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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    Flyers founder Ed Snider honored with statue outside Wells Fargo Center

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    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider was honored with a 9-foot bronze statue outside the Wells Fargo Center.

    Snider founded the team in the 1960s and remained chairman until his death in April 2016. The statue was unveiled before the Flyers played Nashville on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Flyers’ first home game in 1967.

    Chad Fisher, of Fisher Sculpture of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, created and built the 1,300-pound bronze statue, which stands on a 3-foot base encased by granite.

    Snider’s statue has a Stanley Cup championship ring on his left ring finger that fans are encouraged to rub for good luck. Flyers President Paul Holmgren was one of the first to rub the ring on the statue.

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the statue, like Snider’s accomplishments, ”were larger than life.”

    The Flyers won Stanley Cups under Snider in 1974 and 1975.

    Hall of Famers Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke and dozens of former Flyers greats attended the dedication.

    ”Everything I am as a human being, thank you Ed Snider,” Parent said as he threw a kiss toward the statue.

    Snider’s daughter, Lindy, spoke on behalf of the family and encouraged fans to rub the ring.

    ”Paul, especially you,” she told Holmgren. ”The pressure’s on. You’re not off the hook.”

    Snider was arguably the most influential executive in Philadelphia sports. He was chairman of the 76ers, was once a part-owner of the Eagles and had a hand in founding both Comcast’s local sports channel and the city’s largest sports-talk radio station.

    Snider was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

    Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

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    On Thursday night, TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins may have some interest in Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk.

    The Penguins have been looking for another center since the departure of Nick Bonino in free agency this summer, so them being interested in him makes sense.

    “There’s been some speculation as to who might be available as to players who aren’t and Matt Duchene probably isn’t a great fit financially for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Dreger said during the Insider Trading segment. “But Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens, his name has surfaced. We shouldn’t be overly surprised by that, again given the fact that more often than not Galchenyuk seems to be in the doghouse there and given the play of the Montreal Canadiens as of late, perhaps there’s a fit there that could make some sense.”

    Galchenyuk has been as enigmatic of a player as we’ve seen in the NHL over the last few seasons. Two years ago, he scored 30 goals for Montreal. Last season, he was top 10 in league scoring when he suffered a knee injury in Los Angeles. When he returned to the lineup, he clearly wasn’t the same player.

    Things haven’t been rosy under head coach Claude Julien, either. During lasts year’s playoffs,  The 23-year-old found himself as the fourth line left winger. He finished the postseason with three assists in six games.

    To say that Galchenyuk’s been in the dog house under Julien would be an understatement (most of the time, he fully deserves to be there).

    It hasn’t gotten much better this year. After a slow start, he found himself back on the fourth line. But with the Canadiens struggling out of the gate, Julien decided to put Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin together against the Kings on Wednesday night. The line didn’t produce any offense, but Galchenyuk seemed to be a little more engaged than he had been in previous games.

    As inconsistent as he’s been, there’s no denying that he’s a rare talent. When he’s playing well, you’ll notice his vision, quick hands and his quick release. He’ll never be an excellent two-way player, but other teams may be willing to put up with his defensive shortcomings more than Montreal has been willing to.

    So, what does Pittsburgh have that Montreal could use?

    Realistically, we know that the Penguins have a bunch of untouchables (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray aren’t going anywhere). They still have other pieces that could be used to get Galchenyuk out of Montreal.

    First, the Canadiens would either have to hold on to some of his $4.9 million cap hit, or they’d need to take salary back because Pittsburgh only has $2 million in cap space.

    Secondly, Montreal could use a puck-moving defenseman and/or more offense. Would the Pens be willing to sacrifice a blue liner like Olli Maatta to add another center? That’s what it might take to get a deal done.

    But again, Montreal isn’t exactly loaded with offensive talent. Can they really trade one of their best offensive weapons without getting a forward back? GM Marc Bergevin is in a tough spot (mainly because he put himself there).

    Would Pens GM Jim Rutherford be willing to make Jake Guentzel available, too? He’s been solid for the Pens and his entry-level contract comes with a cap hit of just $734, 167, which makes him even more valuable to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds. The longer Montreal’s struggles last, the more likely they are to want to shake things up.

    Galchenyuk has his issues, but he seems like the perfect buy-low candidate right now.

    Video: Coyotes’ Luke Schenn scores in his own net during loss to Stars

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    As you may have heard, things haven’t been going well for the Arizona Coyotes this season. Yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars dropped their record to 0-6-1 in 2017-18.

    Arizona actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the game, when Derek Stepan opened the scoring 5:50 into the first period.

    Dallas’ Jamie Benn got that goal back less than a minute later on the power play. Unfortunately for Arizona, the bleeding didn’t stop there. Less than a minute after Benn scored, Radek Faksa was credited with the go-ahead goal to give the Stars a 2-1 advantage.

    The thing is, Faksa’s stick wasn’t the last one to touch the puck before it went into the Arizona net. It was Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn that had that honor.

    That’s a tough break, but that’s just the way the puck’s been bouncing for them this season.

    PHT Morning Skate: 5 things Jagr did in the NHL before Gaudreau, Monahan were born

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    –Currently there are four players with a Latino background in the NHL. Those players are: Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Matt Nieto and Al Montoya. Fear the Fin wrote an interesting story about NHL teams not doing enough to market to fans from different backgrounds. “Besides the Sharks, several other teams could be making efforts to reach out to an untapped Latinx market. Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, hell, even the New York teams have millions of fans that aren’t being reached because of some old, racist idea of what a hockey fan should look like.” (fearthefin.com)

    –Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka was fine $5,000 for a high-sticking incident with Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on Wednesday night. (NHL.com)

    –The Calgary Flames have been an all-or-nothing kind of team so far this season. They’ve had a games where they scored six goals and five goals, but they’ve also been shut out twice. They’re heading in the right direction. (flamesnation)

    –Garth Snow was hired by the Islanders in 2006 and he’s made enough mistakes to last a lifetime, but ownership still seems to believe in him. This is a huge year for Snow. If he’s capable of re-signing John Tavares though, maybe ownership’s decision will be justified. (SNY.tv)

    –The NWHL is set to start their third season. Unfortunately, a number of Olympic Stars won’t be returning to the league this year. On the bright side, there’s a number of young stars that are ready to take the next step. (victorypress.org)

    –Colorado Avalanche fans had a lot of disappointment to deal with last season. They were the worst team in the NHL by a mile, which is making their fans appreciate the little things this season. The Avs have been fun to watch early on this season. (milehighsticking.com)

    –The Buffalo Sabres are finally returning home from a road trip, but they’re returning home with a number of injuries. Jacob Josefson, Zemgus Girgensons, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian, Justin Faulk and Robin Lehner are all banged up. That should open the door for training camp standout Seth Griffith. (buffalohockeybeat.com)

    –Teams get pretty creative when it comes to team building activities. The Washington Capitals, for example, went to  an FBI Academy in Stafford County, Virginia. This kind of looks like fun. (russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

    –The Blue Jackets are off to an incredible 5-1-0 start. They’ve won four games in a row and things are looking good for them right now. Despite the great start, there’s still things that could be going better in Columbus. Oliver Bjorkstrand still hasn’t scored, the special teams has been lacking and they can’t seem to win face-offs consistently. (thehockeywriters.com)

    –Fanragsports take a look at how each of the head coach’s on new teams are doing in 2017-18. Gerard Gallant has exceeded expectations with Vegas, John Stevens has done a remarkable job in Log Angeles, Ken Hitchcock’s reunion with Dallas has already had ups and downs, Travis Green and Bob Boughner are holding their own in Vancouver and Florida, and Phil Housley and Rick Tocchet have both struggled with Buffalo and Arizona. (fanragsports.com)

    –The Toronto Maple Leafs have been excellent at even-strength, but their special teams have helped carry them over the last couple of years.  Jeff Veillette of faceoffcircle.ca looked at the penalties they’ve drawn versus penalties that are called against them. They do well with holding calls, but they struggle when it comes to stick discipline. (faceoffcircle.ca)

    Jonathan Drouin is more than just another hockey star in Montreal. The 22-year-old was traded to his hometown team this summer and he couldn’t have been more excited. He tried to get away from all the distractions that come with playing hockey in Montreal, but he couldn’t get away from all the fans. (Sports Illustrated)

    –The Calgary Flames moved Jaromir Jagr to a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Jagr did a lot of damage in the NHL before his two new linemates were even born. For example, he won two Stanley Cups before they took their first breath on earth. (The Score)