Five free agency myths that were busted this summer

Thumbnail image for kovalchukhighfive.jpgGoing into this summer’s free agency, there were some preconceived notions about what was going to happen. Many folks thought there could be a crush of action and free agents would go flying off the market like a hot toy at Christmas time. Others had it pegged that the elite talent would draw a lot of action. Some people guessed that some teams would be in a crush to make huge moves to put themselves in a better place to challenge for the Cup. All we’ve found out this summer is that prognosticators are excellent at becoming creators of urban legends without even realizing it.

Here’s a list of five post-season thoughts that were crashed out in a Mythbusters-esque kind of way.

1. Ilya Kovalchuk would be the most pursued free agent this summer

Yes, he’s the most talented free agent on the market. He’s also got the highest asking price around. While the Devils had to be in the mix for him after trading for him last year, the number of teams that could afford to make a run at Kovalchuk were very few. In fact, it turns out that it was just one other team that made their intent to go after the superstar Russian forward, the Los Angeles Kings. While Kovalchuk is still very noticeably on the market, it’s believed that the Devils are still the only team really in the running to sign him. After all, once you had a contract agreed upon only to have the league blow it up, that’s pretty much calling “dibs” on a guy. If the Kings were able to work out a deal for him in the end, that’d make for quite the Hollywood ending to the story.

2. Goalies are going to make a ton of money this off-season

Boy, this one got busted out pretty badly. After seeing guys like Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller both get bounced in the first round and Evgeni Nabokov get swept out in the Western Conference Finals, while virtual no-names like Jaroslav Halak, Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi all had huge success, NHL GMs took this to mean that big money, big name goalies weren’t worth spending precious salary cap space on. Instead of seeing Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco setting the goaltending market this summer, we saw backups and also-rans seize their moment to lock down jobs and potentially be the next big stars of the league.

Meanwhile, Nabokov read the NHL market the right way and headed to Russia while Marty Turco waited things out and took less money to become the defacto starter for the Blackhawks while they walked away from Antti Niemi’s $2.75 million arbitration award.

3. The hunt for Ilya Kovalchuk will slow down the free agent market

For a while it seemed as if this was the case. While the Kings and Devils publicly negotiated for Kovalchuk’s services, other teams seemingly weren’t signing anyone to deals or got their shopping done on the first day of free agency. While many good players stayed out on the market, the other 28 teams that weren’t gunning for Kovalchuk stayed quiet and for the most part have for the entire summer. While the free agent market has been slow, it wasn’t Kovalchuk that caused it to do so. Teams being unable or unwilling to spend money on free agents did that and they’ll now look to find ways around that by asking some veterans to come in on a tryout basis to win a job. Training camp just got a whole lot more important for many players.

williemitchellfreeagent.jpg4. The Los Angeles Kings are going to fill out their roster and become a force in the Western Conference

A funny thing happened along the way to becoming the “next Chicago Blackhawks.” While the Kings had tons of salary cap space to play with this summer and the willingness to spend the bucks needed to turn the Kings into a supremely formidable team this year, things didn’t exactly break right for them. First Paul Martin turned them down to sign with Pittsburgh, then Dan Hamhuis opted to move closer to home and signed with Vancouver. The Kings then chased hard after Ilya Kovalchuk only to see him sign with the Devils and end up rejected by the league. While they still could get Kovalchuk, the Kings have moved on elsewhere. They signed Alexei Ponikarovsky and now they’re in on defenseman Willie Mitchell. Ponikarovsky certainly isn’t the player Kovalchuk is and Mitchell could turn out to be a really solid pickup. The big splash GM Dean Lombardi was hoping to make, however, never came.

5. The Washington Capitals need to make a statement after a miserable playoff failure

Well, they didn’t. That said, a team that won the President’s Trophy doesn’t really need to blow it all up and start over again. Sure, the Caps will have some question marks going into this season. They don’t have a proven second-line center to lead the way for Alex Semin, they’re lacking a serious defensive defenseman (signing Willie Mitchell would alleviate this issue) and they’ve made the choice to go with two very young goalies. Sure they could’ve made a push for Alex Ovechkin’s friend Evgeni Nabokov, and sure they could’ve made a run for a second line center like Matt Lombardi, but that’s not quite how the Caps operate.

While it would’ve been easy to panic after losing in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens, they’ve got a farm team that’s won the Calder Cup two years in a row and building from within can be done on the relative cheap. If it doesn’t work out this year, however, there’s a very excitable fan base in D.C. that will get ornery fast.

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    Dubinsky to have hearing for cross-check on Crosby

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    Brandon Dubinsky and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will have a chat about his cross-check on Sidney Crosby.

    The hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, per beat reporter Aaron Portzline.

    As you can see in the above video, Dubinsky delivers a two-handed cross-check to Crosby’s neck, so the fact that he’s getting a hearing is no surprise.

    “There’s no secret. I try to play him as hard as I can,” said Dubinsky. “That being said, I don’t try and do anything dirty. I felt like my stick ride up his back a little bit. He’s kind of bent over there in front. But again, that’s not the type of player I am. I’m going to play hard, but try and play fair and play in between the whistle.”

    Crosby isn’t willing to give Dubinsky the benefit of the doubt.

    Anyone who follows the NHL knows that Dubinsky and Crosby aren’t fans of each other.

    The two have engaged in some serious battles, including this fight last February:

    Report: Habs will be Price-less for the next month

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    It looks like the Canadiens will be without star goaltender Carey Price for the next month, per RDS.

    “We still don’t know what the nature of the injury is, but we’re convinced it’s his right knee,” hockey analyst François Gagnon said on a french television show on Friday. “The Canadiens are preparing for him to be out for more than a week. They’re preparing for him to be out for a month.”

    Price missed nine games with a lower-body injury between Oct. 30 and Nov. 19.

    The 28-year-old won all three of his starts since returning, but he was forced from Wednesday’s game against the Rangers leading some to believe he came back too soon.

    After Friday’s win over the Devils, Michel Therrien denied the validity of the report.

    The Canadiens will have to provide an update on Price’s injury at some point, but their camp doesn’t typically give many details when it comes to this sort of thing.

    Galchenyuk scores a beauty in comeback win over Devils

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    The Canadiens drafted Alex Galchenyuk to be the big, skilled center they’d been lacking for years.

    Most of his first three NHL seasons were spent at left wing, but over the summer the Canadiens decided it was time to put him down the middle.

    The transition to center wasn’t always smooth. Galchenyuk struggled to find the back of the net, and his line, which is supposed to be Montreal’s second line, didn’t generate a ton of offense.

    But something’s clicked for Galchenyuk over the last week or so.

    The 21-year-old has arguably been the Canadiens’ best forward over the last three games and that’s coincided with the arrival of Sven Andrighetto.

    The two youngsters were up to their old tricks, again, on Friday night as they led the charge in Montreal’s 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Devils.

    Andrighetto got Montreal on the board late in the second period when he beat Cory Schneider with a wrister that cut the deficit to 2-1.

    With the Canadiens down by one in the third period, head coach Michel Therrien decided to move Galchenyuk to right wing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.

    And with under nine minutes remaining in the final frame, he stole the show:

    Galchenyuk has scored in three straight games, while Andrighetto has found the back of the net in back-to-back contests.

    Both players added goals in the shootout to complete the comeback over the Devils.

    These two teams will face-off in Montreal on Saturday night.

    Tippett wins 500th game as ‘Yotes bury Flames in overtime

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    GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes grinded their way through the tough stretches, relied on great goaltending and won it on a big goal at the end.

    Call it a Dave Tippett special.

    Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in overtime, Mike Smith stopped 25 shots and the Arizona Coyotes beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 Friday night for coach Tippett’s 500th career victory.

    “I’ve been involved in a lot of ugly games in that 500, so it’s probably fitting that was an ugly game,” said Tippett, who has 229 wins with Arizona and the rest with Dallas.

    It certainly was right out of the Tippett playbook.

    The Coyotes played a solid first period and both teams scored goals in the second on caroms: Martin Hanzal early for Arizona, Mark Giordano late on a power play for Calgary.

    Arizona followed with a series of penalties, but Smith was sharp for the second straight game to send this one to overtime.

    The Flames had the edge early in the 3-on-3 overtime, leaving the Coyotes gasping for air. Arizona flipped the ice for the final stretch, leaving Calgary’s players winded and scrambling.

    Arizona won it with 39 seconds left on the clock when Brad Richardson sent a pass from behind the goal to Ekman-Larsson, and he one-timed it past Karri Ramos.

    After the game, the Coyotes handed their championship belt, awarded to the player of the game, to their low-key coach after his milestone victory.

    “Coaches don’t have many milestones, but that’s a big one,” Smith said. “Players have milestones all the time, but coaches only have winning, which is all that matters, really.”

    The Flames certainly had their chances to win.

    Calgary had a rare power-play goal when Giordano scored his fifth of the season, but the Flames failed on five other chances with the man advantage to lose to Arizona for the first time in six games.

    Ramos stopped 18 in his first loss in five career games against Arizona and the Flames lost for the first time in six 3-on-3 overtimes.

    “It was a good road game,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “We played smart, we played hard, it’s just the result, we wish we could change it.”

    The Flames were coming off one of their worst performances of a disappointing season, blowing an early two-goal lead and a one-goal lead in the third period for a 5-3 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday night.

    The Flames went straight to Arizona, where they watched the Coyotes beat Anaheim 4-2 on Wednesday night.

    They played well and so did the Coyotes in a crisp first period.

    Arizona needed 29 seconds of the second to take the lead, when a sharp-angle shot by Tobias Rieder hit the far post and caromed off Hanzal into the goal.

    Smith stopped 29 shots against the Ducks and was sharp again, turning away some tough chances when the Flames picked up the pressure after Hanzal’s goal.

    The Coyotes took a series of penalties, though, and Giordano scored late in the period by wristing a loose puck through Smith’s legs to tie the game at 1-all. That ended a 0 for 16 streak on the power play for Calgary.

    Arizona kept sending players to the penalty box in the third period. The Coyotes killed off one penalty early and were called for another 8 seconds later but killed off both to get the game to overtime.

    “Obviously, we’d like to score on those power plays and grab some momentum, but we did some good things,” Flames defenseman Kris Russell said. “I thought we played a good game throughout, but at the end of the day, on special teams, we get one there, that’s the difference in the game.”

    NOTES: Coyotes captain Shane Doan missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Flames entered the game 29th on the power play with eight goals in 58 chances (13.3 percent). … Calgary C Jiri Hudler returned after missing two games with an illness.