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?

The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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Three games on Saturday

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

 Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back and forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck