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 staff give Gudas a talking to as questionable hits pile up

    Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers
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    The list of questionable Radko Gudas hits — some of which he’s been suspended for and others he has escaped discipline — has grown again, prompting Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to apparently have a chat with the 25-year-old defenseman.

    There was no hearing for Gudas from his latest infraction, a major penalty for charging called against him for a hit on Buffalo Sabres rookie Daniel Catenacci on Thursday.

    Catenacci has since been put on injured reserve, after he went through concussion protocol, as per John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

    The NHL didn’t hand out supplemental discipline in this case, but the Flyers brass held a meeting of their own with Gudas, because hits like this could end costing Philadelphia results and precious points in the Eastern Conference standings.

    The Flyers are four points out of a playoff spot.

    “There’s a big picture to all of it in terms of our main concern,” Hakstol told CSN Philadelphia. “Our main goal right now is to do all the little things necessary to win hockey games.

    “In keeping with that, how individually does everybody do their part to help us win games. That’s the basis of my conversation with Radko.”

    In December, Gudas was suspended three games for a head shot on Mika Zibanejad. Earlier this month, he was given a major penalty and game misconduct for clipping in a game against the Habs, but escaped discipline for that, as well.

    Gudas, who didn’t want to comment on the hit on Catenacci, also spoke with Flyers GM Ron Hextall about this latest incident.

    Asked about that conversation, Gudas told reporters, “Just making sure I pay attention and not get suspended again and make a good hockey play or make a good hit.”

    After 11-game absence, Savard (oblique) back for Columbus

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    These are pretty decent times for the Blue Jackets.

    The team is 7-3-2 in its last 12, recently re-upped with Ryan Murray on a two-year deal and, on Friday, announced that blueliner David Savard has been activated from IR after missing the last 11 games to an oblique strain.

    Savard, 25, was a pretty integral part of John Tortorella’s defense when healthy. He averaged over 24 minutes per night and had 15 points through 39 games prior to being sidelined by the ailment.

    He’ll presumably draw back into the lineup when the Jackets take on Ottawa on Saturday. No word yet on a corresponding roster move.

    Who’s got the best/worst combined special teams?

    The Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, (8), of Russia, leaps in the air in celebration after scoring his 500th career NHL goal during the second period of a hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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    Recently, the Washington Capitals went five whole games without scoring a power-play goal.

    It was a real nightmare for those guys.

    Despite the fact Washington went 3-1-1 over those five games, one headline called it a “troubling power-play drought” — which tells you how few “troubling” things the Caps have had to deal with this season.

    Overall, special teams have been a boon for Washington, which ranks first on the power play and fifth on the penalty kill.

    Compare that to, say, Calgary, which ranks 29th and 29th, respectively. Now that’s troubling.

    Anyway, here’s how all 30 teams rank when their special teams are combined:

    Rankings

    Not surprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between good special teams and winning hockey games.

    In the left column, 12 of the 15 teams are currently in a playoff spot. New Jersey, Buffalo, and Montreal are the exceptions.

    On the right, only four teams — Colorado, Detroit, Nashville and the Rangers — are in a playoff spot.

    John Scott to return to Habs’ AHL team this weekend

    Pacific Division forward John Scott (28) is lifted up by teammates Mark Giordano (5), of the Calgary Flames, Joe Pavelski (8), and Brent Burns (88), of the San Jose Sharks after they defeated the Atlantic Division team 1-0 at an NHL hockey All-Star championship game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Pacific Division won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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    John Scott’s had enough time off following his All-Star Game MVP award.

    Now, he wants to get back to work.

    Scott, who made major headlines at the end of January thanks to his unforgettable All-Star performance in Nashville, will return to Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s this weekend, as the IceCaps play a pair of games against the Toronto Marlies.

    “It’ll be nice to [be] back playing hockey and doing my thing. I’m actually really excited for it,” Scott said, per ESPN. “This has been the longest break I’ve had, ever. But I play like 7-8 minutes, I won’t be too out of shape, I’ll be able to keep up.”

    Scott, 33, hasn’t played since his Pacific Division team won the annual ASG 3-on-3 tournament on Jan. 31. Following that whirlwind weekend, the Montreal organization allowed him to take a leave to be with his wife, Danielle, who gave birth to twin girls on Feb. 5.

    Scott only appeared in four games for St. John’s prior to the All-Star Game, going pointless with six penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.

    Related:

    The John Scott story, coming to a theater near you?

    Therrien on Habs recalling Scott: ‘You never know’