Michael Del Zotto

Kakko’s debut a big — and rare — night for Rangers

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It is the start of a new era for the New York Rangers on Thursday night as they unveil their new roster that was strengthened over the summer with the additions of veterans Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, as well as the drafting of Kaapo Kakko.

Those additions have rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild and definitely increased the excitement around the team. It might be dangerous for expectations to get too high right away, because even with the improvements it is still a very flawed roster with its share of weaknesses. But the entertainment level is going to skyrocket and there is at least a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Out of all of the new additions, Kakko’s debut should be the most anticipated in New York because this is the type of player Rangers fans haven’t really had the opportunity to experience in a long time.

If ever.

For as exciting as the Panarin signing may have been, that sort of thing is nothing new for Rangers fans. Big free agent signings and big name acquisitions are what this team does and has always done for decades. It is their brand. Big names, big money, bright lights. If there is a big-name player available on the open market or for trade, it is a good bet the Rangers are going to at least have a seat at the table when it comes to trying to acquire them.

That strategy has not always worked, but it is what they do.

Kakko, though, is a very different type of player.

If this rebuild is going to work, he is going to have to be one of the biggest players at the center of it. A young, mega-talented player with superstar potential that was drafted by the team. This is the type of player — if all goes according to plan — championship teams need. And it is the type of player that does not come through Madison Square Garden very often.

Think about it: Who was the last big-time prospect to make their debut for the Rangers with this much fanfare and this sort of potential?

They have had a lot good young players come through their system over the years with varying degrees of success. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh all come to mind. They were all, in their own way, excellent players that had a lot of success in New York. But none of them brought the type of potential and excitement that a player like Kakko does.

They had some highly touted prospects that ended up being, for lack of a better word, flops (Michael Del Zotto, Pavel Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Dan Blackburn, etc.) but not even they carried those kinds of expectations.

They didn’t have superstar, franchise-shifting potential.

First, the Rangers are almost never in a position to get such a player in the draft. Those players typically go within the first couple of picks and the Rangers have, historically, never really been in that spot.

When they selected Kakko No. 2 overall this year it marked just the third time in franchise history they used a top-two pick in draft, and the first time since 1966 when they selected defender Brad Park.

It was the first time they picked in the top-five since 1999 when they selected Brendl with the fourth overall pick, and it was only their sixth top-five pick ever.

The Rangers also haven’t really introduced a lot of young players to their lineup over the years and expected them to play major roles. Since the start of the 1990 season they have only had 11 different players make their NHL debut between the ages of 18 and 20 and go on to play a full season with the team.

You probably have to go back to Alexei Kovalev’s debut during the 1992-93 season to find a rookie debut that came with this much excitement in New York, with maybe an argument to be made for Henrik Lundqvist in 2005-06, but even that comes with the benefit of extreme hindsight and knowing what type of player Lundqvist turned into. Remember, when he made his debut he was already 23 years old and opened his rookie season as the backup to veteran Kevin Weekes.

Given their lack of depth down the middle and on defense, as well as the age of Lundqvist and the uncertainty behind him at the position, this is probably going to be another tough year for the Rangers. But it is still going to be a team worth watching every night and one that has a chance to build something special beyond this season.

The presence of Kakko in the organization is a big reason why all of that excitement now exists.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks hope to rebuild on fly, return to playoff contention

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Anaheim Ducks’ six-year playoff run ended with a resounding thud last spring, they added almost no significant outside talent to their roster.

If the Ducks hope to return to their usual heights this season, they’ll probably have to do it from within. That migration starts behind the bench, where coach Dallas Eakins is moving up from their AHL affiliate in San Diego to the big leagues.

The former Edmonton coach proved his acumen over the last four years while guiding many young players who will get prominent roles this season in Anaheim. Even after last season’s faceplant, the Ducks’ organizational depth is enviable, and they’re counting on new blood to refresh the veteran core of this longtime Stanley Cup contender.

”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” said forward Adam Henrique, a rare offensive bright spot last season. ”(Eakins) is great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

So are the youngsters gunning for major roles in Anaheim: Forwards Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all 21 or younger. The Ducks need scoring after finishing last in the league in goals, and Eakins believes he has already coached the players who can help.

”This has always been an organization that’s hard to score against, and we don’t want to lose that,” Eakins said. ”We want that to be our identity. But if we don’t score, we can’t win, either. I’m a big believer that you can teach people how to score. It’s all about possession. We were near the bottom on shots last year, but telling players, ‘Hey, we need to shoot the puck more,’ is probably not a good plan. You’ve got to have the puck first.”

Anaheim is moving into the future after a bittersweet severing of its past. An era ended last June when the Ducks bought out Corey Perry‘s contract, ending his 14-year tenure alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf in parallel careers that started when the Ducks were still Mighty.

Perry scored just six goals in 31 games last year, but he was far from the only problem. Ryan Kesler will miss the upcoming season after struggling to return from major hip problems, and his career could be over even though he’s only halfway through his six-year, $41.5 million contract.

What’s more, a blue line that was once flush with elite homegrown talent is hoping for strong seasons from recently acquired defensemen Brendan Guhle, Michael Del Zotto or Chris Wideman.

But optimism currently runs high for the Ducks, who moved into a gorgeous new training complex in Irvine during the offseason.

Anaheim also has no problems in net. John Gibson is coming off another outstanding season despite his team’s woes, proving the Ducks were wise to lock him into a long-term contract, while they persuaded 39-year-old Ryan Miller to return as Gibson’s backup.

WHO’S HERE: Eakins, D Chris Wideman, D Michael Del Zotto, LW Nicolas Deslauriers.

WHO’S NOT: Perry, D Jaycob Megna, D Andy Welinski, C Ben Street, D Jake Dotchin.

KEY PLAYERS: Getzlaf’s connection with Eakins will be a key, and the captain appears to be completely on board. The Ducks badly need a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who slipped from 67 goals over the previous two seasons to just 18 last year. Daniel Sprong, 22, is a candidate for a breakthrough after showing ample promise while scoring 14 goals last year. And with trade rumors finally dying down around Ondrej Kase, the Czech forward is positioned to build on the tantalizing promise he showed in 2017-18 before injuries largely ruined last season.

OUTLOOK: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

PREDICTION: The Ducks are coming off their longest offseason since 2012 after going 35-37-10, and they’ve made no significant additions except behind the bench. Eakins will attempt to get improved results out of largely the same players – but the Ducks have more talent than they showed in their 5-21-4 collapse midway through last season, when they quit on Randy Carlyle. While it’s easy to categorize this as a rebuilding year, Anaheim hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2002. These written-off Ducks can muster a top-four finish in the Pacific Division, and maybe more.

It’s Anaheim Ducks Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks. 

2018-19
35-37-10, 80 pts. (6th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Nicolas Deslauriers
Michael Del Zotto
Anthony Stolarz

OUT
Corey Perry
Pontus Aberg
Adam Cracknell
Andrej Sustr
Chad Johnson
Jake Dotchin
Andy Welinski
Jaycob Megna

RE-SIGNED
Justin Kloos
Chase De Leo

HIRED
Head coach – Dallas Eakins

2018-19 SEASON SUMMARY

Hockey seasons don’t get much more disastrous as they did for the Ducks in 2018-19.

Even one of the best goalies in the NHL couldn’t stop the barrage of shots that came his way every night. With no defensive help to speak of, John Gibson was left to fend for himself on most nights. If there was one highlight of last season, it was his spectacular play at times, even in losses where his team gave up, it was Gibson who was putting in remarkable efforts only to be left in the shadows of another tick in the bad column.

It took until February for Bob Murray to finally pull the trigger on Randy Carlyle’s time as bench boss, a move that should have come much, much sooner.

Never had the Ducks gone on such a dismal stretch. A total of 21 games were played in the heart of the season and the Ducks managed just two wins, including a franchise-record 12-game losing streak following closely by a seven-game slump that mercifully ended with Carlyle’s firing.

The 12-game losing streak brought changes in the lineup as the Ducks tried to re-tool with the additions of Devin Shore, Derek Grant and Michael Del Zotto. Not superstars by any means, but when nothing is working, Murray had no choice by to throw a wrench into the room.

Of course, it didn’t work, with the subsequent seven-game losing streak as proof.

The Ducks ended the season with an NHL-low 196 goals, three fewer than the similarly abysmal Los Angeles Kings.

Goalscoring, of particular importance in the NHL, was simply non-existant on the roster. No player had over 25 and only one had over 20. No player hit the 50-point mark either, and only four had 40 points or more.

And Gibson felt the full brunt of the lackluster offense.

[MORE DUCKS: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | X-Factor]

Among starters, Gibson saw the seventh most shots against per 60 minutes and yet somehow still managed a .929 save percentage in five-on-five situations.

No goalie in the NHL saw more high-danger shots against per 60 and yet Gibson’s .852 save percentage when facing hockey’s toughest shots to save was fourth-best. This year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, by comparison, was a .815 or 17th best.

Gibson saw the third-most rush attempts against per 60 and the closest average shot distance. The list goes on and on.

Gibson should have been in the Vezina running and likely would have won it on any other team not nicknamed the Kings or Senators.

It looks like Gibson is going to have to play as good, if not better, this season if the Ducks are not to be embarrassed again.

Anaheim hasn’t done much to improve their lack of offense and Del Zotto isn’t going to rectify that atrocious team defense, either. Instead, they will look to the farm for help, hoping the development has been sound in AHL San Diego. They lost Corey Perry after the team bought out their former talisman and they will be without Ryan Kesler, who is likely to miss the entire season after hip surgery.

It’s up to Dallas Eakins now.

His second stint as an NHL head coach couldn’t come under harsher circumstances, but he’s familiar with the kids coming up, having served as coach of their AHL affiliate since 2015 .

The Ducks do have promising futures in Max Comtois and Sam Steel up front and Brendan Guhle on the back end. It’s tough to ask them to turn around Anaheim’s fortunes this season, however.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2019-20 Stanley Cup.

September 27
• Winnipeg Jets sign Patrik Laine to a two-year, $13.5 million deal. (Link)

September 26
• Boston Bruins sign Alex Petrovic to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

September 25
• Calgary Flames sign Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year, $21 million deal. (Link)

September 24
• St. Louis Blues re-sign Justin Faulk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. (Link)

September 23
• Tampa Bay Lightning sign Brayden Point to a three-year, $20.25 million deal. (Link)

September 20
• New York Rangers sign Tony DeAngelo to a one-year, $925,000 deal.

September 19
• Ottawa Senators sign Thomas Chabot to an eight-year, $64 million deal. (Link)

September 18
• Los Angeles Kings sign Ben Hutton to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

September 17
• Boston Bruins sign Brandon Carlo to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Fredrik Claesson to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

September 16
• Philadelphia Flyers sign Travis Konecny to a six-year, $33 million deal. (Link)

September 15
• Boston Bruins sign Charlie McAvoy to a three-year, $14.7 million deal. (Link)

• Calgary Flames sign Andrew Mangiapane to a one-year, $715,000 deal.

September 14
• Minnesota Wild sign Jared Spurgeon to a seven-year, $53.025 million deal. (Link)

September 13
• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Mitch Marner to a six-year, $65.358 million deal. (Link)

September 12
• New York Islanders sign Luca Sbisa to a training camp PTO.

• New York Rangers sign Brendan Lemieux to a one-year, $925,000 deal.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Ivan Provorov to a six-year, $40.5 million deal. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Marcus Pettersson to a one-year, $874,125 deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets re-sign Josh Morrissey to an eight-year, $50 million extension. (Link)

September 11
• Calgary Flames sign Michael Stone to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Calgary Flames sign Eric Gryba to a training camp PTO.

• Minnesota Wild signs Kevin Fiala to a two-year, $6 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Joe Morrow to a training camp PTO.

• New York Rangers sign Micheal Haley to a training camp PTO.

September 10
• New Jersey Devils sign Pavel Zacha to a three-year, $6.75 million deal. (Link)

September 9
• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Zach Werenski to a three-year, $15 million deal. (Link)

September 7
• Los Angeles Kings sign Jack Campbell to a two-year, $3.3 million deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets sign Eric Comrie to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

September 6
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Jake Gardiner to a four-year, $16.2 million deal. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Brendan Perlini to a one-year, $874,125 deal.

• San Jose Sharks sign Joe Thornton to a one-year, $2 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Landon Ferraro to a training camp PTO.

September 5
• Edmonton Oilers sign Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $900,000 deal. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Jimmy Schuldt to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

September 4
• Arizona Coyotes sign Clayton Keller to an eight-year, $57.2 million extension. (Link)

• Calgary Flames sign Devante Smith-Pelly, Zac Rinaldo, Tobias Rieder, and Alexandre Grenier to training camp PTOs. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Roland McKeown to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Troy Brouwer to a training camp PTO.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Adrian Kempe to a three-year, $6 million extension. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild signs Drew Stafford to a training camp PTO.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Nikolay Goldobin to a one-year, $900,000 deal.

September 3
• Dallas Stars sign Stefan Noesen to a training camp PTO.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Lance Bouma to a training camp PTO.

• Minnesota Wild signs Louie Belpedio to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

September 1
• St. Louis Blues sign Ivan Barbashev to a two-year, $2.95 million deal.

August 28
• New York Islanders sign Anthony Beauvillier to a two-year, $4.2 million deal. (Link)

August 26
• Dallas Stars sign Scottie Upshall to a training camp PTO.

• Florida Panthers sign Denis Malgin to a one-year, $750K deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Gabriel Bourque to a one-year, $700K deal.

August 24
• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Patrick Maroon to a one-year, $900K deal. (Link)

August 22
• Calgary Flames sign Andrew MacDonald to a training camp PTO.

August 21
• Minnesota Wild signs Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year, $2.975 million deal.

• New York Islanders sign Derick Brassard to a one-year, $1.2 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Colin White to a six-year, $28.5 million deal.

August 19
• Colorado Avalanche signs Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Michael Dal Colle to a two-year, $1.4 million deal. (Link))

• New York Islanders sign Joshua Ho-Sang to a one-year, $874,125 deal. (Link)

August 17
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Chase Priskie to a three-year, $3.55 million entry-level deal.

August 14
• Tampa Bay Lightning trades Adam Erne to Detroit Red Wings for 2020 fourth-round pick. Erne signs one-year, $1.05 million deal with Red Wings.

August 8
• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Marko Dano to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

August 6
Joel Edmundson awarded a one-year, $3.1 million deal with the St. Louis Blues following an arbritration hearing. (Link)

• Anton Forsberg awarded a one-year, one-way deal worth $775,000 with the Carolina Hurricanes following an arbritration hearing.

Rocco Grimaldi awarded a one-year, one-way deal worth $1 million with the Nashville Predators following an arbritration hearing.

August 5
• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Kevin Shattenkirk to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. (Link)

August 3
• Arizona Coyotes sign Adin Hill to a one-year, $708,750 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres and Jake McCabe avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.7 million deal. (Link)

• Buffalo Sabres and Linus Ullmark avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.325 million deal. (Link)

August 2
• Calgary Flames buy out the final year of Michael Stone’s contract.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Matt Read to a training camp PTO.

August 1
• Buffalo Sabres sign Remi Elie to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs A.J. Greer to a one-year, $735,000 deal.

• New York Rangers buy out final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract. (Link)

July 31
• Colorado Avalanche signs Samuel Girard to seven-year, $35 million extension. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils and Will Butcher avoid arbitration, agree to a three-year, $11.20 million deal. (Link)

July 30
• Colorado Avalanche signs Vladislav Kamenev to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning trade Ryan Callahan and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Mike Condon and a 2020 sixth-round pick. (Link)

July 29
• New Jersey Devils acquire Nikita Gusev from Vegas Golden Knights, sign him to two-year, $9 million deal. (Link)

• Tampa Bay Lightning re-signs Andrei Vasilevskiy to eight-year, $76 million extension. (Link)

July 27
• Calgary Flames and David Rittich avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Michael McCarron to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 26
• Detroit Red Wings sign Dominic Turgeon to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New York Rangers and Pavel Buchnevich avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $6.5 million deal. (Link)

• Washington Capitals and Chandler Stephenson avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.05 million deal.

July 25
• Buffalo Sabres’ Evan Rodrigues is awarded a one-year, $2 million contract by an independent arbitrator. (Link)

July 24
• Calgary Flames and Sam Bennett avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.1 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Vinni Lettieri to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Pontus Aberg (one-year, $700,000), Kenny Agostino (two-year, $1.475 million), Tyler Gaudet (one-year, $700,000), Kalle Kossila (two-year, $1.4 million), Nick Shore (one-year, $750,000), Garrett Wilson (one-year, $725,000) and Kevin Gravel (one-year, $700,000).

• Washington Capitals’ Christian Djoos is awarded a one-year, $1.25 million contract by an independent arbitrator.

July 23
• Colorado Avalanche signs Anton Lindholm to a two-year, $1.485 million deal.

• Nashville Predators and Colton Sissons avoid arbitration, agree to a seven-year, $20 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Michal Neuvirth to a training camp PTO.

• Vegas Golden Knights trade David Clarkson and a 2002 fourth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Garret Sparks. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Deryk Engelland to a one-year, $700,000 deal that could be worth up to $1.5 million if he hits his bonuses.

• Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp is awarded a two-year, $4.56 million contract by an independent arbitrator.

July 22
• Florida Panthers and MacKenzie Weegar avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.6 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Ian McCoshen to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New Jersey Devils and Mirco Mueller avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins and Zach Aston-Reese avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $2 million deal.

July 21
• St. Louis Blues and Oskar Sundqvist avoid arbitration, agree to a four-year, $11 million deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets and Neal Pionk avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $6 million deal

July 20
• Carolina Hurricanes and Brock McGinn avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $4.2 million deal.

July 19
• Colorado Avalanche signs Bowen Byram to a three-year, $2.775 million entry level deal.

• Edmonton Oilers trade Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Charles Hudon to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• New York Rangers sign Jacob Trouba to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

July 17
• Colorado Avalanche signs J.T. Compher to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Joe Hicketts to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• New York Rangers sign Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Chris Stewart to a training camp PTO.

July 16
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Haydn Fleury to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks trade Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Josh Archibald to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Cal Petersen to a three-year, $2.575 million deal.

• Minnesota Wild signs Ryan Donato to a two-year, $3.8 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Connor Carrick to a two-year, $3 million deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Teddy Blueger to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Jake Bischoff to a three-year, $2.15 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Jakub Vrana a two-year, $6.7 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• Anaheim Ducks sign Chris Wideman to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Dylan Cozens to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Clark Bishop to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes’ Gustav Forsling accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Andre Burakovsky to a one-year, $3.25 million deal. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sonny Milano accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• New York Islanders sign Simon Holmstrom to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

July 14
• Detroit Red Wings sign Moritz Seider to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

July 13
• St. Louis Blues sign Jordan Binnington to a two-year, $8.8 million deal. (Link)

July 12
• Buffalo Sabres sign Johan Larsson to a one-year, $1.55 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Ryan Dzingel to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Jack Hughes to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $11.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Scott Laughton to a two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

• St. Louis Blues sign Robby Fabbri to a one-year, $900,000 deal. (Link)

July 11
• Anaheim Ducks sign Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Jason Dickinson to a two-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Joel Armia to a two-year, $5.2 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Artturi Lehkonen to a two-year, $4.8 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Kaapo Kakko to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $10.725 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dylan Gambrell to a two-year, $1.4 million deal. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks sign Antti Suomela to a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

July 10
• Los Angeles Kings sign Alex Iafallo to a two-year, $4.85 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Micheal Ferland to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

July 9
• Boston Bruins sign Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Dillon Heatherington to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Malcolm Subban to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

July 8
• Chicago Blackhawks sign Kirby Dach to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Ryan Graves to a one-year, $735,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Gavin Bayreuther to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Zach Sanford to a two-year, $3 million deal, avoiding arbitration.

• San Jose Sharks sign Kevin Labanc to a one-year, $1 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Francis Perron to a one-year, $715,000 deal.

July 7
• Arizona Coyotes sign Victor Soderstrom to a three-year, $4.755 million entry-level contract.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Gemel Smith to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 6
• Boston Bruins sign Peter Cehlárik to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Marcus Johansson to two-year, $9 million deal. (Link)

July 5
• Anaheim Ducks sign Andreas Martinsen to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres re-sign Zemgus Girgensons to one-year, $1.6 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche re-signs Nikita Zadorov to one-year, $3.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Scott Harrington to a three-year, $4.9 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Mario Kempe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Nick Cousins to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning re-signs Cedric Paquette to two-year, $3.3 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Josh Leivo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

July 4
• Arizona Coyotes sign Hudson Fasching to a two-year, $1.475 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Kevin Roy to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Ben Chiarot to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Cody Ceci to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Alexander Kerfoot to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Justin Bailey to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 3
• Montreal Canadiens sign Phil Varone to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Joseph Blandisi to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 2
• Anaheim Ducks sign Anthony Stolarz to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Arizona Coyotes sign Lawson Crouse to a three-year, $4.6 million deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign C.J. Smith to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes announce their intention to match the five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet Sebastian Aho signed with the Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Nick Paul to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Motte to one-year, $975,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Anthony Bitetto to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Mark Letestu to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 1
• Boston Bruins sign Brett Ritchie to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Boston Bruins re-sign Connor Clifton to a three-year, $3 million extension.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Curtis Lazar to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign John Gilmour to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Calgary Flames sign Cam Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Petr Mrazek to a two-year, $6.25 million deal. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Ryan Carpenter to a three-year, $3 million deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche signs Joonas Donskoi to a four-year, $10.5 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche trade Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, a 2020 third-round pick. The Avalanche will retain 50% of Barrie’s $5.5 million cap hit. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche signs Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Colin Wilson to one-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Ryan Murray to two-year, $9.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Joonas Korpisalo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Gustav Nyquist to four-year, $22 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Andrej Sekera to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million deal (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Corey Perry to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Valtteri Filppula to two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Patrik Nemeth to a two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Calvin Pickard to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Mike Smith to a one-year, $2 million deal. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Jujhar Khaira to two-year, $2.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Alex Chiasson to two-year, $4.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Tomas Jurco to a one-year, $750,00 deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Anton Stralman to a three-year, $16.5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Sergei Bobrovsky to seven-year, $70 million deal. (Link)

• Florida Panthers sign Noel Acciari to a three-year, $5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Brett Connolly to a four-year, $14 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Joakim Ryan to a one-year, $725,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Martin Frk to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Minnesota Wild signs Mats Zuccarello to five-year, $30 million contract. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild signs Ryan Hartman to a two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Riley Barber to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens have tendered a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. The Carolina Hurricanes have seven days to match or walk away. Should the Hurricanes walk away, the Canadiens will send them first-, second-, and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Daniel Carr to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New Jersey Devils sign Wayne Simmonds to one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers trade Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 third-round pick. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Anders Lee to a seven-year, $49 million deal. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Ron Hainsey to one-year $3.5 million.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Brandon Tanev to six-year, $21 million contract. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Timo Meier to a four-year, $24 million extension. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Tim Heed to one-year contract.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Sammy Blais to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Nathan Walker to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Curtis McElhinney to a two-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Luke Schenn to a one-year, $700,00 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kevin Gravel to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kenny Agostino to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, prospect Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in 2020 for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and forward Michael Carcone. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Jason Spezza to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Jordie Benn to a two-year, $4 million deal. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Brandon Pirri to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Tomas Nosek to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Richard Panik to four-year, $11 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Garnet Hathaway to a four-year, $6 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Brendan Leipsic to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Nathan Beaulieu to a one-year, $1 million deal.

June 30
• Carolina Hurricanes trade Scott Darling and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for James Reimer. The Panthers have put Darling on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks trade a second and seventh-round pick in 2020 and a third-round pick in 2021 to the Montreal Canadiens for Andrew Shaw and a seventh-round pick. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers have put Andrej Sekera on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

• Montreal Canadiens trade Nicolas Deslauriers in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth-round draft pick in 2020.

• Philadelphia Flyers have put David Schlemko on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

June 29
• Dallas Stars place Valeri Nichushkin on waivers for purpose of a buyout. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins trade Phil Kessel, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and Dane Birks to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Oliver Joseph. (Link)

• New York Islanders re-sign Tom Kuhnhackl to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks place Ryan Spooner on waivers for purpose of a buyout.

June 28
• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Alex Nedeljkovic to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• Chicago Blackhawks re-sign Dylan Sikura and John Quenneville to extensions of two years worth $1.5 million each.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Kasperi Kapanen to a three-year, $9.6 million extension and Andreas Johnsson to a $13.6 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick. (Link)

• Washington Capitals trade Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2020 second-round pick, 2020 third-round pick, and Scott Kosmachuk. (Link)

June 27
• Dallas Stars re-sign Taylor Fedun to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year, $3.5 million extension.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, $700,000 extension.

June 26
• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Brian Elliott to a one-year, $2 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick. (Link)

June 25
• Colorado Avalanche trade Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Adam Clendening to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Ottawa Senators re-sign Cody Goloubef to a one-year, $800,000 extension.

June 24
• Boston Bruins re-sign Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 million extension.

• Carolina Hurricanes trade Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. (Link)

• Dallas Stars trade Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Ryan Hartman. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild re-signs Brad Hunt to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Travis Sanheim to a two-year, $6.5 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights re-sign William Karlsson to an eight-year, $47.2 million extension. (Link)

June 22
• Nashville Predators trade P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and second-round picks in 2019 and 2020. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils trade John Quenneville to the Chicago Blackhawks for John Hayden.

• Tampa Bay Lightning trade J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick, and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Patrick Marleau and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021, seventh-round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 sixth-round pick. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks trade Tom Pyatt and a 2019 sixth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Francis Perron and a 2019 seventh-round pick.

Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

2 Comments

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.