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.

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

VOORHEES, N.J. — When a team is on a downward spiral where there’s little evidence of things improving, sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to turn things around.
 
The Flyers got just that during Sunday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn against the Islanders. To a man, you could see just how much that game meant to this group.  
 
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single player who didn’t dig a little deeper, as the Flyers snapped a nine-game losing skid on the road. They had lost five of six overall.
 
One play was symbolic of the victory and what it took for the Flyers to halt a three-game losing skid and erase memories of Saturday’s disastrous 4-1 loss to the Devils on home ice.
 
Midway through the third period, the Flyers’ PK units had to kill off consecutive penalties – the only power plays the Isles had during the game.
 
The first penalty kill really stood out as Ivan Provorov was in the box for hooking. The Isles had unrelenting pressure on Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare for one minute and 43 seconds.
 
That unit played the entire kill and couldn’t get the puck out of the zone.
 
Goalie Steve Mason made four saves – three on John Tavares – while the Flyers had three blocked shots and one enormous clear at the end by Bellemare.
 
Thoroughly exhausted and chasing the puck up the right boards near the Flyers’ bench, Bellemare dove flat out with his stick extended to push the puck out of the zone at the blue line and down the ice.
 
Bellemare, who logs more shorthanded minutes than any other Flyers forward – he had 2:43 in this one – was so drained physically, he could barely lift his body over the side boards. He actually rolled himself over.
 
It was almost reminiscent of Sami Kapanen in the famed 2004 Game 6 semifinal playoff series at Toronto, where Keith Primeau had to fishhook Kapanen off the ice because he was concussed and had collapsed near the boards.
 
Bellemare’s extraordinary effort was typical of what it took for the Flyers to rise above their own self-inflicted mistakes of late for an emotional victory and key two points that got them back into the second wild card.
 
“We only had to kill two minor penalties, but we had to kill both in the last 10 minutes of the third period of a back-to-back,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “The extra effort on that kill, there’s a couple saves there that Mase made. 

“There’s a couple goal mouth scrambles where it’s all hands on deck battling down there. There’s a couple shot blocks by Belly and Vandy that stand out and then just the second effort to get the puck out of the zone and get off that kill, those are important things. 
 
“Obviously you have to have those to win games and I thought we had a lot of second effort, good effort in a lot of areas of our game.”
 
The emotion generated on the bench spilled into the overtime, where they won on Claude Giroux’s first goal in 12 games.
 
Now the critical question is, can this kind of performance have a carryover effect Wednesday night in New York against the Rangers.
 
“I think you can get some, you know what I mean?” Hakstol said. “I’m not a big believer of carrying momentum necessarily from one game to the next.
 
“But I think there’s a significance to the fact that we played a full 64 minutes and we had everybody contributing. I think that’s significant for us and I think that’s something we can carry forward.”
 
Incidentally, Hakstol used eight forwards in overtime, something he usually doesn’t do. Even rookie Travis Konecny got on the ice, which hasn’t been the case most times this season. 
 
“We’ve used seven or eight forwards before but specifically [Sunday] night on a back-to-back where we’ve got a lot of guys that are going pretty well, we used a lot of guys that are part of our 3-on-3 rotation quite often,” Hakstol said.
 
“But we also last night used Belly, who’s played regularly, with Cousins. They were our fourth pair on the rotation. Ultimately, if you look at it, we scored the game-winning goal against a tired group that the Islanders had on the ice.”
 
Tavares had gone up and down the ice twice – Mason made a tremendous glove save on him before the game-winning shift. Hence, Tavares was gassed when Shayne Gostisbehere came up ice with Jakub Voracek, went around the net and hit Giroux in front for the game-winner.
 
“Our guys did a good job,” Hakstol said. “They were all moving and going. We get a great save on the breakaway and that buys us the chance to go back and get the play at the other end.”
 
Loose pucks
Only five players took the ice for Monday’s optional skate after the 12th set of back-to-back games. … Players on ice were goalie Michal Neuvirth plus skaters Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Dale Weise and Roman Lyubimov. … The Flyers play back-to-back this week one more time before the All-Star break. After the Rangers, they have Toronto at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, where the wild card will again be at stake.

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

NEW YORK — Ron Hextall admitted there’s a bit of a double-edged sword with Claude Giroux.
 
“I think he’s pressing too hard,” Hextall said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s what you like about him; there’s a few guys like that. You like that [competitiveness] about them, but sometimes you become your own worst enemy because they beat themselves up.”
 
The captain was entering the day with a goal drought of 12 games, his longest since Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2013, when he opened the season goalless in 15 contests.
 
“G wants to be successful at everything,” the general manager said. “Hopefully something good happens for him and he gets rolling. He’s too good of a player to play like this.”
 
Hextall got his wish.
 
Nearly four hours later, Giroux buried the game-winning goal in the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders at the Barclays Center (see game story). Not only did it relieve Giroux of his funk, but it also did the same for the Flyers, who had lost three straight and 12 of their last 15.
 
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks,” Giroux said. “We know we're a better team. Obviously we can still be better but we needed this win tonight.”
 
And Giroux needed that goal. Over the previous 12 games, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer was a minus-13 with seven assists and just one even-strength point. It’s no coincidence the Flyers went 2-8-2 in those 12 games.
 
Giroux didn’t disagree with his boss.
 
“You want to succeed and you want to play the best you can,” he said. “Sometimes you push it a little too much. When you sit back and kind of look at the big picture, sometimes I think that's when you kind of realize you need to relax and just go out there and play.”
 
Before the game, head coach Dave Hakstol made a change that reaped the rewards. He decided to put Jakub Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Michael Raffl. Giroux finished with six shots, his most since Dec. 21, while Voracek put up four and assisted the overtime winner.
 
“Well, I mean there are a lot of things that go into that,” Hakstol said of the move. “Those guys have success together, but more importantly, you look at some of the combinations as you go through the year when you’ve had success. Sometimes one change gives you a little bit of a jump-start. Those guys did a good job.”
 
Giroux’s goal was emblematic in a way that he simply planted himself in front of the net and tapped in Shayne Gostisbehere’s wraparound pass. There was no highlight-reel deke or miraculous shot.
 
Keeping it simple — as players often say — did the trick.
 
"Sometimes you don't need to try so hard,” Giroux said. “You need to go about your job and make sure you do the right things out there. Make sure you help your teammates and linemates. Just go out there and play hockey. We're supposed to have fun doing it, right? So sometimes you need to relax and kind of look at how you can get better.”
 
Sunday was a start.