By Chris Block
Carter Hutton said he and his agent were not contacted by the Blackhawks about signing an NHL contract until this past Wednesday.
“I didn’t expect it,” Hutton admitted after picking up his IceHogs leading 11th victory in a 3-2 win at Allstate Arena in Rosemont on Friday night. “It happened the day before I got put on waivers.”
Hutton had to be placed on waivers on Thursday for the purpose of signing him to the NHL contract. Per guidelines in the NHL collective bargaining agreement, Hutton first had to be offered to the 29 other NHL teams before he could officially become a Blackhawk. The contract itself was done and official on Thursday morning.
“It kind of was quick,” Hutton said of the negotiation. “There wasn’t too much to talk about. It was kind of a done deal right away.”
As covered on Friday, Hutton was on a one-year standard AHL deal with Rockford and has been with the team ever since being recalled from Toledo on December 3rd to replace an injured Alexander Salak. Hutton performed so well in Salak’s absence that he became the clear number one during that time and when Salak returned Alec Richards was sent to Toledo of the ECHL.
“It doesn’t really change a ton with me,” Hutton said. “I’m still here in Rockford and competing to win games. But it’s obviously an exciting feeling. All the work we put in to keep developing and get better, it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed with the team. I’m excited that they offered me the contract.”
With Hutton in the fold, the Blackhawks now have five goalies under NHL contract; Corey Crawford, Ray Emery, Hutton, Alec Richards and Alexander Salak.
Since Hutton turned 26 in December, he will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Blackhawks will have the option to qualify him or allow Hutton be become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
As we wrote yesterday, Hutton’s signing gives the Blackhawks another measure of insurance in the event of an injury to Emery or Crawford between now and the end of the season. The deal is also a bit of a reward to Hutton for being the best goalie in Rockford this season.
In Rockford, it appears the net is Hutton’s to lose for now. Alexander Salak appears to have lost the team after an on-ice blowup in Hamilton in his last start on February 18. In that loss, Salak surrendered three goals in a span of 38 seconds in the final minutes of regulation. The IceHogs were leading 2-1 with five minutes to go when everything broke down. Salak was pulled from the net after allowing the last of the goals in the 38 second span. It was the latest in a series of episodes this season when Salak has lost his composure during a game.
While not a major issue, another aspect of Hutton’s new deal is it now gives him the right to refuse a reassignment to Toledo. Players under standard NHL contracts (one or two-way) have the option whether or not to accept a reassignment to the ECHL (a tier below the AHL). This month when Salak returned from his ankle injury, Alec Richards did accept his demotion to Toledo though he did have the right to refuse it.
RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie reported on Twitter that Hutton signed a NHL minimum contract of $525,000 (that’s the rate of pay he’d earn in the even he’d be recalled to Chicago during the regular season) for the remainder of this season.
CapGeek currently lists Hutton’s AHL salary at $50,000. The minimum salary this season for players under AHL-only contracts is $39,000. Without knowing exactly what Hutton’s IceHogs’ deal was, its fair to conclude he received at least a modest increase on his AHL salary in turn for signing this new deal.
FORNATARO MAKES GOOD ON FIRST IMPRESSION
Coming over from Norfolk as compensation for the Blackhawks sending Brandon Segal to the Tampa Bay organization in exchange for “future considerations,” right winger Matt Fornataro made a solid showing in his debut as a Rockford IceHog on Friday evening.
“It was good,” Fornataro said after the game. “I just wanted to keep my game simple. Try to do the little things and I got lucky when I went to the front of the net. It was nice.”
Fornataro scored at 8:14 of the second period to give the IceHogs their first lead of the game. The goal was Fornataro’s sixth goal in 47 games on the season. He had gone his last thirteen games with the Norfolk Admirals without a goal, but did pick up six assists in that same span.
Friday’s goal came with a bit of luck. Chicago Wolves goaltender Eddie Lack went behind his net to play the puck. Lack sent the puck up the wall to defenseman Kevin Connauton, who had trouble handling the feed in his skates. The puck bounced to Brandon Svendsen who immediately threw the puck at the net. Byron Froese took a poke at the feed before it bounced off Lack and to Fornataro’s stick for the rebound tally.
“My linemates were doing a good job down the wall and I just worked my way to the front of the net,” Fornataro explained. “We just kind of threw it there and the puck just bounced right to my stick. It was a kind of right place, right time. I’ll take ‘em.”
Eddie Lack protested the goal claiming interference by Froese behind the goal. The two bumped into each other after Lack sent his pass to Connauton but neither man went down and it was ruled incidental contact.
Ted Dent likes what he sees of his newest player so far.
“I thought he looked really good off the point on the power play,” Dent said. “It looks like he thinks the game well. It’s only his first game so we’ll just keep going and see how he fits in.”
Fornataro is a good passer and was a regular fixture at a defense position on the Norfolk Admirals second-ranked power play before being traded this week.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing that kind of my whole career,” Fornataro said. ”So, I’m comfortable back there. I’m happy to do it. We had some good puck movement tonight and we’ll hope to get better.”
The IceHogs power play has run into another funk of late, failing to convert on their last 19 chances with the man advantage.
Fornataro comes to Rockford with a one-year AHL-only contract and says he’s excited for a new opportunity playing under the watchful eye of the Chicago Blackhawks brass.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said the newest IceHog.
“My time had kind of run out with the Tampa organization. It’s a fresh start and I’m happy to have it. And I’m glad to be here (in Rockford).”
Aside from playing one game during the 2009-10 season with the Houston Aeros, Fornataro has skated his entire pro career in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. He’s heard of some differences.
“You hear things, this and that,” he says. “I can’t really say [after one game] if its true or not.”
“I really haven’t played out here much so it’s kind of a whole new league. But I’ll get acquainted with it quickly I’m sure.”
PIRRI AIMING TO BE A LEADER
As the IceHogs leading scorer, second-year pro Brandon Pirri has seen veteran players come and go this season and knows he has to be one of the guys who makes up for the lost leadership on and off the ice.
“Coming in at the beginning of the year, even though we had some older guys, I wanted to be a leader and be a guy that could be chosen as a go-to guy in those key roles.”
Pirri’s 21 goals and 26 assists lead all current IceHogs in both categories. He’s also a plus-7, which is second-best on the team behind Rostislav Olesz’s plus-9.
The team lost four-year veteran Rob Klinkhammer early in the season when he was dealt to Ottawa by the Blackhawks after a two-month long slump in Rockford. Alternate captain Brett McLean left the team for Switzerland in January after seeing his role diminish on the Hogs. Then the Hogs lost alternate captain Brian Connelly, 25, last month in the Brendan Morrison trade. This week team captain Brandon Segal was sent to the Tampa organization as their affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, beef up for a Calder Cup run.
“We lost some older veterans guys, but at the same time its more opportunity for some other guys to step up,” said Pirri.
Defenseman Brian Fahey is the lone original captain on this year’s team still remaining on the roster. Ryan Stanton, Rostislav Olesz and Fahey served as alternates on Friday night.
“Being here last year we had a great run at the end there. And we’re trying to do the same thing (this year). We started earlier (speaking of the January run) so we can try to give ourselves an opportunity to make the playoffs.”
DENT SAYS DON’T MESS WITH HIS PLAYERS
Near the end of the first period on Friday night against Chicago, the IceHogs bench was upset with Wolves’ winger Antoine Roussel after he had run into goaltender Carter Hutton during the previous play. Hutton had just cleared a loose puck in front of his crease when Roussel fell and slid into the Hutton’s legs. Hutton didn’t go down but Roussel still drew the ire of Hutton and defenseman Ben Youds. Play was whistled dead after Youds cross-checked a prone Roussel hard in the side.
On Roussel’s way back to the Chicago bench, Brandon Bollig, on the IceHogs’ bench, reached over the boards with his stick aiming the blade at Roussel’s head. It was a SlapShot Dr. Hook McCracken like gesture that came close, but did not appear to make contact with Roussel.
The scene went undetected by referee Mark Lemelin but was caught and played on the arena jumbotron twice before play restarted.
A minute later, after the period ended, Wolves’ coach Craig MacTavish and Ted Dent had to be restrained from each other as the two teams left the ice.
After the game, the IceHogs bench boss explained it was MacTavish yelling at Bollig to which Dent to offense to.
“The way I approach things, I don’t like other coaches talking or yelling at my players,” said Dent.
“And that’s what Craig started there. So, I just got involved.”