The free agent market proves to be unfriendly to veteran NHL talent

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andreaslilja1.jpgThis off-season’s free agent market, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t been all that friendly to those veterans seeking new employment in the NHL. Both superstars and role players alike are finding out that the job market in the NHL is almost as difficult as the job market is for regular Americans and Canadians alike. While it’s tough as a regular everyday shmoe to really feel badly for guys that make at least $500,000 a year, for players that many fans have enjoyed watching throughout their careers, it’s easy to empathize with their plight.’s George Malik leads us to a Swedish website with a story about former Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja who sounds a bit frustrated after the Red Wings filled out their defensive depth with former Ducks and Avalanche defenseman Ruslan Salei. For Lilja, who had been in contact with the Red Wings throughout the summer, having the Red Wings go in another direction has left him feeling cold about his prospects and worried about his family.

The biggest frustration isn’t at the professional level.  It’s at the social level.

“The vast majority of the frustrations are for family, I think.  The fact that we have children who attend school, you want to go to the city you’re going to play in to get them into school, get into the system as soon as possible and find a house and so on.  So it becomes tougher and tougher as each day passes.”

To add to that, Lilja is skeptical about what NHL teams’ motives are for not employing players who are in similar situations to his. Those being veteran players with at least a decent playing resume to stand up for them.

“They want to drive down salaries.  At the same time, I believe that there are many teams that want to attract younger players and give them a chance to play,” he says.

If nothing else, those reasons are all connected. Younger players are generally on cheaper contracts because whether they’re free agents or draft picks, younger players aren’t going to get a lot of money until they’ve proven themselves in the league. Even then, trying to land a big contract can be difficult. Just ask Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan.

While Lilja recognizes that playing in Europe is always an option, it appears to be one he’s not eager to embrace as European leagues have already started training camps. As the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch shares with us, for some veteran players like Shean Donovan going to Europe, while not an optimal choice, is at least still a choice that exists.

“If there’s no chance of me getting a deal, then I’ll be okay with Europe and we’ll make a decision about where we’re going to go in Europe. The decision is going to be about my family and what’s the best situation for them.”

Donovan has worked hard to stay in shape this summer. He has been skating with Senators winger Chris Neil and some of his family on a regular basis. This week, Donovan is focusing on training in the gym.

Donovan played only a limited role with the Senators, struggling with a knee injury that forced him to miss 14 games last season.

“I’ve told every team I’ve spoken with in Europe that I’m committed to trying to play in the NHL first,” said Donovan. “I’m just going to wait until training camp. I’ve let them know that’s where I’m at.

“I will play somewhere. A couple of (NHL) teams have said they were interested, but every team has been dealing with things like arbitrations and getting their own free agents signed.

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do here.”

For guys in positions like Donovan and Lilja where they’re not superstars and are instead third-pair defensemen or third and fourth line players, this is what the league’s nature has become. If you’re not an exceptional player, you’d better be willing to play for potentially below market value or else there’ll be someone willing to play for less or a younger guy automatically making less that can take your spot. It’s stuff like this that spurred my spitball theory on having now be the right time for expansion in the NHL.

While guys like Shean Donovan or Andreas Lilja may not immediately come to mind as important NHL players, they’re guys that understand their role in the game and have the smarts to keep up with the way the league plays. Lilja was one of Detroit’s hidden gems in their Stanley Cup season in 2008. Donovan has been a role player throughout his career and has managed to defy some opinions and able to stay in the NHL. If jobs for players like these two are going to rookies and unproven foreign imports, this makes for an uncomfortable trend amongst veteran players who have earned their keep in the NHL over the years and one that will provide a fascinating case study for success and player development should it continue.

Ruff: Stars were ‘flat as flat could be’ vs. Blue Jackets

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On paper, you’d think even a wounded Dallas Stars team would handle its business against a tired Columbus Blue Jackets squad at home.

Instead, the Stars didn’t have much to show for their efforts on Saturday night beyond Jamie Benn fighting Brandon Dubinsky. They lost 3-0 and left their head coach shaking his head.

“That was as flat as flat could be,” Lindy Ruff said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “There’s no disguising it. For me there’s some concern because that’s really two games in a row where we were outskated …”

Ruff added that “there was no emotion inside that game.”


After falling to 2-2-1 on this young season, Ruff admits that he has concerns about the Stars’ “whole defense right now.”

While it’s true that the Stars fired 32 (unsuccessful) shots on Sergei Bobrovsky, this Natural Stat Trick graph illustrates Ruff’s case that his team didn’t play well.


Yeah, that makes a pretty compelling argument that Ruff saw the truth out there. John Tortorella concurred, opining that the Blue Jackets were in a total control.

While the Stars are picking up the pieces, the Blue Jackets beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and Dallas on Saturday. Those teams are off to tough starts, but that’s still an impressive haul for an embattled Blue Jackets group.

Considering the sour feeling for Dallas and the renewed spirits for Columbus, it’s remarkable what a difference two losses or wins can make.

But, hey Stars fans, a Benn fight at least gives us an excuse to recall this great photo of his bout with Joe Thornton:

via Getty

Taylor Hall has been exactly what the Devils needed

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 22:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils takes the puck in the third period against Minnesota Wild on October 22, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The New Jersey Devils defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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As far as NHL roster move goes, June 30, 2016 was one of the craziest non-trade deadline/free agency days in recent NHL history.

That, of course, was the day P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, the day Steven Stamkos decided to remain with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the day the New Jersey Devils picked up Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers for Adam Larsson.

Each one of those moves was significant in its own way and will have a huge impact on every team involved for the foreseeable future. Some of those impacts will be better than others.

But the one move that seemed to be perfect for the team making it in every possible way was the Devils’ ability to acquire Hall, one of the best players in the league at his position and the type of player the Devils desperately needed.

Just five games into the 2016-17 season and Hall is already showing why he was such a massive addition for the Devils.

Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, with a roster that was built around Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils have been unable to make a return to trip to the postseason due in large part to an offense that was gutted following that deep postseason run (Parise and Kovalchuk were both gone within two years) and has never been able to replace the top-line talent it lost. The only team that has scored fewer goals than the Devils’ 673 since the start of the 2012-13 season is Buffalo, while nobody has averaged fewer shots on goal per game.

It is an offense that has wasted most of the prime years of one of the best goalies in hockey (Cory Schneider) and has been desperate need of a game-breaking forward up front.

There are really only two ways to get that type of player when they are still in their prime years: The top of the draft, or hope that Peter Chiarelli is running a team that has one because you might be able to trade for him.

Enter Taylor Hall to New Jersey.

It’s only been five games at this point, but so far Hall has proven to be everything the Devils needed him to be. A game-changing forward. As of Sunday he has three goals and is pretty much directly responsible for all of the offense in the Devils’ two wins.

He scored both goals in a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week, and then on Saturday scored the overtime winner against the Minnesota Wild when he forced a turnover in the defensive zone, nearly went coast-to-coast with it, then finished the game with a wide open shot that beat Devan Dubnyk.

Hall on his own is not going to be enough to completely fix the Devils offense over the course of a full season (or from a long-term outlook). But he is a heck of a place to start, and he has given the Devils plenty of reasons to be excited over the first two weeks of the 2016-17 season.

Unbeaten no more: Canucks fall to Kings in shootout for first loss

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Tanner Pearson #70 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with Nic Dowd #26 and Dustin Brown #23 in front of Alexander Edler #23 of the Vancouver Canucks to take a 2-0 lead during the first period at Staples Center on October 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

One of the biggest early surprises of the 2016-17 NHL season was the fact the Vancouver Canucks were the NHL’s only unbeaten team entering play on Saturday. Not Washington. Not Pittsburgh. Not Tampa Bay. Not Chicago. Not Dallas.


Their stunning four-game winning streak to open the season came to an end on Saturday night when they opened up a brief two-game road trip in Los Angeles with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings, handing them first loss of the season and making it so all 30 NHL teams now have at least one loss this season.

The Canucks have made a habit so far this season out of falling behind early and rallying for overtime or shootout wins, and they nearly did it again on Saturday. After spotting the Kings a 3-0 lead early in the second period Vancouver came back with three consecutive goals, including a game-tying goal from defenseman Alex Edler in the final minute to send the game to overtime. But the Canucks know that is not a sustainable long-term strategy and that eventually their luck in those games is going to run out.

On Saturday, it kind of did.

Tanner Pearson scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Kings the win.

As tough as this two-game road trip through Los Angeles and Anaheim looks, playing both teams within 24 hours, the Canucks seemed to catch a little bit of a break when the Kings had to turn to Peter Budaj, their third string goalie, after Jeff Zatkoff was injured in the morning skate on Saturday. With regular starting goalie Jonathan Quick already sidelined it seemed to be a good opportunity for the Canucks to extend their winning streak against a goalie that has only played 38 games in the NHL since the start of the 2012-13 season (with below average numbers during that stretch).

But Budaj was able to do just enough to get the win, stopping 22 out of 25 shots through regulation and overtime and not giving up any goals in the shootout.

Even with the loss, the Canucks still managed to pick up a point and have earned nine out of a possible 10 points to start the season. No matter how they did it, collecting points like that is never a bad thing. They have now played four overtime games this season and the one game that did not go overtime was still decided by a single goal. If nothing else you have to give them a ton of credit for keeping things interesting.

The Canucks are back in action on Sunday against the Ducks before returning home for a three-game homestand.

Juuse Saros helps Predators shut down, dominate the champs

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28:  In his first career NHL game goalie Juuse Saros #1 of the Nashville Predators plays against the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Weird times in Nashville right now as a significant portion of the Predators’ roster is sidelined by food poisoning. They went into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh without Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, Colton Sissons and starting goaltender Pekka Rinne all out of the lineup. That meant a bunch of call-ups and a rookie goaltender getting the start against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

While the Penguins were also playing without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, it is still a very formidable lineup (one that just rallied to beat San Jose the other night). That is part of what made Nashville’s 5-1 win so convincing and impressive.

The Predators used a four-goal second period, including a pair of goals from Kevin Fiala, to pick up their second win of the season and what is easily their most impressive of the two.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the play of 21-year-old goalie Juuse Saros, playing in only his second NHL game.

Saros stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up his very first NHL win. Things got off to a rough start for him when Nashville’s defense got caught up the ice and created an odd-man rush for the Penguins that resulted in a Scott Wilson goal less than a minute into the game. After that one blemish on the scoresheet Saros was flawless the rest of the night.

It was a really special night for Saros not only because of the win and the way he played, but because Marc-Andre Fleury started at the other end of the ice for Pittsburgh. Saros said after the game that Fleury has been an idol of his.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Predators after a season-opening win against Chicago. Even though it’s been a slow start, this should still be a team that is going to compete for the Western Conference crown once they get their full roster on the ice.