Fun-killers: Four players who could have made today’s free agent frenzy more exciting

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It’s true that some of the big chips have already fallen in the last couple days, but there are still enough players out there to make the approaching free agent frenzy interesting. That being said, the free agent pool lacks much zesty, big-time players beyond soon-to-be-richer forward Brad Richards.

That didn’t need to be the case, though. If it weren’t for a few proactive players, franchises and agents, this market would have enjoyed some fantastic intrigue. The list below contains four players who could have been interesting free agent targets if they hadn’t signed contract extensions well before July 1, 2011.

Zdeno Chara

There’s a good chance that the over-sized Boston Bruins defenseman might have signed his final NHL contract – or at least his last big one – when he agreed to a seven-year deal in October 2010.

Considering the Downy-soft market for free agent defensemen, one can only imagine the kind of market Chara would generate. He has a Norris Trophy to his name and was a finalist for the 2010-11 award. Chara raised the Stanley Cup up to a height that some would need a ladder to reach after the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

Year-in and year-out, he’s a defenseman who plays big minutes, occasionally uses his big body and isn’t shy to unleash his big shot either. There aren’t many true cornerstone defensemen in the NHL, even if teams are paying guys like Christian Ehrhoff and James Wisniewski in hopes that they can resemble those kinds of players. There is no mistaking that Chara is one of those blueliners and one can only imagine the kind of ridiculous contract offers he could have generated.

Joe Thornton

Would there be a more intriguing barometer for how much general managers listen to the unwashed masses and flippant media than if Thornton became a free agent? On one hand, they might have believed the reverse-hype about his supposed “choking” in big games. On the other hand, GMs could have looked at his long track record of leading teams in scoring and the fact that he’s consistently among the league’s elite passers.

Thornton signed a three-year deal to stay with the San Jose Sharks, so we might not get to see how an unrestricted free agent market would react to Jumbo Joe’s presence until he’s past his prime. It would have been a lot of fun to debate Richards vs. Thornton this year, but loyalty and a need for familiarity beat that out.

Alexander Semin

Unlike the other players involved, Semin could be a free agent as early as 2012. The Washington Capitals have taken an odd path with their other right-handed sniping Russian left wing named Alex, signing him to two consecutive one-year deals while they try to figure out what to do with Semin.

Whatever flaws he has in his game – whether people think he’s one-dimensional, too injury prone, mercurial or all the above – there is no denying his wicked shot. He scored 40 goals once, 30+ goals two other times and averaged almost a point per game over his young career.

The free agent market is often friendly to flawed but super-talented players like Semin. Maybe we’ll get to watch that fascinating process next year?

Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron isn’t as sexy a choice as the other three could-have-been free agents, but he would probably get his fair share of attention after a great playoff run with the Bruins. Bergeron chose to stick with the Bruins for what seemed like a steep price at the time, but who knows what a versatile center such as himself could make on the market today.

He might not put up the points totals of Thornton or the goals of Semin, but Bergeron is a strong two-way player who can do a little bit of everything. It would have been interesting to see how savvy general managers would have been about his skill set.

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Don’t get me wrong, today should be a lot of fun for the hockey world. It’s just startling to think what could have been if a few meddling teams weren’t so annoyingly proactive (and selfish, really) with their superstar players.

Who’s playing for Penguins, Senators in Game 7

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We finally know the lineups for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Pittsburgh’s tweaks are most interesting, which isn’t a huge surprising considering the consistent inconsistency bred by their injury issues.

The Penguins will get Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz back in the mix. Despite showing a lot of energy warming up, Patric Hornqvist isn’t good to go. Here are the full Penguins personnel notes; also realize that this is Matt Murray‘s birthday.

Ottawa places Chris Kelly back in, getting the nod over Tommy Wingels and Colin White. Kelly’s had some experience in these scenarios.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

Sabres confirm signing defenseman Antipin; Is his KHL teammate Lee next?

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The Buffalo Sabres announced the signing of defenseman Victor Antipin* on Thursday, confirming rumors that surfaced more than once this month.

Antipin, 24, enjoyed a solid season in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. Even so, the signing might be interesting if it serves as an appetizer for the Sabres bringing in Antipin’s teammate from Metallurg, Chris Lee.

On one hand, Lee is 36 and couldn’t make the jump fromt he AHL to the NHL in previous opportunities (most reently with the Penguins’ farm system in 2009-10). On the other, he had an eye-popping 2016-17 season in the KHL: 65 points in 60 games as a defenseman.

Lee’s previous numbers aren’t as outrageous, but still quite good, at least form a scoring standpoint.

While Lee’s possible addition is a situation to watch, there’s some excitement about Antipin.

“Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level,” Sabres GM Jason Botterill said. “His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we’re hoping to build with our defense corps next season.”

Granted, there’s some debate about his ceiling.

Still, for a Sabres team that badly needs help on the blueline, this addition – or eventually these additions – could provide a nice boost.

* – The Sabres’ releases feature his name spelled “Victor.” Other outlets, including hockeydb, have it as “Viktor.”

WATCH LIVE: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

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Will it be the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out after tonight.

Yes, it’s that time: a Game 7 to see who advances to the final round. The winner will also hold home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final.

Could Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, and the rest of the Senators pull off an upset on the road, winning the franchise’s first Game 7? Can Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins give Matt Murray a birthday present with another Game 7 win?

Find out on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (series tied 3-3)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Ottawa’s 2-1 win in Game 6

Related:

Pretty or not, Sens aim to play their game vs. Pens in Game 7

Penguins prepare for another Game 7, this time as favorites

Modern-day Senators have never won a Game 7

It’s “reasonable” to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

Trouble for Ducks: Lindholm and Vatanen need major shoulder surgeries, will miss months

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Not a great week for the Anaheim Ducks.

After being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference final — the toughest loss of Ryan Kesler’s career, apparently — the Ducks broke more bad news on Friday as GM Bob Murray announced d-men Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen both require torn labrum surgery, and will be out an awfully long time.

The timeline on Lindholm is 4-5 months, while Vatanen’s recovery will extend beyond that because his injury was more serious.

Looking at the calendar, four months would run Lindholm up to the end of September, meaning he’d miss a good chunk of the preseason. If it’s five months, he could miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

Murray didn’t even put a timetable on Vatanen, only saying it would be longer.

This adds to what was already going to be a pretty stressful summer in Anaheim. As we wrote earlier, Murray has some big decisions on his hands.

Vatanen and Lindholm are huge parts of the team. Both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season, and both broke the 20-point plateau. They’re also locked in long term — Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen for the expansion draft, the defense will definitely be worth watching. Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. There are already reports that extension negotiations are going well but, after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Add it all up, and the Ducks will certainly be worth watching this offseason.