Isles, Kevin Poulin agree to deal

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
2:33
PM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with goalie Kevin Poulin.

Poulin appeared in 28 games last season with the Islanders and posted an 11-16-1 record, with a .891 save percentage and a 3.29 goals-against-average.

The Islanders last month agreed to a four-year contract with Jaroslav Halak.

In 49 career games with the Islanders, Poulin has an 18-25-2 record with a 3.08 GAA and .900 save percentage.

The Islanders selected Poulin in the fifth round, 126th overall, of the 2008 draft.


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Teams with new No. 1 prospects

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
9:37
PM ET

Now that we've had some time to consider how each team's haul from the 2014 draft fits into their pipeline, we can identify which clubs now have a new No. 1 prospect in their system.

A reminder on the term "prospects" as I define them: Players outside the NHL are eligible if they have played fewer than 25 NHL games in any season, and fewer than 50 career NHL games total. So players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Teuvo Teravainen are eligible, while Brett Connolly and Beau Bennett are not.

Here, in alphabetical order, are NHL clubs that now have a new No. 1 prospect in their system thanks to the 2014 draft.

David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

2013-14 team: Sodertalje (SHL-2)

Pastrnak had one of the most productive seasons in the lower Swedish league for an under-18 forward in decades, despite a late back injury that kept him out of the under-18 championships. His 24 points in 36 games surpassed Filip Forsberg's 17 points when the Nashville Predators prospect was in this situation. His hockey IQ is really high, as he sees all his options, processes the game very quickly and understands how to play with pace. He's a good skater with shiftiness and an above-average top gear, who also possesses a quick release on his shot.

The top few prospects in the Bruins' system are all small, skill forwards with Pastrnak joining Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev. Pastrnak is a level higher in terms of the skill/hockey IQ combination, so even though they all have similar skill sets, Pastrnak's potential is a level higher. He has fringe top-line potential.

Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres

2013-14 team: Kootenay (WHL)

The New York Islanders, shut out of any significant additions on Day 1 of the NHL's free-agency period, hit pay dirt Wednesday afternoon by signing a pair of forwards, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, to four-year deals.

Kulemin's contract will pay him $16.75 million, while Grabovski will earn $20 million over the life of the contract, sources told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on Wednesday.

Kulemin, 27, is a right winger who had 30 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010-11 but slumped to nine goals in 70 games last season for the Leafs.

Grabovski, a center, is another former Leaf who had 13 goals in 58 games playing for the Washington Capitals last season.

Grabovski scored at least 20 goals for the Maple Leafs in three seasons, including 29 in 2010-11, but the team used one of its two compliance buyouts on him last offseason and he signed a one-year deal with the Capitals.

The moves will add some offensive depth to an Islanders team that had been looking to add big names such as winger Thomas Vanek and defenseman Dan Boyle via free agency but was unsuccessful when most of the big-name players were signed Tuesday right after the free-agency period began.


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Lightning sign Stralman, Boyle

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
3:28
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A week after finding a way to keep Ryan Callahan in Tampa Bay, the Lightning have landed two of his former teammates to help him.

Defenseman Anton Stralman was lured to the Lightning as a free agent on Tuesday with a $22.5 million, five-year contract.

He scored one goal and had 13 assists last season for the New York Rangers, and had five assists in 25 playoff games.

A few hours later, center Brian Boyle became the second member of the Eastern Conference champions to join the Lightning on the opening day of NHL free agency when he agreed to a three-year contract.

Meanwhile, general manager Steve Yzerman's search for a backup goaltender snared Evgeni Nabokov, a veteran of 13 NHL seasons who was with the New York Islanders last season.

Stralman, 27, has 18 career goals and 112 points over seven seasons with the Rangers, Columbus and Toronto. Stralman had career highs with six goals and 34 points with the Blue Jackets during the 2009-10 season.

The addition of Stralman, Boyle and Nabokov bolsters a roster that many felt would lose Callahan to free agency because his asking price might be too high. Instead, the veteran right wing obtained in the trade that sent Martin St. Louis to the Rangers late last season signed a six-year, $34.8 million to remain in Tampa Bay.


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Islanders sign Chad Johnson

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
12:41
PM ET

The New York Islanders found their backup goaltender, inking Chad Johnson to a two-year deal on Tuesday.

The deal was worth $2.6 million, a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been aggressive in pursuing goaltending help this offseason. Snow traded a fourth-round pick to Washington earlier this spring to acquire the rights for Jaroslav Halak and later locked up the netminder to a four-year $18 million contract in May.

Now, the Isles have additional help between the pipes with Johnson signing in New York.

The 28-year-old journeyman backed up Tuukka Rask in Boston last season with an impressive 17-4-3 record, 2.10 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 27 games played for the Bruins.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com contributed to this report.


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PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL draft is first and foremost about distributing the league's future talent among its franchises, but it's also an opportunity for each team to assess its overall needs and set the course of the organization for the coming weeks and months. With that in mind, we set to grade each team's efforts at the hockey-palooza that is the draft weekend. Each team received a grade for the talent they managed to acquire and another grade for how well the team's fortunes fared in the same 48 hours.

Corey Pronman provided the talent grades and emptied his notebook (including re-printing each first-rounder's scouting report from Friday's live blog) to give you a comprehensive glimpse at each team's future, while Frank Provenzano graded each front office's weekend.



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Aaron Ekblad taken with No. 1 pick

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
7:43
PM ET
[+] EnlargeAaron Ekblad
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesAaron Ekblad was the OHL's most outstanding defenseman last season, ranking first among defensemen with 23 goals.

PHILADELPHIA -- With the first pick of the NHL draft, the Florida Panthers went with 15 seconds of dramatic pause before announcing the name.

The silence felt much longer for Aaron Ekblad.

"I was just sitting there just kind of scared and excited at the same time," he said.

At last, general manager Dale Tallon made the call for Ekblad, selecting the defenseman with the first pick Friday night.

Ekblad, a 6-foot-4, 214-pound defenseman who played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League, is the first defenseman to go No. 1 since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006.

Without a clear cut No. 1 on the board, Tallon was open to trading the pick. In the end, he decided to take the 18-year-old defenseman from Belle River, Ontario, with the first selection at the Wells Fargo Center.

"That is the burden of expectation. I chase it," Ekblad said. "I want that burden of expectation. I want that feel for motivation and I want to succeed under that."


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Gino Odjick has rare illness

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
11:51
PM ET

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Gino Odjick says he has a rare terminal illness.

Odjick, in a letter published Thursday on the Canucks' website, said he was diagnosed with AL (Primary) Amyloidosis two months ago. The disease is "causing abnormal protein to be produced and deposits are being formed on my heart," Odjick said.

"It's hardening my heart and my doctors aren't sure how long I have to live," added the 43-year-old former forward.

Odjick played from 1990 to 2002 in the NHL, including eight years in Vancouver and two in Montreal. He also played for the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, scoring 64 goals, getting 73 assists and 2,567 penalty minutes in 605 regular-season games. Odjick played 44 playoff games, all with Vancouver, recording four goals and an assist.


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PHILADELPHIA -- The next generation of NHL stars takes the stage at the 2014 NHL draft. Insider's Frank Provenzano and Corey Pronman break down every first-round pick, including analysis of the prospects' talents and where they fit into each team's pipeline.

Follow along on Twitter (@NHLDraftBlog) for additional insights throughout the night.

MORE NHL DRAFT CONTENT:

Final Mock Draft | Top 100 Prospects


1
Aaron Ekblad
Florida Panthers
TEAM: Barrie (OHL)
HT: 6-foot-3
WT: 213 lbs
POS: D

Prospect analysis: He's a monster on the back end and plays the game with an edge and elite defensive value. He does so much more than just hit and win battles: he skates well with good power in his stride and excellent pivots; he has really developed the offensive side of his game, with above-average puck skills; and he sees the ice well, can be creative along the point and join the attack or run the point with a high-end shot from deep. -- Pronman

Team-fit analysis: Ekblad will give the Panthers a potential cornerstone defenseman who can eat up big minutes in big situations. He will complement a strong group of young forwards (led by Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov) and the recently reacquired Roberto Luongo to help shore up a very leaky Panthers defense that ranked 29th in the NHL last season. If Florida ever hopes to gain admittance to the perennial playoff club, it needs to develop a true hockey identity to go along with this young core. -- Provenzano


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Top 25 unrestricted free agents 

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
10:15
AM ET
Paul Stastny, Ryan Miller, Marian GaborikGetty ImagesWhere will Paul Stastny, Ryan Miller and Marian Gaborik land this offseason?
By now, you’ve heard. It’s not a great free agent class. The NHL’s general managers are expected to be active on the trade front over the next few weeks, in part because there’s not a lot of help in free agency. That’s what happens when teams put such a high priority on retaining their top talent.

Still, in the following group of players is a 28-year-old center who is a two-time Olympian. There’s a guy who just put up 14 goals in the playoffs. There are two legitimate starting goalies and no shortage of wingers capable of scoring 20 or 30 goals per season.

The prices for these players will be higher than teams want, but it’s the only time of the year you can get high-end talent without giving up anything in return, which is perhaps what makes these players most appealing.

With that in mind, here are the top 25 unrestricted free agents for 2014:

1. Paul Stastny | C | Colorado Avalanche

Talks to keep Stastny in Colorado are expected to intensify this week, although the safe bet is that Stastny at least waits until the leaguewide interview window opens to get a stronger sense of his options elsewhere. The Avalanche want him to stay, he’s loved in the dressing room and likes playing in Colorado. The challenge is finding a number that works. He’s a 28-year-old center who can anchor one of the top two lines on most teams, a rarity in free agency. Because of that, he could demand big money, with his current salary of $6.6 million a starting point for the open market. During a Thursday news conference, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy used the word "structure" repeatedly in talking about future contracts and where unsigned players fit into that structure.

“[Stastny’s] part of our core. We’re hopeful we can sign him,” Sakic said. “We have our structure, I know he understands that."

The assumption when you’re talking about salary structure is that one player sets the cap for the others. Matt Duchene's contract averages $6 million. Gabriel Landeskog's averages $5.57 million. Semyon Varlamov's averages $5.9 million. So you can get an idea of the ballpark where the Avalanche would like to fit Stastny’s next deal.

“We believe Ryan O'Reilly and Paul should fit within that structure,” he said. “We don’t believe anybody should be ahead of all those guys."

It’s a little unfair to Stastny, because none of those players were days away from unrestricted free agency where prices are higher than when you’re buying years off restricted free agency. If a deal can’t get done, Stastny will have no shortage of suitors with potential fits in New York, St. Louis and Toronto.

2. Thomas Vanek | LW | Montreal Canadiens

It was a wild season for Vanek, who turned down two very large offers (from Buffalo and the New York Islanders) to retain his right to pick a team on July 1. His postseason struggles might mean teams approach him with more trepidation than they might have otherwise, but his agent Steve Bartlett believes there’s a large enough history of success for Vanek to retain his value.

“Let’s be honest, if you’re coming up to free agency, you’d love to have a guy who was lights-out in the playoffs and had a hat trick against the Rangers in Game 7,” Bartlett said. “But it’s ludicrous to think that a guy who has an eight-year body of work that puts him among the elite offensive players in the league gets judged on [the playoffs]. You’re going to judge eight years, not eight days.”

Just look at Marian Gaborik for an example of how a guy’s reputation changed overnight on the right team. Vanek has the kind of offensive skill that can change games and teams, and that puts him in a category by himself on this list.

3. Ryan Callahan | RW | Tampa Bay Lightning

There have been talks between the Lightning and Callahan’s agent (Bartlett), but the lure of July 1 might be strong for Callahan, who has gone through a lot just to get this far.

“We’ve had good-faith negotiations with Tampa,” Bartlett said when we chatted before the weekend. “We’re trying to narrow the gap. He certainly liked his time there.”

If he hits free agency, the expectation is that Buffalo will make a play for him and could end up making the biggest offer, but for a guy who just saw his former team advance to the Stanley Cup finals, it might be hard to go directly into a rebuilding situation.

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Rumblings: Dan Boyle back on the market

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
1:05
PM ET

The New York Islanders were aggressive in trading for the rights to blueliner Dan Boyle, but after failing to get his signature on a contract, the NHL club is now shopping him before he walks away as an unrestricted free agent.

"I don’t know if we’ll get anything done, but we'll see what's out there," Islanders GM Garth Snow told ESPN.com early Wednesday afternoon. "We've talked to a couple of teams, we'll see if anything comes to fruition here."

The San Jose Sharks will get a fifth-round pick in 2015 in exchange for trading Boyle’s rights to the Islanders earlier this month. That pick would have changed to a fourth-rounder had Boyle signed with the Islanders.

Snow is smart to cut bait now because there's less than week a left before other teams can reach out to any UFAs.

New to the CBA is a talking period when clubs can contact pending UFAs from other teams, which this year is as of 12:01 a.m. ET June 25, five days out from the official opening of free agency on July 1.

No formal offers can be tabled but the ground can certainly be set.

The Islanders made their best pitch to Boyle and give him plenty to consider.

"Garth's done a great job, he's kept us abreast of everything along the way, we understand he's got to protect his interests," Boyle's agent, George Bazos, told ESPN.com. "That being said, we haven't closed the door on talking to them. The Islanders gave Dan a lot to think about."

Boyle turns 38 on July 12 but remains a terrific skater who can help with the transition game and power play.

The risk is that any contract signed by a player 35 or over counts against a team's salary cap, regardless of whether the entire deal is played out. But there's no question Boyle will continue to seek out a two-year deal in whatever contract he signs.

Sticking with the Islanders, Snow had hoped to bring back veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov to back up new starter Jaroslav Halak, but the GM says that's unlikely to happen.

"We couldn’t come to an agreement, it looks like he's headed to July 1," Snow said of Nabokov.

Leino, Booth clear waivers
Ville Leino and David Booth had their buyouts made official Wednesday after both players cleared waivers. With money in their pocket, both wingers get to double-dip now and test free agency come July 1.

"His first priority is to play in the NHL," Leino's agent, Markus Lehto, said Wednesday. "He knows he's an NHLer. He knows the numbers haven't really been there for the past year. But he had had some health issues, he's totally healthy now. We'll see what happens, it's going to be interesting."

As part of the buyout, Leino will earn $1.22 million in each of the next six seasons; Booth's buyout will pay him $1.58 million for each of the next two seasons.

Other free-agent rumblings
No surprise, but the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings have already reached out to Marian Gaborik's camp to try to get something done to keep the pending UFA in the fold. Gaborik led all players in goals in the playoffs, with 14. ... Veteran blueliner Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens remains unsigned as the clock ticks toward July 1. "No news. I don't expect anything to happen anytime soon," Markov's agent, former NHLer Sergei Berezin, told ESPN.com via text Wednesday morning. "But you never know." ... Veteran agent Steve Bartlett remains in talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning about pending UFA Ryan Callahan: "Good-faith talks with Tampa continue, hard to handicap at this point," Bartlett said via email Wednesday morning. ... The NHLPA's annual summer player meetings, presided over by Donald Fehr, will be held July 14-17 in Pebble Beach, California, to discuss issues raised during the season. An official agenda has yet to be set.

Draft strategy: Metro Division

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
10:25
AM ET

Atlantic draft strategy | Metropolitan | Central | Pacific

Most NHL teams say they subscribe strictly to the "best player available" theory. In my experience, some are being honest, some do that in the first round (and incorporate their depth charts beyond) and some take position into account from the beginning. If I were running a team, I'd fall somewhere in the middle because of the very marginal differences in prospect value outside the very top.

Team strategies in the draft should be slightly more complex than simply, "Draft the best player." Teams should try to balance their depth chart if the option is within a reasonable talent range, or they can make trades to either address the need or trade to a spot where the player they want would be a better value. In this series, I'll recommend the best strategies for every NHL team going into this year's draft, division by division. For more on the draft prospects mentioned here (and many more), be sure to check in on our Top 100 NHL draft prospects list.

For the purposes of this column, team strengths and weaknesses generally refer to a team's under-23 NHLers, or players who have not lost rookie eligibility. Players not specifically mentioned are included in the evaluation.


Carolina Hurricanes

Strengths: The Hurricanes have a good group of top-end young talent between Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy. You could do a lot worse for your top group of under-23 NHL players, as these four will be real foundational blocks over the next five-plus seasons.

Weaknesses: The Canes' system is really bad, with no real top-tier talents left in the pipeline until they make their first draft selection, and they could use more quality depth. They have some talent at forward between Victor Rask, Sergei Tolchinsky, Brock McGinn and Phil DiGiuseppe, but that leaves a fair amount to be desired. It's the same issue on defense, as they have a few decent prospects but lack a top talent with Murphy graduated. They also need a better top goalie prospect, as well.

Recommended strategy: Carolina should pick the best player available with their first-round pick (No. 7 overall), but after that, they need to go to work to fix their depth issue. A re-entry pick or two would help if their talent fits at the right slot, with at least one defenseman added in the top four rounds. They need to add another goalie prospect, and may be suited to trade down at some point to get more picks, thus adding to their system's depth.


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Islanders trade for Dan Boyle

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
4:20
PM ET

The New York Islanders have acquired the negotiating rights for impending unrestricted free agent Dan Boyle, the team announced.

The Isles traded for the veteran defenseman, sending back a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft to the San Jose Sharks that will become a fourth-round pick should Boyle sign with the team.

Boyle, 37, is coming off a six-year, $40 million dollar deal with the Sharks. He had 12 goals and 36 points for San Jose this season and is regarded as one of the most smooth-skating, mobile defensemen in the game.

If the Isles are able to get him under contract, this will be the second time this spring they have gained a solid veteran player in this type of trade.

The Islanders signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a four-year, $18 million deal last month after obtaining an exclusive negotiating window via trade with the Washington Capitals. The Isles sent back a fourth-round pick in that trade.


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Barry TrotzPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesBrian MacLellan enters the offseason as one of several rookie general managers in the league.
From a pure hockey fan’s perspective, it was about as good as it gets. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final was two powerhouses exchanging punches until just one was left standing.

It was great hockey that ended the only way it could: an overtime winner in Game 7.

Those who are building teams trying to get through the Kings and Blackhawks had a different perspective. Sure, they could appreciate the high-level hockey, but they have already turned their focus to constructing rosters to beat those two teams. It’s not an easy process.

“It’s so depressing,” Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney said with a laugh during this past weekend’s NHL draft combine in Toronto. “Both teams. I mean, you’re not going to get any better -- reigning Stanley Cup champ against the prior Stanley Cup champ. They’re both in their prime, the best players are in the prime of their career. Where do they go? It’s daunting, and it’s challenging. I think it’s good for all of us. Competition makes us all better.”

Competition isn’t a problem right now in the NHL, especially in the West. The Kings and Blackhawks have set a standard that pushes all the teams below them, and St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong observed that it’s not just the teams at the top of the standings that keep other general managers up late.

The Blues are widely considered in that next tier of teams on the verge of a breakthrough, but even that label can disappear in a hurry.

“Look at Colorado and Dallas. Those are the two teams that seem to be trending upward. Chicago and L.A. aren’t getting any better; they’re just not getting any worse. I think Winnipeg is a team that is going to have a different look to it. With Paul [Maurice] there now, they seem to play really good for Paul,” Armstrong said this past weekend. “I look at last year, and you sort of pencil in teams you thought were going to be in the playoffs and pushing. I did that again, and one team I didn’t have pushing ended up winning the Central. That was Colorado. That could be Calgary or someone else next year. Someone is going to do really well."

It makes this time of year even more important for teams around the league. To close the gap, they must hit on their draft picks, avoid mistakes in free agency and find ways to upgrade rosters when great players are in short supply.

It’s what should make this draft in Philadelphia an interesting one. There’s a perception that it will be another active one on the trade front in part because the free-agent class isn’t particularly strong. This draft doesn’t have as many NHL-ready prospects as some in the past, so GMs looking for an immediate impact have to view the trade route.

“I do think there’s more [trade talks] based on the conversations I’m having. I think there should be more things happening. There’s just fewer players available in free agency. Therefore, as you set up a team for next year, you’re going to have to make some deals,” Maloney said. “Nobody is sitting here and saying, 'Let’s wait until July 1 and fill two or three holes.'”

Making this year even more unique is that there are seven new general managers who will be building their rosters for the first time.

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Islanders sign Ville Pokka

May, 28, 2014
May 28
2:58
PM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have agreed to terms with 19-year-old defenseman Ville Pokka on a three-year, entry-level contract.

The deal was announced by the Islanders on Wednesday.

Pokka, selected by New York in the second round of the 2012 draft, had six goals and 21 assists in 54 games with Karpat during his third full season in Liiga (Finland). Pokka was one of three finalists as the top defenseman in the league.

He also had two goals and nine assists in 16 postseason games, helping lead Karpat to the Liiga Championship this year. In 138 career regular-season games with Karpat, Pokka has 12 goals and 30 assists.

The Islanders chose him with the No. 34 pick two years ago.

Pokka represented Finland at the past three World Junior championships, winning gold this year.


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