Patrik Nemeth

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

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

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks and Avalanche meet for the first time this season in a matchup of teams that would each be in the playoffs if the season ended today but enter the new year on very different paths. San Jose won nine of 15 games in December (9-4-2) including a 7-2-2 stretch in its last 11. Colorado, on the other hand, is mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and has lost nine of its last 11 games (2-6-3).

San Jose has been streaky over the last five weeks or so, losing four straight at the end of November into December followed by winning seven of eight and then losing three straight prior to Christmas before winning two in-a-row ahead of Monday’s loss.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 23 goals. The 34-year-old finished with 22 goals last season in a full 82 games. Pavelski picked a good time to be on a career pace (on track for 46 goals – career high is 41 from 2013-14), since he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Avs are led by their trio – what was known as the MGM line – of Landeskog, last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up in MacKinnon and rising star Rantanen. Like the team, the three of them have come a long way since Colorado’s disastrous 2016-17 season when they finished last in the NHL.

Rantanen ranks second in the NHL in points and MacKinnon sits third. Not since Evgeni Malkin (1st) and Sidney Crosby (3rd) in 2008-09 has a pair of teammates finished in the top three in scoring in the same season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin LabancBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

AVALANCHE
Tyson JostNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
Gabriel LandeskogAlex KerfootJ.T. Compher
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque – Sheldon Dries – Logan O’Connor

Sam GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeTyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth – Ryan Graves

Starting goaliePhilipp Grubauer

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Sharks-Avalanche from Pepsi Center.

Red Wings aren’t mad at Mantha for fighting, breaking hand

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In the rare hockey fight featuring a player who normally uses their hands to score goals, there’s a tug-of-war. On one hand, you cringe at the risks of said hands being broken. On the other, you have to acknowledge the natural danger of the sport, not to mention the emotions that come from sticking up for your teammates.

Such thoughts come to mind when you consider Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha, who will miss four-to-six weeks after breaking his hand in a fight with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

(You can watch that fight in the video above.)

Sure, there’s the inclination to wish that someone else might have taken care of that dirty work after Dylan Larkin absorbed a hard hit, but can you really blame Mantha? As MLive.com’s Ansar Khan reports, Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill certainly did not.

“There’s inherent risk in playing hockey, there’s inherent risk in getting into a fight,” Blashill said. “He was sticking up for Larkin, who got his head run against the boards. I know this, he’d do it again. And I’m good with him doing it again. We want to make sure we’re sticking up for each other. You’re not going anywhere at any time if you got a team that’s selfish and doesn’t care about each other.”

If you want to get into the weeds, you can quibble a bit with Blashill’s further points. He compared fighting to blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play. That might be pushing it just a touch, as those events are more attuned with the moment-to-moment functions of actually playing the sport, while sticking up for your teammate is often a combination of a sheer, guttural reaction and also “sending a message.” Theoretically, you don’t literally need to fight to thwart a scoring chance or advance the puck down the ice.

But, overall, it’s tough to get too mad at Mantha … although, seriously, the Red Wings might want to at least consider talking to him about taking that step.

After all, this isn’t actually his first injury stemming from a fight. As Khan recalls, Mantha’s 2016-17 season ended after he broke his finger in a March 2017 fight with Luke Witkowski:

As a large human (listed at 6-foot-5, 225 lbs.), one can understand why Mantha would be especially willing to drop the gloves. It might be tough to discourage him from doing so, although you could also conjure images of all the goals he missed out on in late 2016-17, and now these five-to-six weeks.

Of course, there’s a cynical reason for the Red Wings to shrug their shoulders now, while maybe convincing him to change course later: they might be that much more likely to lose games with Mantha on the shelf.

While this has been a hit-or-miss season for Mantha (nine goals, 14 points in 27 games), he’s one of Detroit’s most important forwards. Perhaps injuries like these will cajole the Red Wings into further embracing their at-times-reluctant rebuild, maybe by not re-signing Jimmy Howard and instead selling off aging players for future assets? At this point, any excuse helps.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Avalanche ended up being quite costly for the Red Wings, primarily when punches were thrown. Not only did they lose Mantha to this injury, but Tyler Bertuzzi was also suspended two games for this incident:

Fighting simply hasn’t been friendly to the Red Wings lately. In Mantha’s case, it at least felt like an unforced error, even though the results ended up being far more painful (literally and figuratively).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Avalanche host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Colorado Avalanche at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Two teams tangling to keep the good times rolling?

Sounds like a recipe for an exciting game. And then you read the ingredients.

Malkin. Crosby. MacKinnon. Rantanen.

It all adds up to what should be an entertaining affair for two teams playing the second half of respective back to backs.

[WATCH LIVE – 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Colorado Avalanche put their five-game winning streak on the line against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who came from behind on Tuesday night three times against the Winnipeg Jets and squeaked out a 4-3 win.

The travel is brutal from Winnipeg to Denver, but the Penguins are 3-0-1 in their past four games and seem to finally be gelling as a team for the time being.

The Avs have been a scoring machine with 22 goals for in during their respective streak while taking care of business at the other end of the rink with just 11 goals against in that span. Colorado is also coming off a big 3-2 win against the might Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Colorado’s defensive prowess will be put to the test if Pittsburgh’s recent trend of goal scoring continues. The Pens have four goals or more in five of their past six games. It helps that Sid is leading that charge with four goals and 11 points in his past seven games.

Colorado counters with fellow Cole Harbour native Nathan MacKinnon. Best buds off the ice (and on Tim Hortons commercials) Crosby will be out to shut down MacKinnon and his five-game point streak.

[Read more about this game in this extended preview]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, November 28th, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

PENGUINS

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust

Tanner PearsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel

Zach Aston-ReeseDerick BrassardDaniel Sprong

Garrett Wilson — Riley SheahanDerek Grant

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Jack JohnsonJamie Oleksiak

Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Tyson JostAlexander KerfootColin Wilson

Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert

Sven AndrighettoJ.T. CompherGabriel Bourque

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Patrik NemethMark Barberio

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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