UFA of the Day: Marian Gaborik

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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…

Marian Gaborik

The best day of the year for Gaborik — at least so far — had to be March 5 when the Columbus Blue Jackets traded him to the Los Angeles Kings.

Before that, Gaborik was starting to look like a player on the decline. He was once again plagued by injuries this season and didn’t seem to fit in with the Blue Jackets during the brief periods of time that he was healthy. Combine that with a lackluster 2013 campaign and we started to have the makings of a trend.

The Kings have proven to be a great fit for him though as he was able to quickly connect with Anze Kopitar. He asserted himself as the missing element on a team that had struggled offensively and with the Kings just one victory away from claiming the Stanley Cup, Gaborik is arguably a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate with 13 goals and 21 points in 25 contests.

After all he’s done for them, the Kings would presumably love to have him back, but his success might have priced them out of the market, as they already have $62.3 million in cap space committed to 18 players, per LA Kings Insider.

He will still be a high-risk signing given his recent and historic health problems, but that was true when he hit the market in 2009 as well and that didn’t deter the Rangers from handing him a five-year, $37.5 million deal. Teams might seek a shorter contract length this time around given Gaborik’s age, but he will likely be looking for a similar annual salary, and he might get it given his status as one of the best skill forwards projected to be on the market.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Drouin or Galchenyuk at center? Habs may choose neither

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It’s been a weird season for the Montreal Canadiens, and Tuesday presented a new wrinkle.

With Phillip Danault sidelined (but resting at home) with a concussion after taking that scary Zdeno Chara shot, the Canadiens are dealing with some injuries at center. One would think that might inspire management to keep Drouin in the middle, or – dare we wonder – even give Galchenyuk another shot at center.

Instead, the plan for at least one day is to mark “none of the above,” with Galchenyuk at left wing and Drouin on the right on a line with Jacob De La Rose. This seems like a good time to break out that blinking gif, eh?

To review, Bergevin explained about a week ago that Drouin was better suited to play at wing “in an ideal world.” It was startling to hear Bergevin say that much after dismissing Galchenyuk as a center – to some controversy – back in September.

Maybe this ends up being a short-term experiment; maybe this is what Bergevin and/or Julien wanted all along. But yes, it’s a little odd.

Now, not a lot has changed since PHT did this study of how Drouin was doing heading into a reunion in Tampa Bay.

Despite being 60.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, Drouin’s been a poor possession player. He’s also regressed from an already weak place on faceoffs, winning a pitiful 40.4 percent of his draws this season. With just six goals and 21 points in 39 games, Drouin hasn’t been explosive enough to excuse his other failings. (Numbers via Hockey Reference.)

To that extent, it’s almost surprising the Canadiens waited so long, but it’s still frustrating for many to see them so easily dismiss Galchenyuk’s acumen while seemingly letting Drouin’s shortcomings slide.

Much of that frustration comes from the feeling that they’re essentially mirror images: offensive players who can thrive in the right situations, but can also frustrate their coaches. During Drouin’s Lightning days, Jon Cooper essentially said the same things about his two-way struggles as the Habs have about Galchenyuk. Remember that “two nets” comment?

So, yes, on many levels it’s baffling that the Canadiens are rolling Paul Byron out at center and putting De La Rose in the middle rather than allowing Galchenyuk to get another shot.

The real key might be about a different kind of opportunity: if this is how they get the best players on the ice more often, it may all be worth the headaches and snickers. Because when you line up with Drouin, there’s a solid chance you’ll be getting more reps.

Just look at Alex Galchenyuk’s split stats. It’s a small sample size, but so far in January, his average time on ice is 18:37, a mark that towers over his season average of 15:25. The way Julien sees it, De La Rose can do the heavy lifting while those two (ideally) light up the scoreboard.

“At the end of the day, you have a center who might be a little more defensive when you’re in your own end and I want them to play in the other end. The quicker you can kill the play, the better,” Julien said, via PHT’s Joey Alfieri. “Let those two other guys use their offense to their advantage.”

There are quite a few hockey people who envision a future in which you rarely look at the five skaters on the ice as five different positions, instead letting the situation dictate and transition flow organically. Such a way of thinking would probably be the most positive way to look at this situation. At least beyond the previously stated very-bright-side of getting Galchenyuk on the ice more often, without being to Drouin’s detriment.

If nothing else, Drouin and Galchenyuk are finding some chemistry and rhythm together, and that could end up being a beautiful pairing to watch.

It’s so zany it might just work.

That doesn’t keep it from being zany, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

The Flyers aren’t currently in a playoff spot, but things have been going pretty well for them of late. They’ll head into tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak. In each of those victories, they’ve managed to score at least four goals.

Captain Claude Giroux has continued to light it up offensively during the winning streak. Not only has he racked up eight points during his team’s winning streak, he’s also registered at least one point in 11 of his last 12 contests, which is pretty impressive.

But Giroux isn’t the only one producing. Linemates Jakub Voracek (seven points in four games) and Sean Couturier (nine points in four games) have also helped the Flyers catch fire of late.

Another reason the Flyers have been filling the net is because of their red-hot power play that is now 7-for-14 in their last four outings.

As for the Rangers, they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum right now. They’re currently one point ahead of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference standings, but Philadelphia has a game in hand. The fact that New York has dropped three games in a row certainly won’t help their chances of playing hockey in the spring.

Their most recent loss may have been their ugliest one in a while, as they were badly out played by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night.

Star netminder Henrik Lundqvist was particularly vocal after the disaster that took place on the weekend (they lost 7-2 to the Islanders on Saturday and 5-2 to the Penguins on Sunday).

“You have to face it, too. The last 15-20 games, we’re a team that’s going to battle hard to get in,” Lundqvist said, per the New York Post. “We score about two goals a game, so obviously we have to limit our mistakes to stay in games. That’s a fact, and that’s something we have to realize. I’m going to start with myself, work as hard as I can and try to help the team.

“And we need everyone doing that to see if we can turn it around.”

On a positive note, Ryan McDonagh, who’s missed the last game with an undisclosed injury, was back on the ice this morning. McDonagh could return to the lineup tonight.

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.

Top 2018 draft prospect Dahlin makes Sweden Olympic roster

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — Projected No. 1 NHL draft pick Rasmus Dahlin has made Sweden’s Olympic hockey roster and could be the youngest player in the tournament.

Dahlin, 17, played at the recent world junior championship when Sweden earned the silver medal. Dahlin joins several former NHL players, including goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Viktor Fasth and forwards Viktor Stalberg, Linus Omark and Joakim Lindstrom.

Sweden announced its 25-man roster Tuesday, less than a month before the Olympic tournament without NHL players begins in South Korea. Although 2006 gold-medal-winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist won’t be there, his twin brother is on the team. Joel Lundqvist is a forward who played three seasons with the Dallas Stars.

Enroth is the only player back from the 2014 Sochi Olympic team that lost in the final to Canada and wound up with silver.