Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Warriors need head coach . . . Signing frenzy in NHL

F Brett Palin (Kelowna, 2000-05) has signed a one-year contract with Mora (Sweden, Allsvenskan). Last season, with Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg (Germany, DEL), he had 21 points, including seven goals, in 50 games. Mora's head coach is Jeremy Colliton (Prince Albert, 2001-05).
A guy gets out of bed on the morning of July 1, says he will take a quick check on the NHL’s free-agent frenzy and get on with his day.
But it’s like a train wreck or a NASCAR race . . . once you start watching, you can’t just get up and walk away.
You watch enough of this free-agent frenzy and you start pinching yourself as a reminder that this is the real NHLthing; it’s not a bunch of guys gathered around a bar, holding a fantasy draft and spending Monopoly money.
But, geez, there isn’t a fantasy league in existence in which an owner would pay defenceman Deryk Engelland anything close to the $5.7 million the Calgary Flames handed him in a three-year deal, even if he is coming off a career-high six goals in 60 regular-season games.
Bob McKenzie of TSN tweeted Engelland’s contract terms, and then followed up with this: “To be clear, Engelland's AAV is $2.9M. That's per year.”
Engelland is 32 and has 13 goals in 243 career NHL regular-season games. He’s a No. 6, at best, on an NHL roster. But, hey, he’s truculent and you know who’s calling the shots with the Flames.
But, look, the Flames weren’t alone in the spending craziness.
After all, as Daren Millard (@darenmillard) tweeted: “Per @Sportsnet research. Players signed: 96. Total value of contracts: $543 M.”
(All figures in U.S. dollars.)
There also was this tweet from Sportsnet Ticker (@SportsnetTicker): “Since 2008, a grand total of $2.39 billion worth of contracts have been handed out on the 1st day of NHL free agency.”
Sportsnet’s total included all of Tuesday’s signings. If you include only the unrestricted free agents, as Capgeek.com did, you get 63 signings for $494,600,000.
Hey, I love defenceman Willie Mitchell, a hack-and-whacker who I’m guessing plays with the NHL’s second-longest stick (second only to Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara). Mitchell is a heart-and-soul guy. But not a $4.25-million-a-season heart-and-soul guy. That’s what he got from the Florida Panthers on a two-year deal.
The Washington Capitals came up with $67.75 million for defencemen Brooks Orpik and Matti Niskanen. The latter, who turns 28 on Dec. 6, got $40.25 million over seven seasons.
And now we know why Jarome Iginla has been smiling for all these years. He knew there was going to be one final payday. He turned 37 on Tuesday. Happy Birthday! The Colorado Avalanche gave him a three-year deal at $5,333,333 per season.
So Iginla’s search for the Stanley Cup has taken him from Calgary, after 15-plus seasons with the Flames, to the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Boston Bruins to the Avalanche in just over two years. Or is he really chasing the almighty dollar?
The day began with the Edmonton Oilers giving forward Benoit Pouliot, a 15-goal scorer with the New York Rangers last season, $20 million over five years.
Near day’s end, Tim Wharnsby at cbc.ca calculated that in the first six hours of free agency, 73 players signed for $503.1 million.
No matter how you figure it, NHL owners, the same people who plead poverty whenever it’s time to negotiate a new CBA, committed themselves to paying out a whack of cash.
And there are still a bunch of free agents out there, so the figure is certain to rise a whole lot more.
Here’s Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, on Oct. 4, 1994:
“NHL owners, who last week warned that escalating player salaries were pushing them to the brink of financial disaster, seem to be ignoring their own cries of impending doom.
“Since Aug. 1, when Commissioner Gary Bettman imposed economic rollbacks to save owners an estimated $20 million, clubs have spent about $214 million signing players to long-term contracts. Of that amount, they will pay $70 million for the 1994-95 season alone.”
It’s almost 20 years later and how exactly have things changed?

1. The Moose Jaw Warriors, as expected, are looking for a head coach after the Los Angeles Kings signed Mike Stothers as the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. . . . Stothers, 52, spent three seasons (2011-14) as the Warriors’ head coach. From 2002-07, Stothers was the head coach of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. During that time, Michael Futa, the Kings’ vice-president of hockey ops and director of player personnel, was the Attack’s general manager. . . . In Manchester, Stothers replaces Mark Morris, whose contract wasn’t renewed after last season.

2. An interesting Tuesday morning tweet from SilverFoxTalks (@SilverFoxTalks) points out that Mike Stothers is the first head coach of the Warriors to leave the team for a pro job. As SFT pointed out, Graham James, Barry Trapp, Greg Kvisle, Jim Harrison, Gerry James, Kvisle (again), Lorne Molleken, Mike Babcock, Al Tuer, Len Nielsen, Curtis Hunt, Steve Young, Rene Lemire, Parry Shockey and Dave Hunchak all went elsewhere, but not one of them left to join a pro team.

3. You have to wonder if Moose Jaw GM Alan Millar’s first call was to Malcolm Cameron, the deposed head coach of the Regina Pats. Cameron was unexpectedly fired by the Pats’ new owners on June 22. Would he be a good hire in Moose Jaw? Well, in his only season as Regina’s head coach, the Pats went 39-26-7 and finished atop the East Division. Of course, they later were swept by the Brandon Wheat Kings in a first-round playoff series. Don’t forget, though, that Daniel Wapple, Regina’s starting goaltender, went down with an ankle injury late in the regular season.

4. Travis Green has decided to stay put, rather than join the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant coach. Green will remain with the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. He is preparing for his second season as the Comets’ head coach. . . . Before joining the Comets, Green was the assistant GM and assistant coach with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, working alongside GM/head coach Mike Johnston, who now is the first-year head coach of the Penguins.

5. On the subject of the Penguins, you have to think that D Derrick Pouliot, another product of the Winterhawks, is sporting a big smile these days. The Penguins selected Pouliot with the eighth pick of the 2012 NHL draft. He played out his junior eligibility last season, so will play pro in 2014-15. On Tuesday, the Penguins lost two top-four defencemen, Matti Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to the Washington Capitals during free-agent frenzy. The door now is wide open for someone like Pouliot, who has to feel somewhat comfortable with Mike Johnston having taken over as Pittsburgh’s head coach.

6. When the WHL’s game of musical coaching chairs finally ends, there will be at least nine teams with new head coaches. Moose Jaw, Portland, Regina and Vancouver are looking for replacements right now. Already having hired new head coaches are the Calgary Hitmen (Mark French for Mike Williamson), Kamloops (Don Hay for Guy Charron/Dave Hunchak), Kelowna (Dan Lambert for Ryan Huska), Saskatoon (Bob Woods for David Struch) and Tri-City Americans (Williamson for Jim Hiller).

7. Nothing illustrates today’s NHL better than the situation involving D Josh Gorges (Kelowna, 2000-04). Considered a leader in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room, many observers felt that he would eventually be the team’s captain. Instead, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, after seven seasons with the Habs. Gorges loved it with the Canadiens; the Canadiens were happy with his play and the leadership he showed. So what happened? It was all about dumping salary. Gorges, who isn’t an offensive threat, is scheduled to make $3.9 million in each of the next four seasons and the Canadiens felt that was too much considering that he wasn’t going to be among their top three defencemen.

8. Don’t forget that the 2014 Hockey Coaches Conference is fast approaching. It is scheduled for July 18 and 19 at the U of British Columbia. The conference’s website, which is right here, includes a roster of speakers as well as a schedule and information on accommodation.

The CHL import draft is scheduled to be held today. . . . The Moose Jaw Warriors have said that Russian D Alexey Sleptsov, 18, will return, but Russian F Alexander Chirva won’t be back. Chirva, 18, had six points, two of them goals, as a freshman last season. . . . The OHL’s Sarnia Sting has the import draft’s first pick, followed by the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix and the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . The draft is to begin at 11 a.m. Eastern.

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