What teams to watch out for during free agency madness

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Free agency kicks off at noon ET and with the doors swinging open to the shopping mall that is the NHL free agent market, it’s not quite like hitting Saks Fifth Avenue but more like digging through the dollar store to find that perfect gem. While there you’ll see a lot of stuff in the impulse buy area that might seem like a really good idea at the time, but after you give that player a contract that crushes your salary cap for the next five years, the buyer’s remorse weighs heavily.

While there are a lot of potential gems to be found out there for teams to use for the coming seasons, there are duds too and some teams are going to be more interesting than others to watch during free agency season. With the madness set to begin this afternoon, here are the teams we think will be worth keeping a close eye on.

Philadelphia Flyers
While the said they’re not going after Steve Stamkos, they’re going to be factors in free agency somehow. They’ve got a little money to play with and they’re looking for a little help along the wings and perhaps one more center. After all, banking on Brayden Schenn to step in instantly and be a big producer is asking a lot of a rookie. Perhaps a guy like Michal Handzus, who has played in Philly once before, would be ideal to fill in depth.

Along the wings, you could see the return of Simon Gagne to Philadelphia after a year away in Tampa Bay. He’s not likely to be back for the Lightning and he still loves Philly. He’d be a solid contributor there again if the Flyers had room for him. Another name to watch here is Erik Cole. The Hurricanes power forward scored 26 goals last year and his former coach in Carolina, Peter Laviolette, would be overly familiar with his game.

One other reason to watch Philly during all this? GM Paul Holmgren has proved himself to be totally nuts and will do anything. The Flyers could make a run at Brad Richards and Jaromir Jagr if they wanted to because Holmgren has shown he’s just that wacky to do it.

Florida Panthers
Seems crazy to want to keep an eye on the Panthers, doesn’t it? They could be the team that throws the free agent market into madness since, according to CapGeek, they’ve got nearly $22 million to spend to reach the salary floor. With that kind of cash needed to be spent and a free agent market ripe for the overpayment, the Panthers and GM Dale Tallon could be the foils for many teams looking to land players this year and looking to lock up their own players in the future.

A lot of markets have already been blown up thanks to deals made by Steve Montador, Christian Ehrhoff, and Florida’s own Tomas Kopecky and with the Panthers being forced to dig into their wallets they’ll either be making some crazy signings or end up involved in the trade market to acquire other fat contracts.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs GM Brian Burke is almost always worth keeping an eye on as it is, but during free agency it’s a fascinating case study. In previous free agency years we’ve seen him open the vault for defensemen like Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Jeff Finger, and Brett Lebda. All right you win some and lose some. While the Leafs will be all in on trying to land Brad Richards, they’re a team that could use help at forward. They’re rumored to be hot for Maxime Talbot as well as Richards and they could stand to land another good defenseman as well.

Of course, if Burke gets a little spend crazy, they could wind up overpaying for both Richards and Talbot and even go crazy for a defenseman out of the blue. One way or another, the Leafs need to improve a bit and this free agency class might not be the best way to do it. Will fans in Toronto freak out if they stay quiet? We’ll see.

New York Rangers
The Rangers are another big market team with money to burn this offseason. They too will be all in after Brad Richards but should they not land him, we’re curious what their Plan B might be. After all, two years ago they came out of nowhere to deal Scott Gomez to Montreal and used that free cap space to sign Marian Gaborik. No one expected that to happen at all and Glen Sather will be under the gun to do something to help spark things in Manhattan.

The Rangers do still have to get RFAs Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan squared away but they need a little more than that to give Gaborik and others some help. Sadly for them there’s not too much to be found up the middle. Guys like Tim Connolly and Jason Arnott might not provide the answers the Rangers are looking to for production.

Richards or bust? It’s sort of looking that way.

Tampa Bay Lightning
They’ll be on Stamkos watch all day long, but they’ll be looking to fill ranks elsewhere. Sean Bergenheim appears destined for a new location and Simon Gagne won’t be coming back to Tampa. GM Steve Yzerman was able to push the right buttons last year to give Guy Boucher a team that he took to within a win of the Stanley Cup finals.

Who will the Lightning be looking for? You have to think they’ll be going with a similar attack plan this summer looking for diamonds in the rough. Guys like Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, and Pavel Kubina turned out to be great pickups that no one really thought much of at the time. All of them put together made the Lightning a very difficult team to deal with. With a free agent market filled with those sorts of players, the Lightning might do just fine casually shopping around.

Colorado Avalanche
Considering they’re a team without a starting or backup goalie at the moment, they’re going to be factoring in heavily in the market for any and all goalies available. The big prize is Tomas Vokoun but other names like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Pascal Leclaire, Ray Emery, and Mike Smith are out there as starters. As far as backups go… Take your pick as there are plenty to choose from.

The Avs also have to get a little bit of money spent to get to the salary floor as CapGeek has them about $15 million below the floor. The Avs aren’t big spenders these days, but they’ll have to give some big money out to a few guys to get caught up.

Another league changes its rules, thanks to David Leggio

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In what should come as no surprise, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga has changed its rule regarding when a goaltender goes and pulls a David Leggio when facing an odd-man rush.

According to Wednesday’s league announcement, should a goaltender purposely dislodge his own net to prevent a scoring chance, a goal will be awarded. The original league rule, which followed IIHF guidelines, awarded a penalty shot.

[Goaltender David Leggio knocks own net off again to avoid breakaway (Video)]

The change was in response to Leggio’s actions on Friday night while playing with EHC Red Bull München. With Ross Mauermann of the Fischtown Pinguins skating in on a breakaway, the netminder turned and knocked his net off, stopping play and eliminating the scoring chance.

Leggio, who was also fined an unspecified amount for “gross unsportsmanlike conduct,” would go on and stop the penalty shot during a 5-2 Munchen victory.

Appearing on NHL Network earlier this week, Leggio told E.J. Hradek that from where he stood he thought he was facing a 2-on-0 and not a 1-on-0 breakaway, which is why he went to the move he pulled in the AHL in 2014. (The AHL would tweak its own rule that awarded a penalty shot to also eject the goaltender.) If he would have realized it was just a simple 1-on-0 breakaway, he said he would have preferred to face that rather than a penalty shot.

“When I was at the World Championships playing for USA, I went in the game and [Russia] had a 3-on-0 with Ovechkin and Tikhonov and surprise, surprise, they scored,” he said. “That would have taken some courage to do it in that situation. So I figured out the rule [and] if this ever happens again let’s take the percentages and take the penalty shot instead.”

Leggio added that during his second year in Germany, when the league implemented 3-on-3 in overtime, he spoke with officials to clarify what the rule was in that situation. When he was informed the punishment would only be a penalty shot, he knew he could pull off his famous move at during an odd-man rush.

You can love what Leggio did or you could think it’s a cheap move, but you have to give him credit for knowing the rules and taking advantage of them. Two leagues in two different countries have now tweaked their rulebook because the Williamsville, N.Y. native found a creative way to prevent a scoring chance.

Leggio is also now 2-for-2 in stopping penalty shots following a net dislodging, so maybe he’ll move on to another country next season and keep that streak going.

Stick-tap to Christian Baumeier for the translation help

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brandon Dubinsky out 6-8 weeks with face fracture after Kassian fight (UPDATE)

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Tuesday was just a day to forget for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only did they get obliterated by the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, but they also lost center Brandon Dubinsky to injury.

Dubinsky was shaken up after taking punches from Oilers forward Zack Kassian with under two minutes remaining in the game.

As you can tell from the video above, Kassian dropped the gloves and started going after the Jackets forward, who was just ducking for cover. Dubinsky took a few good shots before skating off the ice very slowly.

After the game, John Tortorella didn’t take any questions from the media, but Aaron Portzline of The Athletic dropped an update on Dubinsky’s condition Wednesday morning, Tweeting that he suffered a “fractured cheek/orbital bone” by his left eye. Stitches were required above and below his eye and the team is unsure if surgery will be needed.

UPDATE:

“Brandon suffered an orbital bone fracture that will keep him out of the lineup for six to eight weeks,” said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “At this time, the damage has not affected the function of his eye and long-term vision. He will continue to be monitored closely by our medical team.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Red Wings do battle in Atlantic Division clash

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night, as the Detroit Red Wings host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

There’s only four points separating the Bruins and Red Wings (Boston is ahead), but they seem to heading in opposition directions.

The Bruins, who are currently third in the Atlantic Division standings, have been on a roll of late. They’ve won back-to-back games and eight of their last 10.

Boston will want to take care of business against their division rival, but they’ll also have to leave something in the tank for the Washington Capitals, who are coming to town the next day.

“Detroit’s going to be a tough game. I remember playing there in preseason and it was the first game (in the new Little Caesar’s Arena) so they had lots of fans there and it way pretty loud. We have to be ready for that,” said Jake DeBrusk, per the Boston Herald. “And obviously Washington, they’re coming to town and they’re playing really well right now. We just make sure we save our energy, keep our legs, play the right way and get out front as fast possible.”

Tuukka Rask will be between the pipes for the Bruins. The 30-year-old has won each of his last four decisions. He’s given up two goals or less in each of those outings.

The Red Wings come into tonight’s clash having won just one of their last 10 games (1-5-4). Even though Detroit is four points away from a playoff spot, they’re also just six points away from the basement of the conference.

“One of the hardest things in life to do is to trust the process,” head coach Jeff Blashill told the Detroit News. “When you’re not getting results.

“Mistakes that people make is they get away from the process when they’re not getting (results). They panic too early and they don’t stay with it.”

Sticking with “it” might be hard considering the Red Wings can’t seem to find the win column with any regularity. Their refusal to rebuild is a little concerning at this point. Their roster needs a lot of work and the fact that they’re so close to a playoff spot might be a bad thing considering the team needs to get younger.

They’ve signed veterans like Frans Nielsen and Trevor Daley over the last couple of off-seasons, which hasn’t helped. They missed the playoffs last year and they’re on their way to missing them again if they don’t turn things around soon.

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.

The Kids Are All Right: Penguins lead goalie youth movement

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By Will Graves (AP Sports Writer)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jim Rutherford knows what it’s like to be a young goaltender trying to find his way in the NHL. Rutherford went through it with the Detroit Red Wings in the early 1970s, thrust into action at 21 years old with a franchise in the middle of a bumpy transition.

Yet that’s where the comparisons end between Pittsburgh’s general manager and the two young men who will play a major role in determining whether the Penguins can become the first team in more than 30 years to win three straight Stanley Cup championships.

Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, both 23, have everything Rutherford didn’t when he broke into the league more than four decades ago, from a true position coach to copious amounts of technology at their fingertips to the kind of advanced training techniques (both mental and physical) that Rutherford believes has the NHL’s youngest goalie tandem in position to play a vital role in Pittsburgh’s pursuit of history.

The dark ages of the ’70s – when goaltenders were typically left to sort things out on their own – this is not.

”You didn’t really think about it (back then),” Rutherford said. ”You let in bad goals or have bad games, you were kind of on your own and you had to work your way through that. Now these guys have a lot more things to help (them).”

Beginning with Mike Buckley, who began working with Murray and Jarry when they were teenage prospects and has meticulously overseen their rise from draft picks to NHL starters. Buckley spent four years as the franchise’s goaltending development coordinator before replacing Mike Bales as goalie coach shortly after Murray backstopped the Penguins to a second straight Cup last spring.

”You win two championships and make a change, it kind of seems a little odd,” Rutherford said. ”But Buck has been the guy that’s developed both these guys right from the start, so it just made sense that he would move in.”

Other youngsters are shouldering the burden, too, including 24-year-old Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg (16 wins, 2.44 goals-against average), 23-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay (leads league in wins) and 24-year-old John Gibson in Anaheim (an All-Star last season).

But it’s Pittsburgh at the forefront of a goalie youth movement that runs counter to how things usually work in the NHL. While it’s not unusual for a team to invest in a young goaltender, there’s typically a proven backup at the ready just in case things go awry, one of the reasons the average age of an NHL goalie is 29.

That initially was the plan this season for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh brought in Antti Niemi to play behind Murray after losing Marc-Andre Fleury to expansion Vegas in June. When Niemi stumbled through a handful of forgettable starts and was released in October, Rutherford didn’t scour the waiver wire or the trade block. He called the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and told Jarry and 26-year-old Casey DeSmith to pack their bags.

”It’s one of the things that they have a timeline and they know when you’re ready and if they think you’re ready, they’ll bring you up to play,” said Jarry, who is 5-2-2 with a respectable 2.49 goals-against average this season. ”I think that’s one of the great things about Pittsburgh over the years, they saw when Matt was ready and what he could do and I think that was one of the stepping points in helping them win those Stanley Cups.”

All Murray did as a 21-year-old in the spring of 2016 was unseat the popular, occasionally erratic Fleury, taking over early on during Pittsburgh’s playoff run and leading the franchise to its fourth Cup. By last spring Murray was the entrenched starter, though Fleury filled in admirably during the first two rounds of the postseason while Murray recovered from an injury.

Yet it was Murray, and not Fleury, who was on the ice as the Penguins surged past Nashville in the 2017 Cup Final. It was Murray, not the now 33-year-old Fleury, whom Pittsburgh chose to keep last summer. And it was Jarry the Penguins stuck with when another injury recently shelved Murray for a couple of weeks.

The Penguins say their young goaltenders have considerable mental toughness, a must when playing on a team with so much offensive firepower in superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby that playing responsibly in front of its own net occasionally gets lost in the wash.

”It’s not always about technique and having your stick in the perfect position all the time,” Buckley said. ”Sometimes it’s about putting them in a position where they have to compete and battle and stay clear mentally and stay confident and put them under duress, very much like a Navy SEAL undergoes training.”

That includes things like breathing techniques they can call on during particularly stressful moments or when they’re just sort of standing there while their teammates are dominating at the other end of the rink. The tough part is getting them to do it nightly during a sprawling six-month regular season followed by what they hope is a two-month slog through the playoffs.

”I think the biggest challenge is finding consistency because they’re so young, they’re still learning because they’re so young,” said Buckley, who worked with Los Angeles star Jonathan Quick and Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask early in their careers. ”There’s a lot of ups and downs, even for an older goalie, but for a younger goalie it’s more exaggerated.”

Pittsburgh’s offseason choice will come into stark relief on Thursday when the Penguins visit Fleury and the surprising Golden Knights. Moving on from Fleury was difficult but pragmatic. The kids can play.

”To be honest with you we don’t really have a choice,” Buckley said. ”We’ve embraced that challenge … we’ll be better in the long run for it.”