The Vancouver Canucks dipped into the Unrestricted Free Agent Market on opening day of the NHL free agency period, by picking up a few forwards & 1 notable defenseman... Dan Hamhuis.
General Manager Mike Gillis was a busy boy on opening day. He went out and signed 4 new players, 2 that will be undoubtedly part of the Canucks roster & 2 who hope to be.
At $27M over 6 yrs, the Canucks got the highly sought after free agent Dan Hamhuis, who was so much in demand, 2 different teams traded for his negotiating rights prior to July 1st in hopes of wooing him to sign there before he hit the open market.
The 6'1, 202 lb, 27 yr old Smithers, BC native, played last season in Nashville. There he put up 24 pts in 78 GP with a +4 rating.
What the Canucks get in Hamhuis, is a very good shutdown defensively responsible dman, maybe soft physically at times...but makes up for it with incredible hockey sense. Should be a capable 2nd unit PP defenseman that will be a staple in the top 4 regular shift dmen. Still is improving his game, the upside on him is tantalizing to scouts & will likely soon find himself taking 1st line time...perhaps even this season.
Along with the addition of Keith Ballard, the Canucks have shored up their defense that was weakened last season with the longterm injuries of Willie Mitchell & Kevin Bieksa. With Mitchell all but moving on these recent additions shore up the Canucks main 6 unit, likely even leaving Bieksa as trade bait down the line.
It seemed fairly evident in the last week that Hamhuis had tunnel vision on the Canucks as his prefered destination & Canucks fans seemed tunnel visioned on getting him. Both sides got what they wanted today, and the price, not too shabby...when you consider the likes of an aging Sergei Gonchar got 5.5M from Ottawa on a 3 yr deal & Paul Martin got 5M from the Penguins.
This move now makes the Canucks defense (for now) one of the deepest in the NHL.
The Canucks dipped into the forward Free Agent Market on opening day as well, most notably by picking up forward Manny Malhotra.
The 30 yr old Mississauga, ON native, played last season in San Jose. There he put up 14 goals, 33 pts in 71 GP while finishing a +17. He also had the 2nd best faceoff percentage in the 2010 NHL Playoffs.
What the Canucks get in Malhotra, is a versatile forward who can play centre & wing, can play defensive style checking forward, and be an adequate offensive piece. At $2.5M for 3 years, the price might be a little steeper than some might want, but the Canucks needed a player like this & with some cap room to play with, felt overpaying to get their guy was acceptable. His addition is the Canucks answer to letting Ryan Johnson go, he will get lots of chances as a penalty killing forward.
After trading away Steve Bernier & Michael Grabner recently. The Canucks were looking to possibly fill a hole or two in their back 6, and this move will help to do that.
Other Canuck signings today included Jeff Tambellini, the former New York Islander & son of former Canucks player Steve Tamblellini, as well as Joel Perrault, a former Phoenix Coyotes farmhand with a handful of NHL games.
Former Canucks goalies, Curtis Sanford & Alex Auld signed on in Montreal, while recent back up Andrew Raycroft got a 2 yr deal in Dallas.
Elsewhere in the Northwest Division
Calgary Flames got in their Hot Tub Time Machine to re-acquire Alex Tanguay & Olli Jokinen. Rumour has them trying to get Theo Fleury & Ed Beers locked up next.
Edmonton Oilers obtained the best deal of the day in PP catalyst Kurtis Foster for only 1.8M.
Minnesota Wild bolstered the 2nd & 3rd lines with depth forwards Matt Cullen & Eric Nystrom
Colorado Avalanche acquired nothing.
When the 2009-10 NHL season started, I can say with fair confidence, 1 of the teams in the finals was NOT on my radar. The Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Chicago Blackhawks were my strongest consideration for my Western Conference finalist, the Flyers to me were nothing more than a playoff spot filler. To me, the East ran thru Washington or Pittsburgh. With outside chances to Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
That is all you really need to know of the Philadelphia Flyers right there. They have proven a lot of people wrong. Including me... 4 times now this season.
They made the playoffs on the last chance they could this season. They got in with a shootout win to eek into a playoff spot that I boldly told my friends in March there was no way they could win. Down the stretch this team, which seemed destined to a solid top 5 or 6 placing in the conference just weeks earlier, had plummeted & on some days, was out of the playoff race as teams like the New York rangers & Atlanta Thrashers kept poking their head into the final playoff spot momentarily. Yet, in the final week they fought back & dragged themselves to a do or die, winner take all affair with the NY Rangers on the very final day of the season. To the loser, a long frustrating off season of what could have been. To the winners, a date with the Atlantic division champs, New Jersey Devils. Hardly a great reward for such a triumph. The Flyers & Rangers played to a shootout. With Claude Giroux scoring on the 3rd shooter for Philly, it was up to unlikely hero Brian Boucher, an after thought to most analysts this season, and probably even that week, to make 1 more save. With the Rangers picking top end scorer Olli Jokinen, the challenge was going to be big. But Boucher did it & the Flyers would be moving on to the playoffs, proving me wrong once.
Playing against the Devils, after narrowly making it. I was confident the Flyers season would end here. They had to have emptied their gas tanks to get here. But the Flyers found a way to not just get by the Devils, they handled them quickly in 5 games. If anything, it seemed Martin Brodeur, and the Devils forwards were the ones who had run the gas tank to empty in the regular season. For a 2nd time, the Flyers proved me wrong.
In round 2 they got the Boston Bruins, a team I was less sure of, but still liked their chances over the Flyers. Where the Devils seemed to be struggling down the stretch behind the suddenly average goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Bruins had young stud Tuukka Rask in net & he wasnt faltering. The Bruins rushed out to a 3 games ot 0 lead over the hapless Flyers. This series was over. So much for the cinderella Flyers. Then it happened. Something changed. The Flyers came into game 4 with a "we have nothing to lose" attitude, and guess what?? they didnt lose. With an OT winner from Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from clinically dead, to on life support. But it was impossible to believe they were going to become the 3rd team in NHL history to return from a 3-0 deficit, right??? Game 5, they won as well, 4-0. In that game, their band aid solution starting goalie Brian Boucher (who took the role as #1 when Ray Emery went down 1/2 way thru the yr with a season ending injury) himself went down with an injury, meaning barely known Michael Leighton was thrust into the spotlight. From there on, it was the Leighton show. He would backstop games 6 &7 wins & the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Eastern Conference finals somehow. Proving me wrong for a 3rd time.
In the Eastern Conference Finals they faced another cinderella team, the Montreal Canadiens. While Michael Leighton was becoming a notable name in Philly, and really in tune hockey experts, the Habs had their own goalie of the moment backstopping them. Slovakian Olympian, Jaroslav Halak. With championship knowledge in his resume (he was on the Hamilton Bulldogs Calder Cup championship team a few yrs ago) & already having carried 1 underdog team to near greatness this year (Slovakia finished 4th at the Olympics, despite being on few if anyones radar going into the tourney, as a medal contender)Although the Flyers came in as the statistical "favorites", most people seemed to give Montreal the edge, myself included. With the exception of the game 3 in the series, the first game in Montreal, the Habs seemed dead in the water. Their gas tanks emptied like the Devils in round 1 & the Bruins in the last 1/2 of their series, and the Flyers just ran them over, finishing the series off in 5 games. Proving me wrong for a 4th time.
So here we find the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who driving down the stretch of the playoffs race lost 9 of 11 games thru March & early April, in the Stanley Cup Finals. More amazing is, with the exception of the 3-0 Bruins series lead, this team has won 12 of 14 games to get to this spot. Now, the Flyers face a team from the West that was expected to possibly be in this position, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once again, goaltending for the visitor is expected to be strong. The Devils had Brodeur, the Bruins had Rask, the Habs had Halak. All have fallen to this sudden power house team. Will the Haws Antti Niemi falter too?
The Flyers are getting great performances from their top guys. The team is offensively being lead by Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne & Chris Pronger. The guys you expect to lead, are. With the addition of Jeff Carter, this looks more like a cup contending team than the 1 that limped into the post-season without Gagne or Carter. The Flyers have been getting good support offense from defenders Kimmo Timonen & Matt Carle, as well as forwards Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Tough as nails checking specialist Ian Laperriere is back in the fold, giving other hard nosed players like Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham some back up on the defensive side of the forward unit.
This team really should be proud of everything they accomplish, wiin or lose. This is a team who realistically wasnt on many experts radar for a Cup berth, and certainly werent expected after losing notable names like Gagne, Carter, Emery & Boucher thru the journey. Yet somehow, they are here. They SHOULD be proud, regardless of the outcome. But you look down that roster, with guys like Pronger, Laperriere, Richards and Carter & you realize that this team is full of guys who wont be happy losing. This team will fight right to the bitter end, even if they are down 10-0 in game 4 of a series they are already down 3 games to 0 in. Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy isnt even a consolation prize to this group. With the higly competitive league the NHL has created, where teams rarely have chances to develop a dynasty, this very well could be the 1 and only shot for many of these guys. They wont want to waste it.
I dont think the Philadelphia Flyers will win. I think Chicago is the better team and they want this just as badly. I am picking Chicago in 6 games. But if the Flyers do win, after all they have done this year in proving me wrong...it shouldnt shock anyone, most of all...me.
The Montreal Canadiens for many years have been one of the most fan friendly & accomodating teams in all of sports. Truly class acts....and this is coming from someone that doesnt like them.
Those days however, ARE OVER!
With only 2 teams having come thru this season I am going to boldly proclaim the Montreal Canadiens will end the year as one fo the 5 worst signing teams to come here.
It wasnt ALL their fault, but it was certainly MOSTLY their fault.
Things that made this trip less sucessful that was out of their hands was the fact they changed hotels, fron a relatively decent hotel, to a horrible unwelcoming one. They also parked the bus in a spot that makes it MUCH tougher getting autographs at the rink after the post-gameday practice. Unlike the spacious railed area at their regular departure point that can comfortably make room for 20+ people, the tight narrow area of the driveway ramp provides room for 1 person to stand there, and another 2 to stand over that persons shoulder. Everyone behind there is generally SOL. Besides that, this was all on their shoulders.
Starting in goal
CAREY PRICE- 2 autographs. he actually started off the trip good. He signed a handful going into the gameday skate. But with a crowd of 40 or so waiting, he fell well short of seeing that everyone got 1. As the trip went on, he became even less willing. Only signing a few coming out of gameday practice & all of ONE the day after for the post-gameday practice that was sparsely attended by hounds.
JAROSLAV HALAK- 3 autographs. He managed to go undetected right up until they were getting on the bus to leave to the airport. Mostly because he had shaved his head & it threw those of us that had met him before off. Once he was picked off, he signed willingly...of course, there was only me 1 other person there with items for him at that time.
JAROSLAV SPACEK- 2 autographs. Oddly, he refused to sign for fans going into the game. The next day however, he was more cordial & signed for the few people asking.
ROMAN HAMRLIK- 0 autographs. Was actually one of the best signers. I dont recall him turning down any requests.
JOSH GORGES- 0 autographs. With comments like "make it quick, I gotta go" you can see that he was all class on the trip. He hurridly scrawled his signature on a couple peoples items before beelining for a cab after practice. Dont recall him being any better at any other point of the trip.
HAL GILL- 1 autograph. For a guy 6'7, I had a hell of a time getting him lol. He seemed to be hit & miss signing & the 1 time previous to them leaving town that he did sign I somehow missed him. I must have been busy getting someone else at that moment. When I finally did get him, it wasnt on the item I wanted, because I didnt have time to get to it & just accepted him on the generic team item I had shoved thru the limited space available near the door of the bus.
YANNICK WEBER- 1 autograph. No one knew who he was & if it werent for the generic team item I had & another hound with a puck, he would have probably not had to sign a single autograph here. I cant say if he would be a good signer or not, as no one ever actually asked him by name.
RYAN O'BYRNE & PAUL MARA- Do not have a report on.
ANDREI KOSTITSYN- 1 autograph. Was not too willing to acknowledge anyone, let alone sign until right before they left town. He signed a few at the bus door & that was, to the best of my knowledge, all he did while here. Certainly was not a willing signer.
BRIAN GIONTA- 4 autographs. Probably the best signer on the team. Signed anytime that you were able to get near him. Was willing to do multiples as well. Which was really rare on this team.
GEORGES LARAQUE- 0 autographs. Has been one of the leagues worst signers the past few seasons. He put that label into overdrive this trip. There is mixed reports of whether or not he signed a girls jersey when he came out on the game day skate. I dont think he actually did. Which if its true, means he completed signing a grand total of 0 autographs in 2 days here. Thats sad & pathetic, considering his autograph is nothing more than "GL". Usually players get tougher as they get better, not as they get worse. His signing habits have gone the way of his playing skills, downhill fast.
GLEN METROPOLIT- 0 autographs. Signed willingly when asked. Unsure if he would do multiples, but he seemed willing to sign, so maybe?
GUILLAUME LATENDRESSE- 3 autographs. Despite the positive number if autographs I got. The other GL tried to discourage people from getting him by giving out one of the most abysmal autographs I have seen from a relative newcomer in a long time.
MAX PACIORETTY- 5 autographs. Terrific signer for now. Did 4 items in 1 shot without any hesitation. I would say, from my experience, the best signer on the team for now.
MAXIM LAPIERRE- 0 autographs. There was considerable confusion when he signed on who was signing. Some people thought it was (Max)Pacioretty, some people thought it was (Matt) D'Agostini. By the time it was deciphered for those of us on the opposite side of where he started signing, we werent prepared for him & most of us missed him. But he seemed to be an ok signer for those on the other side that were able to see who it was from the beginning.
MIKE CAMMALLERI- 2 autographs. Coming into the gameday practice he was a good signer. Making sur eeveryone got one & in most cases 2. But that was IT. He never stopped again. So make sure you are there early for the Habs, because once he signs, he has the "I got everyone" mentality & wont do it again.
SCOTT GOMEZ- 0 autographs. Only because Georges Laraque is on the team is Scott not the teams worst signer. He signed TWO whole autographs, despite being asked everytime he was seen To top it off, his autographs resembled an upside down V with a small squiggle mark following.
TOMAS PLEKANEC- 1 autograph. He signed when I asked him to sign, but prior to that I dont recall even seeing him. So unsure how he was the rest of the trip.
TRAVIS MOEN- 1 autograph. Wasnt asked by a lot of people, but the ones who did ask, he signed for. I believe he was a strict 1 per about it though.
GREGORY STEWART- 1 autograph. dont recall how he was. I got him on my team photo the day they were elaving, but have no recollection of getting him. It really was a blur for a few mins there.
KYLE CHIPCHURA 1 autograph, dont recall how he was. I got him on my team photo the day they were elaving, but have no recollection of getting him. It really was a blur for a few mins there.
MATT D'AGOSTINI- no reports.
KIRK MULLER- 1 autograph. Was a willing signer anytime he was asked.
BOB GAINEY- 0 autographs. Never was seen till just before they were ready to leave town. TWO people asked him, he signed for ONE.
Total autographs from Montreal- 29
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.