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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    In Minnesota, skepticism greets Fletcher’s optimism

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    Safe to say Chuck Fletcher’s press conference yesterday didn’t quell the growing media skepticism in Minnesota.

    A few excerpts from a column by Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, following the Wild GM’s day in front of the cameras:

    He preached more patience, spun statistical gold out of cubic zirconia and praised the resiliency of his club.

    The Wild, quite simply, are adrift. Their identity changes slump to slump, streak to streak, game to game, shift to shift. They are a difficult team to defend until they throw away the puck. They play tentatively until confronted by absolute crisis.

    He needs a miracle worker behind the bench to engage this group over 82 games.
    He has to wade through a thicket of prohibitive contracts to create cap space to acquire one or two of the top-flight forwards he craves.

    Indeed, it was Fletcher’s optimism that many were struck by yesterday. While conceding that the Wild had a “disappointing” season, he insisted that better days were ahead:

    Now, granted, any GM that’s been on the job as long as Fletcher will be loath to admit he’s got a bit of a mess on his hands. He’s the one who put this Wild roster together. He’s the one who gave out all those big contracts. He wouldn’t be the first GM to put a positive spin on a challenging situation.

    Or, perhaps Fletcher isn’t spinning anything. Maybe he’s really and truly optimistic about the potential to improve the Wild this offseason.

    “I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year,” he said. “It’s going to give us more options.”

    One thing’s for sure, though — Fletcher will be a GM to watch this summer and into next season.

    The pressure’s on to justify the optimism.

    Related: Fletcher ‘not on any hot seat’ with Wild owner

    Report: Flames to sign Czech League standout Pribyl

    CALGARY, AB - MAY 5: Fans of the Calgary Flames pass around a large flag prior to Game Three against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 5, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Daniel Pribyl, the big-bodied Czech winger that’s coming off a stellar Extraliga campaign, will reportedly sign a two-year, two-way deal with Calgary on Friday, per Sportsnet.

    Pribyl, 23, has been one of the more sought after European free agents this spring. A former Montreal draftee — the Habs failed to sign him to an entry-level deal prior to their rights expiring — the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder scored 45 points in 45 games for Sparta Praha this season, finishing second in league scoring.

    (Ironically enough, Pribyl finished second to a former Flame — Roman Cervenka, who spent the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign in Calgary.)

    This is a nice get for the Flames. GM Brad Treliving said the club’s lack of size at forward as something he planned to address this offseason, and the Pribyl contract is relatively low-risk (especially since it’s a two-way, meaning the club can send him to the minors and not have to pay his NHL salary.)

    It’ll be interesting to see where Pribyl fits in the Calgary lineup next season. Sportsnet speculates he could fill the top-line winger role next to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, a spot filled by Jiri Hudler prior to his trade to Florida.

    Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

    San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski, center, celebrates after scoring with teammates Brent Burns, left, and Joe Thornton during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Saturday, April 9, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 1-0. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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    SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Since the San Jose Sharks last played a game, the Nashville Predators fell behind Anaheim in their first-round series with a Game 5 loss and then responded with two straight wins to eliminate the Ducks.

    While the Predators have played three grueling games and taken two long flights, the Sharks have been resting and practicing for six days and are eager to get back on the ice when their second-round series opens against Nashville on Friday night.

    “I don’t think we have to get ramped back up,” coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday. “I’m guessing that I’m probably going to have to calm them down a little bit. They’re ready to go. They’ve got some pent up energy here after four or five days sitting around watching, and they want to play. I don’t think our energy is going to be an issue. I think it’s just going to be getting that composure and working smart.”

    The Predators overcame a lull in their first-round series after winning the first two games in Anaheim. They lost three straight following that before rallying for two wins to take the series in seven games with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

    They took a little time to celebrate in Anaheim before taking the short flight to the Bay Area on Thursday. They won’t even have time for a full practice before Game 1 begins.

    “It’s going to turn around quick, so we’ve got to realize that we’re moving on and we’ve still got a lot of work left to do,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “It’s a step. We’ve got a lot of work left to do. Enjoy it for a couple of minutes and start to focus on San Jose.”

    That extra time off hasn’t always benefited the Sharks, who have lost their past four playoff series after having at least five days off between rounds.

    Here are some other things to watch in the second-round series:

    IN THE NETS: After Pekka Rinne allowed 11 goals in three straight losses to Anaheim that put Nashville in a 3-2 hole, there were some critics calling for a change in nets in Nashville. Good thing coach Peter Laviolette stuck with Rinne. He stopped 62 of 64 shots in the final two games, once again looking like a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

    “He’s a goalie that can steal games,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “He’s proven that over his career.”

    San Jose’s Martin Jones has much less of a pedigree in his first year as a starter. But he outplayed his former stablemate Jonathan Quick in the first round, allowing 11 goals in five games to Los Angeles.

    HIGH-SCORING D: Led by 61 points from Roman Josi and 51 more from Weber, the Predators got more offense from their defense than almost any team in the NHL, tying Calgary with a league-best 203 points from the blue line in the regular season. The Sharks were next on the list with 179 points from their defense led by All-Star Brent Burns, who led all defensemen with 27 goals to go along with 48 assists.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: The Sharks rely heavily on their power play, with an experienced five-man top unit anchored by Burns, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. San Jose ranked third in the NHL with a 22.5 percent success rate in the regular season and added five goals on 21 chances (23.8 percent) against the Kings.

    “Their top players are some of the top players in the league, and really dangerous individuals,” Rinne said. “Their power play is really good.”

    The Predators had less success in the first round with just one power-play goal on 26 chances against the Ducks for a league-worst 3.8 percent conversion rate in the first round.

    ROAD-ICE ADVANTAGE: Opening the series at home is not exactly an advantage for the Sharks, who won a league-high 28 road games in the regular season and swept all three games in Los Angeles in the first round. The Predators also proved they can play well away from home, winning three of four in Anaheim, including the Game 7 clincher.

    GOOD LUCK CHARM: Nashville forward Craig Smith played a key role in the opening round, getting a goal and an assist in the Game 2 win. Smith then got hurt early in Game 3 and also missed the two losses that followed. He returned to play the final two games and the Predators were 4-0 in the first round when he was healthy.

     

    Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Friday night. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

    St. Louis at Dallas (8:00 p.m. ET)

    The TV broadcast of Game 1 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

    Nashville at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

    The TV broadcast of Game 1 will also be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

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