Ron Hainsey

NHL free agent defensemen Dustin Byfuglien Andy Greene
Getty Images

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.

What is the Senators’ long-term outlook?

Getty Images

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 Ottawa Senators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the Senators will be searching for a new core in the coming years. Due to the failures of the San Jose Sharks this past season, the Senators have two premium picks in the upcoming draft, including the second-and third-best odds to land the top selection per the current standings. In addition, they have six picks in the second and third round if they want to move up in the draft or acquire additional talent.

Similar to other rebuilding franchises, the tough decisions are looming. Their farm system has a number of potential pieces, but general manager Pierre Dorion needs to find a few difference makers.

Ottawa wisely signed Chabot to a long-term extension prior to the season and will most likely try to lock up Tkachuk this upcoming summer.

Colin White, a 23-year-old, has five years remaining on his contract upon the conclusion of this season and will likely play a central role in the years to come. For the next few seasons, the primary focus will be on player development not on-ice results.

Outside of Bobby Ryan’s contract which lasts until the end of the 2021-22 season, the Senators do not have a salary cap issue. Dorion could wisely use his cap space to acquire additional draft capital, or overpaid NHL players on the cheap as long as he does not exceed the internal budget.

While the Senators will not be making the Stanley Cup playoffs in the immediate future, they do have endless potential with a treasure trove of draft picks and valuable cap space. The biggest question ownership will face is if Dorion is the right general manager to lead them out of the abyss.

Long-Term Needs

The Senators have a need at every position. Chabot has proven himself to be an elite defenseman and Nikita Zaitsev is an NHL-caliber blueliner, but the team will need to develop or acquire a lot more talent.

Anthony Duclair is the type of player the Senators should be currently looking to fill their roster with for the short-term future. Ottawa could give players ample ice-time and special teams opportunities that other teams do not have patience for. Think of players such as former first-round pick Joshua Ho-Sang that are looking for a chance to prove themselves after a rough start to their career.

Long-Term Strengths

It was mentioned above, but the greatest strength of the Senators organization is the arsenal of draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. They have three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and 10 picks in the second and third round over the next two seasons. The decisions made this offseason and next will likely define the success of the franchise in the next decade.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:


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

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
Getty Images

When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk‘s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

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.

Lightning could suddenly use help on defense

3 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t have any obvious holes on their roster when everyone is healthy. The Bolts were likely just going to do some minor depth tweaking ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but that plan may have been thrown out the window this week.

In Tuesday’s win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa lost defenseman Jan Rutta to a lower-body injury. Head coach Jon Cooper said the injury will keep him out for a few weeks. On Thursday night against Pittsburgh, they lost Ryan McDonagh to a lower-body injury, too. The veteran exited the game after taking a slap shot to the ankle. Cooper didn’t have provide much of an update after the game, but said it may not be as bad as it looked.

As of right now, the healthy bodies on the blue line are: Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brayden Coburn, Mikhail Sergachev, Luke Schenn and Erik Cernak. They’ll likely call someone up from the minors in the next little while so that they have an extra body around on defense.

Hedman already plays nearly 24 minutes per game, so it’s tough to envision him eating up a lot more ice time, but a player like Sergachev could be in line for a lot more work (he averages 19:29 of ice time per game). The rest of the ice time will likely have to be eaten up by a committee of players.

Now, general manager Julien BriseBois needs to figure out whether or not he wants to add a defender and how much he’s willing to pay for a depth one.

If they want to add a depth player, who could they target? Let’s take a look at some options.

Zach Bogosian – RD – Buffalo Sabres: Bogosian has struggled badly while in Buffalo, but a chance of scenery and playing on a different (and much better) team could make him a solid depth defender again. He’s in the final year of his monstrous contract and the Sabres could retain some of his remaining salary to make a trade work with the contending Bolts.

Trevor Daley – LD/RD – Detroit Red Wings: Daley has missed a good chunk of the season due to various injuries, but he could be a nice veteran addition to a team that only needs a depth player. The 36-year-old is on an expiring contract and he’s picked up four assists in his last four games. Daley has two Stanley Cup rings in his jewelry box. He’s allowed to provide the Wings with a 15-team no trade list.

Dylan DeMelo – RD – Ottawa Senators: DeMelo’s been an important part of Ottawa’s defense since they acquired him in the Erik Karlsson trade. He plays almost 20 minutes per game with the Senators, but likely wouldn’t see as much ice time on a contender like Tampa. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Sens may want to re-sign him though.

Brenden Dillon – LD – San Jose Sharks: The Sharks probably didn’t think that they’d be sellers at the trade deadline, but that’s where this aging group is right now. Dillon is going to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and paying him a big sum of money probably isn’t in San Jose’s best interest. The 29-year-old has one goal and 14 points in 55 games this season. He’s added 79 penalty minutes this season and he averages 19:15 of ice time. He’d make the Bolts blue line tougher. Whether or not San Jose wants to part ways with him is another story.

Ron Hainsey – LD/RD – Ottawa Senators: The veteran has spent most of the season as Thomas Chabot‘s defense partner in Ottawa. He’s capable of playing both sides and he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Hainsey also has a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of experience, which could be huge for a Lightning team that’s looking to shake off the embarrassment of a first-round sweep last spring.

Marco Scandella – LD – Montreal Canadiens: Scandella was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in early January for a fourth-round draft pick. He’s from Montreal, so he may want to just re-sign there eventually, but the Lightning only need him from the trade deadline to the end of their playoff run anyway. The 29-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 46 games this season. He averages 17 minutes of ice time per game. He could likely be had for a third or fourth-rounder.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

What Hurricanes should expect from Justin Williams

Hurricanes
Getty

Now that Justin Williams is officially back with the Carolina Hurricanes the waiting game is on for when he makes his season debut. Coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t putting a timeline on it and just wants to make sure the 38-year-old winger is up to speed.

Once that happens he has the potential to be a significant addition and make an already talented, deep Hurricanes roster even better.

Let’s take a look at what they can — and should — expect from him once he makes his debut.

Even at 38 Williams has not slowed down

If there is a concern with Williams at this point it has to be the fact that he is going to be one of the oldest players in the league, having just turned 38 back in October. There are only four other players in the league age 38 or older this season (Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Ron Hainsey).

The thing that should give the Hurricanes a lot of optimism about Williams’ ability to produce is the fact his game never really showed any sign of slowing down in recent seasons. Everything about his level of production has remained remarkably consistent.

Durability? He has that, having missed just three regular season games since the start of the 2011-12 season, and none during his two most recent seasons in Carolina.

Production? Still very much there. He has yet to shown any sign of dropping off, averaging 20 goals and 50 points with fairly strong shot rates in each of the past four seasons.

While it is inevitable that every player will slow down as they get deeper into their 30s, there are some decent comparable players to Williams that suggest he could still have another year of similar production.

Dating back to the start of the 2000-01 season, Williams is one of five forwards that averaged between 0.60 and 0.70 points per game between the ages of 34-37 (minimum 300 games during that stretch).

The others: Patrick Marleau, Andrew Brunnette, Luc Robitaille, and Keith Tkachuk. Marleau and Brunnette came back in their age 38 seasons and maintained a very similar level of production. Robitaille missed his age 38 season due to the 2004 lockout, and came back at 39 and scored 15 goals in 65 games. Tkachuk retired.

Great value beyond just offense

What makes Williams such a big addition is that his game is far more than just offense. It always has been. Williams is an ice-tilter. When he is on the ice you know the puck is going to be at a certain end of the ice and that his team is going to be in control.

He has consistently been one of the best possession players in the league, and even the past two years in Carolina had some of the best defensive metrics not only among Hurricanes forwards, but also the entire league.

There were 350 forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey the past two full seasons. Williams ranked among the top-20 in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, and expected goals share (via Natural Stat Trick). Defense doesn’t slump, and the type of high hockey IQ that Williams has had throughout his career doesn’t go away. So even if his finishing ability and offensive production slides a little, he is still going to be able to provide a lot of value.

The Hurricanes get even deeper 

When the Hurricanes’ roster gets discussed a lot of the focus tends to fall on their blue line, and for good reason. They are loaded on defense with young, impact players that are some of the best in the league. But their forwards are nothing to sleep on, either.

That group is also better than it was a year ago, even before the addition of Williams.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are bonafide top-line stars. Andrei Svechnikov is turning into a superstar. They added strong depth players like Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula (an outstanding player when healthy) over the summer. Martin Necas is blossoming into good, young NHL player. They have good options on every line, and that doesn’t even include Nino Neiderreiter who can still be better than he has shown.

Now they just added a top-six caliber winger without giving up anything in return.

With Williams having a half season to rest and coming in fresh with no wear and tear, combined with his all-around play, he could be one of the most significant additions an Eastern Conference team makes before the trade deadline.

Related: Hurricanes sign Williams to 1-year contract

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.