Summer Ramblings
Pre-Camp Edition

By: Hockey Alliance Publishers
September 3rd, 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...


It's been a busy and happy off-season for Sabres' fans, a nice change of pace when compared to seeing the team owner arrested, the team going bankrupt and the possibility of a franchise over three decades old folding. The Sabres announced the signing of Chris Drury to a four year contract this week, in the first year of the deal Drury will make $3,450,000, a rather large raise over his last contract. Sabres' owner Tom Golisano wanted to make a statement not just to the team's fans but to restricted free agent Miroslav Satan that for the first time since the Knox era, the Sabres' ownership is serious about improving the team and winning on the ice. Drury is the latest in a long string of what have been fairly easy contract negotiations for GM Darcy Regier who seems to be working without restraints for the first time since he was hired in 1997.


The month of August rolled off the calendar with a very uneventful set of 31 days in Calgary, mainly due to the high level of activity seen in June and July. Defenceman Toni Lydman avoided salary arbitration and signed a three year deal meaning a training camp without distraction as the entire team is either signed or rumored to have been signed heading into September.

The Flames main camp opens on September 11th, and their first preseason game is scheduled for September 18th against Edmonton. Although a full camp roster has yet to be released, it appears as though Darryl Sutter is opting for a smaller camp in his first season as a general manager, preferring to get down to workable numbers from the outset in order to get out of the gates on the right foot. The team will be aiming to avoid an eighth straight season out of the playoffs when their regular season kicks off on October 9th in Vancouver.


It has been an exciting past couple of days for the Blackhawks and Blackhawk fans. After a few weeks of very public negotiations, including an agent taking his side public right here on, the Blackhawks were able to come to a contract agreement with 2001 first round draft pick Tuomo Ruutu. Now that the talking is over, big things are expected from Ruutu this season. Ruutu didn't get the model contract but Ruutu's agent Bill Zito told that Ruutu could make more money than the model with this deal. The Blackhawks also win with this deal, as Ruutu will only get paid for the bonus targets that he hits and the bonuses do not roll over from year to year, as they do with the model contract. With most of his leverage gone from the signing of Ruutu, Blackhawks Center Tyler Arnason was forced to come down from his 2.5 million a year contract wishes and signed a two year deal earlier this week for 2 million dollars over two years. Like Ruutu, big things are also expected out of Arnason this season and he will have to prove that the first half of last season was no fluke.


This is a tough time to be a hockey fan in this city. All local sports media are focused on the other big sport in town. What passes for a "newspaper" went 5 days without any mention of the Blue Jackets. The opening of training camp on the 11th should start to remind folks that there still is an NHL hockey team in town. Talk among the true hockey fans deals with expectations for the coming season. Doug seems to be trying to lower expectations when he talks about making a run for the playoffs. Most fans will accept nothing less than playoff games being held at Nationwide arena in April. The pressure for a playoff appearance is definitely on the President/GM/Coach...and the team.

The other question is whether first-round pick Nikolai Zherdev will be in camp. He recently signed a three year deal with the CBJ. However, he still has a year's commitment with the Red Army Team. Apparently rules prohibit the Jackets from initiating an "above the table" cash transaction with the Red Army to free Zherdev. As we reported earlier, money will have to change hands, possibly "under the table".


The Red Wings got their wish -- goaltender Curtis Joseph won't be attending Detroit's training camp next week -- but it's for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks ago it was announced that Joseph underwent a minor surgical procedure to remove bone chips in his ankle that had plagued him most of the 2002-03 and well into the summer. The recovery, which will slate Joseph's return right near the start of the regular season, seems well placed by the Joseph camp. The delay in trading Joseph could result in forcing the Red Wings' hand -- leaving him to be placed on waivers and picked up by, say, the Colorado Avalanche. Joseph would get his wish to play for a contender -- one that the Red Wings would never directly deal with -- and sticks the Red Wings in the process.

Despite that possibility, which could be too rich for Colorado's blood anyway, some personnel in the Detroit front office is optimistic Joseph will be dealt by the end of the month. Red Wings senior VP Jim Devellano was quoted last week in the Vancouver Sun saying the Red Wings are seeking draft picks or prospects in return for Joseph, rather than a high-priced player (a la Martin Lapointe.) Whether the Red Wings can get that return remains to be seen, with Boston still the most likely destination. The Red Wings will be sending their prospects to Traverse City on Thursday of this week, a week before the veterans, so they may participate in the 5th Annual NHL Prospects Tournament. Washington, St. Louis, Minnesota, Atlanta and newcomer Tampa Bay will also participate. Main Red Wings camp opens on the 11th.


The Minnesota Wild has had a relatively peaceful first three years on the NHL from a labor standpoint. That could all change this month if rapid progress isn't made with young star winger Marian Gaborik. Gaborik's three year rookie contract expired in the off-season and he and Wild GM Doug Risebrough aren't even in the same ballpark on a new deal.

Gaborik is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, so unless another team makes him an offer, all he can do is sit back and wait for his agent and the Wild to work things out. While Gaborik is a bright young star in the league, any team trying to sign him away from the Wild would have to pay big bucks up front in order to discourage the Wild from matching, and would also need to surrender their next five first round draft picks to the Wild as compensation. A steep price in any year, and one almost certain to not be met as the league prepares for a costly labor fight.


In a time when most teams are signing players to one year deals because of finances and the CBA, the Predators have gone against that trend by signing their core talent to multi-year contracts. Kimmo Timonen followed Denis Arkhipov as the latest Predator to sign on the dotted line. With training camp starting next week, that leaves David Legwand as the lone free agent. Jordin Tootoo, one of the Predators' most loved prospects, is in town working with Predators strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. He hopes to crack the roster and become the first NHL'er of Inuit descent.

NY Rangers

The Rangers roster is finally filling out just a couple of weeks before camp opens. Captain Mark Messier appears poised to rejoin the team for his 25th NHL season, while GM Glen Sather turned to the past in his latest attempt to remedy the troublesome left wing position, signing Jan Hlavac and Martin Rucinsky. In other news, it's widely expected that both Pavel Bure and Mike Richter will announce their retirement in the coming weeks, both players having their careers cut short by injury.


After months of discussion and speculation, Eugene Melnyk was finally officially announced as the new owner of the Ottawa Senators, taking over the team from incumbent majority owner Rod Bryden. For a franchise that had been teetering on the edge of instability for such a lengthy period of time, Melnyk provides not only a stabilizing influence, but also a reason to get excited about the future of the Senators. Roster changes have been few and far between recently, with everyone eagerly awaiting any news concerning the ongoing negotiations between the team and winger Martin Havlat. Havlat has stated that he would not report to training camp, schedule to start on September 13th, without a new contract.


The Flyers open up camp with every player signed and ready to go. Top prospect Joni Pitkanen was signed and is expected to be in the top 6 come opening night. The last restricted free agents signed were Justin Williams and Radovan Somik. Both players coming off injury plague seasons. Williams is expected to take on a great role with the Flyers with Hitchcock declaring a stronger youth movement. Somik has played very well with fellow countryman Michal Handzus. Somik has drawn comparisons to Jere Lehtinen from coach Hitchcock.


With the summer coming to an end, the Coyotes are rolling into the new season with many changes in store. One of which will include a new logo and uniforms that will be released on the 3rd of September. Another is the inaugural Pacific Division rookie tournament being hosted in Los Angeles. Prospects from San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix are participating in the tournament, which will begin on the 4th of September. The Coyotes are also headed into a new arena that they will debut at the end of December. The new Glendale arena, which is ahead of schedule, has had the ice floor complete and is currently finishing installing of the seats.

San Jose

The Sharks locked up all of their restricted free agents last week by inking defenseman Scott Hannan to contract. Hannan's signing ensures that the Sharks will have no holdouts during training camp for the first time in several years. New Sharks GM Doug Wilson made it his first priority to get players such as Patrick Marleau, Alyn McCauley, Marco Sturm, Jonathan Cheechoo and Hannan under contract in order to avoid the distractions that plagued San Jose at the start of last season. Wilson didn't land any offensive help during the off-season, so he's expecting five or six players to chip in with 20 goal seasons. San Jose will send a team of rookies to Southern California this week to participate in a four-team scrimmage with the LA Kings, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Phoenix Coyotes.


The Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer a rudderless ship. The club has recently hired John Ferguson Jr. as the new general manager, allowing Pat Quinn to focus on the single role of head coach. Now that Ferguson is in place, he'll focus on resigning Nik Antropov and sorting out the Robert Svehla mess. Svehla, for those who hadn't heard, is a hodout and has announced verbally that he's going to retire. The only problem is he's not willing to sign retirement papers, freeing the Leafs from the substantial salary obligations. If need be, the Leafs will simply suspend Svehla and let him sit. For the rumor mongers out there, the latest one floating around has the Leafs in hot pursuit of UFA Ken Klee.

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