It took until Friday, but star Ducks forward Teemu Selanne finally decided he would play again, returning to Anaheim for a 21st and final run around the Original 30.
Hardly earth-shattering news, but an NHL with Selanne is better than one without. The Finnish Flash has been a joy to watch ever since his sensational rookie season in Winnipeg, and now the Ducks have him for an economical $2 million swan song, the price alone indicating that he won’t get the hefty amount of playing time he hoped for as he pondered his decision over the summer.
Meanwhile, with NHL training camps set to open in about 10 days, an abundance of free agents remain unsigned, the market cooling dramatically after the hectic, robust days immediately following the start of the UFA period July 5.
Following, a look at 10 of the more intriguing names that remain on the market, some of whom likely will opt to retire if no one comes calling soon:
Brenden Morrow — Swapped from Dallas to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline, the 34-year-old winger was considered among the prized catches of the season-end swap mart, and scored 14 points in 15 regular-season games with the Penguins. Now he might not be in a training camp for the first time since September 1999 with Dallas (save for the two lockouts). Smart. Gritty. He’ll end up somewhere, though likely at a substantially reduced salary — maybe around $2.5 million on a short-term deal.
Ron Hainsey — Now 32 and with nearly 600 NHL games, the former UMass-Lowell standout can still lug the puck from the back end. He was among the lead, outspoken voices at the bargaining table for the players during last season’s lockout, which could be hindering his marketability. Owners/general managers have been known to hold grudges, but hard feelings take a back seat when the back end is in a mess.
Damien Brunner — The flashy Swiss center, signed by Detroit as a free agent, made his NHL debut with the Red Wings last season and went 12-14—26 in 44 games, and then produced at a slightly better clip in the postseason (14 games/nine points). He may turn out to be the prized catch of this unsigned class, but it might take a club with a bad October to be convinced to roll out a big contract. Skilled, but his rookie production was uneven.
Brad Boyes — The classy former Bruins forward shopped around for work as a free agent last summer and ultimately settled with the Islanders, for whom he collected 35 points in 48 games — his best production since a 72-point season in St. Louis in 2008-09. He can play center and wing and cover all three zones effectively. Not the kind of grinding presence many clubs prefer (in part why the Bruins dealt him for Dennis Wideman), but his ability to pick up points should land him a job.
Vinny Prospal — Yep, still around and looking for work at 38. He returned to Columbus last season and picked up 30 points, the Blue Jackets not wheeling him at the deadline, in part because of his resistance to move. Age limits his versatility somewhat, but he is still a sturdy, dependable left wing with 765 career points. A sensible signing in the $1.5 million range.
Ryan Whitney — The former Boston University defenseman has been hindered by foot injuries his last three seasons in Edmonton, but he did play 34 of 48 games last season and picked up 13 points. Only 30, he can be a presence on the power play. Maybe worth a Sheldon Souray-type gamble.
Hal Gill — As mentioned here last week, the ex-Bruins defenseman remains in search of work, the final year of his contract bought out in June by Nashville. Pal Hal won’t add much on the offensive side, but that’s never been his game. He has the size and smarts to stick around for another year or two as depth insurance.
Jose Theodore — Rumors ran rampant for 24 hours last month that the former Montreal goalie had signed with the Bruins. It made little sense, especially given that Tuukka Rask already had signed his eight-year extension. Played only a limited role for the Panthers last season. A possible backup for, say, $600,000.
Milan Hejduk — It’s possibly over for the 37-year-old Czech standout, not asked back to Colorado, where he broke into the league in October 1998. A one-time 50-goal scorer, he might have enough left to offer second- or third-line scoring assistance. If not, he’ll retire with 805 points in 1,020 games.
Ilya Bryzgalov — The enigmatic backstop doesn’t really need work after being bought out by the Flyers. He will collect $23 million over the next 14 years, an average of $1.64 million. But rumors over the summer had him joining the KHL, perhaps with Vladivostock, a new entry. Now with play to begin over there this week, Bryzgalov remains in the same category as Tim Thomas, with no takers in sight.
Kaberle takes game to KHL
Ex-Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle, the final year of his contract bought out in June by the Canadiens, is about to finalize a deal with Dinamo Minsk, per reports last week by iSport.cz, possibly in time for its KHL opener against Traktor.
Kaberle, 35, has $1.4 million coming his way each of these next two seasons by virtue of the compliance buyout with the Habs. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, has a roster dotted with a couple of Canadian kids, including former Red Wings defenseman Derek Meech and onetime University of New Hampshire forward Jacob Micflikier.
Not much left in the tank for Kaberle, but Minsk coach Alois Hadamczik has told reporters that Kaberle’s game might translate well on the KHL’s bigger ice sheets, which in turn could help him land a spot on what would be his fourth Czech Olympic team.
Thornton does the right thing
Canadian Olympic hopefuls met in Calgary last week for what amounted to a ball hockey tournament, but invitee Joe Thornton was a late scratch because of the illness and hospitalization of his infant son, two-month-old River Thornton. “Our wives are best friends,’’ noted Sharks teammate Dan Boyle, another Canadian Olympic hopeful, to ESPN reporter Pierre LeBrun. “He made the right decision . . . [you’ve] got to stay home. Family is the most important thing.’’ Jumbo Joe remains on the Canadian watch list for Sochi. If he makes it, it will be his third trip to Olympus, after compiling a meager line of 2-3—5 in the 13 games at Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010. Thornton, 34, is expected to be at Sharks camp in about 10 days. On course to be an unrestricted free agent next July, he’ll bank $6 million in 2013-14 with a $7 million cap hit.
Ryan Miller remains a Buffalo Sabre, despite loads of offseason conjecture that he would be elsewhere to begin the 2013-14 season. Same for Tomas Vanek, who on Wednesday told Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe, “I’ve never asked for a trade, so I’m not surprised that I’m still here.’’ No telling if they’ll both be sporting Sabres colors by the end of the season, though, amid Buffalo’s grand (maybe) makeover. Miller has a year left at $6.25 million. Same for Vanek at $6.4 million. With such short term remaining, neither will bring much in trade. GM Darcy Regier’s best play, in terms of return value, could be to hold both until the trade deadline, then hope to land the standard package of a player, a prospect, and a pick for each.
Miller, Team USA’s No. 1 goalie in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, was backed up by Tim Thomas. If he’s going back to Olympus, he’d likely be the No. 2 to Jonathan Quick, provided he even makes the squad. The Yanks also have Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard to consider. An embarrassment of riches for the Americans, who will land in Sochi favored to win a medal, possibly gold. Team USA GM David Poile to the Washington Post last week during the Yanks’ two-day orientation camp: “We’ve never really had that many hard decisions in USA Hockey, because we’ve never had the depth.’’
A somewhat more mature, confident Phil Kessel is a little more talkative these days, as reporters found out last week when the ex-Bruins forward attended the USA camp for what would be his second Olympic tour. Of greatest note was Kessel saying that he is not inclined to negotiate a new contract in Toronto once the season begins, the standard warning many players offer as they’re entering the final year of their deal (this will be year No. 5 of Kessel’s five-year/$27 million pact he signed with the Maple Leafs upon being traded by the Bruins). Kessel noted to the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby: “If you make it to the end [of your contract], you are more likely to leave.’’ As noted here in recent months, the 25-year-old Kessel is in line for a substantial raise, to perhaps as much as $8 million a year. If the Leafs decide to go full lock and load with him, his new deal could be for eight years, somewhere in the $60 million-$64 million range.
The Bruins on Friday released the roster for their rookie training camp, which kicks off Wednesday in Wilmington. Thursday’s on-ice session will start at 9 a.m. All sessions open to the public. Prized prospect Malcolm Subban, likely to spend the season at AHL Providence, is among the invitees, along with fellow goalie Adam Morrison, a former Flyers draft pick who spent a season with the Vancouver Giants, onetime home of Milan Lucic. A total of 22 kids will be in camp, which will move to Florida for a three-day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) tournament vs. Tampa Bay, Florida, and Nashville. All the rooks will back in Wilmington for work on Monday and Tuesday before the varsity takes the ice Sept. 11.
Ex-Bruin Andrew Alberts and his wife went home to Minnesota for the summer, not knowing where they’d land for the 2013-14 season, ultimately to get asked back to Vancouver less than two weeks ago at a steep discount (from $1.2 million to $600,000). Without any other takers, it was worth the shot for the towering 32-year-old back liner. With Alain Vigneault still on the job last season, Alberts was a scratch (coach’s decision) for the first 17 games. Now he’ll at least get a fresh look from new coach John Tortorella and assistant Mike Sullivan, the latter of whom was the head coach during Alberts’s rookie season with the Bruins in 2005-06. Unless some kid surprises in rookie camp, Alberts will battle it out with Yannick Weber and Frank Corrado for the Nos. 6-7 D spots. Kelly Alberts is due to give birth to the couple’s first child in a couple of weeks, which added some anxiety to the job search. “The unknown was definitely the hardest part,’’ Alberts told the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap.
If you’ve never been to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, a visit Nov. 8-11 will put you there for Induction Weekend, which this year will see ex-NHL stars Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer, and Brendan Shanahan slip on rings and blue jackets, along with ex-Flyers coach Fred Shero and Canadian amateur star Geraldine Heaney. For tickets, call 416-933-8237. Jay Greenberg and Harry Neale will be honored in the media wing.
As expected, Flyers star Claude Giroux also did not attend the Canadian Olympic camp, remaining home to recover from surgery to an index finger that he damaged in a golf accident last month . . . The Devils, following the lead of many NHL clubs, including the Bruins, rolled out substantial term (six years) last week for young pivot Adam Henrique. With but two years logged on his résumé, the 23-year-old scorer/playmaker is guaranteed $24 million over those six years. The new collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits contracts of more than eight years (reduced to seven for players signed by new clubs), has increased clubs’ appetites for identifying a larger number of core players and then inking those players to long-term deals . . . Team USA and Team Canada, along with the rest of the Olympic contingent, will land in Sochi Feb. 10 and have two or three workouts on the big sheet before play opens Feb. 13. The NHL will be dark for a couple of weeks while the best and brightest chase gold, silver, and bronze for a fifth time, dating to Nagano in 1998 . . . The Red Wings on Friday tweeted the first pictures of newcomer Daniel Alfredsson on the ice, wearing his bright red Winged Wheel sweater. Painful for most onlookers from Ottawa, and a few here in the Hub of Hockey. The Bruins made an aggressive attempt to land Alfie as an unrestricted free agent, but he opted for the Wings, just a matter of days before Motown went into bankruptcy.
After some 25 years of working the corners of this Sunday space, your faithful puck chronicler is moving on to an expanded, more varied role in the Globe’s sports section. For better or worse, no one in the department’s rich history has cranked out these weekly beasts over a longer period. Given how the business is changing, I suspect I’ll retain that record in perpetuity, although good pal Nick Cafardo (stick salute) over on our baseball side, now our senior “notes” writer, might challenge that mark. Fluto Shinzawa, our Bruins beat reporter these last seven seasons, now will take over this space, and I am certain he will do a magnificent job, with new Bruins beat reporter Amalie Benjamin no doubt picking up a few shifts, too. Above all, my sincere thanks to those of you who have turned here these last 1,300 or so Sundays, some of you for the full quarter-century. It is a vastly different business than the one I entered a little more than 40 years ago. But for all the change, one thing remains constant, the privilege it is to work for what we try to make the best sports section in the country, and be read by engaged, intelligent consumers. As a writer, there is nothing better than feeling and believing in that connection with the reader. All of you are why I’ve stayed so long and I will be forever grateful.