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.

Flyers’ Carter Hart to make historic NHL debut vs. Red Wings

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The Philadelphia Flyers remain in a state of change, so why not make a little history while they’re at it?

When prized goalie prospect Carter Hart plays Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Flyers will become the first team in NHL history to start six netminders in the opening 35 games of a season. They will also be the 14th team ever and first since the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers to start six over the course of a season.

Considering the situation in the Flyers’ crease, who knows how long Hart, 20, will stay up with the NHL club, but this will be a peek into the future as he is expected to be the eventual solution in net. But with Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz, and Alex Lyon in the mix, the short-term answer might be more seasoning in the AHL once there are fewer goaltenders in the trainer’s room.

After a bumpy start to his professional career in AHL Lehigh Valley this season, Hart has settled down and helped the Phantoms win four of his last five starts with a 1.81 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

What helped to make things finally starting to click for him?

“Trusting my game, not trying to overthink plays,” he said on Monday. “Earlier in the year, making the transition from junior to the pro level I was over-analyzing everything. I had talks with the coaches down there and my goalie coaches back home, and I just have to trust my game, got to play to my strengths. When it’s game time it’s just time to play. You can’t think, you’ve got to play.”

Hart, who found out about his call up during the Lehigh Valley Christmas party on Sunday night, will be helped by the familiarity of having his AHL coach, Scott Gordon, a former goalie, acting as the Flyers’ interim bench boss. It’s not the easiest situation to be thrown into, but the franchise has faith in the young goaltender.

“Probably not the ideal time to give Carter a game but Carter’s playing really well,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “He’s a professional hockey player, strong kid mentally. He’ll go in and give his best. I have no worries about Carter Hart long term. He’s going to be a really good goalie for this franchise.”

MORE: Stumbling Flyers fire head coach Dave Hakstol

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Age not getting in the way of Pekka Rinne

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There was once a time when thoughts were that the emergence of Juuse Saros would spell an end to Pekka Rinne’s days in Nashville. The young Finn would take the torch from the elder Finn and continue backstopping the Predators to success.

Well, like a fine wine Rinne’s only improved with age, and last season’s Vezina Trophy winner isn’t slowing down at age 36.

No goaltender in the NHL this season with at least 20 starts has a better even strength save percentage (.943) or a allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals (28). It’s the continuance of a trend for Rinne that’s seen him improve as he gets later into his 30s. Last month, he signed a two-year, $10M extension on his birthday. Hours after the signing became official he went out and stopped all 26 shots he faced during a 1-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I don’t know how he does it. He’s getting older and you wouldn’t know it,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette recently. “It doesn’t seem to affect him.’

It’s quite a run when you consider that Rinne told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt that when he signed his seven-year, $49M extension in 2011, he envisioned the 2018-19 season being his final one before retirement.

“I remember seeing guys who were 36 and thinking, ‘Okay, that’s pretty much the age I’m aiming for,'” he said. “And now that I’m there, I’ve been having so much fun. I feel much better than ever.”

As the Predators once again eye a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they will be led by the winningest Finnish goalie in NHL history, who is also looking to become the first over-35 netminder in league history to win back-to-back Vezina Trophies. This season could have been his swan song. Instead, Rinne is showing that he has a number of good years left in him.

NOTES:

• Following Monday night’s loss to Ottawa, the Predators have now lost seven straight on the road (0-5-2) after starting the season 8-0-0 away from Bridgestone Arena. Tuesday’s meeting with the Blackhawks is at United Center.

• When they won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 117 points, Nashville also had exactly 46 points through December 17 (21-7-4 record).

• Despite getting pulled last night after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period, Rinne has been largely stellar this season with a 14-5-1 record, .926 SV% and 2.07 GAA.

• Chicago was 6-6-3 when they fired Joel Quenneville, but are now 4-13-3 under Jeremy Colliton.

• When they do score the 1st goal of the game, Chicago is 8-2-4. When they allow the first goal of the game, they are 2-17-2.

• Chicago has just 12 power play goals all season, tied with Philadelphia for the fewest in the league. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine leads the league with 10 power play goals on his own.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Hakstol firing fallout; Leafs prepared for offer sheets

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• According to NBC Philadelphia, Chuck Fletcher didn’t plan on firing Dave Hakstol on Monday. Good times! [NBC Philadelphia]

• Planning to submit an offer sheet to one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ young studs next summer? Go ahead. Kyle Dubas isn’t scared. “Our salary cap situation is set up that we can defend any of those threats with no worry at all. I know (offer sheets) have become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.” [Toronto Sun]

William Nylander has some advice for potential offer sheet targets Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner: sign early. [TSN]

• After suffering another concussion, what does the future hold for Corey Crawford? [Sun-Times]

Matt Duchene could be back for the Ottawa Senators sooner than expected. [Ottawa Citizen]

• Mike Tirico will be the host for NBC’s coverage of the 2019 Winter Classic and 2019 NHL All-Star Game. [NBC Sports Press Box]

• An abdominal injury has put New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider on IR. [NJ.com]

• NHL Seattle looking to incorporate indigenous art into team logo. [King5]

• We’re witnessing a very good Tampa Bay Lightning team. Is this roster the most complete yet? [Tampa Bay Times]

Mark Scheifele is a stud and has become one of the Winnipeg Jets’ biggest offensive leaders. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Short-term pain could lead to long-term benefits for the Los Angeles Kings. [The Hockey News]

Matt Murray is healthy, but should he carry the bulk of the workload for the Pittsburgh Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• It’s been a tough season in net for the Arizona Coyotes, but Adin Hill has been a bright spot. [NHL.com]

• Overcoming adversity will tell us a lot about the 2018-19 New York Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• What will the NHL scoring race look like at the end of the regular season? [Spector’s Hockey]

• Will Alex Ovechkin score 50 in 50 this season? [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Arizona State is coming along real well as a NCAA D-I hockey program. [Scotty Wazz]

• A chat with Jay Deutsch, one of the members of the NHL Seattle ownership group, about branding and marketing the franchise, competing with other sports in Seattle, the NBA and more. [Forbes]

• Finally, please check out episode three of Desert Gold: How Hockey Became a Smash Hit in Vegas:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Josi’s island; Bob robs Vegas

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Three Stars

1. Roman Josi

There was some exciting hockey on Monday, yet there weren’t a ton of performances where players put up gaudy numbers.

Oddly, the only two skaters who generated at least three points were both part of a losing effort for the Predators. Josi stands far above Ryan Johansen from an all-around standpoint, which is why he’s also standing above the Preds center in these three stars.

Josi generated two goals and one assist in helping Nashville salvage a standings point after the Predators dug themselves a 3-0 hole against the Senators. Josi fired six shots on goal and logged 23:54 in ice time in that loss.

The Swiss-born defenseman has been coming up big for a Predators team that’s dealing with all kinds of injury headaches, including to other go-to guys like P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg. Don’t be surprised if Josi generates some Norris buzz if he keeps this up, as he has 26 points in 34 games.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky

Monday saw some strong goalie performances. Jaroslav Halak blanked his old team as Boston crushed Montreal, only needing to make 22 saves for a shutout. Thomas Greiss didn’t shut out the Avalanche, yet he kept Mikko Rantanen off the board, which should at least earn him a Kindergarten-style gold star.

But “Bob” might have had the best night of any goalie.

Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots for his first shutout of 2018-19. It’s been a bumpy contract year for the Blue Jackets goalie, as you can see from his poor .905 save percentage. Don’t count him out, though, especially since Columbus has been able to maintain a playoff position even without Bobrovsky authoring his usual regular-season heroics.

3. Ryan Johansen

Honestly, this feels like the quintessential Ryan Johansen game.

There was the very good: Johansen managed three assists, factoring into all of Nashville’s goals. It’s been a strong season for Johansen, who’s generated 29 points in 34 games, even if his offense has cooled off with Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson on the shelf.

If there’s one thing that’s maddening about Johansen, it’s that he shoots so infrequently, so it’s fitting that he had zero SOG on Monday, even with the Predators chasing the Senators for much of the contest. Johansen now only has 55 SOG in 34 games in 2018-19, which seems almost unthinkable for a top-line forward.

But, hey, it’s mostly working, so this is probably closer to nitpicking than a more profound critique. Probably?

Highlights

Chances are, more people will bug Johansen about him giving up the puck on Thomas Chabot‘s pretty OT game-winner, though:

Since Dec. 12, Bryan Rust has a hat trick, six points in four games overall, and also provided a goaltending audition.

Factoids

You may call these Ducks plucky.

Nice fodder for Senators GM Pierre Dorion, who recently said that their rebuild might be ahead of schedule:

Another reminder that Halak was a Hab:

Scores

ANA 4 – PIT 2
CBJ 1 – VGK 0
BOS 4 – MTL 0
OTT 4 – NSH 3 (OT)
NYI 4 – COL 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.