If you're just waking up this morning, surely you have to be happy with the news out of the NHL that the league and its players have reached an agreement on the framework of a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement.
According to multiple reports, players will start training camp as soon as the end of the week, and we could have NHL games as soon as January 15th. Most likely the league will play either a 48 or 50 game season according to most league experts.
The news is huge for a number of former Wisconsin Badgers, of course. Wisconsin has a long history of sending players to the NHL, and were second to just Michigan with 22 players playing in the greatest league in the world last season. That number is expected to grow this season.
Since there has been a lot of player movement since we've last covered former Badgers in pro hockey, here is a brief update on where everyone is expected to be playing the rest of the season.
Rene Bourque (Montreal Canadiens): The 31 year old Bourque has four seasons left on his $20 million dollar deal that he signed before the 2010 season. Bourque had a down-season last year with Montreal, and with a $3.3 million dollar cap hit there have been rumors that this contract may be bought out. My guess is that they keep him around, however.
Adam Burish (San Jose Sharks): The former Wisconsin captain is now on his third NHL team, as he signed as a free agent this summer with San Jose, joining former teammate Joe Pavelski. Burish signed a four year deal worth an average annual salary of $1.85 million.
Jake Dowell (Minnesota Wild): One of the more under the radar signings this summer was Eau Claire, Wis. native Jake Dowell signing with the Minnesota Wild. Dowell's deal is for two years, but only the second year is one-way. That means that he's eligible to be sent to the Wild's AHL franchise in Houston. The Wild are deep up front right now, meaning that Dowell could see frequent flyer miles between Houston and St. Paul this season.
David Drewiske (Las Angeles Kings): Davis won a Stanley Cup last season with the L.A. Kings and will be back with them again this season. Davis has a team friendly $616,667 cap hit this season in the final year of his three year deal. Drewiske is a very good team player, and I'd be surprised if the Kings don't try to extend him at some point.
Brian Elliott (St. Louis Blues): Elliott had a phenomenal season for the Blues last year, turning himself into an NHL All-Star. Elliott was a significant reason why the Blues made the playoffs, and he was rewarded with a contract extension. Elliott signed a two-year extension worth $3.6 million, and will look to build upon his huge year with the Blues once again when things start back up.
Matt Ford (Philadelphia Flyers): The 28 year old Ford was traded last season from the Washington Capitals system to the Flyers. The California native has struggled this season with Philly's AHL team in Adirondack, and is likely a long shot to see the NHL this season. Ford is on a one-year, two-way deal with the Flyers.
Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs): Gardiner was outstanding as a rookie last year in Toronto, and will be looking to build upon that. The Minnetonka, Min. native has spent this season playing with Toronto's AHL club, the Toronto Marlies, but will be back with the big club now that the lockout is over. Unfortunately, he's currently dealing with concussion like symptoms, but will hopefully be back healthy soon.
Blake Geoffrion (Montreal Canadiens): As most of you are already aware, Geoffrion suffered a serious head injury this fall as he was playing with Montreal's AHL team in Hamilton during the lockout. Geoffrion was hit (legally), but his head hit the ice, which required emergency surgery to repair a skull fracture. Geoffrion is likely done for the rest of the season, but hopefully we'll see him back with Montreal next year.
Tom Gilbert (Minnesota Wild): Another one of many Badgers who will be playing in Minnesota this season. Gilbert was traded at the trade deadline last year from Edmonton to Minnesota in exchange for Nick Schultz. The 29 year old Gilbert has two years left on his deal with the Wild, and is expected to be a key kog in their plans this season.
Cody Goloubef (Columbus Blue Jackets): Goloubef made his NHL debut with Columbus last season and was looking to see more time in the show this year. During the lockout Goloubef was playing with their AHL team in Springfield, but suffered a serious injury as he broke his wrist after being slashed in a game. Goloubef is expected to return at some point, but will likely spend the season in Springfield.
Dany Heatley (Minnesota Wild): The NHL All-Star will be back again with the Minnesota Wild for a second season. Heatley has recently been over in Germany skating with his brother, but will be making it back to the states soon. Heatley has two years remaining on his $45 million dollar deal that he signed before the 2008 season. Heatley is expected to play wing on a line with new signing, and former North Dakota star Zach Parise to start the season.
Andrew Joudrey (Columbus Blue Jackets): Another Badger who made his NHL debut last season, Joudrey has been spending this season back with the Blue Jacket's AHL franchise in Springfield. Joudrey is a role player, and isn't expected to see much, if any time in the NHL this season.
Jamie McBain (Carolina Hurricanes): The former WCHA Player of the Year has really settled into a nice pro career with the Carolina Hurricanes, and was rewarded with a two year contract extension as a restricted free agent last summer. McBain is one of a number of Badgers who spent the lockout playing overseas as he joined a team out of Finland in the SM-Liiga. McBain is part of the core of young talent in Carolina, and will once again see major minutes on their blue-line.
Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers): McDonagh had a bust out season in the NHL Playoffs last year and reached star status as he was brilliant for the Rangers. Like McBain, McDonagh went overseas to stay sharp and spent time playing in the KHL. McDonagh is expected to be a major piece for a Rangers club this season that is projected by many to be a Stanley Cup contender.
John Mitchell (Anaheim Ducks): The 26-year-old Mitchell was rewarded for his strong play in the AHL last year with a two-year, two-way NHL contract extension with the Anaheim Ducks. Mitchell has six goals in 24 games this season for Anaheim's AHL team in Norfolk, and is likely a long shot to see the NHL.
Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks): The Polish Prince has two years left on his deal in San Jose and is once again expected to play a major role for the Sharks. Like McDonagh, the Plover, Wis. native spent the lockout playing in the KHL, but is happy to be back in sunny California. Pavelski continues to improve every year, and continually raises his game in the playoffs. San Jose has been a dominant team in the West for years, and will rely on Pavelski for big-time production.
Joe Piskula (Calgary Flames): Piskula signed a two-year deal with Calgary before last season, and spent a cup of coffee in the show with the Flames. During the lockout, Piskula has been playing with Calgary's AHL team in Abbotsford under former UW assistant coach Troy Ward. Piskula will likely see most of his time in the AHL, but could see time in the NHL as an injury replacement at some point.
Jack Skille (Florida Panthers): Skille certainly hasn't had the NHL career that he envisioned after he was the 7th overall pick in the draft, and left Wisconsin after his sophomore season. The Madison native spent the lockout playing for a team in Norway. Skille signed a two-year deal with Florida this summer with a team friendly cap hit of $825,000. Florida is loaded with forward prospects, so it will be interesting to see where Skille fits in the plans this season.
Justin Schultz (Edmonton Oilers): Schultz made headlines last year when he became a free agent, spurning the Anaheim Ducks who had originally drafted him. Schultz eventually signed with the up-and-coming Oilers, who are loaded with young talent. Schultz has played this season in the AHL with Oklahoma, and has been arguably the best player in the league. Schultz is second in the league in scoring, and will immediately be bumped up to the NHL when training camp opens.
Brendan Smith (Detroit Red Wings): We've been waiting for a few years to see what this kid can do at the NHL level and the time is finally now. Smith is arguably the most talented player to come out of Wisconsin recently, but has been blocked in Detroit. Smith has spent the season in the AHL in Grand Rapids so far, but is expected to be a full-time member of the Red Wings this season. I expect big things out of the former Badger this year.
Craig Smith (Nashville Predators): Smith surprised most by signing with Nashville late in the summer before last season, but proved that it was likely the correct move. Smith had an outstanding rookie season for the Predators, and is expected to once again be a key member of their team this season. Smith spent a little time playing in Europe during the lockout for Kalpa in the Finnish Elite League, and also was an honorary captain for a Badger game this fall.
Derek Stepan (New York Rangers): Another young piece of the puzzle for the Rangers along with Ryan McDonagh is the young Stepan. The Hastings, Min. native spent some time during the lockout playing over in Finland, and is in great shape and expected to play major minutes offensively for the Rangers as they look to make a Stanley Cup run.
Ben Street (Calgary Flames): Street signed a two-way, two-year deal with Calgary this summer, and has looked phenomenal this year playing with their AHL team in Abbotsford. Street has yet to make his NHL debut, but is very close by the way things look. Street is currently leading the Heat in scoring, and should get an invite to training camp for a shot at the roster.
Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild): Suter was obviously one of the major stories of the summer, as he signed a massive 13-year, $98 million dollar deal with the Minnesota Wild along with Zach Parise. The Wild have high hopes this season, and Suter is a major reason for that inspiration. No longer under the shadow of Shea Webber in Nashville, Suter is expected to be the #1 guy in Minnesota this season.
Kyle Turris (Ottawa Senators): The former Badger was traded last season from Phoenix to Ottawa, and it worked out for both parties as Turris thrived for the Senators. Turris was also rewarded with a five-year contract extension worth $17.5 million dollars that will keep him in Ottawa until 2018. Turris spent some time in Finland during the lockout, and created waves in the media after trashing the lifestyle. No one wants to get back to work more than Kyle.
Brad Winchester (Free Agent): The Madison native has spent the past few seasons with the San Jose Sharks, but is currently a free agent at this point. Winchester was an honorary captain this fall for the Badgers, and will surely be on the lookout for a job as the lockout ends. Winchester is a tough player to play against, so I'd expect a team with realistic playoff hopes to give him a shot at some point.
We'll have more coverage of Badgers in the pros as more details come to light on the status of the NHL.
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