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LESTER PARK… The NHL Draft has come and gone. So, has the Free Agent signing period for the most part. There are still a few players out there to be had, but the big gem, John Tavares, landed back in his hometown of Toronto, the Ottawa Senators are having a tough time completing a trade deal for UFA-to-be Erik Karlsson, the Vegas Knights have extended netminder Marc Andre Fleury for 3 more seasons, but besides that we are fully into the NHL dog days of summer. For the Minnesota Wild not much of note has happened and I don’t believe the club will be doing anything that will really shake up the status quo of the team. But for a quick rewind, in the past 5 weeks or so the team has bought out Tyler Ennis to free up Cap space. He then got a one-year UFA deal from the Maple Leaf’s. Matt Cullen took a one-year deal to return to Pittsburgh. On the 1st of July when Free agents could begin signing deals the team signed C/Eric Fehr, D/Matt Bartkowski, RW/J.T. Brown, C/Matt Hendricks, G/Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond, D/Greg Pateryn, re-signed D/Nick Seeler, and extended C/Kyle Rau.
The team did not renew the contract of Assistant Coach John Anderson and replaced him with Dean Evason, he comes to the team from the Milwaukee Admirals where he became the 2nd winningest Head Coach in the team’s history. Iowa Wild Head Coach Derek LaLonde has left that club to become an Assistant Coach on the Tampa Bay staff. A replacement search is still underway. RFA status players Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker have filed for Arbitration in their contract quests and some analysts believe that new Wild GM Paul Fenton has been busy analyzing trade values on several different players. At this point though there doesn’t appear to be anything significant going on. That’s not a surprise.
For the two arbitration situations, a high percentage never get to the actual hearing process. I suspect some offers will be pushed back and forth and that perhaps some time before the actual hearing date arrives, deals will be made. Could either Dumba or Zucker be traded before or after a deal is configured? It could happen, both have value. Will it? Stay tuned I guess. In addition, many players on the Iowa/AHL side weren’t offered contracts. Some have signed elsewhere, while a few haven’t signed anywhere yet. There is a chance that some of those players could be back as training camps draw nearer. Dumba’s hearing is set for next Monday the 23rd, and Zucker’s case will be heard on Saturday the 28th. Zach Parise, injured in the Stanley Cup playoffs is skating in the Twin Cities and says he is doing well. Ryan Suter, injured late in the season in a regular season tilt, is rehabbing, and appears to be ahead of schedule, stating that “I want to be ready for training camp”. Suter has never had a serious injury in his 13 season NHL career and has played in 96% of regular season games his two teams were in.
So, here we are. Wild owner Craig Leipold stated at the outset of his new GM search that the club only needed a few “tweaks” to be a Cup contender. In analyzing the Entry Draft, Free agency signings, departs and arrivals, is the team any closer to Cup contention then they were after being unceremoniously booted from the SC tourney? The real and honest, make that “hockey honest” answer should be a highly emphasized “NO”. In fact, I think that division-wise Nashville, the STL Blues (who have had an aggressive off-season) Winnipeg and maybe Dallas will battle it out for the division crown. With Colorado trending upward and with the Wild and the Blackhawks appearing to be static in adding additional roster strength, I believe it will be a battle just to get a playoff spot let alone challenge for a Cup win.
The Parise-Suter Cup window has closed. I believe that Suter can continue to be an effective defender, recovery from injury permitting, and I believe that Parise due to age and the effect of Games Played in his career will see his production trend downward. Could he surprise for another year? I think that’s possible because I have seen few players ever that have his will and compete level. Let’s face it though, he has taken a beating over the years. Is this club going to contend for a Stanley Cup next season? No, and if I had to give an offseason grade to the club for what has transpired thus far it would have to be a solid D+.
FORMER NHL NETMINDER Ray Emery was the victim of a drowning this past Sunday morning in Hamilton, Ontario. Police recovered his body just hours after Emery dove into Hamilton Harbour and did not resurface. They do not believe any foul play is involved. Police received an emergency call around 6am and recovered his body at 2:50pm. Emery was 35 years old. Whether you were a fan of his or not this is a tragedy. His NHL career swung from journeyman to brilliance at times. He was a major factor in the Ottawa Senators gaining a Cup Final appearance in 2007 versus the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks prevailed in 5 games. On the path to the Eastern Conference Championship Emery went 12-3. This was most likely the zenith of his NHL career.
Through a series of injuries and other goings on surrounding Emery, he and the Sens parted ways and Emery ended up in the KHL and then with the Flyers where it was eventually discovered that he had avascular necrosis. The problem was found early enough to be able to address it successfully, but the recovery was extended. IMO he wasn’t quite the same afterward and eventually descended out of the NHL. Before that occurred, while with the Blackhawks he and Corey Crawford combined to win the William Jennings trophy for the team with the best GAA. Off the ice his behavior was a mixed bag and soured many people on him. Personally, my final straw on him was his vicious attack on Braden Holtby in a Flyers-Caps tilt. Holtby was not fighting back or had even challenged him and this was one of the most contemptible displays I had ever witnessed in hockey.
On the other hand, I lost a very close friend to a drowning incident years back and it haunts me to this day. When I first heard of this Sunday afternoon, a very sick feeling came over me. I offer up my condolences to his family, friends and former teammates. This is indeed a sad event for the hockey community. “Razor” wasn’t perfect, but in the end, I think his positives overcame his minuses. He performed many good things for the cities he played in. This is tragic no matter my thoughts, RIP Ray, you have went way too soon… PEACE