Free Agent All-Star team: Unrestricted

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Thumbnail image for nabbyandmarleau.jpgFor some hockey fans, reality might have set in late Wednesday last week or perhaps last Thursday morning. But it might not truly set in until the Monday of the first full week of the off-season. So, as we gather ourselves on this bittersweet day, preparation for the 2010-11 season is already underway.

To tackle the process of free agency, we’ll be putting up all kinds of posts leading up to July 1. First, indulge me in this fun little exercise of selecting the “First All-Star Team” of unrestricted free agents. I believe there will be a list for the restricted ones, too.

Left Wing

Ilya Kovalchuk

While I’m skeptical about Kovalchuk being worthy of a significant raise, there’s no doubt that he’s the biggest name in free agency … probably in the post-lockout era. Few players in the NHL score goals like him, year in and year out. He’s the biggest story of this summer, beyond Chicago’s crisis.

Center

Patrick Marleau

My guess is that, if he can have things his way, Marleau will stay in San Jose – maybe with a Marian Hossa-type deal. If not, he could be a highly sought-after center thanks to his speed, versatility and undeniable skill.

Right Wing

Teemu Selanne

The list of right wings is pretty slim; it’s also true that Selanne’s choice might be between Anaheim and retirement. So, if you want to count left winger Alex Frolov as the “third” forward or go to Miroslav Satan as a Plan B, that’s fine.

Defensemen

Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Gonchar

Niedermayer is in the same boat as Selanne, being just as likely to retire as he is to stay with the Ducks. If Niedermayer decided to test the open market, though, he’d receive some serious interest.

I discussed possible suitors for Gonchar in late March. He was the best defenseman on a Stanley Cup champion, one of the league’s most prolific offensive blueliners and logged big minutes. He stands to make big money unless he wants to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a discount.

Goalie

Evgeni Nabokov

Nabby is the opposite of Marleau: he’s more likely – in my opinion – to leave the team than stay. Another difference: while I think Marleau can fit in almost anywhere, I wonder if the Russian goalie would be as successful playing for an inferior team. Still, no unrestricted free agent goalie put up numbers like Nabokov, so he stands to make a lot of cash. Whether that’s in the NHL or KHL remains to be seen.

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi and Casey Mittelstadt are two centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for, Hischier it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

Paajarvi out, Barbashev in as Blues look for ‘physical element’

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After losing Game 1 — and with it, home ice advantage — of their series against Nashville, the Blues are making a lineup change for Friday’s Game 2.

Ivan Barbashev, who’s been a healthy scratch the last three games, will draw in, replacing Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi sits despite being a fairly productive player recently, notching a goal and three points in his last five games.

This, of course, includes the game-winning, series-clinching OT goal against Minnesota on Saturday:

“We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they’re coming out of the lineup,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). It’s in no way anything against Magnus. We’re very grateful and appreciative of what he’s done and what he can do for us, but ‘Barby’ has been a good player for us for a long time, too.

“Having him in the lineup, he’ll be energized and bring a physical element… When he gets the puck of the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. We’ll see how he does tonight.”

The hope is that Barbashev can rediscover some of the form shown during the regular season. The Russian rookie made an impact, scoring five goals and 12 points in 30 games.

Sabres granted permission to speak with Futa

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Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Kings promoted Mike Futa to assistant general manager.

But Futa received that promotion before the Sabres cleaned house last week, and that timing is important to note.

Because it’s now being reported, via a Kings spokesman, that the Sabres have been granted permission to speak with Futa about their GM vacancy.

It’s no surprise that Buffalo has asked to interview Futa. He was a candidate for the Sabres’ GM job in 2013 — a job that eventually went to Tim Murray.

Futa was once thought to be heir apparent to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. But when Lombardi was fired, the Kings went with Rob Blake instead.

Some background on Futa, courtesy the Kings:

Futa most recently served as Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. This upcoming season will be Futa’s 11th season with the Kings.

Futa recently concluded his 10th full season with the Kings, and third in his most recent position. He was named VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel in May of 2014 after serving as Director of Amateur Scouting, a position he assumed on June 5, 2007, when he originally joined the Kings.

Futa came to the Kings when he was appointed Co-Director of Amateur Scouting along with Mark Yannetti. Together, Futa and Yannetti rebuilt and retooled the entire Kings Amateur Scouting staff.

Related: Darryl Sutter wants to keep coaching

Habs sign Quebec League sniper Waked

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On Friday, Montreal agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal with QMHJL Rouyn-Noranda forward Antoine Waked.

Waked, 20, is coming off a strong season in which he racked up 80 points in 67 games. He finished tied for ninth in the league in goals, with 39, in what was something of a surprise. Previously, the Quebec native had never scored more than 15 goals in a campaign, suggesting Waked could be the prototypical late bloomer.

An undrafted free agent, Waked had been tied to the Habs earlier this season, with reports he’d receive an ELC at the end of his junior campaign.