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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?

Scott Darling may have earned himself some extra playing time

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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When the Chicago Blackhawks’ run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons started back in the 2009-10 season, goaltending was pretty consistently their biggest question mark over the first three or four years of that run. Today, as the Blackhawks continue to sit near the top of the Western Conference standings, it might be one of their greatest strengths.

At this point it is not just because of Corey Crawford‘s development into one of the league’s best, most consistent starters.

They are also getting excellent play from his backup, Scott Darling, and it continued on Friday night when he received the start against the Boston Bruins — only his second start in January — and responded with a 30-save shutout.

Darling’s play has improved significantly this season in the Blackhawks’ net, and after Friday’s game he is carrying a .928 save percentage in his 21 appearances this season, including a pair of shutouts.

Together the duo has the fourth best overall save percentage in the NHL (.920) and the second best even-strength save percentage (.937), trailing only the Washington Capitals.

It is a positive development for both the Blackhawks and Darling himself.

From a Blackhawks perspective, his play has given them a reliable backup that was not only able to successfully fill in for Crawford when he missed nearly a month due to an appendectomy earlier this season, but it has also made it so they can potentially manage his minutes a little more and keep him fresh for the playoffs without having to run him into the ground during the regular season. With Crawford going through a bit of a slump recently, allowing it least three goals in eight of his past 11 starts, it might even leave the door open for Darling to get another start on Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

When asked about that possibility after Friday’s game coach Joel Quenneville would only say, “Their play a lot of time makes our decision for us.”

Of course, we probably should not make too much of this. Crawford is still going to be the guy in Chicago, and even though he has hit a bit of a rough patch lately he is still one of the top goalies in the league and you have to think he will eventually work his way out this recent funk. It’s just that Darling might be worthy of getting an additional start or two at the moment until that happens.

For Darling, it has been a big season as he plays through the final year of his contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Looking at the UFA market for goalies, you have Ryan Miller, who will be 36 years old and not really represent much of a long-term solution for anybody, and Ben Bishop and Steve Mason, who are both going through disappointing seasons. After that it is a bunch of a question marks. If Darling can continue to take advantage of the opportunities he gets in Chicago the way he has so far this season, he might end up earning himself an even bigger one in the summer.

Video: Julien won’t discuss job security with Bruins

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The job security of Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien remains a hot topic of discussion, particularly these past few days and that isn’t likely to change following Friday’s defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite carrying the play, especially through the first two periods, the Bruins were unable to score and were shut out once again, losing the game on a goal from Marian Hossa with 1:26 remaining in regulation. For the Bruins, that’s a heartbreaker.

It seems Julien’s job in Boston is always up for discussion during at least some point in a season, but the chatter now seems especially bleak, even if one could find plenty of faults with Boston’s roster, which falls on management.

Addressing reporters after Friday’s loss, Julien liked how his team played versus the Blackhawks, but admitted there are “growing pains” and there were costly mistakes made at points in the game.

When asked about job security, Julien didn’t wish to discuss the subject.

“I’m not into shock journalism,” he said, “so I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

Major victory: Habs power play erupts to defeat Devils

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 15: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens fires a slapshot during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on October 15, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal’s 3-1 victory Friday night.

“I’d take this any night,” Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. “Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it’s 1-1 and all I’m really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night.”

Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils’ three-game winning streak.

The difference in this one was the power play. The Canadiens were 3 for 7 with the extra man and they converted twice with Devils defenseman Karl Stollery in the box for a boarding major.

The call was iffy. Stollery hit Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the corner in the Devils end, but the question was whether it was a major or minor penalty.

“It happened quick,” Stollery said. “The guy is coming in and I am going in to finish the play and he turns up. I probably would like to let up a little bit more if it happened again. It’s one of those things that happens quick.”

Devils coach John Hynes screamed at the officials.

“All I got was they felt it was a dangerous hit,” Hynes said. “At that point they are not going to explain it too much. They were defensive. They made the call. It is what it is. At that point we have to try to find a way to kill it better than we did.”

The first two minutes of the major were played 4-on-4, but the Canadiens capitalized after that.

Weber scored his 11th of the season on a drive from the blue line at 3:01 that was set up by Radulov. Pacioretty got his 21st at 4:23 with a shot that deflected off the skate of Devils forward Adam Henrique.

“It was huge,” Weber said. “Obviously, special teams mean so much coming down the stretch and heading into playoffs, so trying to get some chemistry going and help the team win games, it’s obviously a big thing.”

Rookie defenseman Steven Santini gave the Devils an early 1-0 lead, but the Canadiens dominated after that, firing 26 shots at Keith Kinkaid.

Montoya had nothing to do for long stretches. New Jersey was held without a shot for more than 12 minutes after Santini scored, and it needed 13 minutes to get one in the second period.

Santini put New Jersey ahead when he flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that floated into the top corner of the net.

Galchenyuk tied the game 74 seconds later with a shot from the left circle with Devils forward Miles Wood in the penalty box for slashing. The tally came 28 seconds after the penalty and on Montreal’s first shot with the man advantage.

Video: Henrik Sedin records 1,000th career point

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Henrik Sedin has become the 85th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points.

Sedin, the Canucks captain, hit the milestone Friday against the Florida Panthers and his former teammate Roberto Luongo. As you might imagine, twin brother Daniel Sedin also factored into the goal.

Daniel fed Henrik with a perfect pass off the rush, and Henrik finished the play off, sliding the puck through the legs of Luongo to tie the game 1-1 in the second period. It was another beauty, another example of what has made those two players so special for many years in Vancouver.

Henrik Sedin is the first player in Canucks history to reach 1,000 points. He also becomes just the fourth player from Sweden to hit that number, joining Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Daniel should also reach the mark, although he may have to wait until next season. He entered Friday’s game with 967 career points.

Great touch of class, too, from Luongo, who quickly embraced his former teammate as Sedin skated back to the bench following the on-ice celebration.