Summer Ramblings
Six Weeks to Go!

By: Hockey Alliance Publishers
July 30th, 2003

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 Summer Ramblings...


After some splashy moves, things have quieted down quite a bit Sabres country. Buffalo's top two lines have a good amount of firepower now; Drury most likely will center for Miro Satan and Ales Kotalik, Daniel Briere will likely continue to center Jochen Hecht and JP Dumont. The third and fourth lines, however, are wide open and the cause for much speculation. The Sabres have a bit of a logjam they need to clear out and Sabres' fans are expecting more trades to clear out the excess players and toughen up the team's ing lines. Currently the following players are fighting for spots on the 3rd and 4th lines: Curtis Brown, Taylor Pyatt, Max Afinogenov, Eric Boulton, Adam Mair, Steve Begin, and Tim Connolly.

Pyatt and Afinogenov are the two players with the best chance at playing on the 3rd line and perhaps earning time in the top two lines given how much head coach Lindy Ruff loves to juggles lines. Mair is wildly popular in Buffalo and rightfully should have a place on the 3rd line as well. Begin is tagged as a pest, he would seem to be a good "energy" type player with Boulton on the fourth line. The Sabres have two prospects at center: Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad who could very well make the cut this fall. If that happens then Curtis Brown and Tim Connolly are most likely trade bait. The Sabres have a similar logjam on defense: Alexi Zhitnik, Dmitri Kalinin, Henrik Tallinder, Jay McKee, Brian Campbell, Andy Delmore would appear to be the top six. Rory Fitzpatrick, James Patrick are able reinforcements and Joel Bouchard could also see some time in Buffalo. GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff have strongly hinted the team is looking to add more grit and heart, so look for the Sabres to make more moves after the August arbitration hearings are over.


Clearly Darryl Sutter is a man of his word. Upon taking over the Calgary Flames from Craig Button in April, Sutter stressed a few important mandates or parameters that would help shape his team. The club was to become faster,; larger, and rely more on youth - to stop filling holes with retreads that had their best days behind them. Since our last summer update Sutter has been busy adding re-signing his existing core players and adding other components to compliment his roster. He added to the forward ranks by signing Columbus free agent Matt Davidson, a 6'3" forward with a good defensive skills, but little to offer offensively. Similarly, Sutter inked former Oiler Josh Green to add a presence to the club's fourth line. Green, 6'4" and 220 pounds, was discarded by the Washington Capitals, and signed a very flexible two way deal worth only $450,000. At one point Green was a well thought of prospect in the L.A, Long Island and Edmonton systems but injuries and a lack of production has landed him a low paying contract in Calgary.

The moves have drastically reshaped the bottom half of the Flames roster with size limited players like Blake Sloan, Steve Begin, and Scott Nichol sent packing in favour of the Davidson, Green, and Calgary rookie Blair Betts who stands 6'2" himself. With only 13 forwards under contract it's more and more clear that Sutter has decided the time is now for Oleg Saprykin (22) and Chuck Kobasew (21) to show their stuff on the top two lines. The Flames will likely sink or fall on the production of these two scoring prospects as they endeavor to avoid missing the playoffs for the 8th straight season.


It has been a pretty quiet summer so far in Chicago, but with season ticket money due on August 1st, the Blackhawks have attempted to make some headlines. Unfortunately, they have been on the negative side, as negotiations between the Blackhawks and 2001 first round draft pick Tuomo Ruutu have hit a deadend, as Ruutu told his agent to "Find Me a Job!" for next season. It looks very likely that Ruutu will again play next season over in Europe.

The Blackhawks did make a dent in the free agent market, according to a Finnish newspaper on Monday. They signed Pittsburgh Winger Ville Nieminen on Monday to a two year contract according to Finnish newspaper Aamulehti. Blackhawks Winger Mark Bell also signed his qualifying offer on Monday, which leaves Tyler Arnason, Steve McCarthy and Ajay Baines until Friday to sign their qualifying offers before they expire.


It wasn't Fedorov, or Leetch, but the trade bringing defensemen Darryl Sydor to Columbus as part of a three-way deal that landed Mike Sillinger in Phoenix was a win-win situation for the CBJ. It is definitely the best deal in the franchise's short history. The local scribes are calling it "Doug MacLean's Signature as both coach and GM". The whole make-up of the team just changed. Sydor is a smart, fast, excellent puckhandler. With the recent acquisitions of Letowski, Marchant and Sydor, the CBJ goals against average just went down a whole point.

You've got to love the NHL's attempt to become part of the monster that is Ohio State Football in Columbus. The scheduling of back-to-back, home and home, games between the CBJ and Detroit during the week of the Ohio State/Michigan football game, will be great fun. It was definitely not a ploy to sell more tickets since both Nationwide Arena and "The Joe" will be sold out for those games. It will make the week of Nov 17-22, a great time to be any combination of a Blue Jackets/ Red Wings/ Buckeye/ Wolverine fan.


Trade rumors have hit a fevered pitch in the Detroit area as of late, spurred by comments made by forward Darren McCarty over the weekend during radio personality Jim Rome's national tour stop. McCarty candidly remarked that with moves coming "in a couple of days" to improve the club's offense that he was ready to guarantee a return of the Stanley Cup to Detroit.

The first move didn't take long to become official, when the club inked forward Ray Whitney to a four-year, $12.5 million contract just three days later. Whitney essentially replaces Luc Robitaille's spot on the left wing and will be asked to pick up the scoring slack left by Robitaille's departure and partially the loss of Sergei Fedorov.

More reports have the Red Wings in heated pursuit of the Washington Capitals' Robert Lang, a center that would be another addtion to quell the loss of Fedorov up the middle. Financial issues could be a hold up, however. The Wings would like to trade goaltender Curtis Joseph and his $8 million salary in any trade that would return a high-priced player. The Capitals wouldn't fit into this scheme with current No. 1 Olaf Kolzig manning the pipes, leaving rumors to speculate of a third team involved. Reportedly, Joseph would approve trades to Colorado, Vancouver, St. Louis and the New York Rangers.

Both Newspapers also added that the team has also had discussions with Joe Nieuwendyk.


The Wild have been virtually unheard from this offseason in the free agent market, but that changed Monday when the club signed free agent center Marc Chouinard. At 6'5" and 218 lbs, Chouinard will give the Wild some much needed size up front. Even more importantly, however, he brings with him the ability to win faceoffs. He ranked second in the NHL in faceoff win percentage during the 2000-01 season at 60.9%, and won 55% of his faceoffs last season. Chouinard joins the Wild after playing for Anaheim the past three seasons. Don't count on him for much scoring three seasons he has a total of 23 points.

Also of note, Minnesota recently signed prospect Mikko Koivu to a contract. However, he will not join the team until after the 2003-04 season.


It's been a busy summer in Nashville. After clearing out the roster of over-priced and under-talented players, the Predators have added to their core of young guns. Veterans like Rem Murray and leading goal scorer Andreas Johansson were re-signed. Restricted free agents, Scott Hartnell and Denis Arkhipov, were also inked to new deals. Arkhipov netted a multi-year contract because of the constant pressure from European teams wanting NHL caliber players. Jim McKenzie was brought in to provide toughness that left when Nathan Perrott was traded to Toronto. On the defensive side, four of our top seven D-men were either traded or allowed to become free agents. Prospects like Dan Hamhuis, Tomas Kloucek, and Robert Schnabel will be given every opportunity to stick with the big club. Minor leaguers with "upside" were brought in to audition for NHL jobs or provide much needed depth in Milwaukee. Ryan Suter will be going to Wisconsin for his freshman year of school. He may join the Admirals after the college season.

San Jose

Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson re-signed right wing Jonathan Cheechoo last week, leaving only defenseman Scott Hannan as the lone restricted free agent in San Jose. Cheechoo cracked the Sharks roster after training camp broke last season and is expected to play a larger role in the Sharks offense this season. Wilson also tendered an offer to veteran forward Adam Graves, but Graves is shopping for a multi-year deal that will pay him closer to his 2002-03 salary of $3 million.

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