Last season’s Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher announced on August 27th that he has decided to join the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old defenceman from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was named the top player in college hockey for the 2016/17 campaign where he played for the University of Denver. Butcher and the Devils agreed on a two-year entry level contract which is worth $1.85 million. It was also reported that he could earn as much as $850,000 a year in bonuses if he reaches certain performance-based milestones.
There were numerous teams interested in Butcher after he turned down a contract offer from the Colorado Avalanche on August 15th. The Avalanche originally drafted him in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft’s fifth round with the 123rd pick, but the player and club couldn’t agree to terms on a deal. Butcher then became an unrestricted free agent in mid-August. Since he’s on an entry-level contract, Butcher will be making the maximum salary allowed for the next two seasons at $925,000 a season and the $850,000 yearly bonuses are also the maximum allowed for current rookie contracts.
Therefore, Butcher would have received the same pay no matter which club he signed for, but he felt the Devils were the best fit for his situation and style of play. He was also giving serious consideration to signing with the Vegas Knights or the Buffalo Sabres. Devils’ general manager Ray Shero was thrilled to land the promising young defenceman as his team is hoping to make the playoffs in the upcoming 2017/18 season. Butcher is just the seventh defenceman to capture the Hobey Baker Award and he helped his college team win the national title earlier this year.
The Devils fortunes seem to have turned around since missing the postseason last year as the club also won the draft lottery this year and chose centre Nico Hischier of Switzerland with the first-overall pick. Shero then picked up 26-year old skilful forward Marcus Johansson from the Washington Capitals just a few weeks later. The left-handed shooting Butcher is expected to step in immediately and help the Devils in their youthful rebuild. He finished last season with seven goals and 30 assists for 37 points in 43 games and finished his career at the University of Denver with 103 points on 28 goals and 75 assists in 158 contests.
Butcher is now the second consecutive Hobey Baker Award winner who chose to become a free agent after wrapping up his career in the college ranks. Forward Jimmy Vesey, who was originally drafted by Nashville, decided to turn down their contract offer last year and the club traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres. However, the Sabres and Vesey also failed to come to terms and the former Harvard players shopped his services around before deciding to sign with the New York Rangers. Vesey then went on to a decent rookie season by scoring 16 goals and 11 assists for the Rangers in 80 games.
The NHL announced a few months ago that the league wouldn’t be shutting down this season to allow its players to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Commissioner Gary Bettman recently confirmed which pro players will be eligible to participate. Current and former NHL players who will be playing in Europe this season will be able to play. In addition, players on one-way American Hockey League contracts can participate. However, those who are playing in the AHL on two-way contracts aren’t eligible to play. Basically, anybody with an NHL contract in 2017/18 isn’t allowed to partake in the Olympic action.
This means the Canadian and U.S. Olympic hockey teams will be weakened drastically for the 2018 tournament compared to every event since 1994, which saw NHL players participate in them. European leagues will be letting their players make the trip to South Korea and this is why several NHL free agents such as Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens decided to sign with KHL teams during the offseason. In addition, the KHL already has an abundance of excellent players to choose from for the games next February, including former NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Canada’s chances of winning a third-straight gold medal look slim, but the nation’s hockey association has already named Willie Desjardins and the team’s head coach with Sean Burke as general manager and Martin Brodeur as an assistant GM, a position he also holds with the St. Louis Blues Meanwhile, the U.S. has announced Tony Granato as its bench boss. Both countries will likely be filling their 25-man rosters with pro players who are based in Europe before adding a few AHL players to the mix. Some possible members of the Canadian team include former NHL’ers Ben Scrivens, Kevin Klein, Derek Roy, Mason Raymond and Max Talbot.
The U.S. may take Keith Aucoin, Nathan Gerbe and goaltenders Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and David Leggio as well as college and junior players. However, any AHL players that are selected to play for their countries are only allowed to leave their domestic clubs for the Olympics and not any of the numerous pre-tournament events including the annual Spengler Cup at the end of December in Switzerland. The U.S. is forgoing most of these pre-Olympic tournaments though and is planning on playing just one, which will be the Deutschland Cup in November.
While Bettman and the NHL owners have put their foot down regarding the 2018 Olympics, it still remains to be seen if certain players decide to go anyway. For example, star Russian winger Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has told the press on many occasions that he plans on playing in South Korea regardless of the NHL’s decision to bypass the event. It’s possible that players such as Ovechkin try to work out a deal with their NHL clubs, but if they do travel to South Korea, it’s unclear if Bettman has the power to throw the book at them via suspensions and/or fines.
Quebec City, Seattle and Portland are usually the three cities mentioned when it comes to further NHL expansion. However, Houston should probably be added to that short list. Houston is one of America’s fastest-growing communities and already has a huge fan base for sports with the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. There would also be a natural NHL rivalry with fellow Texans, the Dallas Stars
Of course, Houston was home to the Aeros of the old World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972 to 1978 with some of the sport’s most famous players suiting up such as Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty. The Aeros were one of the most successful clubs in the WHA, but weren’t admitted to the NHL when the two leagues merged in 1978. The Houston Aeros were resurrected between 1994 and 2013 though and operated in the International Hockey League until 2001. They then joined the American Hockey League until relocating to Des Moines in 2013 and becoming the Iowa Wild, a farm team of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
But with the Houston Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander hoping to sell the NBA franchise, there’s a chance the city could eventually be awarded an NHL team. Alexander attempted to relocate the Edmonton Oilers down to Houston in the 1990s, but was rebuffed by the NHL as it wanted the franchise to stay in Edmonton if it was sold. Alexander approached the NHL once again with a huge offer for the Oilers and promised to keep the club in Edmonton for three years. He then wanted the league to promise him a franchise for Houston in the future. The Oilers solved their financial problems with local support though and remained in Alberta.
While the Houston Aeros played in the city before the new Toyota Center was built, the hockey team shared facilities at the Summit with Alexander’s basketball team the Rockets. At the time, the Aeros were owned by Chuck Watson and his hockey team was given the best options for home games before the Rockets. Alexander wasn’t too happy about this and he attempted to relocate to a new arena, but Watson wouldn’t allow him to break his lease contract at the Summit.
Once the lease ended, the Toyota Center was built and opened in 2003 with the billionaire Alexander as a controlling owner. The Aeros eventually moved in, but Alexander raised the rent for the hockey team in 2013 and when they failed to reach an agreement the hockey team moved to Des Moines. Alexander also had a clause written into the Toyota Center lease which stated that an NHL franchise couldn’t play in the arena unless it was owned by him. Therefore, Alexander would either have to be the owner of an NHL franchise in Houston or give it permission to play at the Toyota Center.
The NHL wasn’t pleased with the clause in the contract and it forgot all about Houston as an expansion city. However, the 72-year-old Alexander is reportedly tired of all the head games and now apparently wants to sell the Rockets. He paid $85 million for the basketball club in 1993 and it’s now valued at $1.65 billion. If Alexander decides to relax his control of the Toyota Center the NHL would consider putting a franchise in Houston as it’s America’s fifth-largest metropolitan area. However, unless Alexander has mellowed, it seems as the final word on allowing an NHL team into the Toyota Center still rests with him.
Left-winger Dave Andreychuk of Hamilton, Ontario has finally been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame after being a member of the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame since 2008. After years of not knowing if he’d be recognized for his on-ice achievements, the 53-year-old found out earlier this summer that he’ll be inducted on November 13thalong with fellow forwards Mark Recchi and Paul Kariya of Canada and Teemu Selanne of Finland. Andreychuk played 1,639 regular-season contests in the NHL with Buffalo, Toronto, New Jersey, Boston, Colorado and the Tampa Bay Lightning and is the all-time league leader when it comes to power play goals at 274.
Andreychuk was originally drafted by Buffalo from the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League back in the summer of 1982 with the 16th pick overall. He made his debut with the Sabres in the 1982/83 campaign and spent 11 years with the team before being dealt to Toronto in 1993. Andreychuk played with centre Doug Gilmour most of the time with the Leafs and they became one of the highest-scoring duos in the league. Andreychuk was traded to the Devils in 1995/96 and played four years with the club before moving on to Boston, Colorado and back to Buffalo Sabres for short stints.
The big winger then signed with Tampa and played with the club from 2001/02 to 2005/06 while leading the squad to the Stanley Cup in the 2003/04 campaign as its captain. The Lightning ousted the Calgary Flames in seven games that year for the club’s one and only league championship. The win came a full 22 years and 1,597 regular-season contests after Andreychuk made his NHL debut. His last season came in 2005/06 before hanging up his skates for good. Personally, his most productive season came in 1993/94 when he scored 99 points for the Maple Leafs on 53 goals and 46 assists.
However, Andreychuk felt a connection in Tampa Bay and returned to the franchise in 2006 as a team ambassador for community relations and still works in the front office for the club. Fans and politicians in his hometown of Hamilton never forgot him though and the city renamed the old Mountain Arena after him as it’s now called the Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena and Skating Centre. Andreychuk had an excellent career and many fans feel he should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame years ago. His 1,639 regular-season games played rank sixth in NHL history while his 640 goals are 14th all-time and his 1,338 points tie him for 28thoverall
As mentioned, his 274 power play goals are a league record with 28 of them coming in the 1991/92 season and 32 more being added in 1992/93 to lead the league both years. He had five seasons of 30 or more goals, had two with at least 40 and broke the 50-goal mark on two occasions. Andreychuk also had 10 other seasons in which he scored at least 20 goals. He didn’t shy away in the playoffs either as the power-play specialist scored 43 goals and 54 assists for 97 points in 162 outings. So now, just over a decade after retiring from the NHL, one of the league’s all-time good guys is finally getting his due.
At the age of 38, defenceman Andrei Markov’s pro hockey career is winding down and he’s decided to finish it in the KHL. Markov was a free agent this summer, but the team he’s played for the last 15 seasons, the Montreal Canadiens, didn’t offer him a new contract. It was reported that the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers were in interested in the services of the Russian veteran, but he decided against staying in the NHL.
Markov told the media that if Montreal didn’t re-sign him then he didn’t really want to play with another NHL team and would play elsewhere. This resulted in the blueliner signing with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL for the next two seasons. After being one of the club’s steadiest defenders over the past decade and a half, many fans are scratching their heads as to why Montreal didn’t offer him at least one more year. Markov had also been a pleasant surprise offensively with the Habs by contributing 572 points for the squad in his 990 games.
In fact, he’s tied for second overall with Guy Lapointe on the club’s all-time scoring list for points by a defenceman. He had a good season in 2016/17 with six goals and 30 assists in 62 contests so was still productive. Markov ranked 38th in the NHL for scoring by a defenceman last year and Shea Weber was the only Montreal blueliner to outscore him. When it came to points-per-game, Markov was actually ranked 16th-best in the league.
Since letting Markov walk, Montreal has acquired defencemen Mark Streit, David Schlemko, Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner to help fill the gap. Fans are a little puzzled though why the Habs decided to ignore the 38-year-old Markov and then sign the 39-year-old Streit. However, Markov may have priced himself out of the market in Montreal as he reportedly wanted $6 million a year for the next two seasons or would have taken a one-year deal. Montreal has just over $8 million in salary-cap space, but didn’t want to spend the majority of it on Markov.
The team may still sign another one or two free agents, but the pickings are getting slim now. There are still several pretty good defenceman who have yet to be signed though and while they may not be youngsters, they certainly won’t cost as much as Markov was asking. These include veterans such as Dennis Wideman, Cody Franson, Fedor Tyutin and Francois Beauchemin and younger players such as Cody Goloubef and Eric Gelinas.
The Canadiens decided Markov wasn’t worth the money though and must now try to replace his minutes and point production. They may hit the jackpot at training camp if one of the team’s prospects shines and earns a spot on the blue line or they may see how things go at the start of the season with what they have. Streit might be able to step in where Markov left off, but if he struggles we could see Montreal make a trade for an offensively-gifted defenceman before Christmas.