Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

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After the Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to that megalodon of an extension on Monday, the already-thin free agent market for defensemen dried up that much more. It’s tempting to depict that group as a tumbleweed rolling through a dusty town.

Of course, that’s not totally fair.

There are a few good defensemen available, at least if teams find the right combination of contract and role.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always so sober when demand simply can’t meet supply, as there simply aren’t a lot of great UFA options when it comes to defensemen. Scratch that: there simply aren’t a lot of passable UFA options, at least when you consider likely price tags.

With some help from Cap Friendly’s UFA tools, let’s look at the most prominent potential UFA defensemen, and try to get an idea regarding whether they’re worth splurging on.

Let’s start with Jake Gardiner, who in my opinion is the best option potentially available, and then contrast Gardiner with Tyler Myers, who stands out as a huge risk for less savvy NHL teams.

Also, a quick note: there’s a chance that some of these defensemen will just return to their current teams, rather than hitting the free agent market. So keep that in mind, too.

  • Jake Gardiner: The 28-year-old has been the Maple Leafs’ second-best defensemen for some time now, which may rank as a curse more than anything else. Every mistake is magnified, and every wart shines under the spotlight.

Overall, Gardiner is a very productive scoring defenseman – throwing out lockout seasons, he’s only failed to reach 30+ points once – and tends to check out pretty well from a possession standpoint.

Gardiner isn’t perfect, but he’s every good, particularly when you realize just how tough it is to land quality blueliners. If I were a GM who absolutely needed to get better on defense now, and couldn’t pull off a trade, Gardiner would be far and away my target. But, if he gets paid too much, then Gardiner will be a go-to scapegoat. Sadly, that’s just how sports work.

Looking at Evolving Wild’s salary projections spreadsheet, a potential Gardiner contract would clock in at seven years, with just less than $7 million in AAV. That term leads me to believe that Gardiner would eventually become a source of harsh scorn, but really, giving scary term away is just the nature of the beast. (I’m a huge proponent for Erik Karlsson, but that deal adds a huge block to what was already a wobbly Jenga puzzle that is the Sharks’ salary structure.)

I don’t know if $7M-ish is ideal for Gardiner, and big term would scare me, but teams could do worse, especially if they’re really opening up their wallets.

[More: Sharks’ salary cap challenges after Karlsson extension]

  • Tyler Myers: While Gardiner tends to shoulder too much blame, Myers sometimes gets a free pass from hockey people.

Those hockey people see a massive 29-year-old defenseman who can score, and who can skate remarkably well for his size. For whatever reason, many look away from Myers’ mistakes more than they would with Gardiner, and that’s a problem since Myers takes away more from the table than someone like Gardiner does.

The red flags become flashing neon signs the deeper you look.

Sean Tierney’s Visualization uses Evolving Wild’s GAR metrics to provide a snapshot of certain player values, and it’s eye-popping to see how poorly Myers checks out, including looking worse than Dmitry Kulikov, a defenseman the Jets should be eager to trade away for cap space:

Via Sean Tierney, with Evolving Wild data

To be clear: I’m not saying that Myers can’t be the type of player who would help a team. Instead, I’m saying that he profiles as someone who will cost way too much, and thus will be asked to do too much, and there’s a strong chance that an expensive mistake would be made.

Again, there are a lot of red flags, and I’m not alone in seeing them with Myers.

  • Alexander Edler: For the second season in a row, the veteran defenseman scored 34 points, and this last time he did so in just 56 regular-season games. The 33-year-old generally brings a respectable two-way game to the table, too, so there’s some appeal there.

Edler’s an interesting choice if a team can stomach forking over a fairly beefy cap hit, but doesn’t want to hand out the sort of term Gardiner-types likely will demand.

At 33, there’s definitely a risk of a plummet, especially if Edler mainly looks promising compared to a rough group of Canucks defensemen, and might not be that much of a difference-maker on a contender.

So, there are some worries … but Edler is one of the better options beyond Gardiner, at least if you’re talking about more prominent choices (assuming he makes it to UFA status).

  • Anton Stralman – There was a time when Stralman was underrated, but now the risk is that a team’s view of the Swede would be steeped in the past. Stralman’s not the same player at 32, and the projected cost of $4.5M AAV for three years is downright scary for a potential suitor.

Now, could Stralman be a reclamation project if he fell into a PTO-type situation? That would be a fair question to ask. Actually, most of the veterans on this list should be approached that way. If you like a guy, don’t splurge early and heighten your risks. Instead, hope for a tepid market, and strike. If not? Chances are, you saved yourself money and a roster spot.

  • Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth – On one hand, you could make bigger mistakes. On the other hand … are you sure that you can’t get similar value from a prospects climbing to the NHL?
  • Braydon Coburn – At 34, an older version of Benn/Nemeth.
  • Niklas Kronwall, Dion Phaneuf – Name recognition might let them hang around, but your team is likely better off looking elsewhere.
  • Ron Hainsey, Deryk Engelland – Two players who’ve generally exceeded low expectations lately. Unfortunately, that only means so much, and you can’t ignore just how old they are. Hainsey is 38, and Engelland is 37. Veterans like these can get a salary boost because of past accomplishments, and that could be enough to drop them from “Eh” to “Oh no.”
  • Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Adam McQuaid – More former Rangers defensemen teams might ponder, and more “Meh.”

If you’re like me, you’ve grimaced at quite a few names on this list, or at best shrugged your shoulders.

To reiterate, not every hypothetical situation ends in disasters. PHT will monitor this offseason for that very reason: maybe a team will be creative in making something work, or conversely, make huge mistakes based on faulty assumptions.

As far as moves that can be truly substantial, Gardiner stands out as the most appealing option; even then, handing Gardiner big money and big term is pretty scary. So … the UFA route ultimately seems like a perilous one, at least for defensemen.

That’s just one person’s opinion, however. Would you want your team to go after any of the above defensemen, or other options on this list?

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Not time to fire Babcock; Who are elite goalies?

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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.
• It’s not time for the Leafs to fire Mike Babcock, but they should look at moving William Nylander. (Toronto Star)

• Who are the elite, good and replaceable goalies in the NHL? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Teammates and rivals share their stories about Hall-of-Famer Hayley Wickenheiser. (Sportsnet)

• Canadiens rookies Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury have improved every game. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Find out how the Washington Capitals have looked through 20 games. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• What’s wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky? (The Rat Trick)

• Jim Rutherford put the final touches on his Hall-of-Fame career by fixing the Penguins. (Pensburgh)

Robby Fabbri has given the Red Wings’ second line a spark. (MLive.com)

• The Golden Knights have had a different start to the season than they did one year ago. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How much has Patrik Laine really improved this season? (Arctic Ice Hockey)

Martin Jones has been key during San Jose’s six-game winning streak. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was once traded for Guy Carbonneau. (Dallas Morning News)

Jason Zucker is struggling to find the back of the net. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Here are five players that are providing the least amount of value right now. (The Hockey News)

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.

Meet the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class

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The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class is unique in the contributions the six inductees gave to the game. 

There’s the leader and two-way dynamo; the defector who left a successful career at home to come to North America and pursue his hockey dream; the dominant force in the women’s game who led Canada to great international success; the consistent offensive threat from the blue line wherever he played; the GM who after a long playing career established himself as a successful team builder, helping to lead two different franchises to Stanley Cups; and finally, the college coach who has over 1,000 wins on his resume and five national championships.

Let’s take a look at the 2019 class that will be inducted Monday night in Toronto.

CarbonneauGuy! Guy! Guy! It was worth the wait for the three-time Selke Trophy winner. After nearly two decades of eligibility, the skilled defensive forward got the call.

After scoring the lights out in junior with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Carbonneau reinvented himself into a steady two-way presence with the Canadiens. Following in the footsteps of another Selke winner, Bob Gainey, Carbonneau helped Montreal to two Stanley Cups while recording scoring at least 15 goals in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. He would play one year in St. Louis before ending his career with five seasons in Dallas. It was with the Stars that he would win another Cup

Nedomansky – The first player to defect from Eastern Europe to play professionally in North America, “Big Ned” arrived in Toronto at age 30 to play for the WHA’s Toronto Toros. By the time he arrived here, Nedomansky had won nine medals representing Czechoslovakia and helped his country to silver and bronze medals at the Olympics.

Nedomansky made an immediate impression in his first two seasons in the WHA. He would score 97 goals and record 179 points with the Toros. He would play two more seasons in the league after the franchise moved to Birmingham, Ala. before being traded to the NHL — yes, an inter-league trade. (Included in the deal to Detroit was Dave Hanson a.k.a. “Jack Hanson” of Slap Shot fame.

The goals kept coming for Nedomansky in Detroit, where he would play five seasons. He would finish his career splitting the 1982-83 season with the Rangers and Blues. He spent the last two seasons working as a pro scout for the Golden Knights.

Wickenheiser – The legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the World Championships. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally. 

While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Maple Leafs, but is also attending medical school at the University of Calgary. Hall of Fame chairman Lanny MacDonald was unable to reach her after her selection was announced in June because she was in a class and unable to use her phone. Eventually, she saw the missed calls from Toronto and learned of the good news.

Zubov – An offensive stalwart, his 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He finished his NHL career with the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship.

His best offensive season was his most memorable one as a player. Zubov led the 1993-94 Rangers in points with 89 (12 goals) and helped lead the team to the Presidents’ Trophy. Quarterbacking the NHL’s top power play (23%), the blue liner was fourth in the entire league with 49 points with the man advantage. That team would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, with Zubov, Alexander Karpotsev, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Nemchinov becoming the first Russian-born and trained players to get their names engraved on the trophy.

BUILDERS

Rutherford – After Peter Karmanos secured the purchase of the Hartford Whalers in 1994, Rutherford, then a part-owner, was put in charge as general manager. Having worked together in the past running junior teams, the tandem would remain in charge of the franchise long after its move to North Carolina when they became the Hurricanes in 1997. 

Five years after the move the Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Four years after that they were finally champions. In 2014 Rutherford stepped down from his GM role and later as team president after Carolina missed the playoffs seven out of eight seasons. He wasn’t out of work long as he would quickly join up with the Penguins. Over the next two seasons he would build a roster that would win back-to-back Cups, the first time an NHL team had achieve that feat since the 1997-98 Red Wings.

York – With nearly 1,110 wins under his belt, York is the winningest active coach in NCAA hockey history. He’s won five NCAA titles with Boston College and Bowling Green and reached the Frozen Four 12 times. York’s teams have also won nine Hockey East titles and nine Beanpots. A four-time Hockey East coach of the year winner, he was also named 1977 Spencer Penrose D-I coach of the year, and was named recipient of the 2010 Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to the game in the U.S.

Also honored this weekend at the Hall of Fame were longtime NHL PR man and former beat writer Frank Brown, who is the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, given “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey,” and Sportsnet broadcaster Jim Hughson, who is this year’s winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, for “outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of ice hockey during their broadcasting career.”

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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: Blackhawks, Golden Knights cruise; Sundqvist fined

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Three Stars

1. Kirby Dach, Blackhawks

It was quite the night for the rookie forward during Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Sabres. Dach became the third 18-year-old in franchise history to record a multi-goal game, joining Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Kane. Per the NHL, he’s also the fourth different 18-year-old in franchise history to record a point streak of four-plus games. Also, Kane scored his 11th of the year to extend his points streak to nine games.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights

Vegas snapped its five-game losing streak in a big way Sunday night. Fleury posted 34 saves and his teammates provided six goals during a shutout of the Flames. It was Fleury’s second shutout of the season and 58th of his career.

3. William Karlsson, Golden Knights

Karlsson had a hand in a four-goal third period for Vegas scoring his second of the game and assisting on Max Pacioretty‘s eighth of the season. The Swedish forward has been on fire of late and now has four goals and seven points in his last three games. According to the NHL, his 75 goals with Vegas is now tied for the eighth-most by a player through a modern-era franchise’s first 200 all-time regular-season games.

Highlights of the Night

• Where there’s an annoyed goaltender, you can probably assume Matthew Tkachuk is in the area. Just ask Fleury:

• There’s never a bad time to have a dog on the ice:

Sundqvist fined

Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist was fined $7,392.47, the maximum allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for charging Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson Saturday night.

Factoids of the Night

Brent Seabrook skated in his 1,100th NHL game on Sunday. He’s second in games played for the Blackhawks behind Stan Mikita (1,394).

Goalies optional in Sudbury

Wild game in the OHL Sunday night with the Hamilton Bulldogs topping the Sudbury Wolves in overtime 11-10. Yes, you read that right.

Scores
Golden Knights 6, Flames 0
Blackhawks 4, Sabres 1

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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.

Avalanche furious over referee decision to not stop play after Calvert injury

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Thanks to huge performances from Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar on Saturday night, the Colorado Avalanche were able to pick up a 5-4 overtime win in Vancouver to gain a little more ground on the first place St. Louis Blues in the Central Division.

Makar continued to look like an emerging superstar with four points, while MacKinnon looked like an MVP candidate with two goals, including a highlight reel coast-to-coast goal in overtime to win it.

One of the biggest reasons the game even made it to overtime was because of a late third period rally by the Canucks that saw them score two goals in the final three minutes. The manner in which the Canucks scored the first of those two goals left the Avalanche completely livid.

It all happened after forward Matt Calvert was struck in the side head by an Elias Pettersson shot from point-blank range and remained down on the ice, bleeding from his head. The on-ice officials allowed play to continue and it ultimately resulted in Alex Edler scoring to bring to the Canucks to within one.

You can the sequence in the video above.

Here is the rule that is relevant to why play was allowed to continue:

When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck. If the player’s team is in control of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.

In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the referee and/or linesman may stop the play immediately.

The Avalanche never regained position of the puck during that sequence so play was allowed to continue. The last part of the rule is what is most relevant to this situation because it brings up a very important question: If a player bleeding from their head isn’t enough to be considered a serious injury to immediately stop play, what is?

The Avalanche were understandably angry, with defenseman Erik Johnson having the harshest words, via The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark.

“It’s a [expletive] joke. You want to protect a guy? Guy’s got a family at home, he’s laying there bleeding out of his head and you don’t blow the whistle? It’s a complete joke. An absolute joke. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Said head coach Jared Bednar: “That’s the second time in two weeks a guy takes a puck to the face and is bleeding all over the ice. Sometimes it’s a tough call to make, but in that situation, you should’ve blown it dead.”

During an appearance on Sportsnet with Scott Oake after the game MacKinnon took it in a different direction and played the “What if it was LeBron James?” card.

“I can only imagine if that was LeBron James, his head was bleeding and they let the other team take a three-pointer to tie the game,” said MacKinnon. “I know it’s not the ref’s fault, it’s the league rule, but I think you need to look and who’s laying on the ice.”

The rule is what it is (and one that probably needs to be re-examined, especially if you are serious about player safety), but there is still that segment of it that does give the referees the option to stop play. That brings it back to the question mentioned above — what sort of injury is considered serious enough to warrant a whistle?

This is not the first time something like this has happened. During the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Pittsburgh Penguins scored a game-tying goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets after Zach Werenski was struck in the face by a puck and remained down on the ice bleeding. Play was not stopped, resulting in a Bryan Rust goal.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.