Alexander Semin

There’s always next year: Top unrestricted free agents for 2012

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In many pockets of the hockey world, the summer of 2012 is looked upon with great fear. There’s an obvious reason for that: the Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire after the 2011-12 season and with Donald Fehr (aka the man associated with baseball’s damaging 1994 strike) in place as the head of the NHLPA, the word “lockout” has been thrown around. One would hope that the NHL and its players learned the right lessons from that lost season, but greed rarely knows its limits.

All of that aside, the hope is that greed will exhibit itself in a more cuddly and entertaining way next summer by entertaining us with a free agent frenzy. With the current free agent ranks whittled down to marginal veterans and restricted free agents locked in tough contract struggles, we thought it might be fun to look at the most appealing could-be free agents for 2012.

It’s important to note that a lot of these players could spoil the fun by a) retiring or b) re-signing during the season. (Joe Thornton and Zdeno Chara could have been unrestricted free agents this summer, but they killed the good times by signing contract extensions and “showing loyalty.” Lame, we know.)

In this first post, we’ll look at the most desirable/interesting unrestricted free agents by position. The next post will detail the potential restricted free agents. Previous salary cap hits will be listed in parentheses.

source: APTop potential UFA forwards for 2012 (complete list)

Patrick Sharp ($3.9 million)
Alexander Semin ($6.7M)
Ales Hemsky ($4.1M)
Shane Doan ($4.5M)
Ryan Smyth ($6.25M)
Dustin Penner ($4.25M)
Tuomo Ruutu ($3.8M)
Andrei Kostitsyn ($3.25M)
Chris Kunitz ($3.75M)
Jarret Stoll ($3.6M)
Jaromir Jagr ($3.3M)
Ray Whitney ($3M)
Milan Hejduk ($3M)
Mikhail Grabovski ($2.9M)

Other notables: Brian Rolston, Daymond Langkow, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Sean Avery.

source: APTop potential UFA defensemen for 2012 (complete list)

Nicklas Lidstrom ($6.2M)
Brent Burns ($3.55M)
Ryan Suter ($3.5M)
Niklas Kronwall ($3M)
Braydon Coburn ($3.2M)
Matt Carle ($3.4M)
Willie Mitchell ($3.5M)
John-Michael Liles ($4.2M)
Dennis Wideman ($3.94M)
Pavel Kubina ($3.85M)
Jaroslav Spacek ($3.83M)
Barret Jackman ($3.63M)

Other notables: Sheldon Souray, Johnny Oduya and Colin White.

Top potential UFA goalies for 2012 (complete list)

Martin Brodeur ($5.2M)
Pekka Rinne ($3.4M)
Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M)
Dwayne Roloson ($3.5M)
Chris Mason ($1.85M)
Dan Ellis ($1.5M)

Other notables: Evgeni Nabokov, Cristobal Huet and Antero Niittymaki.

source: APComments:

If all of these players actually reach unrestricted free agency, it seems like the pool would be strongest at the defensive position. Even discarding Lidstrom, there are a lot of promising blueliners who could make big money next July.

The most fascinating player might be goalie Martin Brodeur, though. If the Devils miss the playoffs again in 2011-12, could GM Lou Lamoriello determine that their Hall of Fame goalie’s best days are behind him and let him go? That’s hard to fathom – especially since Lamoriello seems to lean toward familiarity more and more lately – but it would make for one of the most intriguing free agent situations in quite some time.

With the Chicago Blackhawks likely to re-sign Sharp at some point, the two high-end forwards might end up being Semin and Hemsky. Both are injury prone players with their fair share of minuses, but each player is talented enough to draw some interest in the market. (Again, if they make it that far.)

Which players would you like your team to add almost one year from now? Who do you think will hit the market and who might retire altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Curtis Lazar out indefinitely after being hit by Pens’ Dumoulin

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 02:  Curtis Lazar #27 of the Ottawa Senators takes the puck in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on April 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It hasn’t been the easiest year for Senators forward Curtis Lazar.

After sticking in the NHL for his first two pro seasons, Lazar began the 2016-17 campaign in the minors. That’s a pretty big step back for the former 17th overall pick in 2013.

The 21-year-old managed to earn a call up back in November, but there’s now some more adversity for him to face.

Lazar suffered a an upper-body injury in last night’s 8-5 loss to the Penguins and although we don’t know how long he’ll be out, we do know he’ll miss some time, as he’s out indefinitely.

He appeared to be injured after being on the receiving end of a hit by Pens defenseman Brian Dumoulin. It was a  hit that Sens play-by-play announcer described as being “from behind”.

With Craig Anderson also leaving the team to head back to Ottawa, the Sens were forced to recall forward Phil Varone and goalie Andrew Hammond from the minors.

Ottawa has three games remaining on their four-game road trip. They’ll take on the Sharks on Wednesday, the Kings on Saturday and the Ducks on Sunday.

PHT Morning Skate: Get to know Blackhawks goalie Lars Johansson

Lars Johansson
CSN Chicago
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With Corey Crawford now on the shelf, the ‘Hawks will turn to Scott Darling as their starter. But new backup goalie Lars Johansson is a bit of an unknown. This is the 29-year-old’s first year in North America and he could get his first taste of NHL action. “If something were to happen (to Darling), absolutely I would be nervous, as excited for any new thing in my career,” Johansson said. (Chicago Tribune)

–Paul Maurice had some interesting comments about his former goalies Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft. Maurice said that those goalies didn’t give him a very good shot to win in the shootout. (Sportsnet)

–How has the goalie position changed over the years? The Hockey News sat down with current and former NHL goalies, as well as some goalie coaches. “If I still played the way I did back in the day, I wouldn’t be in the NHL anymore. You have to evolve with the time and the position and the new techniques that come out every year,” said Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. (The Hockey News)

–The New York Post looks back at former Rangers captain Vic Hadfield’s famous smile at the Spectrum in 1974. Hadfield explained that he wasn’t actually happy at the time because his team was on the verge of being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers. (NY Post)

–Tyler Murovich of the Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL) was suspended 12 games for this reckless hit on Anthony Calabrese of the Norfolk Admirals. (Yahoo)

–This youth hockey player had an emotional celebration after he scored during the intermission of the Caps game on Monday:

 

Beleskey expected to miss six weeks with right knee injury

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins are expected to be without forward Matt Beleskey for the next six weeks because of a right knee injury.

That update came from the Bruins on Monday. Boston was victorious over the Florida Panthers in overtime, but Beleskey wasn’t in the lineup.

The Bruins have now won three in a row and four of their last five games.

Beleskey suffered the injury in a collision in the neutral zone with Taylor Fedun during Saturday’s game. He left the game and didn’t return, after his knee drove into the hip of Fedun as the Sabres defenseman pivoted.

In 24 games with the Bruins this season, Beleskey has two goals and five points.

The Penguins are playing a brand of hockey from another era — and it’s a treat for hockey fans

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 08:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Edmonton Oilers at PPG PAINTS Arena on November 8, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are doing their part this season to single-handedly address the NHL’s ongoing goal scoring shortage.

At both ends of the ice.

After their 8-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night — an insane game that featured both teams making a goaltending change, a hat trick, a penalty shot, a fluke goal bouncing off the glass, three replay reviews, and a random appearance by actors Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston in the stands — the Penguins find themselves at the top, and bottom, of pretty much every major offensive and defensive category.

Just consider:

  • Their 3.31 goals per game average is the second best in the NHL behind only the New York Rangers.
  • Their 3.04 goals against average is the fourth worst ahead of only Dallas, Arizona, Toronto and Philadelphia.
  • They are averaging 34.7 shots on goal per game, tops in the league and more than a full shot per game better than the No. 2 team (Chicago).
  • They are giving up 32.6 shots on goal per game, the second worst mark in the league ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes.

When it comes to the latter two points they outshot Ottawa by a 46-34 margin on Monday night, making it the fourth time in the NHL this season a team recorded at least 45 shots on goal and surrendered at least 34 in a single game.

The Penguins have played in three of those games (the other was that 60-shot effort by Columbus over the weekend, and that game went to overtime. The Penguins did all of three of theirs in regulation).

An important thing to keep in mind about that stat: There were only seven such games like that all of last season. For the entire NHL. By all 30 teams. Combined. Only one team (Philadelphia) played in more than one, and nobody played in more than two. The Penguins have played in three in their first 26 games.

Monday’s game was already the 13th time this season (in only 26 games) where they have faced a two-goal deficit at some point in the game when they trailed 4-2 midway through the second period. They have now won six of those games, and are 5-6-1 when they have trailed after two periods. In one of those regulation losses they actually overcome a three-goal deficit, tied the game, and then gave up the winner in the closing minute.

A lot of this is the result of having a team that rolls out four lines of forwards every night that possess the ability to score (including three of the most talented forwards in the league in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel), combined with a blue line that is made up almost entirely of puck-movers and offensive-minded defensemen.

On one hand, it is an absolutely thrilling and captivating brand of hockey to watch. It is a throwback to the 1980s and early 1990s when wide open 8-5 games were fairly common. It is showcasing skill during a time when defense, structure and goaltending have dominated the league.

Because of that, is also not a style of play that has resulted in a lot of success in this era.

Over the past 10 years only one team has won the Stanley Cup finishing worse than seventh in the league in goals against (the lowest ranking over that stretch: The 2008-09 Penguins were 17th. Six of the Cup winners were in the top-two, including three that were the best in the league).

Only one other Cup-winning team during that stretch finished worse than 10th on the penalty kill (the 2010-11 Bruins, who were 16th). The Penguins are currently 29th.

These are areas they clearly need to address and correct (and they know it), because you are not always going to be able to rely on erasing a two-goal deficit in the playoffs no matter how great your offense is, and you are not always going to be able to put a five-or six-spot on the scoreboard.

The funny thing about this is the Penguins are returning pretty much the exact same roster from their 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning team. They are still a team built on speed and playing fast, a recipe that drove them to that championship just a few months ago. But that team excelled in a lot of the important defensive areas. They held opponents to less than 30 shots per game. They were sixth in the NHL in goals against and fifth in the league on the penalty kill.

After Monday’s game, coach Mike Sullivan talked about the importance of playing a “speed” game without necessarily turning it into a track meet.

“We certainly want to play a speed game because that is when we are at our best,” Sullivan said. “We try to distinguish between a speed game and a track meet. For me, we want to play a speed game and use our speed to advantage, but also not feed their transition game and allowing a track meet where you are trading chance for chance. Sometimes I think when we get away from our game a little we have a tendency to get into that track meet a little bit.”

He continued:

“For me it starts with out decisions with the puck. When you look at the makeup of our team we are a team that wants to play with the puck, so we want to make plays instinctively, but when we recognize the danger zones and when the plays aren’t there to be made, that is when we force teams to play 200 feet and that is when we become a more difficult team to play against. That is playing a speed game. So we try to distinguish between those two things.”

All of this is what makes this current team and the way it is playing so fascinating.

Almost every game quickly devolves into madness, and their record so far is great. But they are clearly not playing the way they want.

In the meantime, it is an absolute treat for hockey fans that are starving for more speed, skill and goals to take over the league.