Free Agency Winners and Losers

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Feel free to check back in a few years to see if these verdicts still hold, but for now…

Winner: Detroit Red Wings

Yes, there are questions about Daniel Alfredsson (isn’t he kind of old?) and Stephen Weiss (didn’t he have, like, one goal last year?), but the fact these two guys picked Detroit showed the Red Wings are still a destination franchise.

In explaining his tough decision to leave Ottawa, Alfredsson said he liked the style Mike Babcock coaches, how stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg perform “extremely well” when the games count, and the way the organization is committed to winning.

“Everyone knows Detroit’s goals are always to be at the top of the game and to win championships,” he said. “I’m really excited to get this opportunity at this stage of my career to go for a Stanley Cup and fulfill a longtime dream.”

Loser: St. Louis Blues

General manager Doug Armstrong targeted centers Weiss and Valtteri Filppula on Friday; he ended up with Derek Roy on Saturday. No disrespect to Roy, but when you don’t get the guys you want, it’s hard to call you a winner in free agency. As much regular-season success as the Blues have had the past two years, and as much young talent as they continue to boast, they’re still a budget-beholden team with a coach in Ken Hitchcock that offensive-minded players don’t line up to play for.

Winner: power forwards

Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and Ryane Clowe all signed huge deals on Friday. The money they got (combined around $100 million) was one thing, but the term (combined 19 years) was the real eye-opener. Horton and Clowe each have detailed injury histories (including concussions), which makes perfect sense given the way they play. The risk the Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Devils assumed, respectively, shows how important this type of player is considered when it comes to having success in the postseason.

Loser: goalies

Mike Smith being the exception after signing a $34 million deal with the Coyotes. The non-exceptions include Ray Emery, Anton Khudobin, Jason LaBarbera, and Nikolai Khabibulin, all of whom put up good to great numbers in 2013 (albeit in backup roles) and signed for peanuts. Of the four, Emery is the most likely starter next season; compete for the number-one job in Philadelphia with Steve Mason, all the while making just $1.65 million. Emery hasn’t been a full-time starter in the NHL since undergoing surgery for avascular necrosis in 2010 — a factor that no doubt went against him in negotiations.

Winner: Phoenix Coyotes

We already mentioned Smith’s deal; the Coyotes, with a new owner (finally), also got center Mike Ribeiro for four years and $22 million. It’s worth noting that the one big thing Ribeiro wanted was term, and it was Phoenix — a team that’s been known for anything but stability in recent years — that was able to give it to him. “I’m trying to be stable somewhere for a while, that’s important,” Ribeiro said. “The fact that they confirmed they’d stay there for a few years, that’s a good thing. Obviously that was a big part.”

Loser: Washington Capitals

All of a sudden, the Caps are looking a bit thin down the middle. No more Ribeiro. Also, no more Matt Hendricks, who went to Nashville. Washington GM George McPhee wasn’t in the best position cap-wise to give those two big deals, but he still has to address the departures. Could Mikhail Grabovski, bought out by the Maple Leafs, be an option?

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%