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Alex Tanguay, Clarke MacArthur rank among biggest steals from the 2010 free agent crop so far

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After Evgeni Nabokov left for the big bucks in the KHL and potential big-ticket players such as Patrick Marleau re-signed before July 1, last summer’s free agent group seemed like it would begin and end with the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Sure, there were some impact defenseman here and there such as Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis, but for the most part it looked like the season of Kovalchuk.

Of course, you’re probably aware that the Kovalchuk investment has gone more than a little sour. He’s been a bust from an individual standpoint (only 5 goals and 11 points in 26 games with a pitiful -17 rating) while the New Jersey Devils are experiencing a nightmare season as the second worst team in the NHL.

As sports fans, we dream of our teams making splashy signings to reach a whole other level. The fact of the matter is, though, that big free agent acquisitions tend to flame out more often than they succeed. Maybe it’s the change of environment or the increased pressure that comes with those gigantic paychecks, but free agency is just a another type of personnel gambling along with similarly unstable endeavors such as making trades and drafting.

So when we look back to see which teams made the shrewdest moves, it turns out that under-the-radar signings yielded some of the best results. TSN’s Jamie Bell discusses some of the best deals in free agency, which all seem to the similar trait of being less ballyhooed moves. I thought I’d focus on a few of those moves here in this post.

Alex Tanguay

Contract: one-year, $1.7 million cap hit

While Jokinen has just two goals in 25 games so far at the steep price of $3 million per season, Tanguay has been the Flames most consistent forward thus far with 23 points in 28 games, trailing only Jarome Iginla for the team lead. What makes the production all the more valuable is that it comes at the $1.7 million price tag attached to him this year.  Compared to the $6.9 million that the San Jose Sharks are paying Patrick Marleau (a player they paid a premium for before the free agent market opened) to post similar numbers (22 points in 26 games) it appears that the Flames got themselves quite the steal.

Our take: Honestly, I thought the Tampa Bay Lightning would reap big rewards for signing Tanguay to a bargain deal for the 2009-10 season. Instead, such a result took an extra season to come to fruition as the playmaking forward is doing well during his second run with the Calgary Flames.

Clarke MacArthur

Contract: one-year, $1.1 million cap hit.

After sending a third and fourth round draft to the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline to acquire Clarke MacArthur, the Atlanta Thrashers decided that $2.4 million was too high a price to pay to retain him. They chose to walk away from an arbitrator’s decision on his salary, making him an unrestricted free agent. Burke happily swooped in and signed the Alberta native to a one-year, $1.1 million contract and has been reaping the rewards ever since.

Heading in to action Wednesday night, MacArthur leads the Maple Leafs in scoring with 21 points in 26 games and is second only to Kessel in goals. He’s been the club’s most consistent forward so far and has injected a nice mixture of skill and grit playing alongside the likes of Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.

Our take: While Tanguay’s nice season has been better than expected yet reasonably foreseeable, I didn’t see MacArthur’s resurgence coming. It seems like his offense has been coming in uneven patches, but at $1.1 million, you cannot complain with 21 points in 26 games.

Other mentions: Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres by the Vancouver Canucks, Colby Armstrong with the Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres’ signing of Jordan Leopold.

Our take: Malhotra’s price tag ($2.5 million) seems a bit steep for a faceoff specialist, although he is bringing a little offense and some solid D to Vancouver. Torres was a big bust in Buffalo but has sporadically sparked the Canucks’ scoring. Armstrong is also a bit pricey ($3 million) but sometimes helps Toronto win games in ways that don’t always show up on the box score.

At least at this point in the season, the big names aren’t producing big results while subtle moves are providing great value. Maybe it’s depressing to consider the fact that the splashy moves can be big mistakes, but it also gives you reason to believe.

Next summer we might just ask this question without a trace of sarcasm: who’s going to sign the next … Clarke MacArthur?

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.