NHL buyouts increase, five veterans waived

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NHL buyouts increase, five veterans waived

Defenseman Tom Gilbert is on his way out in Minnesota, Nick Leddy is back with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and the New York Islanders have parted ways with goalie Rick DiPietro's long contract.

Wednesday proved to be a busy day for NHL teams, who scrambled to make subtractions and additions before the free-agent signing period opens at noon on Friday.

Gilbert was one of five players waived for the purpose of contract buyouts. The others were Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard, Detroit defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn, and Buffalo forward Nathan Gerbe.

"Due to the NHL salary cap decreasing this season, we needed to make this difficult decision to give the team more flexibility," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said regarding the team's decision to waive Gilbert.

Some teams re-signed their players, too.

Leddy agreed to a two-year contract before he was eligible to become a restricted free agent.

"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to remain in Chicago," said Leddy, who had two assists in 23 playoff games for the Blackhawks.

The Dallas Stars announced the signing of Jordie Benn to a three-year deal, preventing him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

DiPietro, meanwhile, cleared waivers on Wednesday, allowing the Islanders to buy out what is left of the 15-year, $67.5 million contract the former No. 1 draft pick signed before the 2006-07 season.

Washington defenseman Jeff Schultz also cleared waivers and is expected to have the remaining two years and $6 million left on his contract bought out.

The series of moves continued to alter an ever-fluid, free-agent class, whose marquee player is already off the market. That would be Vincent Lecavalier, who agreed to a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The former Tampa Bay Lightning captain hit free agency after the Lightning bought out his contract last week.

The Flyers followed up on Wednesday by issuing qualifying offers to retain the rights to defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen, Brandon Manning and forward Eric Wellwood. The Flyers declined to make offers to defenseman Blake Kessel and forward Mitch Wahl, allowing both to become unrestricted free agents.

The St. Louis Blues re-signed defenseman Jordan Leopold to a two-year contract. Leopold is a 10-year veteran who had two assists in 15 regular-season games with St. Louis after being acquired by the Blues from Buffalo on March 31.

Teams had until Wednesday to place players on waivers in order to buy out their contracts. Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to buy out contracts of two players over the next two seasons.

The clause was included to give teams the opportunity to clear space under the salary cap, which is dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million. Contracts of bought-out players won't count against a team's salary cap, though the players will be paid two-thirds of their remaining salary over double the years remaining on their contracts.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is confident he will reach a deal to re-sign goalie Tuukka Rask, while adding he anticipates backup Anton Khudobin to test free agency.

Chiarelli is also having a change of heart on Jaromir Jagr. He said he would consider re-signing the veteran forward now that the team expects to lose Nathan Horton in free agency.

"Yeah, I'm open to all options and alternatives," Chiarelli said in regards to replacing Horton.

Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek announced on his Twitter account that he is on his way out of Toronto. Set to make $3.5 million over the final two years of his contract, Komisarek is expected to be bought out after spending part of last season playing in the minors.

The Florida Panthers announced they used a standard buyout on 36-year-old defenseman Filip Kuba, meaning the remaining year of his contract will still count against the salary cap. Kuba had a goal and nine assists in 44 games last season.

In Minnesota, Gilbert is a seven-year veteran, who was set to make $3 million in the final year of his deal. The Wild have one of the NHL's most expensive payrolls and needed to make the move to free up space.

From Bloomington, Minn., Gilbert failed to make much of an impact with his hometown team after the Wild acquired him in a trade with Edmonton in 2012. Gilbert managed just three goals and 15 assists in 63 games.

Kostitsyn had one year left on his deal and was scheduled to make $3 million next season. The move didn't come as a surprise after Kostitsyn landed in coach Barry Trotz's doghouse last season, his third with Nashville. Kostitsyn is a six-year NHL veteran who had three goals and 12 assists in 46 games.

Kostitsyn has hinted that he could be open to playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League next season.

Ballard was scheduled to make $4.2 million in each of the final two years of his contract. He is an eight-year NHL player, who managed just two assists in 36 games with the Canucks last season.

The Sabres' decision to place Gerbe on waivers came as a surprise after general manager Darcy Regier indicated he had no plans to buy out any of his players. Gerbe had difficulty carving out a role during five seasons with the Sabres.

Buffalo did re-sign journeyman forward Matt Ellis to a two-year contract. If Ellis doesn't play with the Sabres, the team is counting on him to serve as captain at AHL Rochester.

Colaiacovo struggled in his first and only season with the Red Wings, failing to play to his two-year, $4 million contract. He had an assist in six games last season, and added an assist in nine playoff games.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points, and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

OTTAWA, Ontario — Exactly one year ago, Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Konecny was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

He had just learned that he had been invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship and he was at the Canadian Tire Centre spending time with future Flyers teammates during the morning skate as they prepared for a game that night against the Ottawa Senators.

Fast forward one year to today, Dec. 1, 2016, and Konecny is back at the CTC, this time to face the Senators alongside his current Flyers teammates as a key part of the team’s offense.

Quite a step forward in just one calendar year for a kid not named Crosby or McDavid.

“It’s crazy how fast it happened and I’m definitely humbled I was given the opportunity. They believed enough in me to make the jump this year and it definitely hits me every day that I get the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Konecny, who has scored four times and added nine assists through the first 25 games of his NHL career. He has also added a team-leading 33 penalty minutes and that goes a long way in explaining the type of game he plays.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never been like that before," Konecny said before the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win Thursday (see game story). "When you’re playing in the NHL, some guys will run over you all game if they can so I think part of these penalties I’m taking is me just having to step up and I’m just setting an example of sticking up for my teammates."

It wasn’t until his second game in the league that he took his first penalty, but he was on the score sheet before that having collected two assists in his debut Oct. 14 in a 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles.

His first goal came Oct. 25 in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The key for his success in making the jump from junior to the NHL is simple.

“Just keeping things simple," he said. "Learning in the NHL is about reading off mistakes. You can’t always make a play, you have to be smart and make sure you’re doing what’s right for the team and I think just keeping my game simple is what got me here." 

There is one main difference between the two levels, Konecny added.

“The speed, and I don’t necessarily mean just skating," he said. "Thinking wise and how fast plays happen. Guys like [Senators defenseman Erik] Karlsson, he’s thinking so fast and he knows his play two or three steps before the next guy does, so you just have to try and outthink guys and to me that’s been the biggest jump.”

Konecny is not foreign to the Senators’ home ice surface. He spent part of his time in junior playing there while the 67’s home arena was being renovated.

He had to leave several passes for friends and family for the game Tuesday night, his first as a pro in the city that was dazzled by his play in junior for 2½ seasons.

“It was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories," Konecny said after going scoreless in 14:13 of ice time. "We didn’t play in front of as many fans as we did tonight but definitely a lot of games played here and a lot of fond memories.

“Even flying in [Wednesday] was something special and driving around the city looking at the roots where I was for three years.”