By: Leo Scaglione Jr., Pinch-Hitting For The Maven
It was fitting that thunderstorms rolled through New York and New Jersey yesterday when NHL free agency opened.
But, alas, they weren’t. At least we think they weren’t. It’s hard to tell considering the following happened:
The prize of all free agents, 28-year-old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, a native of New Rochelle, New York, signed with his boyhood – and now manhood – team.
The Rangers also inked backup goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, 29, to compete for what was Antti Raanta’s spot before he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on June 23.
Pavelec, measuring in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, has 379 regular-season games on his resume, all of which came with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise. He owns a 152-158-47 record, 2.87 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and 17 shutouts. In eight of his 10 NHL seasons, including all seven in which he made at least 15 appearances, Pavelec posted a .900 or better save percentage.
Pavelec was plucked 41st overall in the 2005 NHL draft by Atlanta with a pick that was acquired from the Rangers in a trade. A selection — the 12th overall in that draft — also went the other way, which New York used to pick one of the men now responsible for clearing the crease in front of Pavelec, defenseman Marc Staal.
The Rangers finished the day by signing a pair of forwards, 28-year-old Paul Carey and 26-year-old Cole Schneider, to boost their American Hockey League squad, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
The other thunderous local signing happened across state lines as one-time Blueshirt Brian Boyle signed a two-year deal with the Devils.
The 32-year-old center split this past season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, totaling 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) with 66 penalty minutes in 75 games. A native of Hingham, Massachusetts, Boyle had two assists in six Stanley Cup playoff games with Toronto.
Boyle, a hulking figure at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, has played nine-plus NHL campaigns, during which he’s totaled 169 points (93 goals, 76 assists) and 488 penalty minutes in 624 regular-season games with the Los Angeles Kings, Rangers, Lightning and Maple Leafs. In 106 postseason games, Boyle has 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists). Since 2010-11, Boyle has skated in the second-most playoff games, including 25 with the Rangers during their run to the 2014 Stanley Cup final, and another 25 the following spring when the Bolts advanced to the final.
Prior to entering the professional ranks, Boyle, who was selected 26th overall by the Kings in the 2003 draft, played collegiately from 2003-07 for Boston College, where he was teammates with Devils goaltender Cory Schneider.
In fact, Schneider, who Boyle labeled “a huge difference maker” for the Devils, played a prominent role in luring him to the Garden State.
“Cory talked me through the soup-to-nuts with the organization,” Boyle said in his post-signing conference call. “He talked to me about the hockey aspect, how I would fit in. He’s a smart guy and I respect what he thinks. I’ve known him for 14, 15 years. He’s a close friend of mine. His wife and my wife are friends.”
Boyle added, “I know he’s going to be honest with me; I trust him, and we spoke at great length. He’s very happy here. He wants to win as well.”
Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy also reached out to Boyle.
“I respect these guys as people and I like what they do on the ice,” Boyle said. “That’s a huge endorsement for the club, and it makes me feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”
“At the end of the day they told me I was needed, which is a great thing,” Boyle revealed. “I know that every time I played New Jersey, it was a difficult team to play against. It’s a team that works. If you got everybody working, that’s a good sign. For a player like myself, it’s something that I think benefits me.”
Boyle, who’s established a reputation as a checker who plays hard, takes faceoffs and kills penalties, is ready to do that and much more to aid the Devils.
“I can move up and down the lineup, and that’s something (management) told me as well,” he said. “I’m willing to play anywhere. I want to win, and they’re building that. I want to be a part of the solution.”
New Jersey also signed 36-year-old forward Bracken Kearns and 29-year-old blueliner Brian Strait to one-year, two-way contracts. The club re-signed 29-year-old forward Brian Gibbons, who posted career-highs in goals (16) and points (36) in 72 AHL games with the Albany Devils this past season, to a one-year, two-way deal.
The Devils’ free-agency signings came two days after they secured pending unrestricted free agent Keith Kinkaid, inking the 27-year-old goaltender and Farmingville, New York, native to a two-year contract.
In Upstate New York, ex-Devil Jacob Josefson signed a one-year contract with the Sabres.
Another signing! Another former 1st-rounder. We’ve signed forward Jacob Josefson to a one-year deal. pic.twitter.com/HpkxYze8tS
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) July 2, 2017
Josefson, a 6-foot, 190-pound pivot, has been plagued by injuries since breaking into the NHL with the Devils in 2010, totaling 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 276 regular-season games during his big-league career. The 26-year-old is an exceptional performer in the shootout, during which he’s scored 11 goals in 21 chances, a success rate of 52.4%.
Another forward the Sabres signed to a one-year deal is also no stranger to the East: 30-year-old Benoit Pouliot, who spent the last three campaigns with the Edmonton Oilers after one season skating for the Rangers. Pouliot, at 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, has totaled 244 points (117 goals, 127 assists) in 551 regular-season games, including at least 30 points in five of his six full major-league seasons. He has 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in 67 career playoff games.
The Sabres also inked an old friend, 31-year-old goaltender Chad Johnson, to a one-year contract. Johnson, at 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, recorded career-highs with Buffalo in games (45) and wins (22) during the 2015-16 season, in which he had a 22-16-4 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) July 1, 2017
Drafted 125th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006, Johnson has a career record of 68-45-12 with a .915 save percentage, 2.44 goals-against average and seven shutouts in 137 regular-season games with the Calgary Flames, Sabres, Islanders, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes and Rangers.
Buffalo also shored up its AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
The Sabres signed 24-year-old forward Seth Griffith to a one-year contract. Griffith recorded a combined five assists in 24 games with the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers in 2016-17. In 58 career regular-season matches, Griffith, who was plucked 131st overall by Boston in 2012, has notched 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists).
Buffalo also inked 27-year-old defenseman Matt Tennyson, formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks, to a two-year contract, the first season of which is two-way and the latter of which is one-way.
Additionally, the Sabres signed 24-year-old goaltender Adam Wilcox to a one-year, two-way deal and forwards Kevin Porter, 31, and Kyle Criscuolo, 25, to two-year, two-way deals.
If assigned to the Americans, they’ll be playing for new head coach Chris Taylor, who was hired on Friday. Taylor, who previously spent 14 seasons with Rochester as a player and a coach, was as an assistant coach with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this past season.
The signings came one day after Buffalo acquired 27-year-old defenseman Marco Scandella, 34-year-old forward Jason Pominville and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, and a third-round pick in 2018.
The Islanders stayed relatively quiet on the free agent front after dominating the trade scene during draft week.
The club signed 21-year-old forward Scott Eansor to an AHL deal, who attended Isles Mini Camp this past week after spending four seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds. Eansor, at 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, served as Co-Captain of the Thunderbirds alongside Islanders’ highly-touted prospect Mathew Barzal in 2016-17 en route to winning the WHL title. In 219 WHL games with the Thunderbirds, he totaled 129 points (47 goals, 82 assists) and a plus-23 rating.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) July 1, 2017
The Islanders also inked former Devils defenseman Seth Helgeson to a one-year, two-way contract. Helgeson, 26, scored one goal and three assists in 50 regular-season games with New Jersey, and added 38 points (7 goals, 31 assists) with a plus-43 rating in 218 AHL games with Albany.
The Islanders re-signed blueliner Kane Lafranchise, 29, to a one-year, two-way deal. Lafranchise recorded career-highs in goals (5) and points (21) and tied his career-high in assists (16) in 2016-17, his first full season with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
New York made one trade on July 1, acquiring 24-year-old goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from the Lightning in exchange for forward Carter Verhaeghe. Gudlevskis has appeared in three NHL games, all with Tampa Bay, posting a 1-0-1 record with a 1.37 goals-against average and .959 save percentage.