The puck drops on Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals tonight, but around the Southeast Divison, there is plenty of action off of the ice and stories to keep an eye on.
Tampa Bay Lightning...
The Bolts’ top affiliate in the American Hockey League, the Norfolk Admirals, are set to begin the Calder Cup Finals on Friday night against the Western Conference Champion Toronto Marlies.
Not only does this season mark the Admirals’ longest-ever postseason run as a Lightning affiliate, but should Norfolk emerge victorious, the title would also go down as the second this season by one of Tampa Bay’s minor league clubs, as the Florida Everblades of the ECHL are also coming off a recent championship in the Kelly Cup Finals.
The Canes announced this week that goaltending prospect Mike Murphy, who has spent the past three seasons as a member of the club’s top AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, announced this week that he will head to Europe to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League next season.
Murphy made his NHL debut with Carolina this past season, appearing in two games, while playing 36 minutes and stopping all nine shots he faced despite finishing with an 0-1 record. Over three seasons in the AHL, the Kingston, Ontario native compiled a 49-35-5 record. This past season, in 2011-12, he recorded a 2.74 goals against average and a .908 save percentage with the Checkers.
According to the Hurricanes’ official web site, Murphy’s move could open the door for Danish prospect Frederik Andersen or perhaps John Muse. Muse spent time with Charlotte last season but is not under contract with the Hurricanes organization.
Murphy, who was a fourth-round draft pick of Carolina in 2008, was a restricted free agent heading into next season, although the Hurricanes do retain his rights for the balance of time that he is overseas.
Panthers defensive prospect Jonathan Racine helped the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL to the 2012 Memorial Cup title this past week, finishing the championship game with two shots and two hits, as he was also on the ice for the game-winning goal to finish with a plus-1 rating.
For the tournament, the Panthers third-round pick, 87th overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft was a plus-1, had six shots and 12 penalty minutes in six games for the Memorial Cup champions.
The Cataractes defeated the London Knights, a team from the OHL led by Lightning forward prospect Vladislav Namestnikov, 2-1 in the title game to become the first host club to claim the championship since Milan Lucic’s Vancouver Giants in 2007.
This past week, the Capitals extended their affiliation with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, agreeing on terms that have the two clubs linked through the 2013-14 season.
The Bears recently completed their seventh season as Washington’s AHL affiliate under the current agreement. Hershey has qualified for the playoffs in each of the last seven years and won the Calder Cup in back-to-back seasons as the champions of the AHL in 2009 and 2010, with an additional championship in 2006. Hershey has also reached the Calder Cup Finals in four of its seven seasons that it has been affiliated with Washington under the current agreement.
Hershey also boasted the league’s top attendance for the sixth-consecutive season in 2011-12, with a total of 375,146 fans attending games at the Bears home arena, Giant Center.
On the ice, meanwhile, the Capitals acquired center Zach Hamil from the Boston Bruins this past week in exchange for left wing Chris Bourque.
Hamill, 23, recorded 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 41 games last season with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League (AHL). The 5-foot-11, 180-pound center tallied two assists in 16 games with the Boston Bruins in 2011-12. In 20 career NHL games, Hamill has collected four assists, and has also registered 139 points (44 goals, 95 assists) in 256 career AHL games.
The Vancouver, British Columbia native was originally drafted by Boston in the first round, eighth overall, at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Hamill won the Bobby Clarke trophy for amassing the most points (93) in the Western Hockey League with the Everett Silvertips during the 2006-07season.
Bourque, 26, registered 93 points (27 goals, 66 assists) in 73 games with the Hershey Bears in 2011-12 and was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Former Jets defenseman Johnny Oduya agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Chicago Blackhawks after the blueliner was acquired by Chicago in February.
Oduya had three assists in six playoff games and a goal and four assists in 18 regular-season games when he was a plus-three with the Blackhawks following the trade.
*Some information used in this report such as statistics and prospect news was taken from the official web sites of the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets.
**Click here to read last week's Southeast Division Notebook