Sens owner: We’re the ‘smart ones’ for avoiding free-agent busts

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According to Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, all this talk about his team having the lowest cap payroll in the NHL is pointless, since GM Bryan Murray has said that “there’s nothing out there that he could actually spend money on” anyway.

Besides, the Senators will need financial flexibility in the future, when their young players need new contracts. The club’s spending will “skyrocket” once that happens, promised Melnyk.

And at any rate, it’s not like free agency is how all the great teams are built.

“You know, look, everybody keeps talking about money, money, money, and we just keep telling everybody, ‘Take a look at all these big signings that happened in the last couple of years,”‘ said Melnyk.

“I mean, we’re looking like the smart ones. Some of those [unrestricted free agents] that were out there just didn’t pan out. I’m not gonna name the names. You know. Take a look at the players that got those big contracts and what they’re doing now, after they got their big contracts.

“I’m not in the least embarrassed about us spending at the bottom. I’m happy, because we’ll be able to spend more in the future.”

Melnyk is certainly right that a number of the big, recent free-agent signings have turned out poorly. Think David Clarkson in Toronto and Vincent Lecavalier in Philadelphia.

At the same time, there’s a decided relationship between winning and spending money, so it will be interesting to see how the Sens’ budget looks in a few years, should the team find itself in a go-for-it position.

After all, while the foundations of championship teams like the Blackhawks and Kings were laid in the draft, they did add big contracts like Marian Hossa’s and Jeff Carter’s to help put them over the top.

So, what if Sens management went to ownership and asked for more money?

“We’ve got it,” said Melnyk. “Not a problem.”

Related: ‘Any idiot’ can spend to the cap, says Sens owner

Slumping Kopitar might get Gaborik back soon

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The Los Angeles Kings have left something to be desired with their mediocre 14-8-5 record and part of their shortcomings can be tied to Anze Kopitar.

He’s one of their biggest offensive weapons, but he has just five goals and 12 points in 24 games this season. He’s also been limited to two assists over his last eight contests.

Kopitar might get a boost on Tuesday though if Marian Gaborik (upper body) returns after a four-game absence. The two skated together on the top line Sunday and Gaborik was able to fully participate in the practice, per LA Kings Insider.

The duo had chemistry during the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup-winning playoff run, but they weren’t able to carry that forward early this season because Gaborik was sidelined for most of October. He got off to a slow start when he returned, but Gaborik had four goals and seven points in his last nine games before he was injured again.

Justin Williams rounded out the Kings’ first line during Sunday’s practice. Kings coach Darryl Sutter also reunited That 70s Line, which consists of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson.

Sutter talked about the possibility of calling up 23-year-old forward Andy Andreoff as a fallback option if Gaborik isn’t ready.

Locking in the core: Kings sign Martinez to six-year, $24 million extension

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Los Angeles secured another key contributor long-term on Wednesday, inking defenseman Alec Martinez to a six-year, $24 million deal.

The deal, first reported by Sportsnet, kicks in next season and represents a tidy raise on the $1.1 million Martinez is making annually on his current contract. At $4M per, he’ll sit even with Jake Muzzin as the third highest-paid blueliner on the team (trailing Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov.)

Martinez shot to fame last season by scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 5, but had shown his value and talent well prior to notching that famous tally. The 27-year-old scored a career-high 11 goals and 22 points in just 61 games last year — leading all Kings blueliners in goals — and played 19:40 a night.

In the playoffs, Martinez again proved to be a valuable offensive commodity on the back-end, scoring five goals and 10 points in 24 games.

As mentioned at the top, the deal is another long-term pact from Dean Lombardi. The Kings now have Martinez, Muzzin, Doughty, Voynov, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick all signed through 2019.  The Muzzin deal was signed in mid-October, while the Gaborik deal was completed in late June.

Video: Rask takes a puck to the head on Bruins bench

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Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask isn’t playing tonight, but still managed to get injured while watching.

Early in the first period, a Jeff Carter dump-in attempt deflected off a stick and wound up striking Rask in the head.

Rask eventually left for repairs, but is back on the Bruins bench now.

Strome, Nelson giving Isles that all-important cheap production

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Prior to the start of the season, much was written about the New York Islanders and the many changes they’d made to their roster.

Looking back, hopes were understandably high that the additions of goalie Jaroslav Halak, forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Cory Conacher, plus Stanley Cup-winning defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy could turn a team that already had a superstar in John Tavares into a contender in the Eastern Conference.

But you know what way less was written about? The potential of youngsters Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome to make as big an impact as they’ve made.

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As much as anything else, it’s the contributions from Nelson, 23, and Strome, 21, that have given the Isles the chance they’ve got tonight, which is to take over first place in the Metropolitan Division from Pittsburgh. (The two teams are currently tied with 28 points. The Isles host Philly; the Pens are in Boston.)

In a way, what Nelson and Strome have done this season is reminiscent of the boost that Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson gave the Kings in the 2014 playoffs. Remember that, prior to last season, the jury was still out on those two young L.A. forwards. Each had shown they could produce in the AHL; the question was, could they do it at the NHL level? They sure did in the postseason, centered by veteran Jeff Carter. At times, they were the Kings’ best line.

The combined cap hit of Toffoli and Pearson? A mere $1.795 million.

The combined cap hit of Nelson and Strome? Just a hair over $1.76 million. (Not including bonuses, but still.)

This is what the best teams in the NHL have in the cap age — at least one or two young players on cheap contracts who are making significant contributions. Think Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw in Chicago in 2013, Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin in L.A. the year before that, and Boston’s Brad Marchand the year before that.

That’s not to say the Isles are going to win the Stanley Cup, but when a team’s two youngest players on the active roster are in the top four in club scoring, good times are quite often ahead.