Yannick Weber

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 on Nashville Predators: salary cap commitments, big decisions

Long-term outlook for Predators Duchene Johansen Forsberg
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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 Nashville Predators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

For better or worse, the Predators’ salary structure is loaded with long-term contracts.

GM David Poile made one of the biggest decisions yet when he locked down Roman Josi to a big contract extension. Josi looked like more than a $9.06M defenseman in 2019-20, but that eight-year pact doesn’t begin until next season. Josi turns 30 in June, so it will be fascinating to see if Nashville’s gamble pays off.

Matt Duchene‘s $8M AAV runs through 2025-26, one year after Ryan Johansen‘s matching cap hit expires.

For every very, very nice bargain (Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis), there are some dubious contracts for the likes of Kyle Turris. There’s talent, no doubt, but with quite a few of those players getting older, it’s fair to wonder when the window will shut with a big thud. It’s also scary since 2019-20 also inspired doubts about this group’s ceiling.

It all makes Poile’s penchant for handing term to supporting cast members that much more limiting. Nashville has Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, and Rocco Grimaldi on the books for quite some time. This isn’t to say that such moves will all backfire; they’re just worth monitoring.

The Predators also face some fascinating questions about who else is staying.

Both Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg deserve significant raises when their contracts run out after 2021-22.

Nashville deserves credit for retaining Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros without handing them frightening term. Unfortunately, that flexibility also comes with some uncertainty. Both goalies’ contracts expire after next season, so the Predators will need to solve those riddles.

Will pending UFA forwards Granlund and Smith exit Nashville? You’d have to think something has to give, right?

Long-term needs for Predators

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like the Predators will need to make the most of what they have. They’ve made a lot of long-term commitments, and while they might be able to bribe someone or find some other way to shake a Kyle Turris or two loose, they mostly have to hope that core pieces age well.

Maybe the biggest need is to find someone to optimize their roster, honestly.

I can’t say I’ve been overly impressed with John Hynes’ abilities in that regard, as I’m not among those who think it’s wise for coaches to galaxy brain things by putting star players in timeout.

From special teams struggles to forward play, there are significant signs that Nashville isn’t getting the most out of its talent. That needs to change.

Long-term strengths for Predators

The Predators rank as one of those regular contenders who show a decent knack for finding talent in crevasses despite trading away key picks. Nashville doesn’t match the Lightning in unearthing hidden gems, mind you, but they’re solid enough at it.

The result is that Nashville comes across reasonably well on various prospect rankings. Coming in at 22nd on Scott Wheeler’s system list for The Athletic (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, yet it points to the Predators being able to maybe fill in a crack or two with some prospects.

It paints a larger picture of solid versatility for Nashville.

Saros gives the Predators a goalie of the future, and maybe a strong one. He slipped a bit from elite backup work as Saros made it more of a platoon, but there are still some positive signs.

While their forward group disappointed in 2019-20, there’s enough to work with to be a better strength. It’s promising, in particular, that Filip Forsberg is deep in his prime at 25, and Viktor Arvidsson is 27.

Actually, that pivots to a key question: how long will some of these strengths last? If the Predators age well, it could be for a while. It depends upon how well their top defensemen (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are all 29), Matt Duchene (also 29), and Ryan Johansen (27) age.

If the answer hems closer to the Bruins than, say, the Kings, then the Predators could contend for quite a few years. You know, if they get back to getting the most out of players again.

MORE ON THE PREDATORS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest 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.

Bruins’ Chara fined $5,000 for cross-checking Gallagher

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday that Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has been fined $5,000 — the maximum allowable fine under the CBA — for cross-checking Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher on Wednesday night.

He will not be suspended.

The incident happened early in the second period and resulted in both players being penalized. Gallagher received two minutes for roughing, while Chara was given a two-minute minor for cross-checking.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

The Bruins won the game 4-1 thanks to another hat trick from NHL goal scoring leader David Pastrnak.

This is the third consecutive day the DoPS has issued a fine for a stick infraction, previously fining Vancouver’s Antoine Roussel for slashing Yannick Weber on Monday, and then issuing a fine to Minnesota’s Mathew Dumba for slashing Ryan Reaves during their game on Tuesday.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Chara managed to get away with only a fine instead of a suspension. Going back to the 2015-16 season only 10 of the 25 cross-checking incidents that rose to the level of player discipline resulted in an actual suspension.

Of the 20 cross-checking incidents over the past three seasons, only six of them resulted in a suspension.

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.

 

Alex Ovechkin passes Steve Yzerman in Capitals’ loss against Predators

Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators skates past Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals
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The Nashville Predators overcame several turnovers and a one-goal third-period deficit in a 5-4 win against the Washington Capitals.

Yannick Weber scored the go-ahead goal at 15:23 of the third period and Juuse Saros added 29 saves as Nashville won for the second time in three games. Jarred Tinordi, Mikael Granlund, Rocco Grimaldi and Ryan Johansen also scored for the Predators while Filip Forsberg recorded two assists.

Alex Ovechkin scored a milestone goal and Richard Panik scored twice but the Capitals’ four-game losing streak came to an end.

Ovechkin surpasses Yzerman

The Capitals captain eclipsed another NHL legend in his quest to join the 700-goal club. Ovechkin buried a loose puck late in the first period Wednesday and passed Steve Yzerman for sole possession of ninth place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with his 693rd goal.

Ovechkin is one goal away from passing Mark Messier and seven goals from becoming the eighth player in NHL history to score 700.

“You’ve had a tremendous career to date, and it looks like you’re going strong and might play forever,” Yzerman said in a video played inside the arena. “Best of luck and continued success. I’ve really enjoyed watching you play and watching you fill the net.

“One more thing, if you ever do break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record for most goals in the league, after watching your Stanley Cup celebrations, I want to be invited to your party.”

[RELATED: Alex Ovechkin honors late Kobe Bryant with No. 24 jersey]

What in the World?

Each goalie made a crucial mistake and Nick Bonino managed to score an own-goal in a wacky back-and-forth game between the Capitals and Predators.

Ovechkin pulled the Capitals to within one goal late in the first period when Juuse Saros misplayed a puck behind the net that resulted in an easy tap-in opportunity for the Russian forward.

But the Predators were not finished with mind-boggling mistakes as Bonino’s outlet pass ended up in the back of the net early in the middle frame. Nashville’s center paid the price for a bad pass through the crease when the puck deflected off Saros and the Capitals tied the game at 3-3.

However, in order to even things out, Braden Holtby had a costly turnover early in the third period that directly led to Johansen’s game-tying goal.

All in all, these mistakes are not what would you expect from highly skilled NHL teams.

 


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.

Predators vs. Capitals livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington entered its bye week on a 3-game win streak and came out of All-Star Weekend with a 4-2 victory at Montreal on Monday, without captain Alex Ovechkin, and continues to pace the NHL with 73 points through 50 games. Nashville also had its bye week lead directly into All-Star Weekend and the Central-Division bottom-dwellers lost on Monday against Toronto, 5-2, for its third loss in the last four games.

Despite pulling up the rear in their division, the Predators are only six points out of the Wild Card as they look to continue their playoff appearance streak – which is the longest active in the Western Conference. Nashville’s current playoff streak started in recently fired Peter Laviolette’s first season at the helm after the Predators did not renew Barry Trotz’s contract after the 2013-14 season.

After sitting out Monday due to a league-imposed one-game suspension for opting to skip All-Star Weekend (Ovechkin was voted by the fans as an All-Star captain), the 34-year-old will return as he looks to build upon his goal total, which is up to 34 this season (third in NHL).

Despite leading Nashville to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, the sluggish start to the 2019-20 season was enough for the Predators to move on from Peter Laviolette, their second-ever head coach, and bring in John Hynes, whose head coaching experience consisted of leading the Devils for four-plus seasons (2015-16 to 2019-20) before being fired on December third after New Jersey lost 17 of its first 26 games.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Nashville Predators at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Predators-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS
Calle JarnkrokRyan JohansenAustin Watson
Filip ForsbergMatt DucheneMikael Granlund
Rocco GrimaldiNick BoninoViktor Arvidsson
Colin BlackwellKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Roman JosiYannick Weber
Mattias EkholmDante Fabbro
Dan HamhuisJarred Tinordi

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Brendan LeipsicNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Jonas SiegenthalerRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Anson Carter and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Mike Tirico will handle play-by-play duties for Caps-Preds on Wednesday Night Hockey alongside analyst Mike Milbury and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Brian Boucher from Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.