Some of the names still left in the UFA barrel are a bit surprising given some of the needs various teams have.

Ilya Kovalchuk is surprising, but not hugely so. He’s the best free agent to hit the market since the lockout. Everyone knows this, including him and his agent and he can essentially pick where he wants to live the next several seasons. I don’t blame him for taking his time, more than a week to evaluate multiple job offers isn’t unreasonable.

Marty Turco, a bit more surprising given the number of teams that many expected to jump into the goalie chase. It becomes less surprising when you remember how mediocre the goalies were in the last three Stanley Cup Finals were. Osgood, Fluery, Leighton, Neimi are hardly world beaters, except when put on damned good teams. Add to that the number of younger, cheaper goalies and the thirty four years olds continued availability becomes less of a shock. Truth be told though I stand in the number who would have picked him to be signed by an NHL team ahead of Jokienen on June 30th and considered it easy money for anyone who bet the other way.

Raffi Torres, for teams looking for depth scoring, and a little grit he might be the guy. I’m slightly surprised a team like Florida hasn’t swooped in to get someone with a touch of bite to their game for what the ownership complained of as a soft group. On the other hand they actually acquired Wideman.

Ruslan Fedotenko, given the complete lack of anyone on the left side, he’d be a cheap option for a team like the Kings. Given his two rings, including the Cup winning goal for Tampa, and his salary I’m baffled by his continued availability. With 132 recorded hits last season I’m guessing lack of physicality isn’t the problem.

Alexander Frolov, given a constant churning of the rumor mill last season that had him headed anywhere that wasn’t LA, Its odd that this two time 30 goal scorer isn’t sure where he’ll be playing yet. Admittedly some of the most goal starved teams are also some of the more cap strapped teams, but were 12 days into free agency at this point. People have talked about his lack of physicality but that’s not especially valid.  While the hits stat is poorly standardized, its safe to say that Sidney Crosby has more attention paid to him when on the ice than Frolov does. When you take the total hits for each player and divide the number of minutes played by it, Frolov managed a hit about once more often every three minutes of time on ice. Yet Crosby is lauded for his physical play, curious.

Andy Sutton. A defensive defenseman. In an NHL off season that finally discovered the utility of this season and deigned to notice its importance he’s still on the sidelines. Hall Gill, PK Subban and Josh Georges were a huge part of the reason both the Penguins and Capitals go to the golf courses ahead of them, yet a player in the same mold is twiddling his thumbs and waiting for calls.

I finally got to camp Friday, took extensive notes via WordPress for BlackBerry and had them disappear into the ether after hitting post.

Here’s what I saw and heard, as I recall it.

Alexandrov: Still skates damned well, seems to have added some mass as well. Made use of positioning, body contact, and stick in drills and scrimmage. He’s the most professional of all the players at camp. Not surprising since he’s played in the KHL which is about equal to the AHL. He’s economical and does what’s needed to do the job without overplaying the body, puck or shot.

Fallstrom:  From what I’d read around the internet I honestly wasn’t expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised. He can skate with the fastest of them, he kept his stick on the ice, and seemed to both pass effectively and contain passes well.

Cross: In someways he reminds me of a cross between Mclaren and Gill. He’s physical, big, very upright and uses stick and body to good effect.

Donald: Got a huge pop out of the crowd with a shootout goal in the scrimmage. I didn’t think he did that well in the drills as he made little or ineffectual use of his upper body and stick, but was very strong on his skates and well positioned. Good balance too. To a lesser extent than Cross, also reminds me of McLaren.

Cantin: Big hits, he was a wrecking ball in the scrimmage, it was fun to see and kept everyones head up. Otherwise I didn’t really notice him positively or negatively.

Knight: Comes as billed. He’s a crease front presence who will charge into and through traffic with and without the puck. I liked watching him in action. I’m hoping to see him in Boston if not this year (unlikely) than next year when contracts like Sturm, Recchi and Ryders have expired. I suspect he’ll end up back in Juniors this year but may finish the season in Providence if there run goes longer than his Junior team since he’ll be 19 in January.

Gothberg: Got better and better as the day went on. Looked shakey early, and then managed to just plain rob Seguin and a couple others in the shootout.  He was the youngest player in camp, he’ll probably not even get a sniff of the NHL for five years, which would make him a creaky 22 at that point.

Warfsofsky: He looked much better in game play than in drills. Reads plays well, positions himself well, good skater, and takes reasonable chances with his body.

Dalton: I only really got a good look at him when he stayed on the ice while Suave skated after the others.  Looks to have developed a bit more confidence, didn’t let in any bad goals that i recall.

Suave: While he didn’t participate in drills or the scrimmage he skated and took shots on Dalton after the rest had gone to the locker room. He didn’t appear to be favoring either leg and didn’t stop for at least 20 minutes. Nice quick shot.  I hope he’s 100% by regular camp because at worst it will light a fire under the backsides of certain complacent right wingers.


Seguin: I’m nearly certain he’ll make the NHL one day.  He showed more personality on the ice than I was expecting. He seems a touch cerebral/abstracted off the ice, it may just be a dislike of cameras but I got the impression he’d told a joke or two during scrimmage and drills.

There were obviously other players there, these are the ones I noticed more than twice.

The place was packed according to the Bruins the head count for observers was about two thousand.

Julien, and Chiarelli could both be seen laughing and enjoying themselves while watching.  I also met Darryl of Pro Hockey Weekly and RotoWire, good guy. We talked for several minutes as Suave and Dalton were on the ice. If you intend to go next year, plan on getting there a bit early if you want to sit, last years crowd was about one fourth the size. I should be at regular camp in a few weeks.

Entering last season as the Bruins ironman Mark Stuart was poised for a breakout season. The previous spring he’d been the best defenseman on the ice in the Boston-Carolina series. He’s always brought his desire to win, his focus and his ferocity. Not known as a goal scorer he is shut down defensive force who is fairly similar to the Flyers Brayden Coburn.

During the first month of the season he was a +2 with three points as the Bruins mostly spun the wheels. Later in the season he would break his sternum early in a game, and continue playing while dishing out more hits. Later after delivering a clean, devastating hit

on Anze Kopitar, is forced to defend himself against a visored Wayne Simmonds, breaking his hand in the process.

This same hand would come back to haunt him later taking a second month out of his schedule and limiting the big, physical bruiser who has been dubbed “the Caveman” for his strength, to just four games against the Flyers.

Having been resigned to a one year contract that will leave him an unrestricted I have to wonder how much he really desires to play here in the future. Andrew Ference who has only once played a complete NHL season and was a veteran when he arrived in the middle of the 2006-07 season, has played less games in that time than Stuart who was rookie and broke in that year. Ference in his time with the Bruins is a -16, and managed just three goals in that time, is somehow being paid half a million more. Stuart in that time has been a +29 with only his rookies year, in which he played 17 games being a minus year with a -1. Stuart also has 12 goals in that time.

To all appearances, a +/- differential of 45, three times the amount of NHL goals scored, and sixty nine more games played across five years is good for a $575,000 surcharge on your salary. Also of note is that the game differential is more games than Ference has managed to acquire in any one season with the Bruins and is more games than he’s played for any team in all but three seasons stretching back to his rookie year in 99-00.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Brayden Coburn a draft year mate of Stuart just reupped with the Flyers. Coburn is very comparable to Stuart with a touch more offense but less grit, and both play behind one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Coburn’s two year deal is for $3.2 million per season on an equally cap strapped team. Coburn now in his second NHL organization is a career +15.

I’m afraid it might just be time for this:

I won’t be watching LeBron James. Its not just that I don’t watch basketball and haven’t watched two games in the same season since Sir Charles retired. Its not just that my home town is unlikely to land King James. I just don’t care.

In hockey people are currently all agog that Ilya Kovulchuk has still not decided where he and his family will live the next several years. He’s been undecided since July 1 at least. But he hasn’t addressed the media, he’s let his agent handle that. His agent as talked about what teams may or may not be in the mix. No former teammate has come forward to say he’s landing in this city or that. He certainly hasn’t scheduled a huge, self promoting hour long television special to tell us where he will play. I suspect the first time #17 is televised will be sometime during training camp.

Brett Farve, for all his much talked about decision making inability, has never jerked the media around. He has wrestled with the weighing of will vs. skill, and desire vs. ability, hunger vs. endurance every off season. Its not about money, he comes back with an all consuming hunger. He comes back to win.

The only other person in entertainment who’s ego I can barely compare to LeBron James is Kanye West. And much as I despise, loathe and revile the self-serving, self-centered, attention seeking, media addicted behavior I can’t 1) imagine even that unadulterated fathead scheduling a press conference to announce where he signs his next record deal (even though he will get a bidding war) 2) I can’t imagine MTV, BET or another similar outlet catering to his wish.

The me, me, me limelight and liquor culture of the NBA is all is not for me. This is amazing since I like liquor. But for a team sport to revolve around an individual is a perversion of th highest order. Even back when Jordan returned to the court he got less attention. The NBA has sewn and fertilized the seeds of selfishness and self aggrandizment and have are reaping the whirlwind of falling TV ratings and attendance. Teams have been shuffled across the map as fanbases turn elsewhere for enjoyment, and yet no one in the NBA has figured out why.

Bruins Prospect Camp opened today. I expect to get to see some of it in person this week.  For several prospects this is possibly more important than their draft year combine. If they fail to make a favorable impression today they may just find themselves moved so far down the totem pole they could be dumped from the system, or traded off before they even get to the main camp once.

As usual the Bruins have brought in some young players unattached to any organization and while they bear watching, there are other players who will overshadow them with good play or bad. For the expected high performers, this is where we they will prove not only that they must be retained but that they are better option than players currently expected to return from last years roster or any potential free agent  or trade acquisition. Here are the five with the most on the line.

5) Tommy Cross. After knee injuries wiped out two years of potential appearances, the 2007 2nd rounder has to prove he’s capable of staying healthy for an extended period. As a big body who can, when healthy, skate well he’s got the potential to replace the as of yet unsigned Mark Stuart. While he’s likely to stay in college another year or two, it would be hard to imagine him saying “later guys” to an invite to the main training camp if it called especially in light of his injury history.

4) Jordan Caron. With his collar bone injury last year at the hands of WJC teammate Caron lost not just a chance to play at the international stage, but the opportunity to truly shine his fourth year in the QMJHL. With Joe Colbourne having left the University of Denver, Caron another of the Legion of Centers in the Boston organization has had his future turned a bit murkier. Even Colbourne’s acquisition is less of a potential stumbling block than the drafting of Tyler Seguin.

3) Maxim Suave.  Like fellow Legionnaires Caron and Colbourne the addition of Seguin plays heavily into his future. Given his modest size on a team trying to get bigger at forward, he will have to make sending him back to Providence a very, very hard decision if it is made at all. While he played six games in the AHL last year, its an open question if he’s ready to make the leap into the NHL ahead of some of the other Bruins prospects. He was one of the final youngsters sent home from camp last year and played in the Bruins preseason. I’d love to see a big push from this guy, he’s got speed, passion and a solid shot.

2) Yuri Alexadrov. This man was the buzz of the Bruins prospect camp last year. Unlike most players at prospect camp he’s been playing against professionals for two seasons. His last two seasons have been spent in the KHL where he lead all defensemen on his team in ice time. As a small, agile, and smooth skating two way defenseman it’s unlikely he’ll get short changed on opportunities to prove he can contribute at the NHL level. However he has more to prove than most with the “Russian Factor” hanging over his head. He did have a contract to playout and faithfully did so, but the KHL is not the NHL, and I doubt the Cherepovets use a system similar to the Bruins. Nor will his team leading ice time translate that well to the NHL, his 19:43 in the KHL was only 1 second higher on average than Andrew Ference. On a team that wasn’t overfilled with talent, only one player had twenty goals, Alexandrov was also second in +/-.

1) Tyler Seguin. Given his exceptional year in the OHL and the thousands of blog posts, news articles, videos, and press conferences that discussed him the prospect camp might seem like a formality. Hell, with the way management has discussed bringing him along similar to how Stamkos (or Thornton) was, the only surprise will be if we don’t see him in camp and on the roster this fall. But this week is more a matter of dealing with the, preliminary, success of having been drafted so highly. He will face some envy and resentment from some of the players who rightfully believe he is a danger to their career. Whether its a part of his personality to do so or not he will be expected to take some sort of leadership role as well. If all the posturing of the draft hype, and his accomplishments in the OHL last year with a rather austere supporting cast are pointing in the right direction he should be the best player in camp.  So on top of all the on ice drills,  off ice workouts, the packs of press, and getting to know a couple score new names and faces, he gets the joy of pulling miracles out of the faceoff circle and delivering a premier performance.

Misters Snow & Wang a vocal portion of the media thinks you should be singing:

I’ve got a bad, bad reputation.

a bad, bad reputation.

(My apologies to Winger)

And not do much else other than mutter over past failures instead of going for future success.

What these writers want is an easy punching bag they can hit every time their editors deign to notice the existence of the NHL and demand a story. You can tell by the dearth of information they base their stories on. They point to wildly different persons and eras and defend their position with the ferocity, posturing and volume of an irate toy poodle.

Said pundits don’t seem to think that the same proven strategy that teams have used for decades will work in the case of the Islanders, apparently because you are the Islanders. No one seems to mind the idea of this years most dynamic free agent landing under the bright lights and palm trees, but the very idea of a legitimate superstar landing in the house that Bossy built sets a quiver more than a bad day on the San Andreas fault.

Even the possibility of Kovalchuk to the Islanders is sneered at, but when the Blackhawks slid Brian Campbell into their back pocket little was said, when Hossa was added he was derided but only for about five minutes, Patrick Sharp is almost ignored despite his contribution. None of them were home grown all of them as well as fellow free agent Niemi played their part in the championship.

The Penguins brought in Gonchar, Guerin, Gill, Scuderi and others to power them to the top. I defy anyone to tell convince me the latter pair were not as important to their campaign as the teams better know top centers. Huge parts were played by men drafted elsewhere.

So why is it again that when Snow wants the men he drafted to get their Hossa or Campbell or Sharp he’s ridiculed worse for not yet signing a player than Sather is for his annual brain fart signing? The New York Islanders have a solid base to build on. Tavares looks to live up to his billing, Okposo is doing his thing, Moulson has blossomed. They had more than a dozen 2008 picks some of whom should be working their way into the lineup over the next to seasons. Nino and the two Kyrill’s are likely to be a going concern sooner rather than later. The time to integrate a high end free agent into the teams matrix of talent and tools is either now or quite soon.

From a purely business standpoint the thought of having Kovalchuk, Gaborik, Crosby, Malkin, Pronger, Brodeur, Tavares and Richards all in the same division ought to make TV execs salivate. With Gaborik vs Kovulchuk you’ve got two of the most talented goal scorers in the league going head to head. You could see a line of Okposo – Tavares – Kovulchuk matched up against the Penguins finest finesse forwards one night, throwing down with the brutally physical Pronger and company the next and follow it up with a trip to face the man some think is the best goaltender of all time.

From the star power point of view, Kovulchuk gets the Islanders immediate creditability to attract other high quality free agents. I suspect that if inked to a long term deal there will probably also be just a few more Islanders Jerseys, t-shirts, pucks, duffle bags, foam fingers, and food concessions sold. I also can’t shake the belief that the New York Islanders home attendance, might just crawl out of the sewer and get to a respectable percentage instead of fourth worst in the NHL as it was in 2000-2010.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t bet against getting one of the ten most recognizable names in the NHL signed to the roster hurting when negotiating for a new arena either. When the arena comes, with two or three years of better hockey in Blue & Orange filling the newer, larger arena might be a teeny bit easier.

It doesn’t matter what level you want to discuss it on, Kovulchuk to the Islanders makes sense as long as he wants to go there, and Snow, Wang and company continue the process of relocating the team from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Here’s another man’s take on the Islanders rebuilding hatred.

What an interesting day, the pool of goalies didn’t thin much, Ilya Kovulchuk is still unsigned, and there are several guys back where the fans are familiar with them.  In some cases the familiarity will bring comfort in others the contempt will only be turned to eleven.

The Calgary Flames made most of the hockey world scratch their head by bringing back the much maligned Olli Jokinen. Criticized for his play, his attitude and not being able to single handedly carry the team to a Stanley Cup one has to wonder if his name is Finnish for Joe Thornton. Also rejoining the Flames is former Bolt, Alex Tanguay who I expect to get back over 20 goals and probably top his whole season point total by the All Star break.

Jeremy Reich, otherwise known as Zdeno Chara’s sparring partner and former captain of the Providence Bruins has been returned to the fold. I like this signing for a number of reasons I’ll go into when I do a Bruins-centric post in the next couple days.

Less bemusingly, Derek Morris who possess one of the best tape to tape passes through traffic was resigned for a pretty cheap deal in Phoenix. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a better deal on the day.  Morris spent part of last season in Boston, and was traded back to Phoenix mid year. He resigned in the home he’d known for years.

Apparently both myself and Ty like Jordan Leopold better than the folks in Buffalo who were still nice enough to sign him for less than either of us had him in our UFA challenge posts.

On the flip side after a tour of the entire eastern seaboard and having left draft picks in more places than Patrick Kanes dna, British Columbia native Dan Hamuis signed a six year deal to play with the Sedin’s in front of his home crowd.

Clearly hoping to reap the benefits of his forty to sixty games on the LTIR over the next three season the Senators signed Sergei Gonchar to their back line. Not only do they get a fragile and aging powerplay quarterback out of this deal, they get to slot young defensemen from their system into his roster slot every time he’s injured.  Based on Gonchar’s last three regular season some lucky youngster will get 81 games of NHL experience where everything that goes wrong will be blamed on the injured Gonchar. Really, that amount of built in stress relief will be invaluable to Aneloski, Wideman and other prospects.

Both Ty and I thought we could exempt the Rangers from the worst contract of the day this year, we were both oh so wrong. Derek Boogard signed for about three times the league minimum he’s worth. In 57 games he averaged just six minutes of time on ice with the Wild last season. If he plays the same 350 minutes he did last season while donning the Blue Shirt this year he’ll rake in about $4714.29 per minute.

And goalie derby 2010 saw Big and Bald Alex Auld land in Montreal, good guy Dan Ellis be reunited with crease cousin Mike Smith in Tampa, while Nittymaki will play rock-paper-scissors with Greiss to decide who San Jose’s #1 goalie is. Marty Turco & and Evgani Nabokov were granted more time for real estate shopping online, while Tim Thomas’s wife got to not pack the family up for the third year in a row. If Biron can flash his glove and stick as fast as he can sign a contract, he will probably win the Vezina since he seemed to have been signed quite soon after the start of free agency.

Marty St Louis signed a deal that will take keep him in Tampa Bay until he’s old enough for an AARP card, or to stop having Chelios and Recchi call him Junior.

All in all, this was one of the more entertaining Canada Day’s in the past few years. Facts from NHL.com TSN.CA, Capgeek.com, and NHLNumbers.com, mistakes and snark my own.

As we draw towards noon its time to look back at some of the more interesting stories of the last season. Hopefully, we’ll come up with new and exciting things to obsess about over the next year.

  • Marty Broduer’s record chase. Sure it was great watching him snatch up records on what is clearly the home stretch of his career, hopefully they’ll make up for the big bag of fail at the Olympics and being left to play one hundred of the Spartans in the playoffs while most of the other guys were plotting new ink and golf trips with their skates on.
  • Lecavalier to Montreal. Honestly, this rumor is nearly as old as his signing in Tampa. Its also less believable than the one that says good government exists.
  • Sharks meltdowns. The Sharks finally had a good playoff run. Not great but they ran into the meat-grinder that would hoist the Cup a couple weeks later.
  • Price vs Halak. Honestly, this was just tedious.
  • Where’s Calgary’s O? There O did Go! It’s hard to blame a team with one star at forward, one at defense and a bunch of 3rd and 4th line players for sucking, so blame management as they richly deserve.
  • And while I know this is a pipe dream, I can at least hope the “Return of the Jets” rumors die like Theo Fluery’s comeback attempt; Quickly and with few people caring.
  • Uproot the sunbelt, move ATL, FLA, and everything else south of New Jersey to Canada! No one loves hockey down there! Here’s an idea, how about better ownership and management in the sunbelt? Having teams that won consistently might help build fans a tiny bit. Shocking idea I know…
  • Head shots… If the NHL competition committee had half a clue they’d have been heavily penalized when Messier was playing not a generation later.
  • Fighting. Anyone who doubts the place of fighting in pro hockey need only go to a game where there is one and watch the fan reaction.
  • Patrick “20 Cent” Kane. Honestly, it wasn’t funny the first time, it wasn’t funny the 80th time, it won’t be witty or bring nostalgia when someone brings it up in training camp next year.
  • The “Pronger Factor”, yes it’s nice he’s played on finals teams right after being traded. I do kinda think that the purpose of trading for an elite player is to put you over the top and that Chris Pronger. Who knows, maybe next season if he plays his head games with his team mates and gets them into the gym he can win another Cup.

Did I miss any worth mentioning?