The biggest hockey headline out of Colorado this summer was the unexpected departure of head coach and VP of operations Patrick Roy. Mike Chambers of The Denver Post told PHR in an earlier interview that his belief was that Roy insisted on acquiring a top defenseman this summer, perhaps at the cost of one of their top young forwards, but that GM Joe Sakic and his “support staff” wanted to stick with the core. In fact, the only blue line addition of note was the signing of free agent Patrick Wiercioch, who wore out his welcome in Ottawa and was not qualified as a RFA. But as Chambers writes, Weircioch may come to Colorado with little fanfare but his skill set is exactly what the Avalanche needs.
Wiercioch is a big defenseman – listed at 6-foot-5, 202 pounds – who can move the puck and contribute on the power play. Chambers also notes that the five-year veteran is a quality stick-handler and passer, which will hopefully help the team’s transition game. According to Chambers, Wiercioch was looking for a fresh start after five mostly disappointing seasons in Ottawa, and is looking forward to again playing in Colorado, where he played his college hockey for the University of Denver.
“Even before the trade deadline we were talking about what our avenues were. We both kind of decided if nothing were to happen, it’s not the end of the world because I have a wife and kid and it’s a tough transition to pick up and move for eight weeks.”
“But going into the summer I think we were both ready for the next chapter — for their organization and my career as well. It ended up being Colorado. When we looked at the options and the offers with more money, this was the franchise I really wanted to come play for. I really wanted to be excited about the opportunity here.”
Colorado agree to a one-year deal with Wiercioch worth $800K after which he will again become a RFA, thus giving the Avalanche additional contractual control. Wiercioch may not be the big name Roy wanted but he’ll have a tremendous opportunity to play a significant role for the Avalanche and could end up being a nice free agent bargain.
Other notes from the NHL’s Central Division:
- As we noted yesterday, Tomas Fleischmann, who had agreed to a PTO with Minnesota, failed his physical. Mike Russo of the Star Tribune provides a further update saying the Czech-born forward will not be attending camp with the Wild, according to GM Chuck Fletcher. Neither head coach Bruce Boudreau nor Fletcher specified what issue caused the failed physical though Russo speculated it might be a recurrence of blood clots that Fleischmann had been diagnosed with in the past. Fletcher said about the veteran winger: “He’s such a good person, it’s unfortunate. So I hope he catches on somewhere else. It’s just a disappointment. I like him enough that I want to see him succeed somewhere.” Russo inferred from these comments that whatever the issue, it doesn’t seem as if it would necessarily keep Fleischmann from playing elsewhere, if another opportunity presents itself.
- Ondrej Pavelec and young Connor Hellebuyck are expected to compete for the starters job between the pipes for the Jets this season. Both goalies participated in the World Cup of Hockey – Pavelec for the Czech Republic and Hellebuyck as part of Team North America – and say that experience has helped them as they prepare to battle for the #1 job, writes Mitchell Clinton for the Jets team site on NHL.com. Pavelec, who finished with a disappointing 90.4% save percentage in 33 games – 31 of which were starts – and would appear to be behind Hellebuyck entering camp. The rookie, who was a two-year starter at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, made 26 starts for the Jets and recorded a save percentage of 91.8%. Michael Hutchinson, who has started 68 contests over the last two seasons, is under contract with Winnipeg for two more years and is a solid backup should the Jets choose Hellebuyck as the starter and find a way to move Pavelec’s contract.