Perry, Spezza, and other NHL free agent forwards with uncertain futures

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When Corey Perry told the Dallas Stars website that “I know there’s more hockey left in me,” Perry was discussing being ready for play to resume. But what about next season, and possibly beyond?

Perry falls into a category of upcoming NHL free agents with uncertain futures. The reasoning is simple: they may or may not get to make the call about retirement. A lack of interest might simply force them to hang up their skates.

Let’s take a look at Perry and some of the most interesting cases of borderline players. To be clear, players most likely to decide for themselves (example: Joe Thornton) are fodder for different posts. This list also skates past players with expiring contracts who already essentially retired, such as David Clarkson and Johan Franzen.

When in doubt, I’ve also focused on NHL free agent forwards who are 30 or older.

This list focuses on forwards. Later this week, we’ll also tackle defensemen and goalies.

Perry and other forwards with uncertain free agent futures in the NHL

Corey Perry

The lasting image of Perry’s first (and possibly last) Stars season was his “walk of shame” after getting ejected during the 2020 Winter Classic.

Perry’s season got off to the wrong foot in a literal way, as he broke it before his first game in a Stars uniform. He never really got any traction from there, managing just five goals and 21 points over 57 games.

Perry’s possession stats were mediocre, and they’ve honestly been that way for a while. The difference is that his offense plummeted, with the drop-off being especially sharp these past two seasons. Combine that decline in offense with Perry being a 35+ contract, and there are a lot of hurdles.

But all it really takes is one team to consider him a low-risk option, much like the Stars did in 2019-20. It’s not that outrageous to give Perry a mulligan. If you want a nasty veteran with some scoring touch, you could talk yourself into a cheap, one-year deal for Perry.

While Perry’s production has been putrid lately, he generated 49 points in 2017-18, and 53 in 2016-17. Perry also suffered bad puck luck (6.5 shooting percentage) in 2019-20, so there’s another way teams can talk themselves into signing the 2011 Hart Trophy winner.

Jason Spezza

Once you accept that Spezza is no longer going to push 90 points, it’s pretty easy to embrace investing in the 36-year-old. No, 25 points in 58 games isn’t spectacular, but managing that many with an ice time of just 10:50 TOI per night is impressive.

Check Spezza’s historical isolated impact at Hockey Viz and you’ll notice that, as his offense has declined, Spezza’s become a responsible defensive presence.

Spezza viz, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Hockey Viz/Micah Blake McCurdy

Spezza also mostly took Mike Babcock’s Babcockery in stride, which should count for something. Spezza is a low-risk no-brainer.

Carl Soderberg

Carl Soderberg’s a little older than I realized, as he’ll turn 35 on Oct. 12. Some of his underlying stats are pretty underwhelming, so I wonder if his place in the league may involve ranking lower in the pecking order than he has with Arizona and Colorado in recent seasons?

Ryan Reaves

Honestly, Ryan Reaves seems like the type of player I’d expect to be teetering out of the league at 33. Teams want a menacing presence who can play a bit, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to get pretty lucrative deals. And, really, Reaves checks out reasonably well in this RAPM comparison with Spezza at Evolving Hockey, too:

Reaves vs. Spezza, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Evolving Hockey

Other forwards

  • I assume Martin Hanzal will retire, being that he last played in 2018-19, and in just seven games. Then again, he’s merely 33, so maybe he’d give it another shot? Large, defensive-minded centers don’t grow on trees. At least, I have never been to such forest, and would prefer to get that image out of my head now, thank you.
  • Trevor Lewis is one of those supporting cast members from a championship team who garners a somewhat baffling level of loyalty. (See: many, many Detroit Red Wings.) It’s not that Lewis, 33, is terrible. It’s just that I’m not sure how much he moves the needle. His ice time plummeted by more than two minutes (14:01 to 11:54), too, so that’s not a great sign for Lewis.
  • NHL teams sure do love 35-year-old Nate Thompson. The Flyers gave up a fifth-rounder for him during the past trade deadline, and Montreal coughed up two picks for Thompson the year before. All for REASONS! So maybe “Nate Boucher” will remain in some demand?
  • I’m not certain about Patrick Maroon‘s health, but … can the guy catch a break? It would be sad if the 32-year-old spent another offseason twisting in the wind.
  • There’s a subcategory of “I’m surprised that person played so many games in the NHL this season.” Two of the biggest were Troy Brouwer (34, 13 games) and Chris Stewart (32, 16 games, first season in NHL since 2017-18). I’d say that they probably won’t land on teams in 2020-21 but … I’ve already been wrong about NHL free agent forwards before, and likely will be again.

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.

Senators waive Bobby Ryan for purposes of a buyout

bobby ryan buyout
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The Senators have placed Bobby Ryan on waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract.

Ryan came to Ottawa via trade from the Ducks during the 2013 off-season. The 33-year-old forward played 455 games with the Senators, scoring 107 goals and recording 266 points.

Friday marks the opening of the NHL’s first buyout window. It will run through Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. ET.

Buying out the final two years of Ryan’s contract will spread across Ottawa’s cap for the next four seasons. According to CapFriendly, the Senators will have a $3,583,333M cap hit for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 NHL seasons and then a $1,833,333M hit for 2022-23 and 2023-24.

This move will save the Senators $3.67M. GM Pierre Dorion will have plenty of money to spend in free agency in a few weeks, or perhaps take on a bad contract or two if there’s sweetener involved.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Ryan was a four-time 30-goal scorer while in Anaheim but his offense took a dip over his final seasons in Ottawa. He netted 23 in his first year there and then 22 in 2015-16, but he never reached 20 goals again. This past season he took a leave of absence from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded an emotional hat trick in his first home game back.

For his efforts, Ryan was awarded the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Dorion is in makeover mode and his recent moves show he’s preparing for the future. Mark Borowiecki and goaltender Craig Anderson were told they won’t be back, and now Ryan will be gone as well. A youth movement is in place and will be helped by the team owning nine picks in the opening three rounds of the upcoming draft.

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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.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, September 25, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series standouts, surprises

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What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out to you through three games?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The flip in special teams execution for both teams. From the start of the First Round through the conference finals, the Dallas Stars‘ power play was dominant (26.5%) and their penalty kill was strong (83.3%). Meanwhile, Tampa’s extra man unit was down 6% from the regular season to 17.9%.

The Lighting’s power play issues were well-documented heading into the Stanley Cup Final, but that unit was woken up since Game 2 and is at 27.3% in the series with three goals in two games. Dallas has only one goal in 11 opportunities. Tampa holds a PK advantage of 90.9% to 72.7%.

Special teams can decide a series, and right now, through three games, they’ve made a huge difference for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning’s physicality, particularly though a grinding playoff run, has been unexpected. I truly expected fatigue to be a bigger factor for Tampa Bay. Combined with the Stars’ mix of speed, size, and stinginess, I thought the Bolts would be forced to the outside a lot more. This Lightning team isn’t just skill, and all of the talk about depth additions isn’t out of line. Consider that Tyler Johnson (!) was credited with nine hits during Game 3 alone.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I want to see that Andrei Vasiilevskiy might actually be underrated. Crazy to say about a goalie that has been a Vezina Finalist in each of the past three seasons, but there are so many other stars on this team (Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos when he is in the lineup) that we kind of overlook the goalie that is also one of the best players in the world at his position. He has literally played every minute for the Lightning in the Return To Play and he has been great while doing so. In any other year on any other team he would be a runaway Conn Smythe favorite, and on this team in this postseason he is just sort of like an afterthought.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/EditorThe thing that has stood out to me has been how the Lightning have been dominating the play. The Stars got off to a quick start in Game 1 but the Lightning came back to outshoot them 22-2 in the third period and with the exception of the middle frame of Game 2 when Tampa Bay took four minor penalties, the Stars have looked rather ordinary. It is obvious to me that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NHL and Dallas needs Anton Khudobin to stand on his head and that could be difficult as he must be tired, playing more games in the last seven weeks (23 games) than he has at any other time in his career.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The level of play from each team’s top line. For the Lightning, they continue to receive significant contributions from Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. That trio has combined for 10 points in the team’s two victories. On the Dallas side, it’s been radio silence from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin: zero points through three games for each. Benn was instrumental in the Vegas series, but that production has slowed. Meanwhile, Seguin is mired in a massive slump, with just one point (an assist) over his last 12 games.

Getty Images

Which player has surprised you (good or bad) so far?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: They’re good, we’ve known that, but Tampa’s top line has been unbelievable to watch. Kucherov is in beast mode. Point is making a Conn Smythe case. Every goal Palat scores seems to be a big one. Via Natural Stat Trick, through three games of the Cup Final, the Lightning have outshot the Stars 23-5 at 5-on-5 when the trio is on the ice. They’ve combined for three goals to one against in over 34 minutes of even strength time together.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Besides Stamkos showing how much he could accomplish in a few minutes (reflects for a moment on how long it often takes me to do the dishes), this series has served as a helpful reminder of how good Ondrej Palat is. During the last two games, Palat scored two goals and one assist, pushing him to 10 goals and 16 points in 22 playoff games. While I don’t use plus/minus to condemn a player (or really use it much at all), it can quickly give you an idea of if a player is going through happy or bummer-y times (sorry for the scientific jargon). Palat is a +13 during these playoffs after enjoying a +25 rating during the regular season. Palat doesn’t deserve Kucherov or Point-type attention, yet he’s an all-too-easily forgotten contributor who can fit right in with top linemates.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Can I say Steven Stamkos? Because I definitely want to say Steven Stamkos. Here is a guy that did not play a game in more than six months, was clearly not 100 percent, then showed up in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, played two minutes, and scored a huge goal to help set the tone for a win. He not only scored a goal, it was an absolutely beautiful play to dodge a check at the blue line and then pick the corner off the rush against an NHL goalie. It was starting to get to the point where I did not expect to see him play at all, and I still don’t think we will see him play again in this series, and he just showed up for five shifts and did that like it was nothing.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I have been surprised by the lack of scoring from Tyler Seguin. He must be injured and playing through it as he has only two goals and six assists in 23 games. That is tied for eighth best on the Stats with Radek Faksa who has not seen the ice since September 10. Seguin is averaging .35 points per game in the post-season, which is better than only his rookie season in the NHL where he averaged .30 points per game as an 18-year-old. The only logical explanation is an injury but his lack of scoring is hurting the Stars a lot as they attempt to win their second Stanley Cup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Anton Khudobin has come back to Earth. To pin the losses in Games 2 and 3 solely on Khudobin would be unfair, but clearly the level of play he displayed in the Western Conference Final (and even Game 1 of the Cup Final) has dipped a bit. Perhaps the Lightning exposed a weakness, as all five goals in Game 3 were scored on Khudobin’s blocker side. With the back-to-back coming up this weekend, all eyes will be on the Dallas netminder to see if he can bounce back.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Cracking Khudobin: How Lightning have solved Stars goalie

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The goaltender known as ”Dobby” has lost some of his magic in the Stanley Cup Final.

After three rounds of dominant play put him in the playoff MVP mix, Anton Khudobin has allowed the Tampa Bay Lightning to score eight goals over the past two games to take a 2-1 series lead on the Dallas Stars. Solving Khudobin is a combination of the Lightning making it harder on him in multiple ways, perhaps finding the right place to shoot the puck at, Khudobin playing the most hockey of his NHL career and the Stars breaking down in front of him – and it might be enough to help Tampa Bay lift the Cup.

”There were three shots that beat him blocker side in Game 3. … Have they figured something out?” said retired goaltender Brian Boucher, who’s rinkside inside the bubble as an NBC Sports analyst. ”It might be a little fatigue and it also just might be that, you know what, Tampa’s got a really good team that’s got some great offensive weapons, that’s got some guys that play with some real grit and sandpaper that’s wearing down some of the Dallas defense and they’re exposing them right now a little bit.”

Khudobin posted a .920 save percentage in his first 19 games this postseason and set a Cup final record making 22 stops in the third period of the Stars’ Game 1 win. He has allowed eight goals on 60 shots – an .867 save percentage – in five periods since and got pulled after the second period of Game 3 only because coach Rick Bowness wanted to rest him with a back-to-back coming up.

The Stars don’t see Khudobin as a problem, and he’ll be back in net for Game 4 Friday night.

”We need to play better in front of him,” Bowness said. ”He doesn’t have to do anything better. He doesn’t have to do anything different. He just has to keep doing what he’s doing, and in terms of our team, it would help him a lot if we didn’t make it so easy for the other team to play against us sometimes.”

That’s why it’s such a multifaceted situation. It starts with Tampa Bay, the most talented team Khudobin and the Stars have faced since hockey resumed with a core and coach who have been here before.

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, who tended goal in the NHL for 11 seasons, thinks it’s a product of the Lightning practicing with Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy and generating better scoring chances.

”When you give those players (on) Tampa that type of time and space and when they fight to get that type of time and space, it’s tough,” Weekes said. ”Those are Grade A looks that Tampa’s getting now. Here’s the thing: Tampa’s not settling really for just plays off the rush. They’re not settling for that, and they’re not settling for like long-distance shots off nice passing plays. They’re skating the extra 5 feet, the extra 8 feet to get to a more prime shooting area.”

The Lightning learned their lesson from Vegas’ downfall in the Western Conference final, when players peppered Khudobin with some easy-to-stop shots and got frustrated. Tampa Bay did that trying to mount a comeback in the third period of Game 1, and Khudobin set a Cup Final record with 22 saves.

The onslaught started with two power-play goals early in Game 2 that got Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman going, and they’ve taken fewer shots to the outside that Khudobin can stop and build up his own confidence. They’re waiting it out for those Grade-A chances.

”You’d rather have 45 shots from the outside and everybody’s boxing out and there’s no second-chance opportunities,” Boucher said. ”The high-end players for Tampa, I do think in general these guys look for the better play. And really high skilled players, guys of high offensive IQ, they’re not just OK with getting the puck to the net.”

That’s why Barclay Goodrow‘s assertion that the Lightning are just getting the puck to the net more isn’t quite right. They put up five goals on 29 shots in Game 3 by getting to prime scoring areas.

Then there’s Khudobin himself. The 34-year-old had never started an NHL playoff game before August.

”I think the amount of hockey he’s played, eventually it catches up to you,” said Boucher, a veteran of 43 playoff games.

That’s not to take anything away from the Lightning, who adjusted well to Khudobin after their Game 1 loss. Point said the idea was ”trying to get to that net hard,” and he and his teammates are doing a good job of making the offensive zone a crowded mess.

”You’ve got to make it busy in front of the net,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”There’s one thing about screening shots, but you screen passes. Guys have been really good on faking shots and moving pucks and being deceptive around the net.”

Cooper between Games 2 and 3 was reticent for cracking Khudobin, saying, ”I’m not sitting here saying we’ve gotten to him.” Still, for many reasons, they have, and it may be the key to a championship.