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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    Talbot torments Ducks as Oilers take 2-0 series lead

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    Those who vehemently argued for Cam Talbot being a Vezina finalist likely felt vindicated tonight (even if postseason results don’t factor into the voting).

    In Game 1, Leon Draisaitl stole the show. Talbot was the standout of Game 2, snubbing a steady Ducks threat as Edmonton won 2-1 on Friday.

    And, just like that, the Oilers are up 2-0 in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. Better yet for this young group: the venue shifts to what’s likely to be a rowdy scene in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4.

    The tone was set when Andrej Sekera scored just 65 seconds into the contest. That said, the Oilers could have sulked when a would-be 2-0 goal was called off (and they had to kill a penalty). Instead, they just kept battling, even after Jakob Silfverberg ended Talbot’s shutout bit with a laser beam on the power play.

    Speaking of the power play, the Oilers managed to match the Ducks (1-for-4 each on the PP), even as Talbot faced 12 shots on goal during Anaheim’s power-play opportunities.

    Talbot ultimately made 39 of 40 stops, and while the Ducks kept Connor McDavid from scoring, number 97 sure looked speedy and dangerous at times in Game 2.

    Anaheim came into the second round with home-ice advantage through the West side of the playoffs, seemingly enjoying a golden opportunity when other conference powers fell. Instead, it’s looking like the Oilers might just have a chance to prove that they’re big-time contenders, too.

    Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream.

     

    Latest goalie interference mess: Oilers get penalty, not goal

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    Ah, goalie interference. Does the fun ever start?

    Arguably the most irritating facet of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs reared its pesky head once again on Friday, as the Edmonton Oilers saw a would-be 2-0 goal disallowed in the first period of Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The goal wasn’t just disallowed, either, as Mark Letestu was given a minor penalty.

    One would imagine that there are opinions for or against the goal (and penalty counting); there are also many who are just getting a little worn out by the uncertainty surrounding such calls. Tomas Holmstrom is nodding his head so hard right now, everyone.

    Here’s one unhappy take:

    Moments after this post went up, the Oilers made it 2-0 for real this time. Check out the game here.

    Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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    Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

    As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

    I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

    Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

    Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

    “Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

    (Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

    So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

    Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

    Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

    Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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    One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

    The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

    Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

    That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

    St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

    Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

    The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

    The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

    * – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.