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.

Brady Tkachuk on life at BU, 2018 NHL Draft, growing up with hockey (PHT Q&A)

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It was a pretty festive Thanksgiving for Brady Tkachuk, one of the top prospects in the 2018 NHL draft class. The Boston University forward was surrounded by hockey as his family joined their cousins, the Fitzgerald’s and Hayes’s, for a great turkey day.

Growing up with relatives that have played and currently play in the NHL has been a big benefit for the 18-year-old Tkachuk, who’s an early favorite to be selected in the top five picks next June. You can bet that while there was football on television and turkey on the table Thursday, plenty of hockey talk was going on.

“If I can absorb that from everybody, I would be really happy,” Tkachuk told PHT this week. “It’s kind of awesome because it’s an extra tool I get to use. I get to talk to people that have been through it. It’s definitely awesome to have.”

Tkachuk and his Terrier squad are off to a slow start (6-7-1) to the NCAA season and after winning two of their last three, they head to Madison Square Garden Saturday night for a “Red Hot Hockey” matchup against Cornell.

We spoke to Tkachuk about his time so far at BU, preparing for this season and beyond, and one day playing against his brother in the NHL.

Enjoy.

Q. How’s life at BU been treating you so far?

TKACHUK: “It’s been awesome. I got here in early July for some summer classes just to get used to the city feel and started working out here. But it’s been nothing but an awesome experience getting to meet a new group of guys in September. We’ve got a tight group. It’s been a lot of fun.”

How would you rate your start to the season so far?

“It’s been good. I wish we would have been playing a little bit better right now, but it’s been good. Team’s starting to really pick up past couple of weekends so it’s going to be an exciting couple of weeks ahead of us.”

You mentioned it’s been a tough start for team. Can you diagnose what’s behind the slow start?

“Not really, it’s just kind of about the bounces, but recently in the last couple of weekends we’ve been really playing as a team and as a unit. We’ve been keeping things simple.”

Your dad went to BU. Matt went the junior route. Why did you choose BU and feel the NCAA would be best for your development?

“They’re both great options but I chose BU because it was the best place for me to develop. It’s playing against men [and] the NHL’s full of men so I try to work on my skills here. We’ve got a great coaching staff, a great facility, so it was the best choice for me.”

There’s a lot of draft hype around you and where you might get selected in June. When those rankings come out do you pay any attention to them?

“Yeah, I see them on Twitter, but I try not to look too deep at them. I try to focus on everyday, try to get better. It’s still a ways away, so if I could just focus on becoming better everyday I’ll be happy about that.”

What are the biggest things you worked on in the off-season heading into this year?

“Definitely working on improving my skills and strength. I think that’s really important for everybody, especially myself, because you can never be satisfied with just being yourself. I always want to be better and try to get better every day. So if I can improve one part of my game it’ll just be the little things like tighter stick-handling. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.”

Your dad was one the game’s great power forwards. What kind of things has he told you about developing that strength?

“Just being around the net. Not a lot of guys like to go to the dirty areas. If I can make plays in there I can be successful. I kind of pride myself being around the net, tipping pucks, making plays in tight and try and give and go for my teammates.”

And what kind of advice has your dad and brother given you as you prepare to take this next step in your hockey career?

“Every time I talk to my dad he gives me two rules: compete everyday and be a good teammate. I try to take that and try to work my hardest to get better and work to help my teammates get better and be there to support the guys. My brother has taught me to be a professional every day — eat like one, work like one and treat your body like one and just be focused for everything I do.”

What do you think about Matt’s on-going feud with Drew Doughty?

“I think it’s kind of funny. It’s funny to see because it’s usually me and him going at it, so now seeing him go at it with another guy, it’s funny. They’re both obviously really good hockey players, so I just watch and see it on Twitter and everybody comes up to me the next day and is like, ‘did you see your brother?’”

Finally, the Benn brothers got into it on Tuesday night during their game. Are you looking forward to that day when it’s you and Matt going at it on the ice?

“Yeah, that would be a dream. I think my mom, too, especially would be really happy to see both of us on the same ice together. That’s definitely a big goal of mine and that would be awesome to accomplish our dreams.”

MORE PHT Q&A’s:
Rick Tocchet on Coyotes’ struggles, Clayton Keller, staying patient
Tyler Toffoli on Kings’ coaching change, celebrity encounters
Brian Gionta on NHL future, representing USA Hockey again
Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: On Blake Wheeler being an underrated superstar

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–Former NHL defenseman Dennis Wideman has been named an assistant coach with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. (KitchenerRangers.com)

Nazem Kadri apologized for hitting a penalty box official in the face with a stick. He said he apologized to the official a lot. (TSN.ca)

–Blackhawks forward John Hayden was fined for high-sticking J.T. Brown during Wednesday night’s game against the Lightning. (NHL.com)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have put together a decent amount of wins, but scoring goals hasn’t been easy for them. (Columbus Dispatch)

–Houston has been rumored to be in the mix for an NHL team lately. That talk has opened up discussions about the Calgary Flames and the city’s lack of desire to build a new arena for the team. Could they be on the move? (Flamesnation.ca)

–Slapperandstats.com explains how compliance buyouts and escrow came back to bite the players over the last couple of years. (Slapperandstats.com)

Blake Wheeler is one of the more underrated stars in the NHL. Since 2015-16, only Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov and Jamie Benn have put up more points than the Jets forward. (Fanragsports.com)

–With Daniel Sedin quickly approaching his 1000th point, Vancourier.com looks at which games would be perfect for him to reach the milestone in and why.  (Vancourier.com)

–Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist has created plenty of scoring chances this season, but he’s capable of finding the back of the net with a little more regularity. His coach is pleased with his effort, now he just needs to translate that into success. (Detroit News)

–Earlier this week, the Morning Skate looked at the Top 5 moments from Auston Matthews‘ first 100 NHL games. Now, The Hockey News looks at some of the incredible numbers he’s put up during that span. (The Hockey News)

–The NWHL and CWHL have no issue admitted that they are open to including everyone. “I think that we’re our own — I don’t want to say circle or bubble — but at (CWHL) events it’s 100 percent inclusive,” Boston Blades goaltender Lauren Dahm said. “It’s OK to be who you are. Hearing stories about other leagues or just in society in general where that’s not the case is eye opening.” (Sporting News)

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.

Boeser channels Bure, leads NHL rookie scoring

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Brock Boeser has no intentions of letting Clayton Keller or Mathew Barzal walk away with the Calder Trophy.

Boeser, 20, has been lights out over the past four games for the Vancouver Canucks, scoring six times during his current four-game goal-scoring streak (he also has points in five straight) as Keller’s stock has cooled.

The Arizona Coyotes 19-year-old rookie has failed to score in each of his past eight games after a blistering start that saw him score 11 times in 16 contests.

Keller’s slump has allowed Boeser to grab hold of the rookie scoring lead, which he did on Wednesday, scoring twice — the second time he’s done so in as many games — in a 5-2 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s now one point ahead of Keller and Barzal, the latter of which is heating up as well with points in his past four games.

As you can see by the above video, Boeser’s release puts his name on a pedestal with few others in the NHL. The Athletic’s Justin Bourne wrote glowingly of Boeser’s shot ability on Wednesday.

Don’t see the Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine in that shot? Here’s more proof:

Boeser’s scoring prowess has him in the conversation with another talented Russian in Pavel Bure.

Bure, who won the Calder Trophy in 1992, scored 34 times for the Canucks that season. Boeser is on pace to hit the 40-goal mark, which would smash that record.

Boeser is the first rookie to score in four consecutive games this season. According to the NHL, only one rookie in Canucks franchise history has scored in more than four consecutive team games – Dennis Ververgaert had a six-game goal streak in 1973-74.

Boeser is scoring on nearly 21 percent of his shots, and while TSN’s Scott Cullen points out that that number isn’t likely to hold, his 2.8 shots per game are still very much conducive to goal scoring.

And winning. Boeser has three game-winning goals for the Canucks, who are 11-8-3 this season, two points out of first place in the Pacific Division in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck


Free falling: Flyers lose sixth straight as growing pains emerge

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The Philadelphia Flyers feel they are right there, which is an interesting statement from a team that’s lost six straight and eight of their past 10.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves in times of trouble.

The Flyers did fair better on Wednesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Islanders, which prompted goaltender Brian Elliott to make the declaration that his team just needs to turn the corner.

It’s tough to turn when you’re falling backwards, however.

Indeed, finding positives when few appear to be in sight in a skid like the Flyers are in is a tough ask in the City of Brotherly Love. Flyers fans have had to come to terms with a few things this season.

It must pain fans to see Brayden Schenn lighting the lamp over and over again in St. Louis. Schenn was traded to the Blues in the offseason. The return looked half decent for a team looking to rebuild with a youth movement.

The Blues gave up two first-round picks for Schenn along with Jori Lehtera. And while it remains to be seen what the Flyers gain from the trade in future drafts, Lehtera has been an utter disappointment, one magnified many times more by Schenn’s incredible start.

Lehtera was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, the second time in his past four games he’s watched rather than played. He’s sitting on two assists this season in 14 games. Schenn, by comparison, 10 goals and 30 points, including 19 in his past eight games.

It hasn’t been all Lehtera’s fault. Oh, no.

The Flyers penalty kill has been atrocious. They rank 28th in the league at 75 percent and have allowed seven goals in their past 13 kills over the past three games.

Andrew MacDonald can’t return soon enough, especially after one of their better penalty killers tried to behead a man last week.

Scoring could be better as well.

Claude Giroux has gone six games without a goal, this after scoring nine times in his first 16 games. Jordan Weal has just one goal in his past 18 games and was bumped to the fourth line on Wednesday. And ever since he 17 times in 64 games two years ago, Shayne Gostisbehere has only eight goals in his past 95 games and none in his past 13.

Ivan Provorov has been a godsend for the Flyers on defence (and Travis Sanheim is starting to blossom), but Gostisbehere’s offensive prowess from the backend would be a welcomed addition again.

But the real reason for the Flyers struggles this season might just be something they can’t control: youth.

The Flyers iced 11 players under 25 years of age on Wednesday night. Their top defenseman, Provorov, is 20 years old. Their second line centre, Nolan Patrick, is 19.

These are the growing pains of a team getting younger, and it could get worse yet before it gets better.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck