Ilya Bryzgalov

Five interesting players still on UFA market

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We’re into September now, so naturally the list of noteworthy unrestricted free agents has gotten pretty thin, but there are still some players that might sign contracts just before, during, or even after training camp that are still worth keeping an eye on.

In that spirit, here are five guys that might still make an impact in 2014-15 despite going unsigned in July and August:

Dustin Penner — His value has dropped substantially since the Edmonton Oilers inked him to a controversial five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet, but he’s still just 31 years old (32 on Sept. 28) and might be able to play a supporting role. He had some success doing just that in Los Angeles and aided them in their 2012 Stanley Cup championship. He had also looked good at times playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry last season before Anaheim traded him to Washington. There were rumors recently about him joining Philadelphia’s training camp on a tryout basis, but Flyers GM Ron Hextall denied those reports.

Scott Gomez — There’s no question that Gomez isn’t the offensive threat that he once was, but the 34-year-old forward might still be able to serve as a capable bottom-six forward. His ability to mentor young players has also been praised in the past, with Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan referring to him in 2013 as a third or fourth coach.

More recently he played for Florida and spent a fair amount of time as a healthy scratch. He considered retirement, but instead accepted a training camp invite with New Jersey. He’s on this list though because he hasn’t signed with the team and there’s no guarantee that he will.

Martin Brodeur — He’s one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time, but at the age of 42 the demand for his services has obviously decreased dramatically. At this point, teams are pretty much set as far as their goaltending tandems go, with the exceptions, like Anaheim, mostly interested in having internal options compete in training camp. That being said, the landscape is always one major injury away from changing and Brodeur is open to the idea of signing during the season if he can’t work anything out ahead of time.

Daniel Alfredsson — Alfredsson is a bit of a different case because part of the issue is that he’s not sure whether or not he wants to return. He’s been training over the summer, but hasn’t decided if he feels like he can contribute at the age of 41. If he ultimately decides that he wants to return for one more season, then he’s expected to approach the Detroit Red Wings and at that point, it will be up to the team to decide if they want to re-sign him to add another veteran presence and offensive depth or if they want to keep the roster spot open for one of their young forwards.

Ilya Bryzgalov — Like Brodeur, Bryzgalov is stuck in a situation where there aren’t many goaltending opportunities out there, but the two netminders don’t have much else in common. Bryzgalov is a far more polarizing figure due to his tenure with Philadelphia, but he’s coming off of a decent season with Edmonton and Minnesota. He would love to re-sign with Minnesota, but the Wild already have Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding under contract and possess the rights to free agent Darcy Kuemper. As is the case with Brodeur, Bryzgalov might not find an opening in the NHL until there’s a goaltending injury.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.