On July 1, the National Hockey League (NHL) free agent floodgates opened, allowing teams to sign players not under contract. Just a couple of weeks earlier, a pair of young Native skaters—Jordan Nolan and Dwight King—led the Los Angeles Kings to their first Stanley Cup, and some of the most talked about moves since have also involved Native players. All this goes to prove Native players are a major force in today’s NHL, the world’s elite hockey league. Here’s what you need to know to get ready for next season.
Arron Asham, Right Wing:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoBXfD2oHRg[/youtube]
A 13-season NHL veteran, the bruising tough guy Asham, Métis, spent the past two years with Pittsburgh. He had five goals and 11 assists in 64 games last season, and when he became a free agent, the New York Rangers, a favorite to win the Cup this year, pounced. Asham signed on for two years and $2 million (he took home $775,00 last year). Overall, he has 92 goals and 206 points in 756 career games split between five teams.
Asham told the New York Daily News why he chose the Rangers: “I wanted to win a Cup. That’s my goal, and I thought the Rangers are one of the best teams out there in the East. They had a great year last year, and they have some great players over there.”
He’s a confident veteran who’ll add some grit to the Rangers lineup. “I’m sure it’s going to be the fourth-line, grinding role, pretty much the role I’ve been playing my whole career. I’m not coming in with a new game plan. I’m coming in to play my style and do what I’ve been doing for the last 13 years.”
Kyle Chipchura, Center:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4SihjsmA4Y[/youtube]
Chippy Chipchura, Métis, played 53 games for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, scoring three goals with 13 assists. He also played 15 playoff games as Phoenix made an improbable run to the Western Conference finals, scoring a goal with three assists. The 26-year-old Chipchura has played five seasons in the NHL with Montreal, Anaheim and Phoenix, with 13 goals and 31 assists. “Kyle is a hard-working, versatile forward who brings toughness and grit to our lineup,” General Manger Don Maloney said in a statement. “We are happy to have him back.
And the former first-round pick of the Canadiens should be happy with his new deal: one-year, $675,000 (up from $550,000).
Dwight King, Left Wing:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hP8E-xvEWkQ[/youtube]
What a difference a few months can make. King, Métis, was promoted from the minors to the Los Angeles Kings on February 10 and immediately earned a regular lineup spot alongside fellow rookie Jordan Nolan. King scored 14 points in 27 regular-season games before Los Angeles’s run to its first NHL title, clinched in June. The aptly named King became a hero for both the Kings and Indian country as he scored five playoff goals for Los Angeles, tying Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique of New Jersey for the most postseason goals among rookies. The massive Métis from Saskatchewan, a restricted free agent, was rewarded with a two-year, $1.5 million deal (up from his $585,000 rookie contract).
Fellow King and linemate Jarrett Stoll told the Los Angeles Times, “[King is] a big strong body that can control the puck and obviously shoot the puck. Come playoff time, that type of player is huge. He’s strong on the puck, he can get in on the forecheck and be physical.
“He’s a very special player for us right now.”
T.J. Oshie, Right Wing: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTmw-do0P0w[/youtube]
Oshie, Ojibwe, the Blues first-round pick (No. 24 overall) back in 2005 is coming off a career year in St. Louis having scored 19 goals to go with 35 assists in 80 games.
The club and forward Oshie were able to avoid salary arbitration by agreeing to a new five-year, $20.875 million contract ($2.35 million last season), which the budding superstar announced on his Twitter page: “Couldn’t be more happy to resign for another 5 years with the Blues.”
After missing a significant number of games to injury in 2010-2011, Oshie’s performance in 2011-2012 re-established his place as a primary piece of the foundation as the Blues contended for first overall in the NHL standings and advanced two rounds into the playoffs. Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong boasted that getting this deal done “is consistent with our strategy of getting our core pieces signed. We believe we’re going to be a very competitive team moving forward and we’re excited about that.”
Carey Price, Goalie:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYRLytlqZEU[/youtube]
The 24-year-old Price, Ulkatcho First Nation, is a two-time All-Star who has been in the NHL for five seasons. Price played 65 games last season for the Montreal Canadiens, posting a 26-28-11 record with a 2.43 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and four shutouts. Although it was a disappointing season for Montreal, missing the playoffs, the club filed for arbitration to ensure that they held on to their rising star goalie. The result? A six-year, $39-million deal for the young Native from British Columbia.
Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin announced the signing. “I think Carey brings what we need moving forward,” Bergevin said. “He’s a top goalie in the league, a young goalie, and with having him in the net for the next six years I think it gives our team a chance to be competitive, and moving forward I think it was a key for us to have Carey in Montreal.”
“It’s huge for me,” Price told the Associated Press. “Obviously it’s an honor to come back and to have the vote of confidence from the organization of my hockey club is huge as well. It’s nice to see that they show a lot of confidence in me and now I have to go out there and prove them right.”
Sheldon Souray, Defense:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jluzukwADZY[/youtube]
A rejuvenated Souray, Métis, parlayed a monster 2011-12 season with the Dallas Stars into a whopper of a deal from the Anaheim Ducks this off-season: Three years, $11 million (in 2011-2012 he took home $1.65 million). Last season, Souray tallied 6 goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 64 games for the Stars. He also totaled 73 penalty minutes and was plus-11 for the season. He appeared in his 700th career NHL game on February 26, 2012 against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Orange County Register remarked that Souray reminded the NHL last season, after spending the previous year in the minors, that there are comparatively few 6-foot-4, 237-pound defensemen with an armor-busting shot from the power-play point, hence the payday offered by the Ducks.
“I think that I can come into this organization [Anaheim] to bring some leadership, experience and the x-factors that they are looking to fill,” Souray said. “Just like I did in Dallas last year when the opportunity presented itself, I think this is a great fit for me hockey-wise and personally. I’m looking forward to coming in and being a part of the solution moving forward.”
Jordin Tootoo, Right Wing:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6QPW-GiuPg[/youtube]
Tootoo, the first Inuit to play in the NHL, is headed to Hockeytown. The feisty fan favorite is leaving the Nashville Predators for the Detroit Red Wings, inking a three-year $5.7-million-dollar contract (he took home a cool $1.35 million last season).
“We played against Nashville, we know him,” Wings General Manager Ken Holland said of Tootoo. “He’s physical, he gets under the skin of our players. It’s an ingredient we’ve always talked about. We wanted to get some physical play into our game and we signed Jordin Tootoo.”
“My foundation is being a physical presence but at the same time I know I can contribute offensively,” Tootoo told The Windsor Star. In fact, Tootoo had his best offensive season of his eight-year career last year, with six goals and 24 assists.