Listing five noteworthy September RFAs

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We looked at five significant unrestricted free agents yesterday. There are still some helpful players looking for jobs, but there are some great restricted free agents that also need contracts.

Most of the time, RFAs that hold out all summer end up agreeing to terms either just before or shortly after the start of training camp. But sometimes these negotiations drag on into the regular season or prompt a trade. There’s even a chance that an opposing club could decide to make life a little more complicated for a team near the salary cap by extending an offer sheet.

With that in mind, here are five restricted free agents to keep an eye on:

1) Alex Pietrangelo — The Blues’ cap situation is healthy and the 23-year-old Pietrangelo is a vital part of the team, so you would think that the two sides would be able to work something out before the start of the regular season. Of course, you could point to P.K. Subban’s talks with the Montreal Canadiens, which dragged into the 2013 campaign, but the lockout makes those situations largely incomparable. Drew Doughty’s situation in 2011 works a little better though and he ended up missing the entire preseason before inking an eight-year, $56 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings. The main thing to keep in mind though is that Subban, Pietrangelo, and Doughty have something in common: They are all represented by Newport Sports’ Don Meehan. At the same time, Pietrangelo insists that he’s “not even thinking about holding out.”

2) Nazem Kadri — The Toronto Maple Leafs spent freely this summer and they consequently have less than $5 million in cap space left to ink Kadri and fellow RFA Cody Franson. Kadri noted that worrying about the Leafs’ cap situation isn’t his job and it’s gotten to the point where he’s frustrated with the way the negotiations have been going. At the same time, he denied a report that he’s demanding a six-year, $30 million contract. After all that, he decided to just stop talking about it until he has a deal. We’ll see if the Leafs and Kadri end up agreeing to a bridge contract to determine if his 44-point 2013 campaign is genuinely representative of the type of player he is now.

3) Derek Stepan — Like Kadri, Stepan broke out last season with 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games. The difference is that Stepan has a longer history of success in the NHL and therefore can make a better case for a lucrative long-term deal, if that’s what he’s after. The only problem is that the New York Rangers don’t have the cap space to give him that kind of contract right now. With roughly $2 million in projected cap space, they aren’t even really in a position to offer him a bridge contract without getting creative. Stepan is content to let his agent and the team handle the ongoing negotiations, although he recently spoke on the matter and said that “these things take time.” Not that there’s much time left before the start of training camp.

4) Cody Hodgson — The Buffalo Sabres have shifted their focus towards building for the future and as a consequence of that, they have plenty of cap space. That doesn’t mean they’ll be liberal with their money when it comes to Hodgson, but it does lessen the possibility of them being outmaneuvered by an offer sheet. Hodgson had 15 goals and 34 points in 48 games last season, but the 23-year-old still has plenty to prove at the NHL level. He seems like an ideal candidate for a bridge contract, although he might have held out this long in the hope of getting something better.

5) Marcus Johansson — If there was a loser in the Washington Capitals’ decision to sign Mikhail Grabovski, it might have been Johansson as they now have a little under $2.7 million in cap space. Johansson scored six goals and registered 16 assists in 34 games last season while getting some playing time with Alex Ovechkin. With the Capitals lack of cap flexibility, it is possible that Johansson will be dealt before the start of the 2013-14 campaign, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a one-year contract just below Washington’s limit in the hopes that he earns a regular spot with Ovechkin and is a stronger negotiating position next summer.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.