With the calendar flipping from August to September, there has been a flurry of activity across hockey. Players who have been holding out for more money or better situations are feeling the pressure of an impending season and finally settling for what they can get. Thomas Vanek is one example, while a plethora of PTO’s in recent days provides another. Outside the NHL, lower tier players are facing the same scenario. Here are some minor moves as evidence:
- Michael Kostka is headed overseas, at least for now. Calgary Flames beat writer Ryan Pike reports that Kostka has agreed to a tryout with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League. This is the first time that Kostka has ventured across the pond, as he has made a career out of being a dependable AHL depth option for several NHL teams. A four-year starter and eventual captain for the UMass Minutemen, Kostka signed a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers out of school in 2008 and and then returned to the Panthers in 2011 after a breakout campaign on an AHL contract in 2010-11. This began a pattern of one-year, two-way contracts for the reliable defenseman. Kostka made his NHL debut in 2012-13, skating in 35 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, then signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and played in nine games with them in 2013-14 and another 19 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning following a mid-season trade. Kostka then played in seven games with the New York Rangers in 2014-15 and 15 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2015-16. All the while, Kostka has provided consistency on offense and defense in the AHL, as well as veteran leadership. However, only last year with the Senators and later the Flames organizations – following the Curtis Lazar trade – did Kostka have his first season since his NHL debut without a game played at the highest level. Now 31 years old, it appears the yearly demand for Kostka as AHL depth has ended and he will now take his talents to Sweden in hopes of playing a major role once again, this time with Skelleftea. Should he fail to make the team or simply wish to return to North America, the veteran blue liner would undoubtedly be welcomed by a number of AHL teams happy to take him on a minor league deal.
- The AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs, affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, announced that they have signed defenseman Brandon Anselmini to a one-year deal. The former Ferris State University rearguard played for the AHL’s Texas Stars, the affiliate of Chicago’s Central Division foes, the Dallas Stars, last season. However, Anselmini only skated in ten AHL games, spending the bulk of the campaign with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. Although Anselmini performed well in his first pro season at the ECHL level, it’s doubtful that he’s ready for a full-time AHL role. The undersized defender is a good depth option for Rockford, but is likely destined for more time in the ECHL.
- Yet, at least Anselmini found an AHL contract to begin with. A player he could help to replace with the Ice Hogs, Nolan Valleau, has not been so lucky. Valleau, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks out of Bowling Green State University two years ago, was not tendered a qualifying offer by the team this off-season and became an unrestricted free agent. After a 2016-17 season where he played entirely in the AHL, but scored just eight points and played to a -19 rating, there hasn’t been much interest in the 24-year-old in the AHL, nevertheless another NHL team. Instead, Valleau has signed with the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears, the team announced. The Solar Bears’ press release indicated that they are very excited to have Valleau, who could take on a leadership role for the “AA” squad. Perhaps the puck-moving defender could find his way back to the AHL next season and beyond if he makes the most of his time in Orlando.
- Another non-qualified UFA settling for an ECHL deal after being on an NHL contract is Zach Pochiro. Pochiro, a 2013 fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues and St. Louis native, has signed with the Allen Americans, the team confirmed. Unlike Valleau though, Pochiro is extensively familiar with the ECHL. The former Prince George Cougars standout has played in 103 ECHL games since signing with the Blues in 2014. In comparison, he has only skated in five AHL games and of course no NHL games in that span. Even after being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in the Nail Yakupov deal last summer, a change of scenery was not enough to change his career trajectory, leading to the Oilers passing on retaining his rights. Perhaps the reality of an ECHL contract will help the once-promising 23-year-old to re-focus.
More to come throughout the day