Watch these free-agents-to-be in the West

nabbyandmarleau.jpgOne of my nerdy hockey (and sports) obsessions is to study the breakthroughs an athlete will experience in a contract year. Just look at Fernando Pisani’s fluke playoff run or last year’s Boston Bruins. My question is, which players could turn a great playoff run into a husky pay day? First, let’s take a look at the Western Conference.

(Note: this isn’t a comprehensive list of free agents. Instead, it’s players who might make an impact on the ice and at the bank)

San Jose

This team is loaded with huge salary cap decisions for the summer (which is part of the reason I, gulp, chose them to win the Cup in the pre-season. Sometimes, greed is good.) Huge names like Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Marleau are joined by other very good players like Joe Pavelski and Devon Setoguchi. It might not be excessive to say that this playoff run is the biggest in Sharks’ franchise history.

Colorado

Peter Mueller could be in line for a nice raise if he can come back from his concussion problems. Chris Stewart and Kyle Quincey are two other nice players who could make themselves some nice cash with a Cinderella playoff run.

Chicago

I’ve already stated that the team is on the verge of a cap crisis, so it comes as no surprise that they have some role players who are almost sure to go. The player with the most to gain is Antti Niemi, though, as he is the team’s starter and remains a restricted free agent. You’re telling me a team wouldn’t pry him loose if he won a Cup with Chicago?

Nashville

Patric Hornqvist is probably the leading Predator with dollar signs in his eyes while Dan Hamhuis was a trade deadline rumor magnet since his contract is set to expire.

The remaining four Western Conference teams’ free agents to watch are after the jump


stempniakd.jpgVancouver

There aren’t many major Canucks to re-sign, although I guess I could make some kind of “Kyle Wellwood might have visions of buffet tables in his dreams” type joke. But that would be childish. Maybe Willie Mitchell or Pavol Demitra could get healthy with a contract on the line?

Los Angeles

Alex Frolov can be a productive goal scorer when he wants to be and my guess is that he’s auditioning for a new team in the playoffs.

Phoenix

Ah, I knew I’d find a classic outlier. His name is Lee Stempniak. My question is: how much is this suddenly on-fire sniper worth? Would you bet on him repeating his stunning performances? (Also, Wojtek Wolski’s playoff production could make a huge difference for himself, too.)

Detroit

The biggest name is Nicklas Lidstrom, but it’s not like he has anything to prove. (Aside from the fact that he’s not some alien hockey-playing life form. Just saying.) Todd Bertuzzi could use a solid year to swindle some poor sap general manager to give him his 1,058th chance at redemption, too.

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    ‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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    Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

    During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

    Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

    Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

    So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

    Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

    They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

    Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

    After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

    “I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

    PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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    –With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

    Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

    –The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

    –The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    –Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

    –The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

    –Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

    Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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    Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

    McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

    With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

    1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
    2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
    3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
    4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

    As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

    Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

    The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

    Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

    Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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    Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

    Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

    McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).