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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    Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

    Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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    Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

    Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

    “To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

    “When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

    According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

    The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

    Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

    The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

    St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

    Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

    Anders Lindback
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    Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

    The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

    Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

    Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

    Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

    Elsewhere…

    — No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

    Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

    — Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

    A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

    Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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    The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

    Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

    “Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

    “I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

    Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

    Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

    Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury

    John Scott’s wife gives birth to twin girls

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    As if John Scott wasn’t already having a great week, now he’s the proud father of twin girls.

    The Montreal Canadiens shared the good news via their Twitter account today.

    Scott, the unlikely 2016 All-Star Game MVP, is currently back home in Michigan; however, he’s expected to resume his career at some point with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

    When, exactly, he suits up for the IceCaps remains to be seen, but it won’t be tonight or tomorrow.

    Related: Therrien on Canadiens possibly recalling John Scott: ‘You never know’