Five free agents who could be the missing piece for a contending team

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All right so there’s just a handful of free agents available out on the market for teams to pick from to try and give them an edge heading into the new season. Most teams do have most of their situations figured out while others are going to need to make a move or two to get under the salary cap. As for those who could stand to add some money or another player to become contenders for the Stanley Cup, their options in free agency are dwindling.

Like all things in life, there are still some diamonds in the rough to be found and that is the case for free agency as well. If your team is lacking a depth scorer, center, or defenseman there are options still out there. If you’re in need of a goalie, the pickings are rather slim (Marty Turco and Pascal Leclaire are it). As for the rest, there are a few guys that could still be helpful contributors to a team in need. We’ve picked out five that could provide the boost needed to lift the Stanley Cup in June.

Cory Stillman
All right, so you need a guy with Stanley Cup experience who can give your second or third line a boost with play making and scoring. How about taking a look at Cory Stillman. Stillman won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina in 2006. He spent last year with both Florida and Carolina and had 12 goals and 27 assists with both teams. He’s not the ace running mate on the left wing that he was on those two Cup teams, but he’s a guy capable of helping out when he’s given the right minutes.

He’s two years removed from being a more-than solid power play helper and his numbers have fallen off each year since his career-high 2007-2008 season. He’s not the guy you want on your top lines, but you could do worse than having him help out on the third line.

Bryan McCabe
So your team needs a fourth or fifth defenseman who has some skills on the power play. You don’t want to make a move for Chris Campoli, so why not Bryan McCabe? McCabe split last season between the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers and managed to help give the Rangers a slight boost on the power play from the blue line. With both teams, McCabe had seven goals and 21 assists. In 19 games with the Rangers, McCabe had two goals and four assists with both goals coming on the man advantage. McCabe was given a bit more of a load in the playoffs with New York and averaged over 19 minutes a game and adding two assists.

At 36 years-old, McCabe is on the downside of his career and while he’s not going to give you the sort of production an older guy like Nicklas Lidstrom would, if your team has a need for a offensively helpful defenseman, McCabe is there for the taking.

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Mike Grier
So you’re in need of an experienced grind line player. Mike Grier is there for the taking. Grier isn’t a guy that’s going to give you much offensive production, but that’s not why you want him anyhow. You want him there to play tough, checking defense at forward and you want him to make life miserable for opponents. You’ll also want him there to play on the penalty kill to further hinder an opposing offense. Grier’s work in Buffalo last season was solid and he’s been that way through his whole career.

At 36 years-old, Grier will give you a hint of offensive help (between 15-25 points) but he’ll be best when playing steadily for 15 minutes a game. If your team’s offense is set and you think you’re a little soft, Grier is worth making a call on.

source:  Kyle Wellwood
Perhaps your team has a weakness at center and has a need to have a guy that is the butt of jokes on the Internet. Who better to get than Kyle Wellwood? Wellwood departed for the KHL last season, but didn’t enjoy it in Russia and came back to North America finding a home in San Jose. There he provided solid work as a depth centerman getting to saddle up on the Sharks’ third and fourth lines. In 35 games, Wellwood had five goals and eight assists but it was in the playoffs that Wellwood left his biggest mark scoring a goal and adding six assists in the Sharks’ 18 playoff games.

As a depth guy, that kind of production is more than solid. Any team looking for help up the middle would do well to get a hold of Wellwood to fill their needs. While there’s another guy out there in John Madden to do the same thing, Wellwood is still young at 28 years-old. After a humbling season, perhaps Wellwood has found his way in the NHL.

source:  Sergei Samsonov
So you’re looking for speed, some scoring touch, and a veteran presence. How about Sergei Samsonov? Samsonov spent last season with both Florida and Carolina, and after a career that started off so promising in Boston, he’s been bounced around of late. After starting out like a potential big time scorer, Samsonov has settled in as a depth contributor as he scored 13 goals and 27 assists with both Carolina and Florida last year. He’s still a power play threat after scoring nine power play goals last year, but giving him top six minutes could be a dicey prospect.

Samsonov turns 33 in October and while he’s not going to be a 29-goal scorer anymore (we think) he’s still a guy that can help out offensively. With Nikolai Zherdev playing back in Russia this year, taking a flier on Samsonov might be worth the trouble.

The Buzzer: Gold for Russia (OAR), goalie interference fun

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Russia (O.A.R.) wins gold in overtime against Germany

Germany was an overtime goal away from a huge upset (note: miracle is loosely translated as “wunder” in German). Instead the Olympic Athletes of Russia will take their clunky name to a redemptive gold medal after beating Germany 4-3 in overtime thanks to a power-play goal.

With memorable moments like Ilya Kovalchuk being shut down on a heart-stopping semi-breakaway chance in OT, two Russian forwards were especially deadly.

Kirill Kaprizov scored “the golden goal” on that power play after racking up three assists during regulation. His partner-in-crime was Nikita Gusev, who generated two goals and two assists of his own.

Kovalchuk finally got a taste of Olympic glory, while Pavel Datsyuk joins the “Triple Gold Club.”

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Players of the Night

  • No Auston Matthews? The Maple Leafs wouldn’t respond “No problem,” but they might note that it gives other players a chance to step up. Lately, Mitch Marner has been on an absolute tear. He played a huge role in Toronto’s 4-3 win against Boston on Saturday, getting involved in all four goals (one goal, three assists).

This burst pushes Marner past Matthews for the team lead in scoring with 51 points. The splendid scorer has 14 points during an eight-game tear.

  • The Washington Capitals took care of business against the Sabres on Saturday, and Evgeny Kuznetsov led the charge with one goal and three assists of his own. He had been quiet before this outburst, only managing a goal in his previous five games. Kuznetsov has 59 points in 62 games this season.

So much goalie interference review fun

The Maple Leafs beat the Bruins after a goalie interference review went their way, which you can read more about here. The Oilers ended up holding off a mad Kings rally because of another really weird one. Ah, the NHL must love all the attention these nightmares are generating.

Highlight of the Night

A patently ridiculous save by Andrei Vasilevskiy:

Factoids

Taylor Hall cannot be stopped, and this time it even translated to a win for the Devils against the Islanders:

The team success hasn’t been there as much lately for Henrik Zetterberg, but he’s climbing some lofty heights from an individual standpoint:

Patrik Laine turns 20 on April 19, by the way.

Scores

Flyers 5, Senators 3
Flames 5, Avalanche 1
Jets 5, Stars 3
Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 3
Lightning 4, Canadiens 3 (SO)
Red Wings 3, Hurricanes 1
Panthers 6, Penguins 5
Capitals 5, Sabres 1
Blue Jackets 3, Blackhawks 2
Devils 2, Islanders 1
Coyotes 2, Ducks 0
Oilers 4, Kings 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins go from Nash trade rumors to loss, Bergeron injury

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There are times when the Boston Bruins have looked downright unstoppable. Saturday serves as a harsh reminder that things can change in a heartbeat, or at least that the threat is basically always hovering.

Consider this: earlier today, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins were becoming frontrunners to trade for Rick Nash. Such a deal is still plausible, although John Shannon (also of Sportsnet) reports that Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit could cause some challenges, even this late in the season.

Either way, the Bruins’ outlook seemed shiny: they’re already a tough team to deal with thanks to an absolutely bear (sorry) of a top line in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The B’s have been so impressive, they even seem to be a threat to win the Atlantic.

Things went sour in multiple categories hours later.

The Bruins lost to their hated rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3. That game ended in regulation, and the decisive goal brought about everyone’s favorite hockey thing: a goalie interference review. This didn’t go in Boston’s favor, and while some shrugged their shoulders, Tuukka Rask wasn’t thrilled:

With that, the Atlantic Division thing seems far less promising. To start, the Lightning managed a 4-3 shootout win. Even worse, the Maple Leafs took second place in the Atlantic by beating Boston.

If that wasn’t enough, the most integral part of the Bruins’ dominance is in danger. Reporters including NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty noted that Patrice Bergeron was seen in a walking boot:

On the bright side, all three situations could still turn out nicely for the Bruins.

  • The Bruins might actually be more justified in going after Nash if Bergeron’s a little banged up. Granted, a more severe injury might leave them more conservative at the deadline.
  • Games in hand make optimism easier to come by in the Atlantic positioning races. The Lightning have 87 points in 62 games played while the Maple Leafs are at 83 in 64. The Bruins are at 82, yet with only 59 games played, there’s plenty of time for the B’s to either regain home-ice advantage over Toronto or even push for the top spot in the division.
  • As you can see from Haggerty’s tweet, Bergeron’s issue might not be too bad, either.

So, this isn’t a doom and gloom situation for the Bruins, but it still stands to mention how bumpy things became for at least a while there. The B’s have to hope that most of this stuff sorts itself out, Nash or not.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Panthers boost playoff hopes, end Penguins’ streak

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

For quite some time, it seemed like the Metropolitan Division would send five teams to the playoffs while the top-heavy Atlantic would only generate three.

The Metro still dominates the wild-card picture, but with all apologies to the scrappy Red Wings, the Florida Panthers stand as the one Atlantic team with a shot at crashing the party. For all of the front office upheaval, the past few nights provide evidence that they could do some damage if they walk in that door.

Maybe it’s fitting for an up-and-down team to see some extreme highs and lows in an eventual 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite some strong work from Evgeni Malkin, the Panthers went into the third period with a 4-2 lead. That wouldn’t end up being enough, as the two teams traded blows during a frantic, five-goal final frame. The Penguins briefly tied the contest up at 5-5, pushing for a seventh straight win, but it was not to be.

Ultimately, Evgenii Dadonov (first career hat trick) trumped Evgeni Malkin (two goals, one assist) in getting the late game-winner. Perhaps the Panthers will try to lift up a community rattled by tragic shootings, as this is the second straight game where they’ve notched decisive goals late in front of home fans.

(Thursday’s win against the Capitals was even more dramatic, as they rallied late after Roberto Luongo‘s stirring speech before the game.)

Now, the Panthers might not seem like much of a threat with 62 points, as the Columbus Blue Jackets currently hold the East’s final wild-card spot with 67. Games played paint a brighter picture, though.

Here’s how the wild-card races look, updated following the Devils’ win against the Islanders, which is a nice boost for Florida overall:

Devils (beat Islanders in regulation): 72 points in 62 games played, first WC
Blue Jackets (won tonight): 67 points in 62 GP, second WC

Islanders (lost to Devils): 65 points in 63GP
Hurricanes (lost tonight): 64 points in 62 GP
Panthers: 62 points in 59 GP
Red Wings (beat Canes): 61 points in 60 GP
Rangers: 59 points in 62 GP

On one hand, the Panthers’ situation isn’t that different from the Red Wings,’ at least if Florida doesn’t get hot. On the other hand, consider that the Panthers have a few games in hand on everyone ahead of them. The margin could close rapidly … or they could fade.

Credit the Panthers for making things interesting, and if things go well, making their competition sweat.

That’s the power of “Dadonov Strength.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils retire Patrik Elias’ jersey

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils retired career scoring leader Patrik Elias’ No. 26 jersey in a ceremony before their game against the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

The 41-year-old former Czech forward played his final game in 2016, finishing a 20-year career in New Jersey with two Stanley Cup championships and most of the team’s scoring records.

“For someone growing up in Eastern Europe, in a communist country, there’s no way I could have ever dreamed of this day,” said Elias, whose eyes welled with tears during his speech that was interrupted several times by chants of “Paddy! Paddy!”

Always a fan favorite, Elias walked through a section of the stands at the Prudential Center before taking his place on the ice with his wife, two daughters, former and current teammates and the franchise’s owners and management.

The podium on the ice was shaped as a puck with the No. 26 on it, and it was by surrounded by other super-sized pucks with the same number and two trophies, the Stanley Cup and The Prince of Wales trophy, presented to the Eastern Conference winner.

Elias played on four conference champions, scoring the winning goal in Game 7 against Philadelphia in 2000.

Elias is the first European player to have his number retired by the Devils, and the first forward. Defensemen Scott Stevens (No. 4), Scott Niedermayer (No. 27) and Ken Daneyko (No. 3) and goaltender Martin Brodeur (No. 30) also had their jerseys retired. All four were in attendance with Brodeur, of course, getting the biggest ovation.

It was appropriate that Elias’ No. 26 was raised to the rafters at the Prudential Center against the Islanders, the team he played his most games against, 91, and had his most points, 86.

Elias is the Devils’ leader in points (1025), goals (408), assists (617), points in one season (96), points in a playoff season (23) and game-winning goals (80), .

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey