Cross Checks: Niclas Bergfors

The spotlight shines brightly even in the offseason around the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski and the entire Florida Panthers roster have all enjoyed some moments in the sun as they prepare to try to make the best of new environs. But what about the under-the-radar guys, the players who may have quietly assumed new addresses but who may be ready to make a significant impact? Here's a look at 10 such players:

Alexei Ponikarovsky, Carolina Hurricanes

OK, so the big former Leafs winger has scored just seven times in his past 77 regular-season games and was a bit of a bust in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. But Ponikarovsky should find a comfort zone with head coach Paul Maurice, for whom he played for in Toronto. And Ponikarovsky has scored 20 or more goals (and once scored 19) three times in his career, so he has something to bring to a Carolina team that will take all the production it can get.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche

Given his injury history and uneven play the last couple of seasons, it's easy to forget that Giguere has collected at least 30 wins in four seasons since the lockout. He was, lest people forget, the goaltender of record when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. At age 34, there should still be lots left in the tank, and, given the lack of durability for young netminder Semyon Varlamov -- the man tabbed by the Avs as their goaltender of the future -- Giguere could be asked to do a whole lot more than just offer mentoring and open the gate at the end of the bench.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

It's easy to overlook the arrival of the big (6-foot-2, 214 lbs.) winger, given all the other moves made by the Flyers this offseason. But if Paul Holmgren is right, people won't be overlooking the contributions of the former seventh overall pick in the 2007 entry draft. Yes, Voracek didn't become the player the Columbus Blue Jackets thought he would be -- has anyone in Columbus outside of Rick Nash become the player they hoped he would be? -- as he topped out at 16 goals in his three years as a Blue Jacket. But guess what? He's going to play with top-end talent in Philadelphia and get a chance to put that big body to use.

Anthony Stewart, Carolina Hurricanes

We must admit being a bit mystified that the Winnipeg Jets didn't bother to make a qualifying offer to keep the big winger in the fold, and we wonder whether they'll regret playing against him six times a year now that he's landed in Carolina. Admittedly, Stewart -- the 25th overall pick in 2003 -- has been slow to develop, but he did show some good net presence in Atlanta last season, scoring 14 times and finishing with 39 points. Five of those goals were on the power play and, like Ponikarovsky, the 26-year-old Stewart should get many opportunities to improve on those numbers in Carolina.

Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks

Another first-round draft pick that didn't show enough promise for the Edmonton Oilers, Cogliano may find Anaheim more to his liking. Right now, he's likely a third-line center behind Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu but he can also play the wing. With a more talented cast around him, the 24-year-old may finally blossom after twice scoring 18 goals for the Oilers. He had just 11 goals a year ago but has never missed a game in four seasons in Edmonton, something the injury-plagued Ducks will be pleased about.

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

No one is suggesting that White will replace the retired Brian Rafalski in the Red Wings' lineup, but White has more tools than he's given credit for possessing; watch for head coach Mike Babcock to take full advantage of them. White had nine points in 17 postseason games for the Sharks last spring -- the Sharks dispatched Detroit in a thrilling seven-game set in the second round -- and will be a nice addition to a Red Wings team that still has plenty of game left.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

Will Sidney Crosby be back? How hungry is Evgeni Malkin? What does Steve Sullivan have left? In a city hungering for a return to contender status after two disappointing playoff seasons, it's a little bit easy to overlook James Neal. The big winger was acquired before the trade deadline from Dallas for Alex Goligoski, but, with both Malkin and Crosby injured, Neal never really found a groove for the Pens. He scored just once in 20 regular-season games and then added one more in a seven-game first-round playoff loss to Tampa. Look for a lot more this season from the big winger, who will turn 24 over Labor Day weekend.

Niclas Bergfors, Nashville Predators

Every year, Nashville GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz conspire to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial scoring hat. Two years ago it was Patric Hornqvist; last year it was Sergei Kostitsyn. Could it be Bergfors this season? The former first-round pick (25th overall by New Jersey in 2005) went to Atlanta as part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade and was shipped to Florida at the trade deadline last season before signing with the Preds as a free agent this summer. Bergfors had 21 goals between New Jersey and Atlanta in his first full NHL season in 2009-10, including nine power-play markers. Look for him to get lots of opportunity in Nashville to make good on his potential.

Mathieu Garon, Tampa Bay Lightning

Although there were lots of goalies whose profiles might have been higher, Tampa GM Steve Yzerman went after journeyman Garon as his backup to Dwayne Roloson, who signed a one-year deal with the Lightning after a superlative effort in leading the Bolts to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals. Roloson will turn 42 before the regular season is a week old, and the Lightning will want to make sure he has plenty left in the tank for what most expect will be another playoff run next spring. That means Garon will have to shoulder the load for, what, 30, 35 games? The two netminders played together in Edmonton, and head coach Guy Boucher said in an interview that he expects them to form a strong tandem.

Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals

Talk to Washington GM George McPhee and he'll tell you that one of the main reasons the Caps folded against Tampa in the second round of the playoffs had more to do with the health along the blue line than it did players' efforts. With Tom Poti looking like he won't be able to play anytime soon and with Scott Hannan departed for Calgary, the Caps added some veteran insurance in the form of Roman Hamrlik. Although he is 37, Hamrlik can still log heavy minutes, as he averaged 22:16 a night during the regular season and then saw that number increase in the Canadiens' first-round loss to Boston. Hamrlik was particularly impressive the previous spring as the Canadiens advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in spite of a badly depleted defensive corps. As for a mentor for rising defensive stars John Carlson and Karl Alzner, you couldn't ask for a better guy than the classy Hamrlik.

Donald Fehr was finally introduced as the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association on Saturday, aka the worst-kept secret in hockey.

Pretty much the only thing the average hockey fan cares about in all this is whether the NHL can avoid another work stoppage when the CBA expires in September 2012 and what role Fehr, the longtime leader of the baseball players' union, will have in that.

"We treat a work stoppage -- a strike -- as a last resort," Fehr told us media folk on a call Saturday. "It's something you consider only when you believe that all alternatives have failed. We certainly hope, and I certainly believe, that the owners will treat it as a last resort.

"So if you were to ask me, 'Do I anticipate a stoppage?' The answer is 'no.' And I certainly don't hope that we have one."

No one is going to tip his hand in labor talks this far out, anyway, so this doesn't mean he's not going to be just as tough of a negotiator as he was in baseball. Having said that, I think Fehr knows this isn't America's pastime he's dealing with and genuinely doesn't believe a work stoppage is any way to go for this sport.

The more I talk to people around the industry, the more complaints I hear about the current system from the ownership side of things. Some owners have been in the ear of commissioner Gary Bettman about fixing certain things. As one NHL executive told Saturday, "My owner told me in no uncertain terms that if certain things aren't fixed, he's out. He'll sell the team."

So while the Fehr/Bettman dynamic will be one to watch in the next round of CBA talks, I think the potential in-fighting among team owners who have vastly different agendas will be just as important a factor.

Fehr was asked on the media call Saturday about a timeline for the beginning of CBA talks with the league.

"If I had to throw a target date out, I would probably say sometime a year from this spring," Fehr said. "Maybe a little sooner than that, but that's only a target date. Down the road a few months, I expect to have a much better idea of when it might make sense."

I also asked him about the possible staff hiring of former player Mathieu Schneider, who has been a long-time, staunch union guy and was part of the search committee that recommended the hiring of Fehr. Rumblings persist that Schneider will be one of Fehr's first hirings.

"I know Mathieu reasonably well at this point, I've talked to him any number of times and he seems to me to be a first-rate and extraordinary individual," Fehr said. "He certainly has an enormous amount of experience in the game and as far as I can tell has the respect of the players. He's the kind of individual that makes sense for that kind of a role. I'm not in a position today to discuss any specific hires or roles that any given individual might fill."

Other Fehr nuggets:

  • Fehr, I'm told, phoned Bettman on Friday to give him a heads up on his announcement. Classy thing to do and perhaps a sign that the two can get along? Well, let's not hold our breath.
  • Also, I was told that Fehr last Monday took in a meeting with Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to discuss the future of the NHL's Premiere Games in Europe. The league and players haven't yet confirmed their participation for next year in Europe. The league has held regular-season games overseas in London, Prague, Helsinki and Stockholm over the past four seasons.
  • Fehr was the runaway favorite to get the job all along, but a union source did tell Saturday that "a bunch’" of candidates were interviewed for the job.

Nabokov's next stop

Veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov touched down Friday in San Jose, where he's kept a home. Now what? Several NHL teams have called about him, I was told Saturday, although Tampa is the only one I've been able to confirm. I'm told Washington is not in the mix.

It's not clear at this point whether the Lightning are totally sold on the idea of signing Nabokov. I have the feeling this could go either way at this point. For starters, the team is on a budget and doesn't have a lot of cash to dole out. Also, remember that Nabokov must clear waivers with whatever team he joins.

Here's the dilemma if you're Tampa GM Steve Yzerman: you don't have a lot of money to spend, so if you sign Nabokov to a cheap contract, you risk losing him to another team on waivers that sees him as a good backup at that price. That's the risk for any team that signs him. It's possible some teams haven't even bothered calling Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, about their interest because they're lying in the weeds waiting to snap him up on waivers.

I also think Tampa is hesitant right now because its two goalies, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, are popular teammates. You don't want to rock the room. On the flip side, the Bolts are dead last in the league in goals against, and Nabokov is an upgrade. I think Yzerman is hoping the decision is made for him in the short term by Ellis and Smith playing better. But he may be eventually forced into looking hard at Nabokov if things don't change.

Rumors of Salo's return to Canucks

There have been rumblings recently that Sami Salo is getting close to returning from injury, but a team source told Saturday that is not true. He's still a ways away, the source said.

The reason that's incredibly important is that once Salo returns, the Canucks will be under a cap crunch. Other NHL teams are waiting to pounce on Vancouver. But when Salo does return, the Canucks feel they're dealing from a position of strength -- lots of teams want a D-man -- so they don't think they'll be forced into a bad deal. I think they're right. Judging from the other teams I talk to, there's a demand for defensemen. Vancouver can exploit that when the time is right.

Spotlight on Capitals

Interesting story I heard from a source in Washington: Some Caps players were reticent to wear the HBO mics heading into last Sunday's game at New York. GM George McPhee apparently got involved and told them to wear the mics. Basically, he told his players to man up. It reminds me of when Pat Burns was in Toronto during my first year covering the NHL in 1995-96, and the Leafs coach used to pull the players out of the showers after a bad game and force them to come and talk to us, to face the music. So kudos to McPhee for taking that stance with his players.

Thrashers want to move Bergfors

Atlanta recently sent a memo to other teams saying to give it a call if they wanted a forward. I was told Saturday that Niclas Bergfors is the guy the Thrashers would really like to move. He was part of the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last February but has fallen out of favor.

Devils' Lamoriello searching for answers

Chatted with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on Saturday. It gets to a point where it's like, what can you say?

"This is new territory, certainly, for us," Lamoriello told said. "It's very simplistic: Your best players have to be your best players. When you look at the people that have goals and you look at the history is of goals; and then our role players, who usually always chip in different types of goals and different times -- they haven't been able to do that. So you're pressing every night. And then you get injuries to key people. These are not excuses, you just look at it because you look at the variables prior to making a decision. You have to ask the question why and quite frankly, those answers haven't come yet."

Lamoriello put veteran forward Brian Rolston on waivers this week, but there were no takers. He's earning $5 million this year and next, and he's 37 years old.

"I just wanted to see if there was anybody interested in him," Lamoriello said. "Maybe it's the beginning for something, we'll see."

Some teams have told Lamoriello that they have some level of interest but more so if they don't have to take the full brunt of Rolston's salary. In other words, re-entry waivers (half the price) or the Devils take a player back in a trade.

"This is a fantastic individual and the part of the business where your heart and the head gets in the way," Lamoriello said. "He's not the reason [they're losing]. But I made the decision to sign him and I take the responsibility. But the unfortunate part about it is that it is money."

So what now?

"He has cleared waivers, he's still with our team," Lamoriello said. "Not saying what the next step is but there are different steps and processes. We'll see how things transpire."

Jackets' Mason struggling

Steve Mason had dinner with Blue Jackets goalie coach Dave Rook on Friday night, and the Columbus netminder is in dire need of counsel these days.

The third-year NHL goalie, the league's Calder Tropher winner in 2008-09, has been pulled a league-high 12 times this season and his numbers reflect it: a 3.29 goals-against average (44th in league) and .901 save percentage (36th in league).

Veteran Mathieu Garon got the start Saturday night and will likely continue to do so until Mason can shake it off.

"We're lucky we have Garon playing as well as he has," Jackets GM Scott Howson told Saturday. "But Steve will work his way through this. We're confident of that."

The Jackets had hoped that Mason had left his struggles behind last season in his sophomore year. But they've come back. Right now, he's lost his confidence.

Maybe it's just me, but I think this is an example of a guy that should have gotten at least one year of seasoning in the AHL before making the jump. I know he was spectacular in his NHL rookie season, but now I think you're seeing that lack of development come to the forefront.

Kings lose Mitchell

The Kings have lost top blueliner Willie Mitchell, yet again. This time, he's out two-to-three weeks with a lower body injury.

The gamble on Mitchell in the offseason was that he could stay healthy and partner with Drew Doughty on the team's top unit. Now, he's gone down twice. All the Kings care about, however, is to have him healthy for the playoffs.