Cross Checks: Florida Panthers

 Vincent LecavalierElsa/Getty ImagesVincent Lecavalier got off to a decent start but was stopped against the Canadiens.
Oh, things have not started well in Philadelphia. The Flyers are winless in four games (0-2-2), their lone points coming in shootouts, the worst on Saturday when they blew a 3-0 lead against Montreal and lost in a shootout (as an aside, no one should get a point for that kind of performance). And the news doesn't get any better as injuries continue to mount. Vincent Lecavalier will miss a couple of weeks after blocking a shot Saturday, and the Flyers hit the road for stops in Dallas, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Lecavalier stayed in Saturday's contest and actually took the first shootout attempt for the Flyers, but local reports indicate he left the building with his foot in a walking boot. It's too bad because Lecavalier was off to a good start, with a goal and two assists and eight shots on goal in three games. He was also logging power-play time and looked to be back in a groove after a difficult end to last season that saw him switched from his lifelong position as a center to the wing.

It's been a tough transition from Tampa, where he'd spent his entire career, to Philadelphia, where the 34-year-old signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal after being bought out by the Lightning.

"Well, ended up being more difficult, that's a good way to put it," Lecavalier told ESPN.com.

After coming back from injury, "I was put in a position I haven't played before," he said. "A little bit of an adjustment. It was tough to adapt."

While there was much speculation in the offseason that Lecavalier would be traded, no move took place, and he talked about his affection for the Flyers and his belief in his abilities.

"I think every year, no matter if you had a great year the year before or not so good of a year, I think you start with a clean slate and it's a new year,” he said. "I believe in my game and what I can bring to the team. I have confidence in that."
Gudas should have been punished
Maybe it's just that everyone was at the Chris Pronger icebreaker at NHL headquarters (everyone decked out in their favorite Philadelphia Flyers jersey) or maybe it's just that I don't understand exactly what the league is prepared to accept in terms of on-ice dangers, but I still don't get how the devastating hit by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Radko Gudas on Scottie Upshall of the Florida Panthers last week passed without a sound from the league. Yes, Upshall had his head down trying to locate a pass just inside his own blue line. And no, Gudas didn't leave his feet to make the hit. But the principal point of contact is Upshall's head. The contact is made by forearm/elbow and Upshall is completely defenseless. The department of player safety, to which Pronger now belongs, has a lot of leeway to impose sanctions that in theory make the game safer. The notion that this play somehow didn't fit nicely into an accepted rule box is a cop-out. How was this different from a hit from behind? You can argue -- and some do -- that a player with his back to the play needs to be aware of potential danger, just as Upshall should have been more aware in open ice of the potential dangers around him. Yet the NHL has made it crystal clear to players that it's wrong to drill opponents from behind. That's a progressive thing. The video of Gudas' hit on Upshall should be shown to GMs when they meet in Toronto in November. They should be asked: Do you want this hit delivered on one of your players? The answer should be a resounding no. And then they should be asked what they would like to do about it in the light of the league's disappointingly passive stance for a clearly dangerous hit on an unsuspecting player.

It was Selanne's time
I'm pretty sure that future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne is feeling pretty embarrassed for unloading on Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in an authorized biography released in Finland a short time ago. As he should be. The Finnish Flash, one of the game's great ambassadors and a treat to deal with for journalists the world over, angrily suggested that it was Boudreau's fault that Selanne retired at the end of last season. Selanne, who turned 44 over the summer, also took time during the Olympics in Sochi last winter to take not-so-subtle jabs at his NHL coach while enjoying a renaissance tournament, winning a bronze medal and playing like a man half his age. But the Olympic game is a different game, and when I read Selanne's comments, I recalled watching the Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings play a few days before the Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium in January. The Ducks won this particular game at the Honda Center in Anaheim in a rollicking, hard-hitting contest that was one of the best regular-season games I've seen in many a moon. At one point I turned to a veteran NHL writer in the press box, and I wondered aloud about who was the most obviously out-of-place player on the ice. There was immediate consensus that it was Selanne. The game was too fast, too hard for him to keep up. This isn't a shot at Selanne, but rather a reminder that sometimes the game knows it's time long before the player knows, and blaming the coach for that harsh reality is an unfortunate byproduct of accepting that reality or, more to the point, of being unable to accept that reality.
Panthers SeatsAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeFans staying away from Panthers games in droves is nothing new, people.
I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled by the outpouring of dismay and outrage over the poor attendance in South Florida for the woebegone Florida Panthers early in this season.

Um, are you new?

You think the acres of empty seats viewers were treated to Monday night when Ottawa rolled into town just appeared out of nowhere to magically replace nightly sold-out shows?

Nope. This is life in South Florida for a team that has not won a postseason round since 1996 and has missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons.

Think on that for a moment.

It's amazing, quite frankly, the team is still viable (OK, a relative term), given that legacy of failure.

Having said that, we were in Florida three seasons ago (not sure which of the many names was on the rink marquee at that point) when the Panthers were actually a factor in the Eastern Conference. I was on hand for a rollicking game against the Boston Bruins late in the season. While not entirely full, there were 16,000 or so on hand for a big win by the Panthers.

It was a terrific tilt and a great vibe. Who knew?

The Panthers would go on to win the Southeast Division and then lose in Game 7 in overtime in the first round to a New Jersey Devils team that would go on to the 2012 finals.

Florida recorded sellouts for all four home playoff games that spring with reported attendance of 19,119, 19,248, 19,513 and 19,313.

Now, is it embarrassing to see cameras pan across thousands of empty seats at BB&T Center this early in the season? Sure.

President and CEO Rory Babich admitted Tuesday that the vacant seats and the attendant Twitter derision directed at the team during Monday's 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators was embarrassing.

"That's not fun," he told ESPN.com. "And it's not acceptable."

Babich is part of the new ownership/management structure that accompanied the sale of the team to Vincent Viola a year ago, Babich having come aboard less than a year ago to try to restore order to the team's business operations.

The team has redesigned its business model, and an offshoot of that is the team no longer papers the house with heavily discounted tickets or what are outright freebies.

The Panthers have simplified their ticket pricing strategy (fewer complicated packages), and the price point is, the team believes, competitive with some season-ticket packages providing lower-bowl seats for $25 a game.

But the reality is that folks who were used to dirt-cheap or free tickets to Panthers games are no longer getting those. That's why you end up with an announced crowd of 7,311 for Monday’s game, the lowest announced crowd in franchise history (and the lowest in the NHL in three seasons), and a howl of protest from media and fans who wonder why the franchise still exists in its current location.

One league source familiar with the team's situation said the move might mean short-term pain but had to be done.

Viola "is a really smart guy," the source said. "He had to rip the bandage off."

Part of the outrage over the team's poor following is linked to the league's overall health.

The NHL has plugged a lot of holes in its organizational dyke in recent years, including finding ownership groups in troubled spots Long Island, Arizona, Dallas and Florida, where Viola and his investors insist they are committed to building a winner in South Florida, the operative words being "winner" and "South Florida."

Still, the optics of crowds like Monday night's simply fuel speculation that the idea of hockey in South Florida is simply past its best-before date, especially with new NHL-ready arenas being built in potential relocation markets Quebec City and Las Vegas.

Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Panthers is the fact that the team is waiting to find out whether it will be able to rework its lease with Broward County, which owns the team's arena. The county has hired a consultant to examine a series of amendments to the lease proposed by the team.

There is a perception that if the county doesn't agree, it would open the door to the team's relocation, although there are still 13 years remaining on the lease.

Still, the league insists that it expects the team to remain in South Florida long-term, and the vibe is certainly different than the one that surrounded the dysfunctional Atlanta Thrashers in the months leading up to their unceremonious departure to Winnipeg at the end of the 2010-11 season.

And anyone who has followed the league for any length of time knows that commissioner Gary Bettman isn't in the habit of simply putting teams onto moving vans and shuttling them about. I don't expect the Panthers situation to be any different, no matter how ugly it looks.

Babich insists the team has not considered relocation and that the focus is on establishing a new business plan and putting a competitive team on the ice.

“We haven’t explored looking into moving,” Babich said.

And in the team's defense, the Panthers did spend the offseason bringing in veteran Willie Mitchell, who assumed the team’s captaincy, and former Stanley Cup winner Dave Bolland to join former Vezina Trophy winner Roberto Luongo, who was repatriated from the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline in March.

Will things get better in South Florida?

The Panthers are 0-2-1 and have scored three goals while giving up nine, so the answer early on is, no, they haven't.

And while history suggests there are Panthers fans who will come out to support a competitive team, coach Gerard Gallant has his work cut out for him getting this team to that level.

In the meantime, it's likely the fans will continue to stay away from the rink and the talk about where the Panthers could end up playing won't be going away. Not that any of this is particularly new.

Atlantic Division wrap

October, 13, 2014
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Trending up
  • Habs on fire: Strong start out of the gate for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have rattled off three straight wins to begin their 2014-15 campaign, including opening night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and two shootout victories over the weekend.
  • Plekanec putting up points: The production of Tomas Plekanec has helped lead the charge for the Habs. The veteran center is tied for first in the league with four goals following the first week of action.
  • Leafs looking better: After faltering in their first two games of the season, the Leafs rallied back to secure their first win of the season with a 6-3 rout against the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers Sunday night. It was a three-point night for Phil Kessel as Toronto chased goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from net.
Trending down
  • Bruins stumbling: It has not been an ideal start for coach Claude Julien and his Boston Bruins squad. Regarded as one of the teams to beat in the East, the team has dropped two of its first three games. Playing without top-line center David Krejci isn’t helping matters.
  • Beleaguered Sabres: You have to feel for Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth, who has been under siege for the first two games of the season. The 26-year-old Swede has faced 87 shots in the first two games after earning the starting job in training camp.
Injury update
  • Krejci on the mend: After missing the first three games of the season, Krejci appears poised to make his return to the Bruins' lineup this week. The top pivot has been practicing with the team following an undisclosed injury sustained in the club’s preseason finale.
  • Datsyuk still out: Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk has yet to be cleared for contact as he remains out with a shoulder injury that was expected to sideline him four weeks.
  • Drouin anxiously awaiting debut: The Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be erring on the side of caution with top prospect Jonathan Drouin, who suffered a slight fracture in his right thumb. He’s hoping to make his way into the lineup soon and may have a shot this week.
What to watch for
  • Rivals reunited: Remember the last time the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens shared the ice? That would be the now-infamous handshake line following their meeting in the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring. Some harsh words were exchanged and you can expect that bad blood to resurface when the rivals reconvene Thursday night in Montreal.
  • Ekblad’s progression: Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant raved about 2014 No. 1 pick Aaron Ekblad's NHL debut Thursday, telling reporters that the highly touted defenseman had an “excellent” first game. The rookie will get at least a nine-game look from Panthers management before the team decides whether to keep him around.


video

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers made another round of cuts Friday following the team's 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night, and it's not exactly a shocker that 2014 first overall pick Aaron Ekblad remains with the team.

The 18-year-old defenseman, who admitted he wasn't thrilled with his preseason debut Sept. 27, bounced back Thursday night with a strong performance, and Panthers general manager Dale Tallon took notice. Ekblad played 27 shifts in 24:08 of ice time, including 3:28 on the power play.

"He was much better than he was in his first game," Tallon told ESPN.com, adding that Ekblad had an impressive rookie camp as well.

Tallon told reporters on Friday that Ekblad can expect a long look from the Panthers; the team can keep him around for at least nine games before deciding whether to send him back to his junior hockey team.

Tallon seemed willing to practice patience with the former OHL standout, however, especially with the difficulty of playing defense at such a young age against bigger, stronger competition.

"It takes time," Tallon said.

[+] EnlargeAaron Ekblad
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsAaron Ekblad played 27 shifts in 24:08 of ice time, including 3:28 on the power play in his second preseason game.
And though Ekblad made a few rookie mistakes during his first game in the lineup, he wasn't alone. Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has taken Ekblad under his wing and was paired with him in the rookie's first game, said he too felt some rust.

"He's a good young kid, a good player. [We] just need to get him more action," Mitchell said. "I know that his first game he wasn't very happy with, but I don't think anyone was. I wasn't happy with my first game [of the preseason]. No one ever is. You feel like crap. You feel like you only got maybe two or three strides and maybe your legs not underneath you yet."

Ekblad has played only two of the team's first five games of the preseason, with the last tuneup before the regular season starts slated for Saturday night -- the second of a home-and-home against the Lightning. Mitchell, 37, said that type of plan is a stark deviation from when he entered the league in 1999.

"My opinion is a kid like that should be playing nonstop," Mitchell said. "When I first came into the league, I think back then we had nine exhibition games and I think I played all nine. It's a tough position, especially at 18 years old, no matter how skilled and talented you are, to not get noticed."

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said earlier this week that the team doesn't want to rush or overuse the youngster, especially with some other critical roster decisions to make before opening night.

"We've got to see a lot of guys and we know what he's going to be," Gallant said. "He's got some time. Obviously, there's time during the season and we'll see how he gets along with the game. We just want to make sure he's ready. He had a lot of games in the rookie camp -- he had three straight games -- so he had a lot of hockey."

One of the other players the Panthers must make a decision on soon is veteran free agent Shane O'Brien, who is with the team on a tryout. O'Brien has acquitted himself well during camp and Tallon has indicated that he'd like to keep him around.

Asked about any imminent deal, O'Brien's agent, Steve Kotlowitz, politely declined to comment.

Offseason player movement of all 30 teams

September, 19, 2014
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Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny USA TODAY SportsRyan Kesler and Paul Stastny will be wearing different colors this season.
ANAHEIM DUCKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 14: Acquired C Louis Leblanc from Montreal for a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
June 27: Acquired C Ryan Kesler and a 3rd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Vancouver for C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa, and Anaheim’s 1st- and 3rd-round picks in 2014.
June 30: Acquired C Nate Thompson from Tampa Bay for Tampa Bay’s 4th- and 7th-round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed D Clayton Stoner (Minnesota) and G Jason LaBarbera (Chicago).
July 9: Signed LW Dany Heatley (Minnesota).
Offseason Departures
RW Teemu Selanne (retired); C Saku Koivu (retired); C Nick Bonino (traded to Vancouver); D Luca Sbisa (traded to Vancouver); D Stephane Robidas (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); G Jonas Hiller (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); C Mathieu Perreault (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); C Daniel Winnik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C David Steckel (unrestricted free agent); D Nolan Yonkman (unrestricted free agent).

ARIZONA COYOTES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 29: Acquired C Sam Gagner and RW B.J. Crombeen from Tampa Bay for a 6th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed C Joe Vitale (Pittsburgh), G Devan Dubnyk (Montreal), G Mike McKenna (Columbus) and D Andrew Campbell (Los Angeles).
Offseason Departures
C Mike Ribeiro (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); RW Radim Vrbata (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); G Thomas Greiss (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Andy Miele (unrestricted free agent, signed by Detroit); LW Tim Kennedy (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); LW Paul Bissonnette (unrestricted free agent); C Jeff Halpern (unrestricted free agent); D Derek Morris (unrestricted free agent); RW Brandon Yip (unrestricted free agent).

BOSTON BRUINS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed D Christopher Breen (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
RW Jarome Iginla (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); D Andrej Meszaros (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); LW Shawn Thornton (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); G Chad Johnson (unrestricted free agent, signed NY Islanders); D Corey Potter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); RW Nick Johnson (unrestricted free agent).

BUFFALO SABRES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed RW Brian Gionta (Montreal), LW Matt Moulson (Minnesota), D Andrej Meszaros (Boston) and C Cody McCormick (Minnesota).
July 1: Acquired D Josh Gorges from Montreal for a 2nd-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
July 3: Signed D Tyson Strachan (Washington).
July 13: Signed C Zac Dalpe (Vancouver).
July 23: Signed D Andre Benoit (Colorado).
Offseason Departures
D Christian Ehrhoff (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Kevin Porter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Detroit); C Cory Conacher (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); LW John Scott (unrestricted free agent, signed by San Jose); RW Matt D’Agostini (unrestricted free agent); C Zenon Konopka (unrestricted free agent); LW Ville Leino (unrestricted free agent); D Jamie McBain (unrestricted free agent); D Alexander Sulzer (unrestricted free agent); D Henrik Tallinder (unrestricted free agent).

CALGARY FLAMES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
April 28: Named Brad Treliving general manager.
June 28: Acquired LW Brandon Bollig from Chicago for a 3rd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed LW Mason Raymond (Toronto), D Deryk Engelland (Pittsburgh) and G Jonas Hiller (Anaheim).
Aug. 23: Signed RW Devin Setoguchi (Winnipeg).
Sept. 5: Signed D Corey Potter (Boston).
Offseason Departures
LW Mike Cammalleri (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); C Ben Street (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Joey MacDonald (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); D Chris Butler (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Christopher Breen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Boston); LW T.J. Galiardi (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); C Blair Jones (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); D Shane O’Brien (unrestricted free agent); D Derek Smith (unrestricted free agent); RW Kevin Westgarth (unrestricted free agent).

CAROLINA HURRICANES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
April 28: Named Ron Francis general manager.
June 19: Named Bill Peters head coach.
July 1: Signed C Brad Malone (Colorado) and G Drew MacIntyre (Toronto).
July 2: Signed C Jay McClement.
July 3: Signed D Tim Gleason.
Offseason Departures
G Justin Peters (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); C Manny Malhotra (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); LW Brett Sutter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); LW Drayson Bowman (unrestricted free agent); RW Radek Dvorak (unrestricted free agent); D Mike Komisarek (unrestricted free agent); C Andrei Loktionov (unrestricted free agent); RW Aaron Palushaj (unrestricted free agent).

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Brad Richards (NY Rangers), C Cody Bass (Columbus) and LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie (Tampa Bay).
July 2: Signed D Kyle Cumiskey (Modo, Sweden).
Aug. 18: Signed G Michael Leighton (HC Donbass, KHL).
Offseason Departures
LW Brandon Bollig (traded to Calgary); G Jason LaBarbera (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); G Nikolai Khabibulin (unrestricted free agent); D Sheldon Brookbank (unrestricted free agent); C Michal Handzus (unrestricted free agent); C Brad Mills (unrestricted free agent).

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 30: Acquired C Daniel Briere from Montreal for RW PA Parenteau and a 5th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired D Brad Stuart from San Jose for a 2nd-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a 6th-round pick in 2017.
July 1: Signed RW Jarome Iginla (Boston), D Zach Redmond (Winnipeg), D Bruno Gervais (Philadelphia), C Jesse Winchester (Florida) and C Ben Street (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
RW PA Parenteau (traded to Montreal); C Paul Stastny (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Andre Benoit (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); C Brad Malone (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); LW David Van der Gulik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Los Angeles); D Matt Hunwick (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); G Jean-Sebastien Giguere (retired); D Cory Sarich (unrestricted free agent).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 23: Acquired LW Scott Hartnell from Philadelphia for LW R.J. Umberger and a 4th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired RW Jerry D’Amigo and a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Toronto for RW Matt Frattin.
July 4: Signed C Brian Gibbons (Pittsburgh).
Offseason Departures
LW R.J. Umberger (traded to Philadelphia); D Nikita Nikitin (traded to Edmonton); RW Matt Frattin (traded to Toronto); C Derek MacKenzie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); RW Jack Skille (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Nick Schultz (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); LW Blake Comeau (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Cody Bass (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); G Mike McKenna (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona).

DALLAS STARS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Acquired C Jason Spezza and RW Ludwig Karlsson from Ottawa for RW Alex Chiasson, LW Nick Paul, LW Alex Guptill and a 2nd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Anders Lindback (Tampa Bay), RW Ales Hemsky (Ottawa) and RW Patrick Eaves (Nashville).
Offseason Departures
RW Alex Chiasson (traded to Ottawa); C Chris Mueller (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); C Dustin Jeffrey (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); D Maxime Fortunus (unrestricted free agent); LW Ray Whitney (unrestricted free agent); D Aaron Rome (unrestricted free agent); G Tim Thomas (unrestricted free agent); G Cristopher Nilstorp (unrestricted free agent).

DETROIT RED WINGS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Kevin Porter (Buffalo).
July 2: Signed C Andy Miele (Arizona).
Offseason Departures
C David Legwand (unrestricted free agent, signed by Ottawa); RW Daniel Alfredsson (unrestricted free agent); RW Todd Bertuzzi (unrestricted free agent); C Cory Emmerton (unrestricted free agent); RW Mikael Samuelsson (unrestricted free agent); RW Jordin Tootoo (unrestricted free agent).

EDMONTON OILERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 25: Acquired D Nikita Nikitin from Columbus for a 5th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
June 29: Acquired RW Teddy Purcell from Tampa Bay for C Sam Gagner.
July 1: Signed D Mark Fayne (New Jersey), LW Benoit Pouliot (NY Rangers) and D Keith Aulie (Tampa Bay).
Offseason Departures
LW Ryan Smyth (retired); C Sam Gagner (traded to Tampa Bay); D Taylor Fedun (unrestricted free agent, signed by San Jose); D Anton Belov (unrestricted free agent); LW Ben Eager (unrestricted free agent); D Mark Fraser (unrestricted free agent); D Denis Grebeshkov (unrestricted free agent); LW Ryan Jones (unrestricted free agent).

FLORIDA PANTHERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 21: Named Gerard Gallant head coach.
July 1: Signed C Dave Bolland (Toronto), LW Jussi Jokinen (Pittsburgh), LW Shawn Thornton (Boston), C Derek MacKenzie (Columbus), D Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles) and G Al Montoya (Winnipeg).
Offseason Departures
D Tom Gilbert (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); C Jesse Winchester (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Scott Clemmensen (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); RW Krys Barch (unrestricted free agent); D Matt Gilroy (unrestricted free agent); C Scott Gomez (unrestricted free agent); D Ed Jovanovski (unrestricted free agent); D Ryan Whitney (unrestricted free agent); D Mike Mottau (retired).

LOS ANGELES KINGS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed RW Adam Cracknell (St. Louis) and LW David Van der Gulik (Colorado).
Offseason Departures
RW Linden Vey (traded to Vancouver); D Willie Mitchell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); D Andrew Campbell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); C Colin Fraser (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis).

MINNESOTA WILD
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW Thomas Vanek (Montreal), D Stu Bickel (NY Rangers) and LW Brett Sutter (Carolina).
July 11: Signed C Jordan Schroeder (Vancouver).
Aug. 1: Signed D Justin Falk (NY Rangers).
Offseason Departures
LW Matt Moulson (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); D Clayton Stoner (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); LW Dany Heatley (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); D Nate Prosser (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); C Cody McCormick (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); G Ilya Bryzgalov (unrestricted free agent); C Jake Dowell (unrestricted free agent); RW Carson McMillan (unrestricted free agent); LW Mike Rupp (unrestricted free agent).

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 30: Acquired RW PA Parenteau and a 5th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Colorado for C Daniel Briere.
July 1: Signed C Manny Malhotra (Carolina), D Tom Gilbert (Florida) and G Joey MacDonald (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
C Daniel Briere (traded to Colorado); D Josh Gorges (traded to Buffalo); C Louis Leblanc (traded to Anaheim); LW Thomas Vanek (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Brian Gionta (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); G Devan Dubnyk (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); RW Mike Blunden (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); C Ryan White (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); D Francis Bouillon (unrestricted free agent); D Douglas Murray (unrestricted free agent); RW George Parros (unrestricted free agent); C Martin St. Pierre (unrestricted free agent).

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 6: Named Peter Laviolette head coach.
June 27: Acquired LW James Neal from Pittsburgh for RW Patric Hornqvist and C Nick Spaling.
July 2: Signed C Olli Jokinen (Winnipeg).
July 7: Signed D Anton Volchenkov (New Jersey).
July 15: Signed C Mike Ribeiro (Arizona) and C Derek Roy (St. Louis).
Offseason Departures
RW Patric Hornqvist (traded to Pittsburgh); C Nick Spaling (traded to Pittsburgh); RW Patrick Eaves (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Michael Del Zotto (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia).

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW Mike Cammalleri (Calgary), RW Martin Havlat (San Jose) and G Scott Clemmensen (Florida).
Offseason Departures
D Mark Fayne (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Anton Volchenkov (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); G Martin Brodeur (unrestricted free agent); LW Ryan Carter (unrestricted free agent); LW Rostislav Olesz (unrestricted free agent).

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 1: Acquired G Jaroslav Halak from Washington for a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Chad Johnson (Boston), C Cory Conacher (Buffalo), RW Jack Skille (Columbus) and LW Harry Zolnierczyk (Pittsburgh).
July 2: Signed C Mikhail Grabovski (Washington) and LW Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto).
Offseason Departures
G Evgeni Nabokov (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); D Radek Martinek (unrestricted free agent).

NEW YORK RANGERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed D Dan Boyle (NY Islanders), D Mike Kostka (Tampa Bay), D Matt Hunwick (Colorado), C Chris Mueller (Dallas), LW Tanner Glass (Pittsburgh) and G Cedrick Desjardins (Tampa Bay).
July 16: Signed C Matthew Lombardi (HC Geneve-Servette, Switzerland).
July 19: Signed RW Lee Stempniak (Pittsburgh).
Sept. 11: Signed LW Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay).
Offseason Departures
RW Derek Dorsett (traded to Vancouver); C Brad Richards (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); C Brian Boyle (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); D Anton Stralman (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); LW Benoit Pouliot (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Justin Falk (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Arron Asham (unrestricted free agent); LW Daniel Carcillo (unrestricted free agent); D Raphael Diaz (unrestricted free agent); C Darroll Powe (unrestricted free agent).

OTTAWA SENATORS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Acquired RW Alex Chiasson, LW Nick Paul, LW Alex Guptill and a 2nd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Dallas for C Jason Spezza and RW Ludwig Karlsson.
July 4: Signed C David Legwand (Detroit).
Offseason Departures
C Jason Spezza (traded to Dallas); RW Ales Hemsky (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Joe Corvo (unrestricted free agent); LW Matt Kassian (unrestricted free agent).

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 7: Named Ron Hextall general manager.
June 23: Acquired LW R.J. Umberger and a 4th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Columbus for LW Scott Hartnell.
July 1: Signed C Blair Jones (Calgary).
July 2: Signed D Nick Schultz (Columbus).
Aug. 5: Signed D Michael Del Zotto (Nashville).
Aug. 7: Signed C Ryan White (Montreal)
Offseason Departures
LW Scott Hartnell (traded to Columbus); LW Tye McGinn (traded to San Jose); RW Steve Downie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Kris Newbury (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); D Hal Gill (unrestricted free agent); RW Adam Hall (unrestricted free agent).

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 6: Named Jim Rutherford general manager.
June 25: Named Mike Johnston head coach.
June 27: Acquired RW Patric Hornqvist and C Nick Spaling from Nashville for LW James Neal.
July 1: Signed D Christian Ehrhoff (Buffalo), G Thomas Greiss (Arizona) and LW Blake Comeau (Columbus).
July 2: Signed RW Steve Downie (Philadelphia).
Offseason Departures
LW James Neal (traded to Nashville); D Matt Niskanen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); D Brooks Orpik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); C Joe Vitale (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); D Deryk Engelland (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Brian Gibbons (unrestricted free agent, signed by Columbus); LW Jussi Jokinen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); LW Harry Zolnierczyk (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); LW Tanner Glass (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); RW Lee Stempniak (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); RW Chris Conner (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); G Tomas Vokoun (unrestricted free agent); RW Chuck Kobasew (unrestricted free agent); LW Taylor Pyatt (unrestricted free agent).

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW John Scott (Buffalo) and D Taylor Fedun (Edmonton).
July 2: Acquired LW Tye McGinn from Philadelphia for a 3rd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Offseason Departures
D Brad Stuart (traded to Colorado); D Dan Boyle (traded to NY Islanders); RW Martin Havlat (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); LW John McCarthy (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); LW Bracken Kearns (unrestricted free agent); RW Matt Pelech (unrestricted free agent).

ST. LOUIS BLUES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 28: Acquired D Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft from Toronto for D Roman Polak.
July 1: Signed C Paul Stastny (Colorado) and C Jori Lehtera (Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL).
July 4: Signed LW John McCarthy (San Jose).
July 16: Signed D Chris Butler (Calgary) and RW Benn Ferriero (Vancouver).
July 21: Signed C Jeremy Welsh (Vancouver).
July 22: Signed D Nate Prosser (Minnesota).
July 29: Signed C Peter Mueller (Kloten, Switzerland).
Sept. 5: Signed C Colin Fraser (Los Angeles).
Offseason Departures
D Roman Polak (traded to Toronto); C Derek Roy (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); LW Brenden Morrow (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); RW Adam Cracknell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Los Angeles); G Ryan Miller (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); LW Vladimir Sobotka (restricted free agent, signed by KHL Avangard Omsk); C Keith Aucoin (unrestricted free agent); D Carlo Colaiacovo (unrestricted free agent).

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 27: Acquired D Jason Garrison, LW Jeff Costello and a 7th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Vancouver for a 2nd-round pick in 2014.
July 1: Signed D Anton Stralman (NY Rangers), C Brian Boyle (NY Rangers), G Evgeni Nabokov (NY Islanders) and RW Mike Blunden (Montreal).
July 11: Signed LW Brenden Morrow (St. Louis).
Offseason Departures
C Nate Thompson (traded to Anaheim); RW B.J. Crombeen (traded to Arizona); RW Teddy Purcell (traded to Edmonton); G Anders Lindback (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Keith Aulie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Mike Kostka (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); G Cedrick Desjardins (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); LW Ryan Malone (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); C Tom Pyatt (unrestricted free agent); D Sami Salo (unrestricted free agent).

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 28: Acquired D Roman Polak from St. Louis for D Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired RW Matt Frattin from Columbus for RW Jerry D’Amigo and a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed D Stephane Robidas (Anaheim) and C Leo Komarov (Dynamo Moscow, KHL).
July 3: Signed C Mike Santorelli (Vancouver) and C Petri Kontiola (Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL).
July 22: Signed LW David Booth (Vancouver).
July 28: Signed C Daniel Winnik (Anaheim).
Offseason Departures
D Carl Gunnarsson (traded to St. Louis); RW Jerry D’Amigo (traded to Columbus); LW Mason Raymond (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); G Drew MacIntyre (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); C Jay McClement (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); D Tim Gleason (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); C Dave Bolland (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); LW Nikolai Kulemin (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Paul Ranger (unrestricted free agent); C Jarred Smithson (unrestricted free agent).

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 21: Named Jim Benning general manager.
June 23: Named Willie Desjardins head coach.
June 27: Acquired C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa and Anaheim’s 1st- and 3rd-round picks in the 2014 NHL Draft from Anaheim for C Ryan Kesler and a 3rd-round pick in 2015.
June 27: Acquired RW Derek Dorsett from NY Rangers for a 3rd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
June 28: Acquired RW Linden Vey from Los Angeles for a 2nd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Ryan Miller (St. Louis).
July 2: Signed C Dustin Jeffrey (Dallas).
July 3: Signed RW Radim Vrbata (Arizona).
Offseason Departures
C Ryan Kesler (traded to Anaheim); D Jason Garrison (traded to Tampa Bay); LW David Booth (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C Mike Santorelli (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C Zac Dalpe (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); C Jordan Schroeder (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Benn Ferriero (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); C Jeremy Welsh (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Andrew Alberts (unrestricted free agent); LW Pascal Pelletier (unrestricted free agent); D Yann Sauve (unrestricted free agent).

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 26: Named Brian MacLellan general manager and Barry Trotz head coach.
July 1: Signed G Justin Peters (Carolina), D Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), D Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) and RW Chris Conner (Pittsburgh).
July 3: Signed LW Tim Kennedy (Arizona).
July 4: Signed C Kris Newbury (Philadelphia).
Offseason Departures
G Jaroslav Halak (traded to NY Islanders); C Mikhail Grabovski (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Tyson Strachan (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); D Julien Brouillette (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); RW Dustin Penner (unrestricted free agent); C Nicolas Deschamps (unrestricted free agent); C Peter LeBlanc (unrestricted free agent); C Ryan Stoa (unrestricted free agent).

WINNIPEG JETS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Mathieu Perreault (Anaheim).
Aug. 1: Signed LW T.J. Galiardi (Calgary).
Aug. 8: Signed D Julien Brouillette (Washington).
Offseason Departures
D Zach Redmond (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Al Montoya (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); C Olli Jokinen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); RW Devin Setoguchi (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); C James Wright (unrestricted free agent).
Former Vezina Trophy winner John Vanbiesbrouck knows what stability in net can do for a team. For an entire franchise, really.

Vanbiesbrouck brought that strength to a number of teams he played for throughout his 18-year career, most notably during his time with the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers.

And though the Panthers have undergone a massive facelift this summer -- new coach, a first overall pick, some marquee free-agent signings -- he thinks the team’s most significant change heading into the 2014-15 season was actually made in March: adding veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline.

[+] EnlargeJohn Vanbiesbrouck
Denis Brodeur/NHLI/Getty ImagesJohn Vanbiesbrouck helped lead the Panthers to the 1996 Cup finals, and likes the team's current makeup.
“I think, believe it or not, their No. 1 strength is in goal,” Vanbiesbrouck told ESPN.com in a recent telephone interview. “I think they have to believe they can win a 2-1 game and play to that strength of knowing that they’re gonna get the saves and really have the young guys to do the pushing to score.”

Vanbiesbrouck, who now serves as the general manager and director of hockey operations for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, thinks Luongo could help lead the Panthers back to the playoffs, especially with the help of talented young stars such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov.

“I don’t think you can think you’re a playoff team without having a top quality goalie who can be a workhorse and I think that’s the word -- stability,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who amassed 374 career wins. “Take nothing away from the guys they’ve had in the past, but I just think that Roberto adds such a quality, a gold standard, to the position.”

Though Luongo dealt with a goaltending controversy in Vancouver that persisted over the past few years, Vanbiesbrouck thinks he has been able to maintain a level of consistency (.919 save percentage over the past 10 seasons) and professionalism that is impressive.

“He’s got a great head on his shoulders, a great mind for the game and he’s very consistent,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “[Canada’s] gold medal in Vancouver, for most people they think that’s the pinnacle of his career, but I think his consistency ... is his gold standard within the league.

"You go in facing Roberto Luongo and you know you will have a tough night scoring goals. That’s like having a 20-game winner on your mound every night.”

Among the offseason acquisitions the Panthers made, Vanbiesbrouck thinks Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell and Shawn Thornton will add a needed dose of veteran experience and leadership.

Having those guys to mentor younger players will be essential.

“I like the way they got some good character guys in the room,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “I think they can keep it together."

Vanbiesbrouck also thinks coach Gerard Gallant will provide a strong new voice inside the room. Gallant spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the Montreal Canadiens under Michel Therrien, and Vanbiesbrouck said he found the Habs to be a team whose coaching staff really coaxed the most out of its players.

“I think he’s going to be demanding, yet sensible,” Vanbiesbrouck predicted.

Now a hockey executive, Vanbiesbrouck has a newfound appreciation for the many layers of skill and experience it takes to assemble a quality organization from the top on down.

He also can appreciate the time it takes for a team to adapt to a new philosophy.

“I’ve learned a ton as far as how to handle people. You learn from mistakes mostly, which is humbling,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “I'm trying to create a strategy here, and strategies take a lot of time to have your vision come to fruition.

“My goals and ambitions are to make Muskegon the best I can make it, and hopefully good things happen from that.”

Hair bands and hockey hair: a marriage made in heaven. We're dropping the needle on 30 songs that say something about each of the 30 teams, using nothing but cheesy videos from the 1980s. The Eastern Conference list is below -- feel free to mullet over. (Western Conference is here.)



BOSTON BRUINS: "Don't You (Forget About Me)," Simple Minds

Everyone's all caught up in the West Coast domination thing, but you can't discount the Bruins, the hardest team in the East. They changed very little in the offseason, have been good for many seasons and have had their core together for many seasons. Replacing Jarome Iginla's 30 goals will not be easy, but somehow these guys always find a way to win, no matter how many goals leave. And if they can find a way to beat the Canadiens ...

Slow change may pull us apart
When the light gets into your heart, baby
Don't you forget about me
Don't don't don't don't
Don't you forget about me



BUFFALO SABRES: "Road To Nowhere," Talking Heads

This was as close as we could get to "We're On The Road To Finishing Last, So We Have a Better Chance of Getting Connor McDavid Or We'd Even Take Jack Eichel, As Far As That Goes."

They can tell you what to do
But they'll make a fool of you
And it's all right, baby, it's all right
We're on a road to nowhere



CAROLINA HURRICANES: "Mad World," Tears For Fears

No offense to Tim Gleason, but there's not much new happening here. Which, as you might expect, is how a team that finished so low in the Eastern Conference and failed to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season should operate. Sarcasm. No wonder Jim Rutherford left.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn-out places
Worn-out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere
Going nowhere



COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: "Here I Go Again," Whitesnake

So, you're Scott Hartnell, playing fairly well on one of the league's most desirable teams. Then, poof, you're suddenly dealt to Columbus, with little indication as to why. It's enough to make your hair stand on end. More, that is.

I don't know where I'm going
But I sure know where I've been
Hanging on the promises
In songs of yesterday
And I've made up my mind,
I ain't wasting no more time
But here I go again
Here I go again



DETROIT RED WINGS: "Broken Wings," Mr. Mister

Who are we to stand in the way of obvious symbolism? Man, the Red Wings really miss Nicklas Lidstrom.

So take these broken wings
And learn to fly again, learn to live so free



FLORIDA PANTHERS: "Money For Nothing," Dire Straits

Dave Bolland is a good player, but five years at $5.5 million per? The Panthers must feel his intangibles are off the charts, because his tangibles -- which were never great, as he has never scored 20 goals in a season -- are declining to disappearing.

That ain't workin'
That's the way you do it



MONTREAL CANADIENS: "Under Pressure," Queen and David Bowie

Getting to the final four is a great selling point for every team in the league -- except if you're the Canadiens, whose fans consider anything short of a parade to be a failure. Can Carey Price rebound from his playoff injury? Can P.K. Subban continue to light it up without causing a brush fire in the dressing room? Will the Habs get back to the conference finals? And so on.

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets



NEW JERSEY DEVILS: "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Bobby McFerrin

If there was a state of denial, it's New Jersey. It's not enough that Martin Brodeur, the greatest goalie not named Patrick Roy, is unceremoniously being pushed out -- the team's scoring woes are to be addressed by a frequently injured Martin Havlat and a decent-but-declining Michael Cammalleri. Whether it's on the ice or off, this franchise is not what it used to be, but no one in Newark seems all that concerned.

Ain't got no cash, ain't got no style
Ain't got no girl to make you smile
But don't worry, be happy
'Cause when you worry
Your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down



NEW YORK ISLANDERS: "Is There Something I Should Know?" Duran Duran

Even with a new building on the horizon, the Islanders are still considered a team to stay away from. Heck, it's so bad, they aren't even on national TV this season. And their offseason signings -- Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Cory Conacher and Jack Skille -- show only the downtrodden or desperate decide to head to the Isle. Somewhere, a frustrated Clark Gillies is throwing boulders at a Sasquatch.

Maybe next year, maybe no go
I know you're watching me every minute of the day yeah
I've seen the signs and the looks and the pictures that give your game away yeah
There's a dream that strings the road a broken glass for us to hold
And I cut so far before I had to say
Please, please tell me now, is there something I should know
Is there something I should say that'll make you come my way



NEW YORK RANGERS: "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)," Cinderella

The Rangers will always have King Henrik. But their chances of returning to the Cup finals are looking as arid as the setting in this video, after losing Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Brad Richards and replacing them with Dan Boyle, Lee Stempniak and ... Tanner Glass? Zoinks.

Don't know what you got till it's gone
Don't know what it is I did so wrong
Now I know what I got
It's just this song
And it ain't easy to get back
Takes so long



OTTAWA SENATORS: "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)," Glass Tiger

Jason Spezza is now a Dallas Star. Weird, huh? First longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson moves on, then Spezza bails. Sounds like some woe is living in O-town.

Oh can this be true
If you could see what I have seen
Broken hearts and broken dreams
Then I wake up and you're not there
Pain finds me everywhere



PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: "I Don't Care Anymore," Phil Collins

Are they even trying to be good? Something just doesn't feel right about this team.

Well, you can tell everyone I'm a down disgrace
Drag my name all over the place
I don't care anymore
You can tell everybody about the state I'm in
You won't catch me crying 'cause I just can't win
I don't care anymore, I don't care anymore



PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: "Say You, Say Me," Lionel Richie

Sidney Crosby, you're good, you're special and, doggone it, people like you. You're great, you're really, really great. A shining star, truly. But, dude, you have one Stanley Cup. So, now you've got a new coach -- a new friend, of a sort -- who can show you how to win. And, if you somehow lead your team to the big prize, people will be dancing on the ceiling.

As we go down life's lonesome highway
Seems the hardest thing to do is to find a friend or two
A helping hand, someone who understands
That when you feel you've lost your way
You've got some one there to say I'll show you



TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: "Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel

Get ready, Bolts fans. This could be your year. GM Steve Yzerman has made some savvy moves in his relatively short tenure, stacking up on good defensemen in the offseason and re-signing Ryan Callahan. That, coupled with the return to health of super sniper Steven Stamkos and stonewall Ben Bishop mean these aren't your Chris Gratton-variety Lightning.

I've kicked the habit
Shed my skin
This is the new stuff
I go dancing in, we go dancing in
Oh won't you show for me
And I will show for you
Show for me, I will show for you



TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: "Land Of Confusion," Genesis

Dave Nonis decries the use of advanced stats in the NHL. Then, after new sheriff Brendan Shanahan rides into town, the Leafs hire a noted advanced-stats guru as the assistant GM. Who's in charge here again? How long will Nonis have a job? Is the captain staying or going? Is James Reimer the backup? So confusing.

There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see
This is a land of confusion



WASHINGTON CAPITALS: "Turn Me Loose," Loverboy

Alex Ovechkin's summertime heartache aside, you know he wants to be turned loose by whomever his coach happens to be, and this season he's got Barry Trotz behind the bench. Will it happen? Will he be given the green light by yet another coach? And, if so, will he actually try while backchecking?

I was born to run
I was born to dream
The craziest boy you ever seen
I gotta do it my way
Or no way at all


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.


PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps emotionally driven and certainly frustrated, veteran general manager Bryan Murray revealed more than a little after the NHL draft Saturday regarding his failed attempts so far to trade star center Jason Spezza.

For starters, the Ottawa Senators GM said a potential deal with the Nashville Predators was scuttled because Spezza didn’t want to go there -- the Preds are on Spezza’s list of 10 teams he won’t go to.

"[Preds GM] David [Poile] talked to me, and we couldn’t go there," Murray said. "I told [Spezza’s agent] Rick Curran that today, I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but he was on the list of no-goes."

Poile also confirmed the potential deal.

“I've talked to Bryan about Jason, and I was told through [Spezza’s] agent that he didn’t want to play for us. And that was confirmed by Bryan," Poile said Saturday.

The hint was that Murray could have gotten Patric Hornqvist and Nic Spaling, the two players who went to Pittsburgh for James Neal.

“They’ve done their James Neal trade, so that has gone away,” Murray said. "Anaheim’s gone away with Kesler, so the field narrows a little bit. But yeah, they might need to have a little change in approach, as well as I do.”

The question now is whether Spezza would consider changing his mind on Nashville if his situation drags on. After all, he is the one who asked for a trade.

“Maybe David and I will have a conversation later on, I don’t know that,” Murray said. "We talked today but didn’t indicate anything about a trade because of the Neal trade. But he may come back to me.”

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNashville is one of the 10 teams that Jason Spezza will not accept a trade to.
But a source close to Spezza told ESPN.com that, at this point, he has no intention of changing his mind on Nashville.

It’s clear that the classy Poile had a hint of frustration in his voice as he talked about Spezza not wanting to go to Nashville.

“I’m not going to pitch somebody if they don’t want to play for us,” Poile said. "This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

Poile sees Nashville as an attractive place for a player with a team that’s improving.

“I want to be optimistic. I think we’re closer than a lot of people are giving us credit for," Poile said.

“I have no problem selling my team, and I think it’s an easy sell. What we have on the ice, what we have off the ice, the city, the atmosphere, no state taxes, there’s a lot of advantages to playing in Nashville.”

And what he’d dearly love is a center of Spezza’s talents, or perhaps Paul Stastny (UFA on Tuesday).

“If I had it on my wish list, I would like to get a No. 1 center, and we’re going to try to get that,” Poile said. "If that happens the next couple of days or it happens in free agency or it happens through a trade that would be great. If it doesn’t happen right now, I have patience. I don’t think we really have an age problem on our team, but I think we’re really getting the correct pieces in place to be a more competitive club than we’ve been in the last couple of years.”

For the Senators, it may very well be that once Stastny is taken off the market, some of the teams who were chasing him will come back on Spezza.

"We’ll continue to talk and, over the course of time, I’m sure people that miss out on July 1 may come knocking, but we’ll have to wait and see," Murray said.

"Jason’s a 80-90 point guy, and you don’t get that return in any kind of trade in this league today, but I’m hoping we get something fair for the organization, so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there."

A source told ESPN.com that Murray had another conversation about Spezza with St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong on Saturday morning, the Senators trying to pry the Blues’ second-round pick in a possible package. But the Blues stood pat for now, although it’s believed their interest in Spezza remains strong. The same can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks, although they’ve got to figure out their salary-cap situation to have any chance to make a deal work with Ottawa.

The Blues also have interest in Stastny, so that’s another potential avenue, although half the teams in the league have approached Stastny’s camp.

HABS TRY TO MOVE GORGES
Talk about out of left field, news broke by my TSN teammate Bob McKenzie on Saturday that the Maple Leafs and rival Montreal Canadiens had talked about a potential Josh Gorges trade. Only one problem, Toronto isn’t among the 15 teams that Gorges has listed on his partial no-trade provision as clubs he’s willing to go to. But what it does tell you is that Gorges is in play, only thing is, Montreal needs to find a partner among those 15 teams listed.

Gorges, 29, has four more years on his deal at a $3.9 million cap hit.

The Leafs did trade for a blueliner, getting Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick. Toronto retained $200,000 of cap space in the transaction.

NEW SALARY CAP
Perhaps the biggest buzz item of the weekend was the salary cap, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announcing Friday that it would be $69 million for next season.

That’s about $1 million less than what most teams had budgeted for, which is no small deal.

For teams like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, every dime matters when you’re a cap team and having a lower-than-expected cap greatly affects potential moves and certainly the ability to spend.

"Yeah, it affects every team that’s close," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Saturday. "It affects us for sure. We’ve got to find a way to get below it. It was a little lower than we thought and hoped."

The Blackhawks are trying to find a No. 2 center, the Bruins had hoped to re-sign Jarome Iginla, the Rangers have Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman headed to free agency, and the list goes on.

Having a cap that’s a $1 million less than expected is far from ideal for many of these cap teams.

What’s most interesting is that in the negotiations over setting the cap number, it was the NHL Players’ Association wanting it at $69 million while the league wanted it at $70 million. The NHLPA’s concern was that a $70-million cap would lead to more escrow payments for players next year.

That’s a valid point, it’s just rare for the players to be arguing for less spending and the league wanting more.

"Role reversal," chuckled one team executive.

STARS BUSY?
Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets.

Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza.

What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause.

AVS TO TALK TO STASTNY
Agent Matt Keator was a popular man this week in Philadelphia, courted by half the teams in the league on the subject of his client and pending UFA center Paul Stastny.

It’s clear Colorado will need to boost its last offer to Stastny (believed to be a number that starts with 5) in order to retain his services.

"We’re going to continue talking, I’m going to talk to him probably tomorrow," Avs executive Joe Sakic said Saturday. "We’ll see where we’re at."

Stastny dearly wants to stay in Denver. But he’s going to get offered more money elsewhere, so he will have to balance those two thoughts.

"That’s what you get when you’re an UFA, the ultimate decision is Paul’s," Sakic said. "I’m sure there’s lots of teams that have interest, where they’re going to go financially, I don’t know, but I know what we can do. Hopefully it will work out, but we’ll see."

ALFIE'S FUTURE
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, continues to mull over his playing future.

"I think right now, Daniel -- not unlike a lot of veteran guys in his situation and his age -- just wants to take his time and make the right decision," his agent J.P. Barry of CAA said Saturday. "He wants to feel 100 percent before he makes any decision.

"I think he’s leaning towards playing, we all think that, but at the same time he needs that time in the summer to feel 100 percent."

If Alfredsson does return, it’s likely only for Detroit.

NISKANEN READY FOR MARKET
Matt Niskanen is almost surely gone from Pittsburgh, the cap-challenged Penguins unable to match what the UFA blueliner will fetch on the open market both in term and dollars.

Don’t be surprised to see Niskanen and his agent Neil Sheehy fetch north of $5 million a year and term around five or six years for the puck-mover.

FLORIDA'S NO. 1 PICK
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was close on one particular offer to trade away the No. 1 overall pick Friday night.

And while Philadelphia and Vancouver made strong pitches, the club that made Tallon think the most was Tampa Bay, a source said.

Imagine if the two Florida clubs had gotten together for that kind of blockbuster.


For years Dan Boyle tuned in on July 1 to watch all the fun.

He was never personally involved, so he would watch from afar with interest.

Now that’s changed, and for the first time in his career he’s going to market himself.

"It’s definitely exciting to watch when you’re not involved. It’s definitely a different experience when you’re in the middle of it," Boyle told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

The window for teams to reach out to other unrestricted free agents opened at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. And the Boyle camp was a popular target.

"Good deal of interest, there are going to be good options for him," Boyle’s agent, George Bazos, said Wednesday. "We’ll sift through it the next few days and see where it all leads."

All they can do is talk, nobody can sign a free agent from another team until July 1. But within the rules of the UFA talking window, teams can certainly lay out the parameters which they’d be willing to agree to.

"We’re just trying to figure out what the place for me would be and there’s definitely a few options out there," Boyle said.

Getting a two-year deal is very important and Bazos is confident he can make it happen for Boyle, who turns 38 on July 12. Contracts signed by players who are 35 and over count against the salary cap regardless of whether the players complete them or not. That’s why there’s risk involved.

"I still think he can really help a team, he’s still a great skater and a terrific character guy," said one Eastern Conference team executive Wednesday.

Boyle indeed remains a terrific skater and puck mover, so two years doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

"It’s not to say that I can’t play any longer than that, but mentally and physically I’ve committed myself to two years. I feel great right now," Boyle said.

"The only thing I know for sure is that I have two very good years left in me and then I can see after that."

While neither Boyle nor Bazos would divulge which teams had already shown interest, other sources around the league confirmed Toronto, Detroit and the New York Rangers were among the several teams that have shown interest in Boyle.

One source described the Maple Leafs' interest as "serious." And the Rangers are also very interested, especially pending the outcome of talks with UFA D-man Anton Stralman.

And of course the New York Islanders remain an option. Montreal had a bit of interest in case talks with Andrei Markov went south, but now that he’s re-signed, the Canadiens are likely not a player on Boyle.

Elsewhere:
  • Agent Matt Keator’s phone started ringing at 12:01 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning when the UFA talking window opened, with lots of teams calling in a hurry on Paul Stastny, the top center available on the UFA market.

    In the meantime, the Colorado Avalanche will be kept in the mix throughout.

    "Paul’s first choice is to re-sign in Colorado but we’ll listen to what teams have to say and make an informed decision," Keator told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning.

    According to a source, the St. Louis Blues were among the many teams that reached out to the Stastny camp. Given the Blues’ pursuit of Jason Spezza, getting Stastny instead would be a cheaper acquisition in terms of not having to give up assets to get him.
  • Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon keeps listening on offers for the first overall pick, but as of Wednesday at noon ET still nothing close enough to get a deal done.

    "Not much new," Tallon told ESPN.com. "There’s some offers from teams in the middle of the pack. But I want to stay top 10 if I can."

    To move down, Tallon would want an established player that fits into his team’s young core. Plus, as he said, he still wants to pick in the top 10.

    Right now, that offer isn’t there.

    "We’re in a good spot. We’ll take the pick if nobody steps up," said Tallon, who expected the offers to get more serious as we get close to Friday evening’s first round.
  • Talks are ongoing between the Montreal Canadiens and captain Brian Gionta (UFA July 1). Agent Brian Bartlett said Wednesday he was "cautiously optimistic" something could get done with the Habs, although finding the right term/dollar match remains a work in progress. Bartlett also said other teams had already called to inquire about Gionta once the window opened Wednesday.



The Colorado Avalanche are at an interesting crossroads in their rebirth as a buzzworthy team.

They've won back some of their fan base after a surprising and exciting 2013-14 season that saw the team razzle-dazzle its way to a playoff berth. The sky seems to be the limit with youngsters Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene leading the way.

But now comes the business part of the equation: two of their top forwards need new contracts, center Paul Stastny a pending UFA while Ryan O'Reilly will soon be RFA and carries his own unique set of circumstances.

It's not like the Avs are up against the salary cap, far from it. But it's about keeping things within the organization's financial landscape when it comes to trying to sign both important forwards.

"They're both part of our core, and we'd like to have them both here," Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the team's executive vice president of hockey operations, told ESPN.com Thursday evening. "That said, we have our internal structure; we don't want to change that. We signed Landeskog, Duchene and [Semyon] Varlamov all within our core structure, and we’d like to have both Ryan and Paul fit in there as well."

Ah, but what exactly is the magic number?

Stastny, 28, is coming off a five-year deal that paid him $6.6 million per season. One assumes the Avs would like to bring him back at less than that number. Tough call for Stastny, who would easily be the No. 1 targeted center on an otherwise lean UFA crop come July 1.

As soon as Wednesday, other teams are allowed as per the new CBA to reach out to Stastny's agent, Matt Keator.

"Paul has been open about the fact he wants to stay in Denver," Keator said Friday. "We will keep talking with Joe throughout the process and give them every chance to retain Paul. We will meet next week and see where things go."

The plan is for Keator and Sakic to speak in Las Vegas during the NHL awards.

"I'm going to touch base and see Matt next week," Sakic said. "But I also understand Paul has the right to listen to other teams. We hope we can keep Paul, but he's in that situation where it's his choice. I don't blame him if they choose to see what's out there."

Then there's O'Reilly, at 23 already a fierce team leader and coming off a career-high 28 goals, which led the team (he was third in points with 64). On the one hand, he's one of Patrick Roy's favorite players, which the head coach and vice president of hockey operations reiterated at a Thursday news conference in Denver. On the flip side, there's history here with O'Reilly resolving a contract dispute with the team after the lockout by signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avs matched it the same day.

And, Sakic warned, any team trying that again will see the same result.

"We're going to match that," Sakic said, when asked about a possible offer sheet for the restricted free agent.

The team announced last Sunday that O’Reilly was designated for club-elected salary arbitration.

It's certainly within the team's rights in the CBA, but not usually a popular move with the player.

The sensitive disagreement right now resides with O'Reilly having been paid $6.5 million in salary this past season but as the team points out, carrying a $5 million cap hit (because the two-year deal had a $3.5 million salary in Year 1).

While agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports no doubt would like the departure point in discussions to be $6.5 million, the Avs in turn no doubt would point to the $5 million cap hit as a good place to start.

In arbitration, a player can't be awarded anything less than 85 percent of his base salary from the year before, so O'Reilly is guaranteed at least $5.525 million as an award. Whether that's a decrease in salary or a raise depends on each viewpoint.

"He was a $5 million cap hit this year, so to me it's still a raise," Sakic said. "I mean, at the end of the day, you have to look at the whole contract. That's beside the point; my first option would be to sign him long term and avoid arbitration. The whole idea, though, with arbitration is that if we don't get to an agreement is have an arbitrator dictate what's a right deal, whether that's one or two years. From our standpoint, we want Ryan O'Reilly here."

What the Avs have going for them in terms of leverage is that they've once again become a destination team. They're on the rise. Players around the league are going to want to hitch a ride on this train over the next number of years.

Just like the old days.

"I think so," said Sakic, part of two Cup-winning sides in Denver as a player. "We've got great young players. With Patty coaching, we have a great system. The fans have come back, it's a great city to live in, but at the end of the day you have to win. Winning gets players interested. All players want to win. If you can put a winning product on the ice, and you look at the players we have, I think this is a destination [free agents] will at least look at."

Which is precisely part of the front office's sales pitch on both Stastny and O'Reilly. This team is going places. Why would you want to leave now?

"Well, it is," agreed Sakic about the team's direction. "We'll have Ryan for at least two years but we hope it's longer-term. Paul has spent his whole career here, he loves the city. From my point of view, I'll respect whatever decision he makes, and hopefully it'll be [to stay] here. I was a UFA too, I know the situation and I respect the process. At the end of the day, it’s going to be Paul's situation and I hope he stays here. If not, I wish him the best. But we’d like both players to remain part of our core."

Gallant in running for Panthers' gig
As we reported in Thursday's blog, the Florida Panthers hope to have a coach in place by Monday.

While Dan Bylsma had started off as the strong front-runner, we keep hearing that Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant has made strong headway in the discussion. Stay tuned.

Spezza, Kesler, Thornton talk
The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues are among the clubs to watch when it comes to the big-name free-agent centers.

Both clubs, we hear, have talked to the Vancouver Canucks about Ryan Kesler and to the Ottawa Senators about Jason Spezza, although they are hardly alone; several clubs have checked in on both available assets.

It's not surprising that Anaheim has inquired about both, as the Ducks' desire for a high-end No. 2 center is hardly a state secret, especially when the club tried too hard to get Kesler at the March 5 trade deadline.

What we're hearing out of both Ottawa and Vancouver is that the price is too high for each center, perhaps because we haven’t gotten to draft week yet in Philadelphia when things are expected to heat up.

Then again, the Canucks view Kesler as quite a bargain at a $5 million cap hit the next two seasons. Spezza has only a year left on his deal, but his offensive talent is a major drawing card the Senators are banking on cashing in on a trade.

It just so happens that the Senators and Ducks made a big trade a year ago -- the Bobby Ryan deal -- which among other assets netted Anaheim a first-round pick in next week’s draft. Because Ottawa surprisingly missed the playoffs, that pick became the 10th overall selection. I’m willing to bet the farm that Sens GM Bryan Murray would want that 10th overall pick back as part of the package in a Spezza deal with Anaheim. And I’m equally willing to bet that Ducks GM Bob Murray does not want to part with it.

On the Joe Thornton front, one thing to keep in mind amid all these trade rumors, as far as I can tell the San Jose Sharks captain has not indicated that he wants to leave San Jose. And since he has a no-movement clause, that means he won’t be moved until the day comes he changes his mind. Could he change his mind at some point? Sure. But we’ve yet to hear that.

In the meantime, teams have called to inquire about Thornton.

One club we’re told that is intrigued is the Detroit Red Wings, although at this point it's just that, pure intrigue and other than a very preliminary discussion, there hasn't been much work done on that front.

For starters, I don’t think Detroit can do something of that magnitude as long as Stephen Weiss and his $4.9 million cap hit remains on the books for the next four years. Good luck moving that contract.

Secondly, who's to say Thornton would include Detroit on his list of teams if the day should ever come that he decides to accept a deal?

It’s worth repeating, there’s no indication yet that Thornton wants to move on. At least not yet.
John Stevens knew he had a decent shot at being a head coach again, and most of the rest of the hockey world did, too.

It’s believed the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, would have wanted to chat with him as part of their coaching searches.

But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sticking with a Stanley Cup champion isn’t such a bad thing, and the Los Angeles Kings made sure staying was a really good thing by promoting Stevens on Wednesday from assistant coach to associate head coach (read: pay raise).

[+] EnlargeJohn Stevens
Abelimages/Getty ImagesJohn Stevens stayed with the Kings because he's happy, not because of a succession plan.
And with that, a fairly hot name was taken off the coaching market.

"I think the promotion, the confidence the organization has shown in me, they pulled me off the scrap heap and brought me out here four years ago, I feel indebted for that," Stevens told ESPN.com Wednesday night.

"But I love being part of this group. I’ve never been in a hurry to move on to something else. I was more than willing to put my time in the minors because I loved what I was doing. And to me it’s not about the next step always, it’s about being with good people and doing what you love to do. That’s certainly my situation right now and that’s why I chose to stay."

He’ll be a head coach again one day in the NHL, just not now.

"I think I’ll get those opportunities one day, but it’s not something I wake up thinking about," Stevens said. "I love to coach, and I love being in a position where we have a chance to win, and we certainly have that here."

We talk a lot about championship teams trying to keep their players together, but it’s just as important to keep the front office and coaching staff together.

On May 9, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi promoted Mike Futa to vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, a step up from co-director of amateur scouting. The Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season (before they hired Tim Murray as GM) and the Canucks this spring (before they hired Jim Benning as GM) had sought permission to talk with Futa. The Canucks never got to. Lombardi made sure of it with the promotion.

Now he’s done the same with Stevens.

It tells you a lot, too, about coach Darryl Sutter. Stevens had been brought to L.A. four years ago to work alongside coach Terry Murray.

"And that was terrific working with Terry again," said Stevens, who worked with Murray in Philadelphia.

When Murray was fired midway though the 2011-12 season, Sutter inherited Stevens. That’s not always a great situation, but the two veteran coaches formed a solid relationship, evidenced by Stevens’ decision to stay put.

"You get to know Darryl, he’s just an honest man, right?" Stevens said. "There’s no B.S. with Darryl. If you’re committed to winning and committed to doing everything for the team to help them win, I think you’ll get along fine with Darryl."

One of the popular theories out there is that Stevens stayed put because there’s some sort of succession plan for him to eventually replace Sutter as coach. Not so, Stevens said.

"I stayed because I wanted to stay with this group in my current role -- period," he said.

A Kings front office source also said that no such plan exists, that this was simply Sutter and the Kings wanting to keep Stevens -- and the feeling was very much mutual.

Elsewhere ...

-- Talks between Paul Stastny’s camp and the Colorado Avalanche are expected to continue next week in Las Vegas at the annual NHL awards. Stastny is a pending unrestricted free agent and easily would be the top center available on the July 1 market. The Avs also have the Ryan O'Reilly contract situation on their hands (he’s a restricted free agent and the team elected club arbitration on him), so there’s a few hot potatoes the Avs are juggling right now.

-- The Florida Panthers continue to entertain inquiries for their first overall pick for next week’s draft.

"We've had one, maybe two, concrete offers," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com. "About 8-10 teams have showed interest but at this point nothing I would do. We'll see what happens next week."

Tallon also said he hoped to have a new coach in place by Monday. Gerard Gallant, Tom Renney, Dan Bylsma and Marc Crawford are among the candidates.

NEW YORK -- It has been speculated for a while now, but Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray confirmed for the first time Wednesday that his star center Jason Spezza has asked out.

And Murray’s phone has been ringing.

"There are a few teams that have asked me about him, what the cost is," Murray said after the GMs meeting Wednesday. "I suggested at least we'll have discussions. I don't want to trade the guy, really, and I know I won't get the value, in all likelihood that I should get for him. But I think that Jason feels maybe there's a change that he would like to have happen, and if that's the case we'll try to do what we can."

The asking price won’t only include futures in return.

"Obviously I'd like to win a hockey game next year, so getting a player back that can play in the league, that has played in the league, would be important," Murray said.

Murray said Wednesday’s GMs meeting is not really much of an opportunity to get a lot done in terms of trade discussions.

"It's such a short time together," he said. "You get a chance to talk to two guys, but not widespread by any means. We're all kicking tires right now. It'll probably be another few weeks, at least, before anything comes down that might be a worthwhile trade talking about."

PANTHERS COACHING LIST
[+] EnlargeDan Blysma
Chuck Myers/Getty ImagesDan Bylsma interviewed for the Florida Panthers' head coach position on Tuesday.
Florida GM Dale Tallon said his exhaustive coaching search is down to six candidates: Dan Bylsma, Ron Wilson, Gerard Gallant, Marc Crawford, Bill Peters and Tom Renney.

Tallon also told my TSN colleague Darren Dreger that Bylsma had a strong interview on Tuesday.

PITTSBURGH CHANGES COMING
Had a chance to chat with new Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford and he’s got his hands full with a team that has seven forwards, three defenseman and a goalie all headed to unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Are more changes afoot in Pittsburgh after GM Ray Shero and head coach Bylsma were let go? You bet.

"Well there’s going to be changes because we have so many UFAs. And we don’t have a lot of cap space," Rutherford told a small group of reporters.

"Are you asking me are there going to be major trades? I don’t know. Talked to some people, some people came after me today and there’s ideas out there. I haven’t been throwing any ideas out but I’ll listen. But obviously there’s going to be some new players there because just the position we’re in with the cap."

It’s believed the team will move on without veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and there’s a possibility the Pens could move scoring winger James Neal to get younger up front and to free up cap space.

One player Rutherford is intrigued by is defenseman Matt Niskanen, who had a breakout year for the Penguins and is slated for free agency but would like to stay in Pittsburgh.

“He had a good year," Rutherford said. "And trying to figure that out. It’s not going to easy but certainly with the year he had we’d like to take a look at him."

The longtime Carolina GM has not yet talked with captain Sidney Crosby.

“Maybe at some point. Right now we got the coach and the draft and free agency," Rutherford said. "Been calling trying to say hello to players and half of them are wrong numbers and they’re off on vacation somewhere. I’m trying to get as much done as I can in a short period of time."

He would like to have a coach in place before free agency starts July 1.

KANE/TOEWS UPDATE
Confirming what we quoted agent Pat Brisson as saying last week, the Chicago Blackhawks are in talks to extend the contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and would like to get it done by July 1.

"I've had discussions with Pat, I'll continue that," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said after the GMs meeting. "I'm very optimistic about that. We've been very consistent with we're going to make it happen. I know [from] talking to Pat they certainly want to be in Chicago. It's a negotiation. I would say nothing has changed my thoughts all along, which is we'll get it done. It's still June 11 or 12th, and we've still got a few more weeks before we do anything."

As per the collective bargaining agreement, July 1 is the earliest players could be signed to extensions, one year out from the expiry of their current deals. But it’s clearly important to Bowman to get it done by July 1 because that allows him to plan out the rest of his offseason moves.

"Very eager," Bowman said of getting it done by July 1. "That's been our No. 1 objective all along and I'm expecting to meet that."

Trying to keep his team together and keeping an eye on the salary cap remains as always a challenge for the Hawks, who spend to the max.

"I always have concerns. I wouldn't be, that's part of my job looking forward," Bowman said. "You can't look year to year, you have to look two or three years out and obviously you know a year from now there should be a kind of bump with the new TV deal, but you still don't want to assume anything. You have to be planning your moves two and three years ahead, which we're doing. We have ideas what that entails. We're not going to share that. We've been doing this long enough that we know what has to happen. Then if the cap goes up more than you expect, that's great. We're not assuming anything. We realize it's a puzzle to put together and we'll make it work."

WEBER STAYING PUT
For whatever reason, every once in a while another Shea Weber trade rumor pops up.

It befuddles veteran Nashville Predators GM David Poile because he remains adamant he’s not moving his star blueliner.

"We’re keeping him, we’re building our franchise around him," Poile said after the GMs meeting. "I think we’ve got one of the best young defenses in the league. I think he’s got an excellent chance of winning the Norris Trophy in 11 or 12 days from now. Why wouldn’t we build our team around him? That’s exactly what we’re doing. We just need one or two forwards and when we get that, you’ll be saying, 'Imagine that someone ever thought they would trade Shea Weber?' No, we are not trading Shea Weber."

SABRES CHATTER
Sabres GM Tim Murray says he’d like to pick up another first-round draft pick to add to the second overall pick he already has.

"I can’t imagine I would trade the second overall pick," Murray said. "I’d like to get a couple of more first-round picks and I have those three third-rounders to us. I certainly know you can’t trade a second for a first, but you might take some money back in a deal to do that and I do have to get to the [cap] floor. There are different ways to get to the floor so I’m exploring all that."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this report
The offseason activity is beginning to pick up around the league as the games wind down. We made a few phone calls Wednesday to catch up on a few interesting situations around the league:
  • Now that Jim Benning was officially announced as Canucks GM, the search will be on for a head coach in Vancouver. Barry Trotz will likely be among the top candidates. The well-respected bench boss, who was Nashville's coach for 17 years, has already met with the Washington Capitals, and word is he’s also going to meet with the Florida Panthers about their coaching vacancy.

    The Canucks, by the way, sped up the process on Benning once Pittsburgh fired GM Ray Shero on Friday, apparently fearful that the Penguins would be all over Benning, Boston’s assistant GM.
  • Speaking of the Penguins, after mega-agent Pat Brisson turned down Pittsburgh’s overtures to fill the GM void, the search continues. Six or seven candidates are in play as of Wednesday, two being Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois and Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Norm Maciver. Don’t have a feel yet for who’s the front-runner but those are two of the guys who will get a look at the very least.
  • Despite repeated reports linking Wayne Gretzky to Washington, it doesn’t sound as though The Great One and the Capitals are a match at this point. Whether it’s for president of hockey operations or another high-end executive job, at this hour, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Which is too bad, because No. 99 in that kind of role would be a great asset. The Maple Leafs talked to Gretzky about a similar role last summer but talks didn’t produce a deal. That job went to Brendan Shanahan last month.
  • Sticking with the Caps, one industry source (not a Caps source) believed Wednesday that Washington will most likely reach out to fired Penguins GM Ray Shero at some point. It’s believed Paul Fenton (Preds assistant GM) and Don Sweeney (Bruins assistant GM) are among other candidates in the mix for the GM job.
  • And finally, where will Ryan Miller land? The decision by the St. Louis Blues to not try to re-sign him after a first-round playoff exit was probably a mutual decision anyway. It means Miller is headed to the July 1 unrestricted free agency market for the first time in his career, which was pretty much always the plan. He’s been linked for almost a year to the Anaheim Ducks, perhaps because Miller’s wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so the fit would certainly work from that perspective. But a source told ESPN.com Wednesday that the Ducks have decided to stick with the kids in net, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, and do not plan on courting Miller. You can also rule out fellow California club San Jose. The word out of there is that the Sharks are going to continue to focus on their mini-rebuild and it’s about youth for them. Adding veteran players is not in the cards in San Jose.

Here's the standard pattern when NHL coaches are hired: The new coach sits at a table or stands at a podium and describes how he wants to correct the mistakes of his predecessor, or outlines his philosophies and how he sees good things ahead for Team A or B or J. And then the first question the fan or the radio host wants to know is: Is he a good fit?

It's a great throwaway question and it's likewise prompts a great throwaway answer. But it's at the heart of whether the hire is a good one or not, and there is no way to know when the man is standing at the podium or sitting at the table whether or not it will be a fit. After doing all their due diligence about work ethic, planning and other tangible things, ultimately general managers make a decision based on their gut as to whether the new man will take his new charges places his predecessor couldn't go.

Peter Laviolette
Well, we can do that too: Use our gut to look at the tumbleweed of coaching stories rolling across the NHL prairie. And for what it's worth, we agree with David Poile's gut feeling that Peter Laviolette, a veteran of the hockey wars at many levels, was the right guy for the Predators. Now, some of those wars Laviolette's won spectacularly, and in some he’s been vanquished. We have watched him excel in Carolina, where he taught them the "forever" value of a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, and we've watched him in tough places such as Philadelphia, where he somehow managed to guide an odd collection of the aging and the punkish to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 -- a run that included a historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston. Those are the kinds of experiences that will put Laviolette in good stead in Nashville. It will not shock us at all if the Preds are back in the postseason next spring, provided Pekka Rinne stays healthy in goal. We're pretty sure Poile's gut told him the same thing.

John Stevens
By a show of hands, who doesn't think John Stevens will be behind an NHL bench as head coach somewhere next season? Right now, the question is whether the current Los Angeles Kings assistant has another Stanley Cup ring to box up when he makes the move. Last summer, Stevens’ name was mentioned as a possible successor to Alain Vigneault in Vancouver, but we know how that turned out. Now that John Tortorella has been dispatched by new hockey boss Trevor Linden, many think Stevens is a natural to fill that void. We do too, but it was ownership that steered former GM Mike Gillis away from Stevens and in Tortorella's direction, so through no fault of his own, is Stevens too close to the former regime? Just asking. What might make all this super simple is if Laurence Gillman, the assistant GM to Gillis, gets the job as GM, as he would have been privy to the thought process heading into last offseason and would presumably be a good fit with Stevens (see, there’s that term again).

Barry Trotz
Lots of people have linked Barry Trotz to the Vancouver job, although it appears Trotz would like a smaller-market franchise. Hard to imagine a place where Trotz wouldn’t be a good fit, but let's say that Vancouver doesn't work out, wouldn't it be interesting to see how the longtime Nashville Predators bench boss looked behind the Florida Panthers bench? Lots of good young talent there and Trotz is both demanding and a natural teacher. This is a team that needs to move forward and, with Roberto Luongo in theory providing the Panthers stability in goal for the first time in a number of seasons, the expectations should be high for this team next season. Trotz has been through those kinds of situations many times over the years in Nashville, and we think he has the perfect personality for that job and the tools that GM Dale Tallon has assembled in Florida.

Kirk Muller, Kevin Dineen, Adam Oates
It's not much of a surprise that new Carolina GM Ron Francis cut ties with Kirk Muller after the Canes missed the playoffs again. They haven’t been to the dance since their surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. Muller was the "it" guy a few years back after he was considered a key piece of the Montreal Canadiens’ coaching staff when they shocked Washington and Pittsburgh en route to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. Muller, who spent five years as an assistant coach with the Habs, had 17 games of head-coaching experience (with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League) before the Hurricanes swooped him up to replace Paul Maurice. But the Canes were never really a factor in the playoff hunt in the parts of three seasons Muller coached there. Now, Francis must find a coach who can get more from Eric and Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, and figure out how to improve a team that went from 25th to 19th in goals allowed per game last season but still has miles to go defensively to be a playoff team. Kevin Dineen, who did wonders in getting Florida to the playoffs in 2012, is an obvious candidate, but what about a cerebral guy such as Adam Oates? Sure, things didn't end up the way anyone wanted in Washington, but you can't argue against the production that Oates got out of Alex Ovechkin, at least offensively. Carolina had the 28th-ranked power play this season, and that’s right up Oates’ alley too, as the Caps were second overall with the man advantage.

Wayne Gretzky?
Speaking of Washington, no real traction to the idea that Wayne Gretzky might end up in Washington in a president of hockey operations kind of role, especially given that it's not entirely clear whether owner Ted Leonsis is even considering such a position (Leonsis did not return an email seeking comment). But let's imagine for a minute that's the route he goes; why wouldn’t it make sense to have a guy like Gretzky at the top of your hockey food chain? This isn’t about gimmickry or glad-handing or publicity appearances, but making use of one of the greatest hockey minds of all time. Not sure we see Gretzky in a GM role, which is also open in Washington, but in terms of assessing the value of players and the elements that go into making a successful organization, you can’t imagine Gretzky wouldn’t be a wealth of information for any team. And of course, who wouldn’t want to see the dynamic between the greatest player of all time and one of the greatest yet most polarizing players of this generation in Ovechkin? There's nothing to suggest that it’ll actually happen, but it doesn’t stop us from pining for such a hockey meeting of the minds.

Randy Carlyle
And, finally, we keep hearing that perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs are nearing a decision on whether to bring back Randy Carlyle as head coach. We understand new president Brendan Shanahan needs to do his due diligence but, as we noted, won’t it all come down to gut for Shanahan and presumably GM Dave Nonis? Does it not come down to the basic question of whether management believes that Carlyle can return to the Leafs dressing room next fall after their precipitous fall from grace down the stretch and command the respect needed to return to the playoffs next spring? Yes, the Leafs are a young team that's still learning. Was this collapse just another part of the learning process? And is Carlyle the man who can help them learn from it, just as he was supposed to help them learn from their collapse in Game 7 against Boston in the first round of the 2013 playoffs? From our perspective, it’s hard to imagine that there would be enough confidence in that room to move the team forward if Carlyle returns. And the quality of people available would be the tipping point for us. Regardless of what happens, Shanahan and the rest of the management team owe Carlyle an answer one way or the other, and sooner rather than later.

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