. With the rest of their selections on day
one Buffalo picked up two more forwards: Branislav
Fabry and Clarke MacArthur. On the second day the
Sabres picked up five left shooting defensemen: Jan
Hejda (who most likely can step into Rochester
immediately), Denis Ezhov (whom the Sabres think was a
real steal), Thomas Morrow, Pavel Voroshnin and Nathan
Paetsch. At first glance not a great group but Ezhov,
Morrow and especially Paetsch could have a good return
for the club. It's worth noting the Sabres do a good
job finding talent in the later rounds, last year's
exceptional rookie Ales Kotalik was a 5th round
selection and many in Buffalo are still wondering why
he didn't, at the very least, get nominated for the
Calder (Kotalik was 5th in rookie scoring and 2nd in
rookie goal scoring with 21 goals).
The lack of moves seems contrary to bold statments
made by new team owner Tom Golisano and managing
partner Larry Quinn. GM Darcy Regier has stated that
there will likely be a lot of restricted free agents
(RFA's) on the market this summer as a number of teams
will not make qualifying offers to a number of RFA's.
Regier stated the days around July 1st will likely be
the peak of offseason trading, although he was
typically tight lipped about the Sabres' desires and
possible moves. Regier did state the Sabres had two
deals in the works over the draft weekend but both
deals broke down and neither involved the #5 overall
pick. The Sabres are known to be seeking younger,
cheaper talent that could be with the team after the
probable 2004 lockout. On the free agent front the
only player the Sabres have been linked to through
rumor is local boy Todd Marchant. The Sabres would
likely have to greatly overpay for Marchant's services
which is a losing prospect. But from a PR and hockey
point of view, Marchant would be a great fit for his
Darryl Sutter completed his first entry draft as a
National Hockey League general manager by over seeing
the selection of nine players through Saturday and
Sunday. The Alberta native was clearly over joyed that
first round pick Dion Phaneuf fell down to the Flames
at pick #9, wrapping the young defenceman up in a
traditional bear hug as he took the stage. The second
round featured another defenceman in Tim Ramholt, a
Swiss professional that the Flames have had their eyes
Calgary fans were somewhat dismayed when he moved the
club's second second round pick to the San Jose Sharks
for three additional picks that sprinkled into the
third, fourth and fifth rounds. With many draft
prognosticators suggesting one of the deepest
selection pools in recent history, the movement of a
second round pick was somewhat surprising. The Flames
are clearly hoping that quantity will win the day over
quality when the dust settles in three to five years.
Two additional noteworthy picks were made in later
rounds when the Flames drafted the QMJHL's top ranked
fighter, Thomas Bellemare with their seventh round
pick, and then grabbed Todd Harvey's younger brother
Kevin with their ninth pick. Overall, the Flames were
able to place a few check marks beside their pre-draft
wish list that included defencemen, size, speed and
plenty of Canadian content.
On the player movement side, much was made of rumours
that Calgary was having trouble signing forward Chris
Drury and that he was on the way to Boston for
defenceman Nick Boynton. These rumours seemed to have
an Eastern base with no creditable information to
confirm from Sutter, Drury, or Drury's agent. Sutter
himself shot down another rumour that had him shopping
defenceman Bob Boughner to the Florida Panthers.
The big story coming out of the draft this past
weekend, as far as the Chicago Blackhawks are
concerned, occured via the trade route. On the
surface, trading third line center Andrei Nikolishin
to Colorado for a 2004 4th round choice doesn't seem
like that big of a deal, notwithstanding the fact that
the Blackhawks paid a high price to get him back in
November. The fact that Blackhawks General Manager
Mike Smith said publically that this trade opens up a
spot for 2001 first round draft pick Tuomo Ruutu left
people shaking their heads. The Blackhawks and Ruutu
are about seven million dollars apart on an incentive
based contract and this trade may have put more
leverage on the site of Ruutu. Smith may have to
develop a backup plan if he can't sign Ruutu.
As far as the draft goes, the Blackhawks seemed to
draft by need instead of taking the best player
available. The Blackhawks drafted five defensemen, two
goals and three centers over the two day draft period.
After deciding not to trade his 14th pick and move
down a bit in the first round, the Blackhawks selected
defenseman Brent Seabrook and left some offensive
gifted players on the board. The player to watch in
the future may be goalie Mike Brodeur (no relation to
Marty) taken in the seventh round. Brodeur helped
Camrose win them AJHL league championship and was
named playoff MVP last season. Brodeur will attend the
University of Wisconsin in the fall.
Blue Jacket fans were disappointed that Doug MacLean
was unable to engineer any kind of a trade which would
allow the CBJ to get Nathan Horton or Eric Staal in
the draft. Zherdev was probably the best hockey
player in the draft and a decent pick at 4, but he
brings excess baggage. In particular, how do we get
this guy out of his Red Army contract? Another
Russian, Alexander Guskjov, drafted 200th will
probably beat Zherdev to the CBJ roster.
Blue Jacket fans are expecting big "free agent"
excitement in July. Rumor is that the biggest signing
in Blue Jacket history will take place. It will need
to be bigger than the rumored acquisition of Pierre
Turgeon to be classified as "big".
Drop four-straight games against a southern California
team, get yourself Dominik Hasek. That's what the case
will be for the Detroit Red Wings for the 2nd time in
three seasons if the enigmatic netminder, as expected,
makes his decision to return to the NHL official this
The announcement would make an already full summer
plate for the Red Wings even more hectic, since the
team will be forced to deal Curtis Joseph and his $8
million salary. The potential suitors for Joseph
remain minimal, with the Philadelphia Flyers and New
York Rangers being named as the top options. Both
clubs are trying to dump the hefty salaries of John
LeClair and Eric Lindros, respectively.
If Detroit is unable to re-sign Sergei Fedorov, expect
the team to pursue Lindros in an attempt to fill the
hole created at center. The Red Wings are also rumored
to be heavily interested in signing defenseman Derian
Hatcher whether or not the team signs Fedorov.
The Minnesota Wild came out of last weekend's draft
satisfied that the players they took would help
continue to build a strong foundation for the future.
Darkhorse pick Brent Burns was a late bloomer who fell
under a lot of people's radar, but Minnesota feels the
growth he has shown on and off (he grew 6 inches in
the past year) made him a quality pick at the #20 spot
in Round 1. Then, to have Patrick O'Sullivan slide to
them at the #56 spot, well that was like acquiring
another first round pick for nothing. O'Sullivan's
family problems weren't of his own doing, and
Minnesota has the tools to help him put those issues
in the past and succeed in the NHL.
Outside of the draft there has been some action too.
Sources close to WildOnIce.net say that free agent
center Cliff Ronning, who has been viewed as an
unlikely candidate to return to the Wild, has sold his
Twin Cities home and moved back to British Columbia.
Obviously, Ronning doesn't feel like he'll be back
In the front office, COO and President Tod Leiweke
will be leaving the team soon to join the front office
of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. He will serve as
CEO of the Seahawks, and president of the new Seahawks
Hear that folks? That's the sound of stunned silence
on Long Island. For the first time in at least five
years, GM Mike Milbury has done nothing on Draft Day.
Yep, you heard me right. Nothing. Up until the draft
it was rumored that everyone on the team could be
traded for Pavol Demitra, including captain Mike Peca,
but so far all plans have fallen through.
Despite the lack of deals, the Islanders still had a
four picks in the first two rounds, two of which were
picked up in the Osgood and Niinimaa deals. It looked
like Milbury was drafting for next season as he took a
scoring winger, a power play man and defensive depth,
although I use the term 'depth' loosely.
At #15, the Islanders selected Swedish sensation
Robert Nillson. The pick is a good one, despite
whatever Pierre Macguire (who is on ESPN for a reason)
said. Nillson is in pretty good company as he broke
Markus Naslund's rookie scoring record this year
(formerly held by none other than Peter Forsberg). In
the second round the Islanders selected three players
inclduing Dmitri Chernykh (ranked 4th in Europe by
CSS) and Evegeny Tunik (ranked 8th), who looks like
the Euro version of Todd Bertuzzi/Brad Isbister. The
Isles also took Jermey Colliton, a winger from Prince
Albert at #58 overall.
It's been a busy week or two for Ranger fans, and the
excitement promises to continue through the start of
July...especially on the trade rumor front. Going
into last weekend's draft, many were expecting a big
name or two to be moved and the Blueshirts were
thought to figure prominently in any deal making. As
it turned out the Rangers made just one trade and that
was an exchange of picks in the middle rounds.
While we're on the subject of the draft, New York got
the guy they wanted when they drafted the 6'4"
long-time Ranger fan in Hugh Jessiman. Reports
following the draft had the organization ranking
Jessiman as high as 4th amongst all prospects. As a
whole New York once again focused on NCAA players,
with a total of five of their ten picks either
debuting or already playing for one of the US college
teams. But unlike last year, this season's draft
picks were less about size and more about potential,
with four players under the six foot mark.
Jessiman and fellow draftee Ken Roche will be
attending a brief prospect camp along with several
other players in the Rangers system this week. The
camp will be run under the supervision of Wolfpack
coach Ryan McGill, who will return to the pack for his
second season in the pros. As for the Rangers, it
appears the list of prospective coaches continues to
dwindle with reports coming out this week suggesting
Larry Robinson will elect not to move across the
Whatever the case, the approaching July 1st deadline
promises to be a nervous time for many Rangers
faithful. With the likes of Jagr and CuJo linked to
the team (however tenuously) combined with the
impending uncertainty about the Collective Bargaining
Agreement, it appears New York is setting itself up
for a long summer.
The floor of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft was eerily
quiet, even though most would have predicted frenzied
activity akin to that of the New York Stock Exchange
trading floor on a bullish day.
For the Ottawa Senators, as well as for most of the
hockey world, the draft was overshadowed by the news
of assistant coach Roger Neilson's death following a
long losing battle to cancer.
With their first pick at #29, Ottawa chose right
winger Patrick Eaves from Boston College. Eaves,
compared by some to Martin St. Louis and by others to
Mike Peca, has hockey in his blood and plays bigger
than his size. In round seven, the Senators made good
use of their local scouting as they picked Ottawa 67's
defenseman Will Colbert.
In all likelihood, Ottawa's 2003 draft class will
remain in development in the organization for several
years before attempting to enter the NHL. The Senators
can afford that luxury seeing how deep the young team
is, but more than anything the draft will be seen as a
test for GM John Muckler and his new scouting staff.
A year removed off selecting size and speed, the
Phoenix Coyotes went small in their first couple picks
with Tyler Redenbach and Dimitri Pestunov. Along with
those 3rd round picks, the Coyotes selected five other
players of which only one defensemen and no
goaltenders were taken. After going heavy with NCAA
prospects the last couple years, the Coyotes went
heavy into Europe with four of the eight draft picks.
The Coyotes also bolstered their blueline in a trade
with the Carolina Hurricanes trading defensemen Danny
Markov for David Tanabe and Igor Knyazev. Tanabe will
fill Markov void on the Coyotes blueline while Knyazev
will start the season with the Coyotes AHL affiliate
Entering the draft with the 6th and 21st overall picks
and 13 others scattered throughout rounds 3 through
nine, Sharks GM Doug Wilson got to show off his
dealing skills. After the smoke had cleared, Wilson
held on to his first pick and selected Czech prospect
Milan Michalek and moved up to take Steve Bernier with
the 16th overall pick. Wilson wasn't done there. He
would walk away from the first day of the draft with
four of the first 50 overall picks.
In Michalek the Sharks get a 19 year old right wing
who could be ready for the NHL as soon as the 2004-05
season. Michalek spent the last two season playing
the Czech ExtraLeague, developing his skills with
players in their 30's. Bernier tore up the QMJHL last
year, bagging 49 goals for Moncton.
Eight of San Jose's eleven picks were forwards, which
is an about face from the clubs history of stockpiling
defenseman under former GM Dean Lombardi. The Sharks
seem set on the blueline and there's nobody better to
recognize that than their current GM, who spent 18
years as a defenseman in the NHL.