LA Kings should not worry about luring big-time free agents

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovaldevils.jpgPerhaps I’m in the minority here, but I think the Los Angeles Kings are better off without Ilya Kovalchuk … at least at the kind of money and years he seems determined to receive. Los Angeles Times writer Helene Elliott seems to think it’s a sign that the team cannot lure in high-end free agents, though.

Chara was a long shot. The Kings were bad and Chara decided to stay in the East with its infinitely easier travel, signing with the Bruins. The Kings salivated over Hossa but he wanted to play for a Cup contender and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

So the Kings have had to settle for third- and fourth-tier free agents. The exception was defenseman Rob Scuderi, who came here last summer mainly because they gave him more security and money — four years and $13.6 million — than anyone else.

The Kings targeted the smart and steady Martin but he signed with Pittsburgh for $25 million over five years. Mobile Dan Hamhuis was Plan B but he wanted to be close to home and signed with Vancouver.

It’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma for the Kings. They can’t attract elite free agents until they become a Cup contender, but they can’t become a contender until they lure players they haven’t developed — a productive winger, second-line center and fleet defenseman.

I think that July 2009’s summer free agents are pretty much irrelevant considering the fact that the Kings were in the Western Conference basement. Frankly, there aren’t many cellar dwellers who attract big names unless they throw a reckless deal at a player.

Let’s face the facts, too, as much excitement as Martin and Hamhuis generated … are they really worth their contracts? I find it hard to believe that Paul Martin deserves a higher salary cap hit than, say, Shea Weber in Nashville (Weber makes $4.5 million per year, a half-million less than Martin). It’s my opinion that neither Hamhuis ($4.5 million, too) nor Martin are worth as much as they were paid this summer.

I’m not complaining about free agency, either. Instead, I’m just trying to dispute the notion that the Kings should be forlorn that they didn’t pay players more than they should. Why should the Kings regret exercising fiscal responsibility with  Kovalchuk? No one should pay him $10 million per year. Really, even that supposed seven-year, $60 million offer strikes me as a little bit foolish.

If anything, the Kings are simply unlucky that this year’s free agent forward pool is so shallow. Something tells me that the team could land a desirable free agent if he had, you know, realistic goals for a contract that could exist in the NHL according to salary cap restrictions. After all, Los Angeles is a huge market with sexy weather and a solid, up-and-coming team.

The Kovalchuk-Dean Lombardi stand-off isn’t a sign that big-time players are disinterested in Los Angeles. Instead, it’s a sign that the Kings might actually want to spend their money wisely.

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.