2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

In praise of Justin Williams

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Justin Williams rightfully earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7,” yet his overtime game-winner to open the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is just the latest argument for why he means much more than that to the Los Angeles Kings.

“I’ve said this many times. Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” Drew Doughty said after Game 1 on Wednesday. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.”

“There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and Kopy. When they have the puck, plays happen.”

A lot has been happening for Williams lately. The 32-year-old generated four goals and nine assists for 13 points in his last 11 postseason games. He has 20 points in 22 playoff games overall in 2014. It’s clear that he’s shining in every game as of late, not just the most important ones.

Over being underrated

The thing is, Williams isn’t just underrated; he’s one of those guys who continues to be underrated even after years of being considered underrated.

As Dustin Brown explained to the Los Angeles Times in 2012, Anze Kopitar draws a lot of the scoring attention and there’s the kind of heat Brown draws:

“And maybe I draw some attention,” Brown said. “Maybe not a threat-to-score standpoint. But I want-to-kill-you standpoint.”

Brown believes that Williams prefers to fly under the radar a bit. That’s a good thing because it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on Kings team that employs Brown, Doughty, Kopitar and Jonathan Quick. Then again, a search of “Justin Williams underrated” spits out message board threads discussing how unappreciated he was with the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2007, so maybe it’s just a way of life for Williams.

Dominant in subtler ways

Along with having some bad injury luck over the years, Williams might also go unnoticed because he hasn’t generated huge regular season numbers. He’s far-removed from back-to-back 30+ goal seasons with Carolina in 2005-06 and 06-07, yet Darryl Sutter explained what makes Williams such a sneaky-dominant player when he isn’t scoring huge goals.

“He hangs onto the puck, goes to traffic, hangs onto the puck, makes the plays,” Sutter said in May. “Takes a beating to make plays. He’s a role model for young players, for sure.”

“That’s the big thing now is the stat, the possession stat, that guys talk about. Justin is for sure one of the top guys in the league.”

Indeed, Williams’ possession numbers are eye-popping. In fact, he’s been so dominant that some believe that he benefits linemate Kopitar more than the other way around.

Does Williams drive play more than Kopitar? That’s up to debate, but the fact that you could make an argument for Williams begs the question of where he might rank among the league’s elite:

The Kings have Williams locked up through next season at a bargain cap hit of $3.65 million, so GM Dean Lombardi likely hopes that the versatile forward remains “underrated” (and underpaid) for a little while longer.

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Coyotes have work to do, with RFAs Murphy, Stone still unsigned

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes added a defenseman with a right shot to their roster, signing Luke Schenn on Saturday. And there could be more moves to the back end on the way for Arizona.

They still have work left with respect to two restricted free agents. Defensemen Connor Murphy, 23, and Michael Stone, 26, are still looking for new contracts.

Stone, another right-shot blue liner, had a career-best 36 points in 75 games last season for the Coyotes and has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.

His previous contract was a three-year deal with an average annual value of $1.15 million. But he’s also coming off surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his left knee, according to azcentral.com. In April, it was expected he could be out at least six months.

“I know he’s running well and moving pretty well,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka, as per azcentral.com. “ … He’s a big part of our blue line, so we’re hoping to get him back as soon as we can.”

However, when it comes to a new deal for Murphy, it appears there is some distance between the two sides.

From Arizona Sports 98.7:

While Chayka said the tenor of talks with Murphy has been good, Murphy’s agent, Brian Bartlett, said on July 18 that he was uncertain when a deal might be struck, and he reiterated on Saturday that nothing has changed in those negotiations.

“I hope we are close,” he wrote via text message last week. “Still have a gap to bridge, but confident we will get it done eventually. Could wrap up with one phone call but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get on the same page.”

Murphy is a Coyotes first-round pick from 2011. His entry-level contract, with its AAV of more than $1,075 million, is expired.

He appeared in 78 games for the Coyotes last season, increasing his point total from seven in 73 games in 2014-15, to 17 points in the 2015-16 campaign.

Blues’ Allen says he still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ No. 1 goalie

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) is scored on by the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The goaltending roles in St. Louis have been clearly defined this summer. Jake Allen is the No. 1 netminder and Carter Hutton, a free agent acquisition, is the No. 2.

For the past two seasons, especially, Allen and Brian Elliott were both counted on to shoulder the goaltending duties, but the platoon scenario was ended when Elliott was traded to Calgary last month.

Allen recently commented on what was a positive working relationship between himself and Elliott, but seemed relieved that the leash may not be as short as it may have been in the past if he has an off night.

“It was tough to make mistakes when Brian was around because one game — you had a bad game — he was right back in the net and vice versa with him and me,” said the 25-year-old Allen, as per a video on the Blues’ website.

“I think you get a little bit more leeway, I guess, now. But not a whole lot. Carter’s a great goalie and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him.

“I feel that I had to etch myself into the league consistently. Now that I’ve done that, I still have another place to go and prove I’m a legit No. 1 guy.”

Allen just wrapped up only his second full NHL season.

The highest number of starts he’s made in a single season at the NHL level is 44 — in the 2015-16 season.

Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong said in June that Allen lost the crease, with Elliott taking it over with his strong play down the stretch and in the playoffs. He also made it clear Allen would have to battle to get it back in September. That changes to some degree now that Elliott is no longer in St. Louis.

Hutton, 30, was the back-up in Nashville, but made a career-high 34 starts in the 2013-14 season, posting a .910 save percentage.

Eberle: ‘We haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change’

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 06:  Jordan Eberie #14 and Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after Eberie scores a goal 10 seconds into the game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on March 6, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators continues to make waves. That will probably be the case right up until the start of the season and beyond.

On that same late-June day, however, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by sending Taylor Hall, who four times in his young career has hit the 20-goal plateau, to New Jersey for right-shot defenseman Adam Larsson, who isn’t likely to be mistaken for a dynamic offensive blue liner.

It, too, is a deal that’s considered a major victory for one team — in this case, the Devils.

In trading Hall, the Oilers gave up a dynamic forward, although they certainly had a plethora of skilled forwards, and their need to make upgrades to their blue line, made it necessary to part with a player up front.

Hall and Jordan Eberle — now his former Oilers teammate — broke into the league with Edmonton in the same year, back in 2010-11. But despite an increase in talent up front, with four first-overall picks in a six-year span, Edmonton really hasn’t been close to competing for a playoff spot in years.

Eberle, with 425 games with the Oilers through some difficult times, at first said in an interview with the Andrew Walker Show that he couldn’t comment on the deal, but eventually admitted something had to give when it came to Edmonton’s quest to land a d-man, which led GM Peter Chiarelli to make the deal.

“Obviously I think he recognized there was an area on our team we needed to improve and maybe we had a surplus of forwards and it was something he needed to do,” Eberle told The Andrew Walker Show.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change, whether it was Taylor or whoever.

“I think Taylor will do very well in New Jersey and I think we significantly increased our blue line. I think that’s definitely going to help us in a tough Western Conference.”

Related:

Oilers GM justifies Hall trade, even if Larsson isn’t a ‘sexy defenseman’ 

Why are the Oilers still bad? Look at their drafting

The ECHL would have an ‘open mind’ if Las Vegas NHL team wanted Wranglers name

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  (l-r) Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Bill Foley celebrate the admittance of a new NHL franchise during the Board Of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The search for a general manager has been over for a while, the successful candidate in place. However, the Las Vegas NHL franchise is still looking to name its team. That search is still ongoing.

With its first season in the league set for 2017-18, the Las Vegas franchise has run into some trade mark issues with potential names, much to the dismay of owner Bill Foley.

One possibility could be the ‘Wranglers’ — the name of the former Las Vegas ECHL franchise, which officially folded in January of 2015.

However, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the ECHL still owns the rights to the name ‘Wranglers.’ The report also stated that the team does have a temporary logo — the NHL shield with ‘Las Vegas’ written underneath. Again. Only temporary.

“I have not been approached by either Mr. Foley or by the NHL,” ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“We own all the names of all the teams that have played or are playing (in the ECHL). Frankly, I would be surprised to hear from them now. But if they called to say they were interested in reviving the Wranglers name in Las Vegas, we would have an open mind about it. We always liked the name and the logo and the way they built up the brand in the community.”

Meanwhile, the people of Las Vegas have had their say on team names.

According to a bracket posted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the name ‘Outlaws’ emerged as the favorite among the people after the polls, which the newspaper admits are completely unscientific.

The Las Vegas Visitors didn’t make it out of the first round…

Related:

McPhee wants Las Vegas team to compete right away; history says it won’t be easy

Report: Las Vegas NHL team asked permission to speak with Capitals assistant GM