The NHL's return to Winnipeg has inspired hope that Teemu Selanne will come back, too. (TSN/Icon SMI)
By Stu Hackel
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2011 inductees on Tuesday and two future Hall of Famers -- Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne -- will make decisions about their NHL futures before the beginning of the free agency season on July 1.
Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reported over the weekend that Ducks GM Bob Murray remained uncertain about whether Selanne will return to the Ducks for another season or choose retirement. Apparently, what's preventing the Finnish veteran from deciding is lingering concern over his left knee, which was reconstructed in 2005.
"His knee acted up a bit," Murray said. "Doctors have looked at it. I think as soon as he's pretty sure that his knee is fine ... I think he wants to play hockey again. We're just trying to see how the knee goes."
The euphoria in Winnipeg, where Selanne began his career, over getting NHL hockey again has now extended to dreaming that Teemu will play his last season where he started. The Winnipeg Free Press turned a quote from someone who knows but does not represent Selanne into a story speculating that it might happen. But seven paragraphs into the story, Selanne's agent slapped the dreamers awake.
"I just don't see a scenario unfolding where that would happen," said Don Baizley. "He's having a hard enough time deciding whether he's even going to play again next season, let alone uprooting his family.
"He talks fondly about Winnipeg. We've talked about Winnipeg but never about him leaving southern California. He has a tremendous affection for the city and he's really pulling for it to do well. He's told me 10 days ago that he knew Anaheim plays in Winnipeg on Dec. 17," Baizley added.
As for Jagr, Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News reported Jagr's agent, former NHL defenseman Petr Svoboda, said the former NHL star would also make a decision by Friday and perhaps sooner. The Red Wings, Penguins and Canadiens have been mentioned as possible destinations, although Svoboda told Kulfan that none of these teams had yet made a formal offer.
The 39-year-old Jagr played the past three seasons in the KHL for Avangard Omsk. There are questions about whether he can skate with the current pace of the NHL (he wasn't the greatest backchecker in the NHL even as a youngster), but his hands are still good. As a power play specialist and someone who can inject some offense into an attack, he'd probably still be valuable to some teams.
Together Again: For years, the Sabres had their AHL affiliate in Rochester, only 70 miles away, which was not only convenient for the club, but also for fans who followed the NHL team, and it effectively expanded the Sabres' market. For the last few seasons, Sabres farmhands have played in Portland, Maine. Now, the Buffalo-Rochester connection has been reestablished.
The AHL approved Sabres owner Terry Pegula as new owner of the Rochester Americans and he will resume the their affiliation. The Panthers had been Rochester's NHL affiliate, but Florida's poor player development history led to some weak teams that turned off Rochester fans. This is another smart move by Pegula. Buffalo is the smallest NHL city (although well over a million people live in its larger area from the Niagara region through Western New York) and re-connecting with Rochester helps build the Sabres brand to the larger vicinity.
Original Sabres owners Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup Knox bought the Amerks in 1979 but sold them to a Rochester-based group in 1995. Previous Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano wanted to buy the Amerks in the mid-2000s, but could not make a deal and the Sabres moved their minor-league team to Portland beginning for 2008-09. In the 29 seasons of the Buffalo-Rochester partnership, the Americans reached the Calder Cup Finals nine times, and won three (1983, 1987 and 1996).
Pegula approached the current Rochester ownership in May and the deal was approved by the AHL last week. Pegula, Sabres President Ted Black and GM Darcy Regier will speak at a press conference at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester on Wednesday about the Sabres' plans for the club.
And in another AHL affiliation, the Canucks, who lost their Manitoba Moose team when the Jets returned to Winnipeg, have made an agreement with the AHL Chicago Wolves, a somewhat ironic twist considering the enmity between the Canucks and the Blackhawks.
Staying and going: With free agent season approaching (and here's the SI.com list of pending unrestricted and restricted free agents and signings; bookmark it and consult it hourly) the ranks of the free swelled Monday as the deadline passed for NHL teams to deliver qualifying offers to potential restricted free agents or lose them.
Here's an unofficial list compiled on the HFBoard.com of those who were and were not qualified. Some notable names did not get offers and will become unrestricted free agents on July 1. They include the Blues' Matt D'Agostini (who scored 21 goals last season), the Penguins' Tyler Kennedy (who some think will end up staying with a restructured contract), the Flyers' rambunctious Dan Carcillo, the Canadiens' Benoit Pouliot (a former fourth overall draft pick of Minnesota), Avalanche goalie Brian Elliott (the Avs' other netminder, Peter Budaj, is a UFA), Oilers tough guy J.F Jacques, Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy (an exceptional skater who was once on their first power play unit), the Panthers' Nicklas Bergfors (once a rising star with the Devils and traded to Atlanta in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal), the Jets' Robbie Schremp (a very skilled playmaker), and the Lightning's Mike Lundin (who had won a regular job on the Tampa Bay defense corps). They all now do the free agent dance.