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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    Red Wings hope to continue the climb back to playoff contention vs. Bruins

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins is upended by Luke Glendening #41 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    The odds are against them right now, but the Detroit Red Wings hope to continue the climb back into the thick of the East’s playoff bubble against one team already situated in playoff position in the Boston Bruins. It should make for a spirited edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).

    At the moment, the Red Wings are closer to the bottom of the East (two points ahead of the last-place Islanders, one ahead of Buffalo) than the last wild card spot (Ottawa has a six-point edge and five teams rank ahead of Detroit right now).

    On the other hand, Detroit won’t let its record-breaking playoff run end without a fight. The Red Wings are currently on a two-game winning streak, so there could be some optimism on their end.

    Meanwhile, the Bruins rank second in the Atlantic, but they still need to protect their spot. Ottawa and Toronto aren’t far behind the Bruins, and both of those teams have five games in hand on Boston.

    In other words, Detroit’s climb could benefit from Boston’s fall, so we’ll see what happens tonight.

    Click here for the livestream link. Tonight’s doubleheader also includes the latest round of the San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings rivalry.

    Rather than whining, Capitals take ‘shut up and play’ approach with refs

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18:  John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals pleads his case with referee Brad Meier after teammate Brooks Orpik #44 is down after a hit in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Shut up and play has been a mantra lately for the Washington Capitals.

    Too often early in the season players would harp on officials for missing a penalty or getting a call wrong. So coach Barry Trotz and veteran leaders made a concerted effort to tone down on the yapping.

    Even though the Capitals have taken their fair share of penalties, their bench has been quieter during an 11-game point streak and that’s not a coincidence.

    “You don’t want to be known as the whiny team that the refs don’t want to go by the bench because they’re always going to get whined at from the players,” right winger Justin Williams said. “You don’t want to have that reputation.”

    Trying to nip that reputation before it gets out of control, players talked inside the locker room about officials being human beings. No one likes to get yelled or screamed at while doing their job, so show a little respect and maybe it’ll get returned in kind.

    Trotz and most around hockey will readily acknowledge just how difficult officiating an NHL game can be and compliment referees and linesmen for getting more calls right than wrong. He’ll often apologize to referees later for yelling at them if they saw something he didn’t.

    But that doesn’t mean everyone’s always thrilled about officiating. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed his displeasure about a couple of missed calls in their 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, including a high hit from the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist on T.J. Oshie in the second period and a trip by Sidney Crosby on him in overtime.

    “Everybody makes mistakes,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “Everybody have emotions. If it’s 100 percent call and nobody make a whistle and don’t make a call, of course everyone going to be mad and sad about it. But I think the captains and the coaches, we can talk to the referees, so that’s what we should try to do.”

    Trotz, Ovechkin and alternate captains Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have the job of communicating with officials. Keeping the off-the-cuff yapping to a minimum has been part of Washington’s recent success.

    Given the Capitals’ recent dominance at 5-on-5, not taking a reactionary penalty allows them to take advantage of their depth and wear opponents down. They’re pretty good when they’re not in the penalty box.

    “I think controlling our emotions and having the right people talk all the time and focus on the right things can keep us more grounded, more on detail,” Trotz said. “I just think that’s how we’re going to handle it.”

    Orpik said cutting back on mouthing off to officials can help players sharpen their focus on controllable aspects of the game. Oh, and they have long memories.

    “If you yell and scream at them all game long, they might not give you the benefit of the doubt at the end of the game or the next game they have you they might say, `Oh we got Washington again,’ and before they even get to the game they’re sick of us,” Orpik said.

    Perhaps sick of their own penchant for taking penalties, the Capitals don’t want to put undue stress on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and the players tasked with killing them off. Williams said the coaching staff and older players had to set the tone for how everyone else should treat referees and linesmen.

    Most of the time that means just being quiet.

    “Yelling at the refs, although spontaneously it may feel like the right thing to do, it never changes the call – never, ever – as much as you whine and moan about it,” Williams said. “I think you get more respect from the referees that way when you show them the respect, as well.”

    NOTES: D John Carlson missed practice Wednesday with a lower-body injury and is considered doubtful to play Thursday in St. Louis, which would be his second consecutive game out of the lineup. Trotz said the team would consider recalling a defenseman on Thursday morning but isn’t worried about going to St. Louis and Dallas with only 12 forwards “because we have airplanes.”

    Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

    Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

    Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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    So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

    First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

    “We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

    Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

    He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

    Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

    We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

    But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

    Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

    It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

    Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

    Toffoli unlikely to join Kings on road trip

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Tyler Toffoli #73 of the Los Angeles Kings gets a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    The Los Angeles Kings will have to keep on keeping on without Tyler Toffoli.

    Toffoli has not played since Dec. 20 due to a lower-body injury, and head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t expect the sniper will join the Kings for their upcoming road trip.

    “It was four weeks yesterday,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We thought he’d be further ahead. Once we came back and had the doctor’s evaluation we were told a three-to-six week time frame, so yesterday was four weeks, so we thought he’d be a little further ahead, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between the healing and the training. I think Tyler’s pushing hard and we want him back. We were hoping to have him for sure on this next trip, so that doesn’t appear to be the case right now because he hasn’t had any skating or practicing.”

    Toffoli did actually hit the ice for a skate this morning, but there remains no timetable for his return.

    Without Toffoli, the Kings have been leaning heavily on Jeff Carter to score. Carter has a team-high 23 goals; Tanner Pearson is next with 13, followed by Toffoli with eight.

    Read more: Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return 

    Los Angeles hosts San Jose tonight, then hits the road for five games starting Saturday in Brooklyn. A poor trip and the Kings — currently holding down the second wild-card spot, but only barely — could find themselves on the outside looking in.

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