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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    PHT Morning Skate: 4 free agents that will need to take a hefty pay cut

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    –30 years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Mats Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques, so The Hockey News lists the five best franchise players that have been acquired via trade. That Joe Nieuwendyk for Jarome Iginla swap worked out pretty well for both Dallas and Calgary. (The Hockey News)

    –Free agency opens in two days, so The Score predicts which four players will be the biggest bargains when it’s all said and done. Buffalo goalie Anders Nilsson isn’t a household name, but he might provide some great value for whoever signs him. (The Score)

    –The Carolina Hurricanes are loaded with quality prospects, but can any of their young junior players make the leap to the NHL next season? Julien Gauthier, Spencer Smallman and Callum Booth all had nice season with Saint John in the QMJHL, but their head coach thinks they can benefit from a stint in the NHL. (Charlotte Observer)

    –Yesterday, we wrote about Connor McDavid‘s potential $13 million per year extension. Some people believe that teams can’t pay one player that much money, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman thinks that kind of deal could make sense for both Edmonton and their captain. (Sportsnet)

    –TSN’s Gino Reda looks at four potential unrestricted free agents that will likely be forced to take a pay cut on their next contracts. Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Dennis Wideman and Patrick Sharp can all expect to take home less money in the coming years. (TSN.ca)

    –Miller and Bernier will likely need to shave their salaries, but they still made NHL.com’s list of top free agent goalies. Brian Elliott and Steve Mason also find themselves on the list. (NHL.com)

    Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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    Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

    A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

    With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

    “Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.

    “He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

    Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

    Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

    The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

    But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

    “There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.

    Methot confident he can compliment Stars’ offensive d-men

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    Talk about a hectic few days for Marc Methot.

    Methot started last week as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was left unprotected when Dion Phaneuf opted not to waive his no-movement clause. He was plucked during the expansion draft process by Vegas and then dealt to Dallas, as the Golden Knights recouped another draft pick and a prospect goalie.

    For the Stars, their offseason plan was simple: Improve their goaltending and improve on defense.

    Putting that plan into action is certainly easier said than done, but general manager Jim Nill has made the necessary moves to address those areas, acquiring and then signing Ben Bishop and most recently acquiring Methot. Their new head coach is Ken Hitchcock, who has gained a reputation across the league for defensive structure.

    Methot will never be known for his offensive production. He didn’t score a goal in 68 regular season games during the 2016-17 campaign, though he changed that with a pair of goals and four points in the playoffs. What the Stars see in Methot is a “steady defenseman that can play well with an offensive-minded partner,” Nill said two days ago.

    It remains to be seen exactly who Methot will be paired with to start next season. Of all the Stars’ defensemen, John Klingberg packs the most offensive punch. In three seasons with Dallas, he’s never gone below the 40-point plateau, hitting 58 points in 2015-16.

    “I complement well an offensive-minded player,” Methot told NHL.com. “It allows whoever I’m playing with to roam around a little bit more and take more opportunities offensively. At the same time that doesn’t mean your partner can skate around all over the place at free will. I think you still as a tandem have to be fairly good in your own end.”

    The Stars have struggled in that last department. But they’re also in a window to win right now, as their offseason moves have illustrated.

    Report: Red Wings re-sign Lashoff to two-year, two-way deal

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    The Detroit Red Wings are bringing back defenseman Brian Lashoff.

    According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Red Wings have re-signed Lashoff to a two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 per season. He re-signed with Detroit last year for the same amount of money, only on a one-year contract.

    Lashoff has been with the Red Wings organization since 2008, eventually joining its AHL team in Grand Rapids. He has since gone on to play 122 career NHL games, all with the Red Wings, with a total of two goals and 13 points.

    This past season, Lashoff played five games in Detroit, while spending the majority of the year with the Griffins, who won the Calder Cup.

    Meanwhile, the Red Wings still have interest in defenseman — and former first-round pick — Dylan McIlrath. (CapFriendly reported Wednesday evening that Detroit had re-signed him to a two-year, two-way deal.)

    From the Detroit Free Press:

    McIlrath towers at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. He’s not a skill guy, but he’s great at keeping the waters calm for young defense prospects – and this coming season the Griffins’ fold will include Filip Hronek, the 53rd overall pick from 2016 and Vili Saarijarvi, the 73rd overall pick from 2015. McIlrath creates a lot of room because of his size, and that should help young defense partners adjust to pro hockey.

    McIlrath was selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010. He was dealt to Detroit at this year’s trade deadline.