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|Wolski and Mueller looking for fresh starts|
|Written by Erika Schnure|
|Friday, 13 July 2012 10:44|
The Southeast Division has been one of the focal points of this off season, with Jordan Staal being moved to the Carolina Hurricanes. In the last week, however, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers added to the intrigue with the additions of Wojtek Wolski and Peter Mueller, respectively.
rs to new contracts.
Wednesday, the Washington Capitals gave winger Wojtek Wolski a one-year, $600,000 deal. Wolski's signing is the latest in a string of minor deals for Washington.
Wolski, a 6-foot-3 first-round pick in 2004, spent the last 22 games of last season with the Florida Panthers and scored nine points.
Wolski's best year came during his NHL rookie season of 2006-2007, when he scored 50 points in 76 games with the Colorado Avalanche. But after various injuries, including a lingering groin problem that required surgery last November, Wolski struggled offensively.
Toward the end of his time with both the New York Rangers and then the Panthers last season, he often found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch. Wolski was originally a restricted free agent this summer but became an unrestricted free agent after the Panthers did not give him a qualifying offer.
Wolski isn't the only struggling forward with a new deal and a new start this summer.
On Thursday, the Florida Panthers signed 6-2 center Peter Mueller to a one-year, $1.7 million contract after making $2 million last year. The deal is a risky one, considering that Mueller has missed a lot of time with concussion problems in the last several years.
Mueller had to sit out the 2010-2011 season and half of 2011-2012 after sustaining a concussion in the first preseason game of 2010-2011. After returning in 2012, he scored 16 points in 32 games with the Avalanche.
Mueller is also a former first-round pick (2006) who has the capability of playing around 17 minutes per game. He also spends time on the power play, which will be valuable for Florida after losing Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson to free agency.
The Panthers are hoping that Mueller can pick up Samuelsson's goal-scoring, while quarterbacking the power play as Garrison did.
"We think he can play the point on the power play, has good skills," Florida general manager Dale Tallon in a media conference call. "He understands this is a great opportunity for him. He's a top-six forward with his size and skill and he's still young and well worth the risk for us."
The fact that the two deals came one day apart is eerie, as Mueller and Wolski have much in common.
Both are young – Mueller is 24 years old, Wolski is 26 – and former first-round picks who had their best seasons as rookies. They have been members of both the Avalanche and the Panthers. Both have recently had lingering problems with injuries, and Mueller and Wolski now say that they are ready for bounce-back seasons.
Despite the similarities among the two players, the two contracts are very different.
The Panthers are paying Mueller nearly $2 million, despite the fact that he's played only 47 games in the past three NHL seasons. After an extensive physical, Mueller says he's at 100 percent, but concussions are tricky -- post-concussive symptoms can pop up at any time.
Tallon is confident that Mueller is fully healthy, telling reporters, "We checked him out and everything checked out fine." Mueller, in another call, added, "There are no red flags. Everything is a go."
Mueller has been given a clean bill of health but, at $1.7 million, Mueller is a risky signing.
By contrast, Wolski's $600,000 deal with the Capitals is the classic "low-risk, high-reward" situation. Wolski is a potential top-six player at a bargain basement price -- he made $3.8 million last season. The deal is another smart one for general manager George McPhee, who also signed winger Joey Crabb and defenseman Jack Hillen this week for under $1 million each.
However, it seems Wolski realized that he wasn't exactly a wanted man after several disappointing seasons, so he accepted a major pay cut in order to sign with the Capitals.
Even if he doesn't play many minutes a night, Wolski will still excel in one area -- the shootout. Wolski is considered a shootout specialist, which will be useful when the Capitals are fighting for those extra points during the season.
Wolski is hoping to expand his production beyond the shootout and get back to his rookie form.
"I struggled the last two years," Wolski told reporters on a conference call. "I'm definitely highly motivated, very excited and very hungry at this point in time and I look forward to the opportunity to be able to play with great players. I think it's going to be a very positive year."
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