#ESPNplayerNHL: Lightning's best?

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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Vincent LecavalierDouglas Jones/USA TODAY Sports


Attention, Lightning fans: We need to hear from you.

We want to know whom you consider the face of the Tampa Bay franchise.

The team has played 21 seasons, won one Stanley Cup and made seven postseason appearances.

Which player has meant the most to the team during that time?

Is the current leader of the team, Steven Stamkos, already the ultimate franchise player? Are the heroes of the not-so-distant past -- Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards -- still the Lightning's biggest stars?





Now it's time for you to vote. Who is the Lightning's franchise player?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, hit us up on Twitter @ESPN_NHL using the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.

Photos: Summer vacation

July, 18, 2014
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#ESPNplayerNHL: Red Wing debate

July, 17, 2014
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Red Wings GreatDave Sandford/Getty Images


Red Wings fans, you've made your voices heard when asked who was Detroit's franchise player. But there seems to be an era argument.

The long list of talented players that have passed through Hockeytown was narrowed down to Gordie Howe vs. Steve Yzerman.

So who is king of Hockeytown: Howe or Yzerman?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up on Twitter @ESPN_NHL, using the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.

#ESPNplayerNHL: Great for two?

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
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Wayne GretzkyGetty ImagesIs Wayne Gretzky the face of two franchises?
Deciding on a franchise player can be a difficult decision. You have to consider everything that a player meant to the team. It's a combination of talent, wins, effort, character and those intangibles that truly represent your team.

It is a debate that could go on for days, weeks, even years.

But is it possible for one player to be the face of the franchise for two organizations?

If anyone could do it, it would be Wayne Gretzky.

In nine seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky won eight Hart trophies, seven Art Ross trophies and two Conn Smythe trophies. And there is a matter of the four Stanley Cups he won while with the organization.

In eight seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Gretzky took the team to the Stanley Cup finals and won a Hart Trophy and three Art Ross trophies. He also heightened the exposure of the game for an entire country.

Now it is time for you to vote. Who is the Oilers' franchise player? Who is the Kings' guy?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up on Twitter @ESPN_NHL, using the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.

#ESPNplayerNHL: Top Wild player?

July, 15, 2014
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State of Hockey, huh? Well, not according to the results of our franchise player project. Turns out fans of the Minnesota Wild are behind the curve when it comes to voting for their favorite team player of all time.

And, I've got to tell you, it seems like you've got plenty of candidates, new and old, serious and not: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson, Marian Gaborik, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Niklas Backstrom, Derek Boogaard, Brian Rolston, Nick Schultz, Matt Johnson, Brad Bombardir!

If one player could represent your team in the Hall of Fame, who would it be? C'mon, Wild fans, bring those votes.

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.
John VanbiesbrouckMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJohn Vanbiesbrouck was heads and shoulders above the competition in the 1996 finals.
Florida Panthers fans, we know you're out there. We've heard about you. As a matter of fact, in 1996, it was like an infestation or something.

More to the point, we know you've had some great players to watch in your day. Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo (twice!), Scott Mellanby, John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Paul Laus, Olli Jokinen, Rob Niedermayer, Jay Bouwmeester, Peter Worrell. Not a bad list.

So show us you're all-in, no matter how lousy your team has been since, well, pretty much ever, and help us pick your favorite player in franchise history. Tell us who you feel is truly Mr. Panther. If one player could represent the Panthers in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which one would it be?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.
Doug GilmourDavid Cooper/Getty ImagesCould you bear to have Doug Gilmour as the Leafs' top franchise player?
Toronto Maple Leafs fans, you have no excuse. For some of the other teams lacking votes for our best franchise player project, I can see what's happening -- not enough history, not enough good players, not a big enough fan base. But the Leafs? The Buds? The Make Believes?

Seriously? We should have more votes for your team than any other.

What we're saying is we need your help selecting the top Leaf of all time. And what a wealth of players to choose from. Maybe that's the problem -- too much selection:

Mats Sundin, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Borje Salming, Felix Potvin, Teeder Kennedy, Howie Meeker, Turk Broda, Curtis Joseph, Phil Kessel, Dave Keon, George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich, Rick Vaive, Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams, Baldy Cotton, Dion Phaneuf, Todd Gill, Rocky Saganiuk, Hap Day, Gary Roberts, Darcy Tucker, Jiri Crha. And that's just a partial list, some of which was serious.

Tell us who you feel is truly Mr. Maple Leaf. Who would be the one player to represent the Maple Leafs?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.

Don't let that whole "1967" thing bring you down.

#ESPNplayerNHL: Best Predators player?

July, 10, 2014
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The Nashville Predators don't have the longest history. After all, it was just 16 years ago that the franchise was created. (Their first game was Oct. 10, 1998.)

But a short history doesn't mean there hasn't been plenty of talent to pass through Bridgestone Arena.

[+] EnlargePredators
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesDespite the Predators' short history, the franchise is long on talent.
David Legwand, the first pick in franchise history (No. 2 overall in 1998), played 956 games and posted 566 points (210 goals, 356 assists) before getting traded to Detroit this past season. Martin Erat was in Nashville for 11 seasons before requesting a trade in 2013.

You can't forget about departed defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Suter.

And what about the goalies: Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne?

Last, but obviously not least, the current face of the franchise: defenseman and three-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber.

Weber has 131 goals and 216 assists in 607 games for the Predators.

So who is truly Mr. Predator?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.

Toews, Kane deals: The $84 million reaction

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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The Chicago Blackhawks have reached eight-year deals with star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the team announced Wednesday.

Each contract is worth a total of $84 million, sources said.

Both deals are front-loaded and each includes $44 million in signing bonuses, a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

Orr & Messier & YzermanGetty ImagesWho's the best player from their respective franchises? Vote now!
Time to step up, people.

We want you to name your favorite player from your favorite team -- of all time. Not just this season, not just the past five years, not just that one time when they should have won the Stanley Cup but were robbed by a bad call. Of all time. Columbus Blue Jackets fans, you've got less work to do than, say, fans of the Montreal Canadiens. And keep in mind that the player is representing the franchise, not just the team. New Jersey Devils fans, don't forget about your complicated lineage. Winnipeg Jets fans, remember those long, hot winters in Atlanta. Etc.

So, who's it going to be? Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque or Zdeno Chara? Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull or Jonathan Toews? Marcel Dionne or Jonathan Quick? Mike Modano or Cesare Maniago? Yes, it's a tough gig, picking players from different positions and different eras. Who cares if Bobby Clarke had to finish his career wearing Cooperalls? The bottom line: Does he deserve to be named Mr. Flyer over Bernie Parent? Or Eric Lindros (wouldn't that be ironic)?

We need representation from all 30 teams, or it's just not going to work, so vote now and vote often. Vote for players on teams you love, vote for players on teams you don't.

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL. We'll sift through all of the comments and isolate the most insightful and invective-free for a grand and provocative unveiling later in the summer.

The time for bellyaching is over. You can't complain if you don't vote. Now, go!
With Tuesday’s free-agency frenzy an absolute frantic avalanche of signings, Day 2 was much more subdued by comparison. The opening of the market was highlighted by some marquee players changing teams, some inked to modest, shrewd deals that can make an impact for years to come, with others agreeing to the sort of ulcer-inducing contracts that may come back to haunt the general manager responsible for doling out the cash.

Because there was such a scramble on Tuesday, with names like Paul Stastny, Jarome Iginla, Matt Niskanen and Thomas Vanek flying around, Wednesday left little by way of starpower for the teams still looking to add depth to their rosters.

After striking out on Tuesday, the Isles inked both Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski to a pair of four-year deals. Veteran center Olli Jokinen signed with the Nashville Predators. Other than that, there were a few depth players, but no one particularly noteworthy.

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsAt 42 years old, Martin Brodeur has played his entire career with the New Jersey Devils.
Yet, teams still have holes to address and there are plenty of unrestricted free agents in need of jobs. It’s a much more modest market now, but there are still a few veteran players out there up for grabs.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has spent his entire career as a New Jersey Devil, headlines the class of free agents still searching for new teams. The 42-year-old's availability was a subject of significant intrigue, given that he was finally cutting ties with the organization that drafted him back in 1990.

Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Toronto were floated as possible landing spots for the three-time Stanley Cup champion, but the Penguins signed backup Thomas Greiss, the Maple Leafs opted (at least for now) not to trade James Reimer and the Wild curiously stood pat despite their uncertainty in net.

Brodeur is currently evaluating a few different options, but is content to wait longer than originally anticipated if the right fit does not present itself, a source told ESPN.com.

How long exactly? It might behoove Brodeur to wait until training camp, when an untimely injury could prompt a team to seek immediate help. And maybe there is still a chance (albeit very slim, we would think) that he goes back to New Jersey. After all, Scott Clemmensen was signed to a one-year, two-way contract, and who knows how Keith Kinkaid will fare as backup to Cory Schneider?

Elsewhere, there are still some quality players to sign. Despite the “behavioral issues” that earned him a buyout from the Arizona Coyotes, Mike Ribeiro can add depth at center for a team looking for some immediate help. Veteran center Derek Roy could also be a solid pickup for a team with a void down the middle.

Things get a bit thinner on defense. No surprise, really, since this free-agent class of defensemen was not regarded as very strong. With the likes of Niskanen, Anton Stralman and Dan Boyle snatched up on Tuesday, the remaining blueliners offer pretty slim pickings.

Veteran Derek Morris is still out there, as is Anton Volchenkov, who was bought out earlier this week. Paul Ranger has generated interest in the past.
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The West was best yet again this past season, and it just got even tougher.

"It’s crazy, really," one Western Conference GM mused Tuesday night as we talked about all the moves strengthening Western clubs.

Jason Spezza, Jarome Iginla, Brad Richards, Ales Hemsky and Thomas Vanek are just some of the notables who switched from the East to the West on Tuesday.

The arms race to stay competitive in the Western Conference is mind-blowing.

The Anaheim Ducks filled the No. 2 center hole with Ryan Kesler last week, a major add-on. The Dallas Stars, playoff participants this past season and hoping to climb even more in the tough Western Conference, responded by adding Spezza and Hemsky.

The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny. The rising darlings from Colorado lost said Stastny, but they added veterans Iginla and Brad Stuart a day after trading for Daniel Briere. The Wild -- who reached the second round of the playoffs this past season -- added goal-scoring machine Vanek. And the perennial powerhouse Blackhawks signed Richards.

The Cup champion Kings? Well, they had already made their most important move of the offseason last week when the re-signed playoff sniper Marian Gaborik long-term. Otherwise their team is largely intact and ready to contend for years.

The Western Conference hierarchy is not for the faint of heart.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis are the dominant four teams at the top; Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota are pushing hard; and it’s too early to know exactly what to make of San Jose as the Sharks begin rebuilding -- they traded away Stuart on Tuesday and await Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to decide their own futures over the next few months.

Either way, you’ve got four teams at the top guaranteed to get back into the playoffs next season, three more that seem like good bets, and the Sharks should still be competitive despite their rebuild.

That’s seven or eight teams trying to keep those eight playoff spots. It just shows you how daunting the task is for Nashville (which at least got better with James Neal last weekend), Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary to make their way up next season.

RED WINGS SWING AND MISS
Detroit went aggressively after UFAs such as Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle, but it didn’t pan out.

[+] EnlargeMike Green
Mike Stobe/NHLI/Getty ImagesIs Mike Green on his way out of Washington after the Capitals picked up two top defensemen in free agency?
In Boyle’s case, they offered more money than what he agreed to in New York. And word is they certainly made a strong offer to Niskanen, who opted to take a bit more in Washington.

So now what?

For starters, this isn’t a team that needs that much. Just being healthier after the incredible injury losses this past season would be one way to add about three or four wins next season. The team should also benefit from itsr younger players such as Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser getting some of their initial NHL experience under their belts. Just those two factors alone make Detroit a better team for next season in a division and conference that are as wide open as ever.

But there remains a glaring hole for sure: a right-handed, puck-moving, power-play defenseman.

That’s why either Boyle or Niskanen would have fit the bill.

So I bring you the name of Mike Green. The Washington Capitals spent some major dough bringing in Niskanen and Brooks Orpik on Tuesday. It screams of perhaps needing to trade out a body now.

Could it be Green? It’s interesting in talking to team execs around the league on Wednesday that there was a mixed response. Some believed he was available, some didn’t.

But if the Caps do try to move him, I would suspect the Wings would at least look at him. He fits the criteria listed above.

Now, he’s coming off a couple of less than impressive seasons, especially at a $6.08 million cap hit.

On the other hand, he’s heading into the last year of his deal. He’s got a modified no-trade clause in which every offseason he lists seven teams he can’t get traded to, which leaves 22 open for trade.

Again, we’re not 100 percent sure Green is available, but if he is, one would think Detroit would perhaps take a look ...

Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres could be another possibility. His name has been out there for a bit as well as trade bait.

THE OTTER
UFA center Steve Ott would be a valuable addition for almost any team, a young team needing leadership or a contender adding more character. He’s a solid faceoff guy, penalty killer and gritty player all-around.

Word is about four or five teams are in the mix for the 31-year-old, who finished the season in St. Louis. Ott didn’t re-sign with the Blues at first because he wanted more term than St. Louis was offering, but we’ll see in the end whether or not he circles back to them or not. Minnesota is another team that we think has some level of interest but may not have the cap room to do it.

HABS, AVS GOOD PARTNERS?
Sometimes you have teams that start to become regular trading partners, usually teams in different conferences. Take Anaheim and Toronto, for example. They’ve done a number of deals over the past several years.

Do Montreal and Colorado have the potential to become good partners? They made Monday’s trade in which Daniel Briere and P.A. Parenteau swapped teams. Then a source told ESPN.com that on Tuesday there was talk between both clubs about defenseman Josh Gorges. By then the Avs had already zeroed in on blueliner Brad Stuart from San Jose, so they passed, and Montreal sent Gorges to Buffalo.

BOYLE A ROADIE
Well, we knew Dan Boyle was somewhere in Europe on the first day of free agency when he signed his two-year deal with the New York Rangers.

Exactly where he was and what he was doing there, well, that’s a whole other story.

The veteran blueliner is in England this week, hanging out with his favorite band, Faith No More, who are on tour.

"Yes, I planned this a LONG time ago," Boyle told ESPN.com via text message Wednesday. "My summer workouts have a one-week transition period that allows me to rest and recover [for seven days], so I took advantage and came with them for a couple of shows. Back on Sunday."

Cool, just very cool.

CANADA’S TEAM?
The Los Angeles Kings have a predominantly Canadian-based roster, so the front office got to thinking lately, why not include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the championship celebration festivities next season and not just the annual White House visit.

So plans are afoot, although far from official at this point, to try to visit with the Canadian PM in Ottawa, Ontario, when the Kings are there in December. Neat.

HAVE A GOOD SUMMER!
And with that, I’m off for the summer, folks. It's been a long but fun season, to be sure, including the trip to Sochi and a tremendous playoff run I mostly spent in California.

There is still lots of terrific content on the site, so continue to make this your favorite page.

But until then, talk in September!
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The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told ESPN.com the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told ESPN.com the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.
The Chicago Blackhawks made a splash with the signing of Brad Richards on Tuesday, but their biggest announcement is still yet to come.

Toews
Kane
The Blackhawks are still expected to sign Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to long-term extensions sometime in the near future.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had hoped to do so as early as Tuesday, but that seemed unlikely as they weren't announced by the early evening. Bowman didn't waver Tuesday in his confidence the deals will be done soon.

“As in terms of the negotiations, I think I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that I’m not going to comment on them other than it’s ongoing,” Bowman said on Tuesday. “Nothing has changed from my original expectation that they’re both going to be signed. We’re looking forward to that.”

Tuesday marked the first day Kane and Toews could re-sign with the Blackhawks. Their current contracts don’t expire until after the 2014-15 season. Both players signed five-year, $31.5 million contracts in 2009.

Kane, 25, and Toews, 26, were both top-five draft picks by the Blackhawks and began their NHL careers in 2007. They have won two Stanley Cups together, been to six consecutive playoffs and reached four Western Conference finals. Kane has 178 goals and 315 assists in 515 career regular-season games, and Toews has 195 goals and 245 assists in 484 career games.
There will be no experimenting in the training camp. There will be no shuffling and re-shuffling of players. Patrick Kane won’t have to wonder who he is playing alongside on any given day.

The Chicago Blackhawks put an end to all those issues Tuesday by going out and finally addressing their greatest need. In signing Brad Richards to a one-year contract, the Blackhawks have themselves a true second-line center for the first time in a few years.

The Blackhawks were able to get by during their 2013 Stanley Cup season with variety of centers in the regular season and Michal Handzus in the playoffs. But they weren’t as fortunate this past season, and their lack of a consistent second-line center was one of their downfalls against the Los Angeles Kings -- a deep centermen team -- in the Western Conference finals.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t think the Blackhawks lack of a consistent second-line center was a problem the last few seasons, but he was honest about the Kings’ depth at the position just last week.

“I think [having many second-line centers has] been going on almost every year I’ve been here,” Quenneville said at the NHL draft Friday. “It’s not an issue with me. I just think if you can better your team [you do]. You know we played against a team in L.A. down the middle who had four great centermen with great experience. That helped their hockey club.”

Having four experienced centermen should benefit the Blackhawks in that same way. They’ll have Jonathan Toews, one of the league’s best two-way players, on the top line. They’ll add an experienced center in Richards on the second line. Andrew Shaw can return to centering the third line and continue providing offensive and defensive reliability there. Marcus Kruger can remain being one of the league’s top fourth-line centers. They’ll also have depth at center with Teuvo Teravainen and Peter Regin.

“It was important for us to try to get some depth at that position,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on Tuesday. “Obviously Brad is more than depth. He’s an established, experienced player. I just think you can never have too many guys who can play in the middle.”

Richards’ arrival should benefit Kane the most. Kane played alongside six different centers last season. He still produced at an elite level despite that, but having some of Richards’ ability on a full-time basis should allow Kane to elevate his game further.

Richards understood what it meant for himself as well.

“When you look at the opportunity to play here, it’s pretty exciting because you know that if you’re playing center on the top two lines, you’re playing with a great player, probably two great players actually,” Richards said on Tuesday. “It wasn’t hard for me to love Chicago. It was just trying to figure out how to get it to work in the cap.

“I’ve watched these guys play the last 6-7 years. Patrick Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league. It’s not just him. It’s a great group that’s been together and knows how to win. When you get a chance to maybe team up with one of those players on a line, whoever is on your line, it makes you feel pretty excited. I can’t wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody.”

(Read full post)

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