UFA of the Day: Matt Niskanen

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Check PHT each weekday for the first four weeks of June for a new pending unrestricted free agent of the day. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Matt Niskanen

There are plenty of teams interested in adding an offensively gifted right-handed shooting defenseman, but the pickings are already starting to thin.

Marek Zidlicky has re-signed with the New Jersey Devils while Dan Boyle might also sign before the unrestricted free agent period starts after the New York Islanders acquired his rights.

Both of those blueliners are 37 years old though (Boyle will turn 38 in July). If you want an offensively gifted defenseman still in the prime of his career, it looks like you’ll only have one option this summer: Niskanen.

There are reasons to be concerned about him. After recording 35 points in 2008-09, Niskanen regressed offensively and struggled for years to regain his footing. It was during this period that the Dallas Stars traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It wasn’t until this season that he really started to turn his career around as Niskanen finally broke out with 10 goals and 46 points in 81 games. Still, that all translates to him breaching the 30-point mark just twice in seven career seasons. With the market likely to go crazy for him given the lack of options, he will likely sign a massive long-term contract that will look very troubling if his 2013-14 success isn’t replicated.

That’s assuming of course that Niskanen makes it to the free agent period in the first place, which frankly seems like a safe bet. Although Niskanen hinted at the possibility of taking a hometown discount back in October, after his breakout season the Penguins have still likely been priced out of the market.

Pittsburgh already owes roughly $60 million in cap obligations to 14 players, per Cap Geek, so adding Niskanen on top of that would only further degrade its ability to assemble a team with some decent depth. Unless, of course, the Penguins decide to sign Niskanen and trade Kris Letang.

Ducks have better chance to slow McDavid with healthier defensemen

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Trying to stop – or at least inhibitConnor McDavid is likely to be a conundrum for opposing teams for, oh, the next decade or two. Still, it helps matters to at least be near 100 percent.

The Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames (a team with some serious firepower on the blueline and also magician-forward Johnny Gaudreau) in four games despite serious limitations on defense. It seems like they’re getting closer to being their full-fledged selves, as the team website revealed that Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler seem likely to play in Game 1. Also, Sami Vatanen is getting better.

Much has already been made about the Ducks matching up Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano against McDavid, at least when they can.

“We’ll start looking at things and try to come up with some sort of plan,” Cogliano told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s dynamic. I think with how good he is sometimes you look [past Draisaitl]. Not that he flies under the radar, but he’s a player you have to keep an eye on, too.”

Still, Randy Carlyle faces some interesting choices as far as which blueliners to send out against McDavid.

Fowler is more known for his offensive skills, but his skating ability makes for an intriguing option, at least if he’s close to 100 percent. Lindholm might not get much press just yet, but he’s quietly building a resume as one of the league’s best defenders. It’s a little tricky with them being even somewhat slowed by injuries, though.

For what it’s worth, the Ducks had some success against McDavid in 2016-17, limiting him to zero goals, one assist and just two shots in three regular-season games.

It’s dangerous to put too much weight on such stats, especially considering the small sample size. The bottom line is that Carlyle gets the final change for Games 1 and 2, a potentially key advantage against McDavid and the Oilers.

You know, assuming there’s even an ideal matchup for Anaheim.

Travis Hamonic, Wayne Simmonds are up for Foundation Player Award

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New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds are skilled players, but they’re the two finalists for the NHL’s Foundation Player Award for their work off the ice.

NHL teams submit their nominations for the award, which is given to the “NHL player who applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community.”

The winner gets $25K to donate to their charity of choice.

Considering all the time players spend giving back, Hamonic and Simmonds both likely deserve recognition.

Blackhawks president says Preds sweep was ‘no fluke’ (Coach Q is angry, too)

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Any team would be upset with being swept briskly from the first round, especially with a 13-3 goal differential, and especially a franchise with recent successes like the Chicago Blackhawks.

In speaking with the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, team president John McDonough stated that “we were steamrolled” by the Nashville Predators and that it “wasn’t a fluke.”

While other franchises (like, say, the veteran-saddled Los Angeles Kings) have been known to be loyal possibly to a fault, the Blackhawks have perpetuated their dominance in part by being willing to let significant parts go to stay lean and competitive. It’s no surprise, then, that McDonough provided the Sun-Times with comments like these:

“It’s certainly a wake-up call, for sure,” McDonough said of the sweep. “And I’m not a sentimentalist. I don’t get caught reminiscing about three Stanley Cups or parades or anything like that. It’s up to Stan [Bowman] and his staff to figure this out on the hockey side.”

Wow, that’s almost “fire emoji” territory, eh?

Now, that’s not to say that McDonough’s trashing everyone running the ship. He still was mostly flattering to Bowman & Co., even if he also admits that he lives “in a world of concern,” which sounds like the beginning of an ad for anxiety medication.

Bowman has already shown that he’s still on board with making bold moves, even if they ruffle some feathers, particularly those of Joel Quenneville.

(Did that phrase include feathers to make you think of his mustache? Perhaps.)

Anyway, in firing long-time Coach Q assistant Mike Kitchen, the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine wonders if Bowman might “reopen old wounds” in management.

Yes, success tends to mend fences, but it is indeed true that there were some tense moments for Coach Q & Co. during rare fallow periods. Memories can suddenly become “long” again when things start to get dicey.

Now, we’ve seen management make some moves, and it certainly seems like McDonough is in favor of some changes … but how much room does Bowman really have to work with? Their cap situation looks awfully tight by Cap Friendly’s measures, so it could be an awfully challenging offseason for the Blackhawks. And there have already been some bitter moments.

On the other hand, if any team has shown the ability to adapt even in tough times, it’s this group.

More

A long summer awaits the Blackhawks

Feelings of emptiness, shock shortly after the sweep

Bowman promises changes

Couture in ‘uncomfortable state’ after two facial fractures

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture played in the postseason despite two fractures in his face along with the plastic and wiring in his mouth that kept his teeth in place.

Couture revealed more details of the injuries sustained when a deflected slap shot from teammate Brent Burns hit him in the mouth in Nashville on March 25.

He said he had one fracture that went from his upper lip to the nose area that is still very sore and will take about six weeks to completely heal. The other fracture is below his bottom row of teeth.

“They’re not fun,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not extreme pain right now. Obviously it’s bearable to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a struggle to eat and sleep and some of that stuff. It’s not comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable state to be in.”

Couture said he will meet with his dentist soon to figure out the next steps in recovery. He will need implants to get the teeth fixed and hopes to get that work done in the next few weeks so he can return home to Canada after that.

Couture said he is still “crushed” by San Jose’s first-round playoff loss in six games to the Edmonton Oilers and will need a few more days to get his mind right.

After San Jose made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, Couture said it was frustrating to enter the postseason with the team so banged up this year.

“You sit there and think, `Why is this happening to us?”‘ he said. “It’s the game of hockey and injuries happen. Teams that win, they battle through the adversity and the injuries and other guys step up and play big roles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that as a team.”

Couture scored two goals in a Game 4 win but did not play up to his usual standards. The Sharks were also hurt by a serious injury to top-line center Joe Thornton, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on April 2 and was back playing in Game 3 two weeks later.

Thornton had two assists in the final four games of the series before undergoing surgery to repair the knee on Monday.

“He’s incredible,” Couture said. “I don’t know if he feels pain because it can’t be fun. The fact that he skated three days after it happened was shocking. I don’t think anyone expected that in our room. It shows how badly he wants to win that he was able to get back out there. The steps that he was going through to play was pretty remarkable. Everyone in our dressing room respects the heck out of that guy. He really wants to win.”

Among other injured players for San Jose were forward Patrick Marleau (broken left thumb), forward Tomas Hertl (broken foot), and forward Joonas Donskoi (separated shoulder).

You can see a picture of Couture’s damaged mouth here, but a warning — it’s pretty gross.