Andrej Sekera

NHL free agent defensemen Dustin Byfuglien Andy Greene
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Byfuglien and other veteran NHL free agent defensemen with unclear futures

After covering forwards and goalies, let’s close things out with a look at fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen.

Before we start, note that this isn’t about top defensemen available. Alex Pietrangelo likely only stands on the fringe between a huge contract or just a very big contract. Also, the sheer glut of defensemen means a lot of borderline players will either be off this list, or merely mentioned in passing.

A lot of stuff to consider with Buff

Going to an earlier post, health questions limit Corey Crawford‘s earning potential. Those issues loom even larger for very large defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

After missing the 2019-20 season, it’s unclear how close Byfuglien can be to full-strength. Most of all, Byfuglien must decide if he even wants to come back. And at what cost.

Being that Byfuglien turned 35 on March 27, he’d need a 35+ contract. That could be a Byfuglien-sized sticking point if the defenseman wants term in any deal.

All of that aside, even a compromised version of Byfuglien towers over many of the fringe options.

Other reasonably prominent fringe NHL free agent defensemen

Let’s go over a few of them, while Cap Friendly features a more expansive list that drives home the glut.

  • Mike Green — There were times when it felt like criticisms were way, way too harsh for Green. (Maybe it was fury at the fauxhawk?) The temperature’s changed in 2020, though. Most of the people who bashed Green have moved on to (insert latest offensive defenseman who might win a Norris). But there are just enough teams with nostalgia for Green that he might get a chance in his reduced, 34-year-old form. Consider the Oilers trading an actual draft pick for Green during the past deadline if you need evidence.

While Green’s defensive game slips with age, he also doesn’t provide that zip on offense, either.

It’s sadly not too surprising to see Green — and some other fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen — at the bottom of the ranks of this GAR chart from Evolving Hockey:

worst GAR NHL free agent defensemen Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey
  • While Green’s fellow 34-year-old defenseman Roman Polak plays a different style, he also finds himself in the dregs of that list. It’s even more common for some NHL GM to talk themselves into a hard-nosed Polak than it is for them to believe Green could rekindle his scoring touch, too. Both ideas seem ill-advised, although if you need to appease an old-school coach, maybe you throw them a bone by giving Polak a very cheap contract (that you can bury or get rid of)?
  • It was tough not to chuckle when the Islanders spent a second-round pick to acquire Andy Greene.

That’s not really a knock against Greene, generally speaking. He has some value as a defense-first defensemen. Instead, it’s just that the Islanders felt the need merely to add more of the same.

This isolated impact chart from Hockey Viz reinforces those points well enough:

Andy Greene iso NHL free agent defensemen
via Hockey Viz

Regardless, if the Islanders are willing to spend a prominent pick on Greene, the 37-year-old will probably draw some attention. By the muted expectations of this quantity-over-quality group, you could do worse … if you don’t pledge much money or especially term.

(There’s an argument that Greene is viable enough not to be fringe. Still, his advanced age makes it seem reasonable to list him.)

  • If your team must have someone like Polak, how about Justin Braun? The 33-year-old doesn’t bring offensive value, but he’s more useful defensively.
  • My guess is that there will be at least some market for Ron Hainsey. At 39, it’s fair to wonder how much Hainsey has left in the tank. That’s also a fair question for most of the veteran NHL free agent defensemen we’re discussing.

Veteran free agent NHL defensemen lightning round

  • I usually cut these lists off at 30+, but Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian are two 29-year-old defensemen who’ve garnered more attention than I’d usually expect. Maybe they will again? Teams can get pretty desperate for defense.
  • I haven’t mentioned Kevin Shattenkirk until now because I feel like anyone who observed his work in 2019-20 would give him a low-risk contract. But just in case, the 31-year-old would be a standout if he’s “fringe” material.
  • There are plenty of defensemen who might retire as much for health reasons as a lack of interest. Factor in age, too, and you could mark that box for defensemen including Jonathan Ericsson, Jay Bouwmeester, Deryk Engelland, and maybe Andrej Sekera.
  • Again, there are quite a few middling options who may ride meager name recognition. Teams have regularly inflated the value of 33-year-old Michael Stone, for instance.
  • Are Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber still NHL defensemen? GMs will decide that too.

(In case you’re wondering, Zdeno Chara‘s calling his own shot, and expected to be back. So that’s why he didn’t get a mention only now.)

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.

Long-term outlook for Edmonton Oilers: Free agents, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Edmonton Oilers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Is there an NHL team that boasts a better duo than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? What if you weigh the future, being that McDavid is 23 and Draisaitl is 24?

Of course, the Oilers pay for the luxury of a duo that carries them to competence.

Now, I’d argue that McDavid + Draisaitl is a combo worth $21M (honestly, McDavid’s probably worth nearly that much alone). Even so, the combo eats up about 25 percent of this season’s $81.5M cap ceiling. Thanks to the COVID-19 pause, it will be a chore to maintain that level, let alone bump it to $82M or higher.

When you begin paying your stars like actual stars, every mistake cuts that much deeper.

About $14.2M of the Oilers’ space will be eaten up by James Neal, retaining some of Milan Lucic‘s salary, Zack Kassian‘s extension, and the questionable Mikko Koskinen extension. Add in dead money like the Andrej Sekera buyout and the margin of error gets even smaller.

Could that force the Oilers to wave goodbye to, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after 2020-21? Rather than landing a big fish in free agency, will Edmonton be stuck searching the bargain bin year after year?

There’s at least an opening to put together a more efficient defense.

Oscar Klefbom‘s had some stumbles, but he’s worthwhile as either a key defenseman or a trade chip at a reasonable $4.167M through 2022-23. Darnell Nurse received a bridge contract to keep him in the fold. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and/or Philp Broberg could help out with cheap deals through at least 2021-22.

If the Oilers fail to trade them away before their contracts run out, the $8M+ of Kris Russell and Adam Larsson goes off the books after 2020-21.

So, as time goes on, the Oilers could have a decent mix of value and youthfulness on defense. Of course, that’s if Holland makes the right moves, rather than believing too much in the likes of Mike Green.

Holland must answer: who’s going to help McDavid and Draisaitl? Will Andreas Athanasiou be part of the core? Oh yeah, and what about Jesse Puljujarvi?

Long-term needs for Oilers

Even in the optimistic situation where Koskinen persists as a 1A/1B platoon option, the Oilers still need answers in net. Mike Smith hasn’t been effective, and the pending UFA is 38. Koskinen is no spring chicken at 31.

The Oilers could enjoy a less clunky defense in the near future, but if Broberg, Nurse, and Bouchard have limited ceilings, Edmonton would still need a blue-chipper. Maybe two.

And it’s abundantly clear that the Oilers struggle to find help beyond McDavid and Draisaitl.

If there’s any area where Ken Holland can help the organization learn from sins of the past, it’s draft and development. Can they find talent beyond those high first-rounders, as the Oilers so rarely did before? Can they avoid botching development for the closest answers to the next Puljujarvi or Nail Yakupov?

Long-term strengths for Oilers

Because, the thing is, Edmonton still lucked into many key building blocks for a championship foundation.

If everything else is equal, McDavid + Draisaitl are topping most (if not all) other duos. RNH, Kailer Yamamoto, and other younger forwards can help out, just generally not enough.

And, again, help might be on its way on defense.

Through all this turmoil, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman still ranked the Oilers’ under-23 core group as the top one in the NHL back in September (sub required).

Chiarelli and even Holland dug quite a few holes for Edmonton with poor asset management, in trades and otherwise. Yet there’s still a lot to work with, and Holland could very well build a contender if he hits the right buttons.

Really, that’s what’s been frustrating about the McDavid era: you almost need to be creative to find ways to make it all not work. It’s frustrating that Taylor Hall hasn’t been there as McDavid and Draisaitl grew, but that mistake is in the past.

The Oilers can take that next step. They simply made the journey bumpier thanks to taking many wrong turns.

MORE ON THE OILERS

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.

Long-term outlook for Dallas Stars: Free agents, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Dallas Stars.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as the Stars’ highest-paid players (almost $10M per year for each), and management’s most sought-after scapegoats. If CEO Jim Lites & Co. had issues with Seguin (28, contract expires after 2026-27) and Benn (30, 2024-25) already, one can only imagine how nasty things might get as Father Time really rubs it in.

At least both remain effective if you keep expectations fair — especially Seguin. Even if the Stars’ staunch and stingy system does little to goose their counting stats.

By investing quite a bit of term in Esa Lindell, the Stars figure to lean on Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg for the foreseeable future. Heiskanen’s rookie deal runs out after next season, while Klingberg will only be a bargain through 2021-22.

Ben Bishop continues to provide fantastic goaltending, easily exceeding his near-$5M AAV so far. At 33, it’s fair to wonder if a big slide is coming, so that might go from a bargain to a burden before Bishop’s contract expires after 2022-23.

It will be interesting to see who else joins the core. Looking at the list of pending free agents alone, the Stars face interesting contract challenges with Hintz, Faksa, and Gurianov. The hope is those forwards can pick up the slack for aging players like Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Cogliano.

One would think that a goalie-needy team would drive Khudobin out of the backup goalie price range, but if not, Dallas would be wise to see how much longer their two-headed monster over 33-year-old goalies can keep this up.

Seeing Hanzal’s cursed contract ($4.75M AAV) come off the books must be a massive, Hanzal-sized relief.

Long-term needs for Stars

Khudobin and Bishop delivered shockingly strong results, even for those who favored the two, but again, they’re both 33. Getting younger in net needs to be an emphasis, whether that means a younger (cheaper) backup, or someone on the horizon. Maybe prospect Jake Oettinger could be the answer to a number of questions?

Finding a better balance between risk and rewards lingers as a more abstract key.

Does that mean finding a different coaching option other than interim bench boss Rick Bowness? Perhaps. Seeing Seguin languish with a modest team lead in points at 50 is already a bummer. No one else reaching 40 points in 2019-20 is downright alarming.

There are some nice supplementary pieces in guys like Hintz, but if Seguin and Benn continue to sink from superstars to stars, do the Stars have enough star power? If not, they’ll need to manufacture goals by committee.

Long-term strengths for Stars

A different chef might be able to put together a winning recipe with the ingredients on hand.

In particular, there are pieces to ice a modern, mobile defense. Heiskanen already hovers somewhere between star and full-fledged superstar. Klingberg suffered through a disappointing 2019-20, yet he still has a lot of talent, and could rebound in a more creative setup.

While Lindell is a bit more meat-and-potatoes, prospect Thomas Harley provides potential for more explosive offense from the Stars’ defense.

Speaking of prospects, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson might eventually help the Stars improve their depth on offense. If those two work out, they could help Dallas patch up slippage for Benn and Seguin alongside the likes of Hintz.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Stars’ farm system 18th overall in January (sub required), while his Athletic colleague placed Dallas’ sub-23 group at 15th. That’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s also pretty solid for a team that’s becoming a fairly consistent playoff squad.

Goaltending might remain a strength if Bishop ends up being one of those goalies who ages well. We’ll see.

Overall, Heiskanen stands out as the player Stars fans should be most excited about. There are a decent number of others, especially if Seguin gets better puck luck than the 6.9 shooting percentage that made his 2019-20 season far from nice.

MORE STARS:
• 2019-20 season summary
• Surprises and disappointments

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.

The Buzzer: Huberdeau sparks Panthers; Stars complete comeback

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his second goal of the game
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

After recording two assists in the first half of the Panthers’ 6-5 win against the Montreal Canadiens, Huberdeau added two goals of his own in a 35-second span in the second period. The 26-year-old forward benefitted from a fortuitous bounce when his cross-ice pass attempt deflected off a Canadiens player into the back of the net. Moments later, Huberdeau wired a wrist shot to extend Florida’s lead to 5-3 at the time. Huberdeau is currently the Panthers’ leading scorer and is well on his way to matching or surpassing his 92-point total from last season.

2) Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

When selected at the top of the draft, you are expected to be one of the players leading the way for that organization. Sunday, Hughes recorded his first NHL overtime-winning goal and helped lead the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The 18-year-old forward showed a lot of maturity during his breakaway attempt, wisely keeping the puck out of reach from the chasing Senators skater. The simple, yet effective move to the forehand allowed Hughes to lift the puck over Craig Anderson’s glove. Hughes also recorded an assist earlier in the game giving him his third multi-point game of the season.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

In their final game before the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the Stars erased a two-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win over the Coyotes. Benn had a nifty goal and added an assist during the comeback. The Stars captain showed off his net-front skills as he collected a loose puck in front of the crease then cleverly kicked it over to his backhand to help jumpstart the rally and get Dallas on the scoreboard early in the third period.

Other notable performances from Sunday

John Tortorella – The Blue Jackets were the recipient of some bad fortune, and Tortorella let everyone know the facts of the situation in a clear, concise message after the game. More on the referee’s costly mistake here

Jaden Schwartz – The undersized forward scored two goals Sunday as the Blues captured their eighth straight victory.

David Pastrnak – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer picked up his 29th goal and 29th assist in the Boston Bruins’ 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Myers – The defenseman had two goals early in the first period to help Vancouver start with a 2-0 lead against the Calgary Flames.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk – Two power-play goals in 18 seconds helped the Bruins extend their point streak to seven games.

Jakub Voracek – The Flyers forward had two assists but his pass to set up Kevin Hayes’ overtime-winning goal was a thing of beauty. From the top of the left circle in the defensive zone, Voracek fired a pass up ice to Hayes as Anaheim made a poor line change. The Flyers improved to 5-1-0 in their last six games.

Andrej Sekera’s blind pass from behind the net set up Alexander Radulov’s game-tying goal.

Brayden Point found the smallest of openings when he scored the go-ahead goal in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory against Detroit.

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

New Jersey Devils 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 1

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Florida Panthers 6, Montreal Canadiens 5

Dallas Stars 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 5, Calgary Flames 2

Stars seek playoff repeat after ouster by Cup champion Blues

Getty Images

DALLAS  — Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn are already talking about what they haven’t been able to do in six seasons together with the Dallas Stars: reach the playoffs in consecutive years.

The franchise hasn’t made back-to-back trips to the postseason since a long stretch of Stanley Cup contention ended in 2008, so it’s a topic of conversation elsewhere in the locker room as well heading into the opener Oct. 3 at home against Boston.

With free agent Joe Pavelski potentially adding some scoring punch, a dynamic young defensive group headlined by John Klingberg and 20-year-old Miro Heiskanen and Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop back in net, the Stars are eager to end the on-again, off-again trend.

”That’s the message,” Seguin said. ”We want to be consistent here. We want to have that identity and culture and environment that is a championship environment. That’s year after year. That’s day after day. That’s shift after shift. Made good steps forward last year. Now let’s keep going.”

The Stars lost in double overtime in Game 7 in the second round at St. Louis last season before the Blues went on to win their first Stanley Cup. Dallas also made it to the second round before losing to the Blues in 2016.

When a trade brought Seguin and Benn together in 2013-14 two seasons after Seguin won the title as a 19-year-old rookie in Boston, the Stars immediately made the playoffs, losing in the first round to Anaheim. But then Dallas the postseason three of the next four years.

”It’s hard to get into the playoffs,” Benn said. ”It’s hard to be good every year. So that’s a focus of ours this year. Stay consistent, battle every day and try to keep getting better.”

WHO’S HERE

The 35-year-old Pavelski signed a three-year deal after spending his first 13 seasons in San Jose. Corey Perry is on a one-year contract after a buyout in Anaheim, where the 34-year-old played his first 14 years.

Pavelski is getting $7 million per season to be another threat alongside the top three scorers in Seguin, Benn and Alexander Radulov. The expectations are lower for Perry, who signed for $1.5 million and might miss the opener after breaking a bone in his foot just before the start of training camp.

Defenseman Andrej Sekera was an overshadowed addition in free agency. But the 33-year-old could be an important veteran for a group mostly led by Klingberg, who once was the young phenom but is now 27 going into his sixth season. The new young phenom is Heiskanen, who had a standout rookie season as a teenager and was good in the playoffs as well.

WHO’S NOT

The Stars went with Pavelski rather than trying to bring back Mats Zuccarello, a trade deadline addition who broke his right arm in his first game with Dallas last season. Jason Spezza signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency after a reduced role in his final two seasons with the Stars.

KEY PLAYERS

Lower productivity was the reason for a profane midseason rant by team CEO Jim Lites against Seguin and Benn, who had his fewest points in a full season (53) since scoring 41 as a rookie in 2009-10. The biggest difference was assists, with the 2015 Art Trophy winner as the league’s top scorer getting just 26 coming off five straight seasons with at least 43 each year.

”I had a lot of motivation this summer,” Benn said. ”Obviously with the additions that we have, the young players that we have here are tremendous. The team we have, it’s kind of in the back of my mind that I need to have a better season personally to help this team.”

Bishop had a career year with an NHL-best .934 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. Anton Khudobin should get plenty of playing time in the regular season again, but Bishop will be the guy in the playoffs again if he’s healthy and the Stars qualify.

OUTLOOK

Jim Montgomery guided Dallas to the playoffs as a rookie coach making the jump from college, and did it despite a tumultuous midseason stretch triggered by Lites’ profane and public ripping of the club’s two offensive stars.

Now Montgomery is trying to get the Stars past the second round for the first time since they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference finals in 2008. At that point, the Stars had made the playoffs 12 of 14 seasons since moving to Dallas, including a title in 1999.

”I think with the success we had, the little bit of success we had in our playoffs, combined with the roster additions, the expectation is we should make the playoffs,” Montgomery said. ”Well, we’ve got to go out and earn it. That’s the way we’re looking at things.”

PREDICTION

The defending champion Blues are also in the Central Division, but the Stars are well-positioned for a run at the division title and the top seed in the West.