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: Connor McDavid undergoing concussion protocol

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid is going through the league’s concussion protocol, according to multiple reports during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

Per Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, McDavid was ordered to undergo the protocol after falling to the ice when he got tangled up with Jared Spurgeon. As McDavid fell to the ice, his face hit hard and he appeared in immediate discomfort.

McDavid held the NHL lead with 34 points in 26 games coming into Sunday’s contest.

More to come.

The Flyers have won five straight and Steve Mason has been solid in goal

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches up to make a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Denver. Philadelphia won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The goaltending in Philadelphia has been talked about plenty this season, mainly because it had struggled.

That is only until recently, even with Michal Neuvirth still out with an injury.

The Flyers are on a five-game winning streak, reaching the mark with a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday. Wayne Simmonds had a pair of goals and he now has six points in his last six games.

Ivan Provorov had a productive, two-goal game on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But goaltending has been much better for Philly as of late.

Steve Mason has been in net for four of the last five wins and he’s given his team the goaltending it needs to have a chance for those victories. Take his first win in this stretch: He faced 47 shots against the Bruins and stopped all but two of them.

He didn’t face the same workload Sunday against the Predators but he was still busy, particularly in the third period as Nashville pushed for the equalizer.

He stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced. In his last four games, he’s allowed only seven goals and no more than two in a game. That save percentage — recently at an ugly .892 — has started to improve. It’s still at .904, which isn’t great. But better than a week ago.

That’s solid goaltending.

And right now, the Flyers are on a roll.

“For me, it’s really the last nine or 10 games. Some of those games, the results didn’t come… games 8, 9 10 ago,” said coach Dave Hakstol.

“But we were playing really complete games. There’s a time or two in a game where the momentum goes against you, but the bench stays strong and they just go out there and try to push the momentum back our way.”

Video: Gaudreau scores in return from injury — and this goal was a softie

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Calgary, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
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Welcome back, Johnny Gaudreau.

The Flames forward returned to the lineup Sunday, after missing 10 games with a finger injury. He scored on his very first shift, on his very first shot of the game.

It’s a goal Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier would probably want back.

Gaudreau picked up the puck after briefly losing control and casually fired it toward the net from inside the faceoff circle. It made it’s way through Bernier, who wasn’t screened on the play, giving Calgary an early lead.

Nielsen admits there were ‘some butterflies’ in return to Brooklyn to face Islanders

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04:  Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders checks Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at the Barclays Center on December 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Frans Nielsen admitted he’ll have “some butterflies” when he faces the New York Islanders for the first time since leaving for Detroit as a free agent last summer.

“For sure it’s not going to be just another game,” Nielsen said Sunday about three hours before the Red Wings faced the Islanders at Barclays Center. “There’s going to be some butterflies for me and some nerves. Hopefully it just gonna take a couple of shifts and I can relax and play my game.”

The 32-year-old Danish center was drafted by the Islanders in the third round of the 2002 draft, No. 87 overall, and had 119 goals and 230 assists over 10 seasons in New York before signing a six-year, $31.5-milion deal with Detroit.

Nielsen, one of three players to leave the Islanders in free agency along with Matt Martin (Toronto) and Kyle Okposo (Buffalo), says he wasn’t looking to go elsewhere, but began exploring other options when talks with the Islanders stalled.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about anything here. It dragged out for some reason and got to a point where I got a chance to talk to other teams and kind of realized it might be fun to get a new challenge and try something new.”

So what does he cherish most about his time in New York?

“A lot, from playing the first game to scoring the first goal,” Nielsen said. “The first playoff series I was in against Pittsburgh (in 2013). The (Nassau) Coliseum, just how loud it was. I don’t think I’m going to experience that again. To winning a round last year. All the friendships, all the people you met not only with hockey, but away from the rink. … One-third of my life I lived here, so lot of stuff you miss about (not) being here, too.”

Nielsen said it felt `weird’ flying into town Saturday night after Detroit’s loss at Pittsburgh, and then staying in a hotel nearby. When he arrived at the arena, he saw former teammate Johnny Boychuk by the player’s entrance and jumped in his car for the `two-minute ride’ down to the parking level.

The Red Wings were in the market for a new center after former star Pavel Datsyuk decided to end his NHL career and return to Russia. Nielsen has fit right in with his new team, totaling six goals and eight assists in 25 games.

“I love him,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s got inner drive to be great. He’s selfless, he does what it takes to win for the team. He’s an all-around player who plays in most situations for us, penalty kills, power plays, can go up against other teams’ best players. … He’s got lots of experience, he’s a leader-type person. There’s no question he brings a presence just by with the way he handles himself and the type of teammate he is.”

With the Red Wings remaining in town overnight before flying out to Winnipeg on Monday, Nielsen expected to spend time with some of his former teammates after the game.

“The friendship you build up with all these people over the years,” Nielsen said. “We had some really tough times and a lot of the guys went through the tough times here where we weren’t winning. Just going from that to building a competitive team, you just build a special bond when you go through that.”