CHICAGO – Jason Botterill has made it clear from his 10 years in Pittsburgh and his few weeks in Buffalo that he likes college hockey players. The new Sabres' general manager drafted three of them over the weekend, including first-rounder Casey Mittelstadt, but also had to deal with the finality of the fact he's not going to be able to retain Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen.
Petersen, who would certainly be the starter for the Rochester Amerks this season, is not signing with the Sabres and is opting to go to free agency even though he's been part of the Buffalo organization since he was drafted out of the United States Hockey League in 2013. So Jimmy Vesey walked out on Nashville last year and wouldn't sign with Buffalo once his rights were traded, opting for the New York Rangers. Now Petersen is saying no to the Sabres, too.
It calls into question the seldom-used clause in the CBA that allows college players to dip into the unrestricted free agent pool before their career ever begins. There's no question the highly publicized Vesey decision has NHL GMs re-examining the way they approach college players.
"It's disheartening because you think you made a good pick and you spend a lot of time and energy with these young players," Nashville GM David Poile said after the draft ended Saturday. "I don't want to say you're hoping because you're actually expecting they will sign, so it hurts."
The language in the CBA is complicated on this issue but the upshot is you have the rights to a player for four years, and college guys are given the option of free agency because they've given away the NHL money they might earn at ages 18, 19 and 20 to attend school. Vesey was 23 when he signed with the Rangers and Petersen turns 23 in October.
Not many players have gone this route. In addition to Vesey and now Petersen, the three most prominent examples are Blake Wheeler (chose Boston over Phoenix in 2008), Kevin Hayes (signed with New York Rangers over Chicago in 2014) and Justin Schultz (signed with Edmonton over Anaheim in 2012).
"Everyone wants to say what's the best way and there is no best way," Botterill said Saturday, referring to college vs. juniors. "But I feel very comfortable with players in college and developing in that scenario and it's just a matter of building those relationships over 2-3-4 years. We're trying to develop an organization in Buffalo and Rochester where players do want to come here. We want to bring them to development camps and interact with them."
Unfortunately, teams may have no choice but to pressure players to sign before their senior year or consider trading their rights to get some compensation. The Sabres were getting a little nervous about Hudson Fasching last year before he signed after his junior season at Minnesota, where Mittelstadt is heading as a freshman in the fall.
"It doesn't help the college program either because now we're taking the players out of college earlier and that might not be what we want to do," Poile said. "But if we don't do that, we're afraid they may go to maturity, go the four years in school and run to free agency. I wish we could tweak the system a little bit to protect the teams. But it would help protect colleges to allow the players to stay there longer as well."
Poile admitted this entire issue is going to have to be re-examined and negotiated in the next CBA. It seems like draft-pick compensation for a team losing a player in this manner might be in order.
As for Mittelstadt, Sabres fans shouldn't fret. As a top-10 pick, he's going to spend two years maximum in college and maybe only one. He's going to turn pro and sign with Buffalo.
"I don't want to put a time frame on his development but we're going to give him plenty of attention," Botterill said. "I feel very comfortable with where he's going at the University of Minnesota and with their track record of developing players. We'll reevaluate each year to see what's best for him. If you ask me straight up the likelihood of him staying four years? Very unlikely."
Hall call for Andreychuk?
The Hockey Hall of Fame will announce its class of 2017 Monday at 3 p.m. and Sabres fans will again be keeping an eye on the announcement, just in case Dave Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny or Pierre Turgeon finally get the call. Teemu Selanne is a first-timer on the ballot who is certainly going to get elected while Daniel Alfredsson has a chance as well. Saku Koivu might get in soon but is not as likely to be a first-year choice.
Inductees are chosen by an 18-member selection committee that's a mix of former players, current general managers and media. Andreychuk and Mogilny are on a crowded list of returnees that includes Rod Brind'Amour, Paul Kariya, Steve Larmer, Kevin Lowe, Bernie Nicholls, Mark Recchi and Jeremy Roenick.
Recchi has the most points among players on that list with 1,533 but Andreychuk is the leader in goals (640) and is second with 1,338 points. Andreychuk, drafted by the Sabres in the first round along with Phil Housley and Paul Cyr in 1982, has suffered in the balloting because there's a feeling his numbers were built by longevity of a career that lasted until 2006 and not by excellence. He is third on Buffalo’s all-time list with 368 goals and is second in points to Gilbert Perreault with 804, but is best known for captaining Tampa Bay to its Stanley Cup win in 2004.
Andreychuk is 14th all-time in goals and the only players above him not in the Hall are Jaromir Jagr (still active at 765) and Selanne, who will be taking his 684 goals to Toronto in November. Turgeon had 515 goals and 1,327 points but is considered a longshot. Same for Mogilny, who finished with 473 goals and 1,032 points.
Selanne's Hall call will be another big day for Finland, which had a record six first-rounders and six second-rounders selected in the draft over the weekend. One of them was Sabres second-round goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Lindy not a coach in waiting
The Rangers' expected hire of Lindy Ruff shouldn't be taken as a sign that Alain Vigneault is on the chopping block and Ruff is his replacement-in-waiting. Now, if the Rangers are in some terrible stretch, that's likely going to be the connection fans and the New York media make but the word in Chicago is that Vigneault has been pushing the idea and has wanted to work with Ruff. Vigneault, by the way, is signed through 2020 (That matters to most owners, except the one in the 716).
As for Ruff, he got a raw deal in Dallas as GM Jim Nill got him two overpriced and mediocre goalies in Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. But after finishing at the top of the West in 2016, Ruff was quickly out this spring when his contract expired. A year ago, Ruff probably thought Dallas was his last stop and he was set but things really move in this game. Just ask Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray. What was their mindset a year ago today? Not thinking about the unemployment line, that's for sure.
Windy City put on the ritz
The Blackhawks put on quite a show for fans on draft weekend and we're not talking about the trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona or the stunning flip of Artemi Panarin to Columbus for 2015 Stanley Cup champ Brandon Saad.
More than 47,000 attended the NHL's 100-year anniversary fanfest in a parking lot across the street from United Center that was the site of the old Chicago Stadium. The Hawks also wowed many first-time visitors by bringing out baritone Jim Cornelison to belt out the anthems just like it was a game – and the Chicago fans in the crowd roared through the Star-Spangled Banner as they do on all those winter night and spring playoff games.
Yes, it was completely epic.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) June 23, 2017
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) June 24, 2017
GM Stan Bowman also showed terrific comedic timing when he headed to the podium to announce the first pick and stopped just before saying the name of Portland defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Instead, Bowman brought out captain Jonathan Toews and South Buffalo's Patrick Kane — the No. 1 overall pick 10 years ago – to make the pick as the crowd roared again.
Toews thanked the fans for coming while Kane gave a "What's Up, Chicago?" like he did at the Hawks' Stanley Cup celebration two years ago in Soldier Field and then joked that he was picked two places higher than Toews, the No. 3 choice in 2006.
Meanwhile, commissioner Gary Bettman showed some WWF taunting as the booing he regularly gets at these events was oddly petering out. A smiling Bettman waved his arms and challenged the crowd by saying, "Come on, that's all you got? You can do it, you can do better than that."
Then the commish got pounded and he said, "That's more like it."
Gary Bettman wanted more boos, Chicago complied pic.twitter.com/RkkraDxajg
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) June 23, 2017
Writers clarifying access rules
The Professional Hockey Writers Association promoted veteran Edmonton-based columnist Mark Spector of Sportsnet to its presidency at its annual draft meeting Saturday. He replaces Scott Burnside of ESPN.com, who was one of the ESPN layoffs last month and stepped down from the PHWA because he took a team-based job as a senior writer for the Dallas Stars' official site.
The PHWA, the group that votes for most of the NHL's major awards, will be revisiting media access policies with the league in the wake of issues at the Stanley Cup final. Both the Predators and Penguins enacted a team policy that players who did not take the morning skate on game day were unavailable to talk to the media, which became problematic because the Penguins held nothing but very optional skates during the series and the Predators did likewise after the first two games.
In addition, Nashville prevented star defenseman P.K. Subban from speaking to reporters for three days prior to Game Six, only making him available for a pregame chat with NBC's Pierre McGuire during the warmup. Subban said he left Bridgestone Arena after practice on the day before the game and said he forgot to speak to the media, so reporters staged a "stand-in" at his locker on game day. When he first entered the room, he turned around and walked out after what appeared to be instructions from a team public relations official.
Subban said on locker clean out day he had not been instructed to clam up by the PR staff, or by Poile or coach Peter Laviolette. In any event, it wasn't a good look for the league. At an event such as the World Series, NBA Finals or the Super Bowl, no star player would be unavailable for three days. The NHL needs to take more control of its marquee event and not let the whims of coaches or GMs run the show.