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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.

Trouba suspended two games for ‘high, forceful’ headshot on Stone

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Jets blueliner Jacob Trouba has been suspended two games for his headshot on Ottawa forward Mark Stone, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Monday.

“Trouba steps up and delivers a high, forceful blow that makes the head the main point of contact, on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” the DoPS explained. “The onus here is on Trouba to deliver a full body hit through his opponent’s core. Instead, Trouba takes a poor angle of approach, picking Stone’s head.”

The incident occurred in Winnipeg’s 3-2 win over Ottawa on Sunday. Trouba was given a two-minute minor on the play, much to the displeasure of Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher.

Stone didn’t return to the game following the hit but, according to the DoPS, “suffered no apparent injury.”

Trouba will now miss tomorrow’s game in Toronto, then Winnipeg’s next game following the bye week — on Feb. 28, against Minnesota. He’s eligible to return on Mar. 3, when the Jets host the Blues.

Trouba will also forfeit $33,333.34 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Sens extend depth blueliner Claesson — one year, $650,000

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 5: Fredrik Claesson #49 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Canadian Tire Centre on April 5, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa made a minor move on Monday, agreeing to terms with d-man Fredrik Claesson on a one-year extension worth $650,000.

The deal is of the one-way variety.

Claesson, 24, has appeared in 19 games for the Sens this year, scoring five points. He’s averaging just 10:27 per game but has been a more regular lineup fixture regularly, having played in five of Ottawa’s last six games.

The Swedish rearguard has also appeared in nine games for AHL Binghamton. Since coming over from SHL outfit Djurgardens in 2013, Claesson has been up and down between Bingo and Ottawa frequently, though this latest deal would suggest he’s in line for a more permanent NHL gig.

 

 

 

 

Flames nab d-man Stone from Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The selling has begun.

As first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Calgary Flames have pried defenseman Michael Stone out of Arizona for a third-round draft pick, plus a conditional fifth-rounder in 2018.

Stone, 26, is a pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $4 million. A right shot, he has one goal and eight assists in 45 games while averaging 20:13 of ice time.

The Coyotes will retain half of Stone’s salary. The condition is whether Stone re-signs with the Flames.

Stone will join a Flames blue line that recently added Matt Bartkowski on a two-year deal. In Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Vancouver, Dennis Wideman, also a right shot, logged just 13:35 of ice time. With the arrival of Stone, Wideman could be the odd man out.

The Flames are in Nashville to take on the Preds tomorrow.

Goalie nods: Panthers go back to red-hot Reimer

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 18:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at the Amalie Arena on October 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Florida’s found an ideal situation in goal.

James Reimer, who’s been terrific for the last three months, will make his sixth appearance in the last nine games when the Panthers take on the Blues in St. Louis tonight. The start comes just three days after his last — a stellar 35-save effort in a 4-1 win in Anaheim — and two nights after Roberto Luongo stopped 33 of 35 in a win over the Kings.

So yeah, nice little dynamic at play here.

Luongo, who turns 38 in April, was fatigued down the stretch last year and admitted as much following an opening-round playoff loss to the Isles. That was one of the big reasons Florida brought aboard Reimer, inking him to a fairly lucrative five-year, $17 million deal.

After a bit of a rough start, Reimer has been full value. He turned things around with a solid December (.941 save percentage), and continued that over to the new year. Things have really taken off lately, though, as his stellar play has given head coach Tom Rowe the luxury of resting Luongo, knowing that Reimer will provide stability in goal.

Consider what Reimer’s done over the last three weeks alone:

Jan. 26: Stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay.

Feb. 3: Stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 2-1 win over Anaheim.

Feb. 15: Stopped both shots faced in relief of Luongo in an OT win over San Jose.

Feb. 17: The aforementioned 35-save victory over the Ducks.

Reimer’s only poor outing was on Feb 9. when he was hooked after allowing three goals on 14 shots against L.A.

For the Blues, Jake Allen gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other game on the slate tonight, as the Ducks take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Mike Smith will go for the ‘Yotes, after making 29 saves in a win over San Jose on Saturday. For Anaheim, no word on a starter yet. John Gibson shut out the Kings last night, so he could be in line for a break — but that said, he’s been outstanding over the last two months, and head coach Randy Carlyle could opt to go right back to him.