Welcome to August!
With the NHL's major offseason business now mostly complete, the NHL's established newsbreakers are squeezing in some downtime before the run-up to the new season begins.
Training camps are starting a little later than usual in September, so I imagine it'll be pretty quiet for most of this month.
We still have salary arbitration, prospect camps and tournaments, and the Women's World Championship in Calgary at the end of the month, so it's not like the hockey calendar is completely dead. It's just not like last year, when I was in the Edmonton bubble as the preliminary round was just starting to rev up.
The Vancouver Canucks did make one new player move over the last 48 hours, acquiring goaltender Spencer Martin from the Tampa Bay Lightning for future considerations.
Martin is a 26-year-old from the Toronto area, who came up through the OHL and was drafted by Colorado in the third round in 2013. Since then, he has been mostly a minor-leaguer, playing just three games with the Avs in the 2016-17 season.
Last year, he was the busiest of the five goalies used by the Lightning's farm team, the Syracuse Crunch. In 15 AHL appearances, he put up a record of 7-5-2, with a .907 save percentage and 2.83 goals-against average.
Martin was signed to a new one-year contract in early May, with a cap hit of $800,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the minors. But he was caught in a roster logjam in the Lightning organization.
Martin was essentially bumped out by Hugo Alnefelt, the 20-year-old Swedish goalie that the Lightning drafted with the 2019 third-round pick they acquired from the Canucks in the J.T. Miller trade. So I suppose, in a way, the Canucks are now getting him as part of the return from that deal?
Since the Canucks did not re-sign Jake Kielly, I'm assuming that the organization is hoping that Martin will provide veteran support for Mikey DiPietro in Abbotsford this season. The Canucks also have 20-year-old Latvian Arturs Silovs under contract. He barely played last season, so it'll be interesting to see where he gets assigned to get some game action and continue his development.
With that — as promised, I'll continue my look at the other secondary signings that were made by the Canucks on the first day of free agency.
If you missed the last blog, click here
for the lowdown on Brady Keeper, Nic Petan, Phil Di Giuseppe and Sheldon Dries.
I've got three more today, and I'll finish off the list in the next blog.
• Devante Stephens - left defense - signed to a one-year, two-way contract that pays $750,000 at the NHL level and $150,000 in the AHL
A native of White Rock who played his junior hockey with the Kelowna Rockets, Devante Stephens is a 24-year-old who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the fifth round in 2015. At the pro level, he has split his time pretty evenly between the ECHL and the AHL. In 2019, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he spent the last two seasons in their organization. In 2020-21, he had five goals, 11 points and 25 penalty minutes in 26 games with the Syracuse Crunch, where his plus-14 was tops among the team's defensemen. He also spent 16 games with the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, putting up 3-3-6 and a plus-5.
• Brad Hunt - left defense - signed to one-year, one-way contract that pays $800,000
Another local boy, Hunt turns 33 later this month. He hails from Maple Ridge, and is thrilled for the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
Undrafted, he played for the Burnaby Express in the BCHL before spending four years at Bemidji State University. He won a CHA championship as a freshman on a team that was led by another undrafted future NHLer, Matt Read.
Out of college, Hunt spent two seasons with the Chicago Wolves before signing his first NHL contract with Edmonton in 2013 — a two-year, two-way deal.
He was up and down over the next three seasons, playing 21 NHL games with the Oilers before being signed as a free agent by St. Louis in 2016, on a deal that saw his AHL salary rise to $400,000.
He played nine NHL games with the Blues before being claimed on waivers by Nashville in January of 2017. The Preds kept him with the big club for the rest of the year. He only got into three games, but after that waiver claim, his AHL days were over.
On July 1, 2017, Hunt signed his first one-way contract — a two-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. Still a bubble defenseman, he got into 45 games in Vegas' inaugural season, putting up 18 points, then played in 13 games in the subsequent year before he was traded to Minnesota in January of 2019.
He was something of a regular with the Wild, finishing out his first season with 29 games, then playing 59 regular-season games in 2019-20 along with the Wild's four preliminary-round games in the bubble against the Canucks.
Last year, he spent a good part of the season as a healthy scratch for Minnesota, and also missed some time during the team's big Covid outbreak in February. In 12 games in 2020-21, Hunt had one goal, four penalty minutes and was a minus-eight.
Hunt's undersized at 5'9" and 177 pounds, but he's a left-shot defenseman who's comfortable playing the right side, he has good offensive instincts, and he's known for his strong character. Expect him to be in the mix at training camp, as the Canucks work to figure out which of their many defensemen start the season with the big club.
• Justin Dowling - center - signed to a two-year, one-way contract with a cap hit of $750,000
When I hear Justin Dowling's name, my mind immediately goes back to Edmonton last summer. A native of Cochrane, Alberta, who was playing with the Dallas Stars, Dowling was the first NHL player to get his family into the bubble with him, as his wife and young daughter drove up from their home in Southern Alberta and went through just a short quarantine before they were all able to be together. Dowling only got into two playoff games with the Stars, so it must have meant a lot to him, having them there.
During the Stanley Cup Final, I remember seeing and hearing Dowling's wife, Megan, with baby Perri on her hip, cheering on the stars alongside Corry Perry's wife Blakeny from a suite behind one of the nets. In an empty arena, two voices can make quite a ruckus!
As for his playing background, Dowling is now 30. He played junior with Swift Current of the WHL and served as captain of the Broncos in his final season, but went undrafted. In the first two years of his pro career, he played 30 games with the Abbotsford Heat as well as spending time in the ECHL.
After catching on with the Texas Stars, he won a Calder Cup in 2014, then was rewarded with his first two-way contract. He has remained with the Stars organization ever since.
Dowling has played 76 career NHL games since the 2016-17 season, including 27 last year. He can put up points in the minors, but has just four goals and 10 assists in his career at the NHL level.
He's a nice add who could very well end up as the No. 1 centre in Abbotsford this season.