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.

Mlive.com’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.

Report: If the Sabres can sign Vesey, they could be more willing to trade Kane

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 03:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres speaks with referee Kevin Pollock #33 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 3, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If the Buffalo Sabres can sign Jimmy Vesey, they may be more willing to trade winger Evander Kane.

That’s what TSN 1040 (Vancouver) radio host Matt Sekeres has been hearing, and what he’s hearing does make a lot of sense.

Kane, whose off-ice issues are once again making headlines, has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. He plays the same position as Vesey, 23, who’s currently Buffalo property but can sign with any team he chooses on Aug. 15.

Even if the Sabres can’t convince Vesey to join them, Kane could still be traded. GM Tim Murray has already conceded that his patience is wearing thin with the 24-year-old that he acquired from Winnipeg not long ago. Alex Nylander, drafted eighth overall in June, plays the same position as Kane, and Murray has said it’s possible the teenager could make the jump to the NHL next season.

Buffalo, Boston and Toronto have generally been considered the favorites to land Vesey. Chicago and Pittsburgh have also been mentioned.

Related: Cue the Kane-to-Vancouver speculation

Leafs avoid arbitration with Peter Holland

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 11: Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates up the ice during NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre April 11, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t require arbitration with forward Peter Holland. They’ve signed the 25-year-old to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.3 million.

Holland had a hearing scheduled for today. Last week, the Leafs sent a message by putting him on waivers, which he cleared.

Holland had nine goals and 18 assists in 65 games last season. With him signed, the Leafs have only defensemen Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin as restricted free agents. Corrado has an arbitration hearing scheduled for tomorrow; Marincin’s is next Tuesday.

Related: Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart

Arbitration looming this week for Mrazek and DeKeyser

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 16: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is checked by Danny DeKeyser #65 of the Detroit Red Wings in front of Petr Mrazek #34 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 16, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is an important week in the Detroit Red Wings’ offseason, with Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday and Danny DeKeyser‘s for Thursday.

GM Ken Holland would prefer to avoid the hearings, which can sometimes result in hurt feelings.

“I think a negotiated settlement is always better than having an arbitrated settlement,” Holland told MLive.com. “Obviously, both sides run (the risk) of somebody’s not going to be happy.”

That being said, in Mrazek’s case, the two sides still have a ways to go. Remember that the 24-year-old netminder was excellent for most of 2015-16, but in Holland’s words, “the wheels came off a little bit in the middle of February.”

Hence, the divide:

DeKeyser, meanwhile, is more of a proven NHL commodity. He’s had three full seasons in the league. In the 26-year-old defenseman, the Red Wings pretty much know what they’ve got.

“There’s way more comparables, I think, in Dan DeKeyser‘s case so it was easier to figure out what was the market place,” said Holland. “That’s certainly not the case of Petr Mrazek’s situation.”

Holland’s work will not be finished once Mrazek and DeKeyser are signed. He still wants to add another defenseman, and he’s got a surplus of forwards to work with.

Related: Holland makes argument to keep Jimmy Howard

Flyers sign Brayden Schenn to four-year deal

Philadelphia Flyers' Brayden Schenn reacts after scoring during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
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The Flyers won’t require today’s scheduled arbitration hearing with Brayden Schenn. They’ve agreed to terms with the 24-year-old forward on a four-year contract with a reported cap hit of $5.125 million.

Schenn had a career-high 26 goals and 33 assists in 2015-16. His 59 points were the third most on the Flyers, behind only Claude Giroux‘s 67 and Wayne Simmonds‘ 60.

The Schenn signing leaves the Flyers with just over $1 million in cap space for 2016-17, but no major free agents remaining. RFA defenseman Brandon Manning still needs a contract, but that’s it, per General Fanager. Manning has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 2.

Related: Coyotes sign Luke Schenn