Evgeny Dadonov

NHL Power Rankings: Fun ways the free agent frenzy could go

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With at least some of the NHL future getting less muddy, it sure looks like the next “Free Agent Frenzy” will take place on or around Nov. 1. Unfortunately, an expected flat $81.5M salary cap could make the NHL “Free Agent Frenzy” more of a flurry.

But managing a flat salary cap — likely by shedding players they didn’t want to expel — is a job for overwhelmed GMs, particularly of big-market teams. For the rest of us, we can fill some time by daydreaming about different NHL free agent scenarios. (Some more realistic than others.)

Back in April, Adam Gretz ranked the top 20 (possible) NHL Free Agents. Being that Sean Leahy recently looked at the best destinations for assumed top 2020 NHL Draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, how about we combine those ideas?

In other words, what are the best destinations for some of the NHL’s top free agents? Actually, scratch that. Let’s go with the most fun NHL free agent situations. They occasionally might even make sense!

1. Avalanche go on one-year NHL Free Agent Frenzy with Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

NHL fans have watched too many “super teams” form in the NBA. In some of those cases, said NBA stars flexed their leverage by agreeing to shorter deals. LeBron James left Cleveland after getting a hometown ring. Kawhi Leonard can eat apples elsewhere if the whole Clippers thing doesn’t work out.

In the case of this hypothetical scenario with the Avalanche, it would be more of an “everybody wins” scenario — except maybe Colorado’s competition. Consider these factors:

  • Pietrangelo would just block promising young defensemen like Bowen Byram working into the mix with Cale Makar if Pietrangelo signed a long-term deal. But if it was short? He buys Colorado time and can maybe hand down some life lessons to those kiddos.
  • Taylor Hall has suffered enough. Let’s get him on a good team, which Colorado … at least has a good chance of being for the foreseeable future. Right? Possibly?
  • Let’s be honest, with all of the financial turmoil going on, Pietrangelo and Hall might not enjoy much of a market. Truly, Pietrangelo might be better off taking a one-year deal to stay in St. Louis. But that’s not as fun (unless you’re a Blues fan).
  • The Avalanche figure to have a lot of money to burn, but I’m not sure that it would be wise to risk Hall and Pietrangelo hitting the aging curve. This scenario basically buys everyone some time for longer-term solutions, while taking a big swing at a 2020-21 Stanley Cup.

Now, some will point to that time the Avalanche brought in Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and that was kind of a disaster.

To which I retort: we’d get to talk about that time the Avalanche brought in Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Was it as much of a disaster as we thought? (Sounds like quality content either way.)

2. Buffy to Buffalo

Just imagine the bad puns and headlines that could come from Dustin Byfuglien reviving his career with the Buffalo Sabres.

As much as anything else, the Sabres and their fans need some joy. Adding a much-needed defenseman who’s as flat-out as unusual as Byfuglien would be pretty fun, if you ask me.

Could it be another disaster? Sure, but in that scenario, at least cruel people would have fun? I think it’s worth the risk. (<— Person not signing any of these checks.)

3. Hurricanes and Robin Lehner, an NHL Free Agency story of “Finally”

Despite putting up fantastic numbers for two seasons, Robin Lehner can’t seem to get the sort of stability he wants. Despite putting together deep and talented teams, the Hurricanes are always a few netminding meltdowns from throwing all of that shrewd team-building away.

Frankly, I was a little surprised the Hurricanes shrugged their shoulders at Lehner last summer. Sure, they’re analytics-leaning with Eric Tulsky calling a lot of shots (although I wonder if Don Waddell “went camping” by acquiring Brady Skjei and his not-particularly-fancy-stats?). But Lehner seemed like a buy-low candidate, particularly in signing a low-risk, one-year deal with the Blackhawks during the 2020 offseason.

Maybe it’s finally time for Carolina to take the plunge?

OK, so the smarter move might be to continue going shorter term. Perhaps Corey Crawford would take a shorter deal than what Lehner is clearly seeking. Jacob Markstrom might be the craftier addition, if the Canucks let him walk.

Lehner and the Hurricanes would rank as the more interesting story, though.

4. Can Braden Holtby halt the sinking of the Sharks?

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Speaking of interesting narratives that might not be as wise as they look on paper, Holtby to the Sharks would be fascinating.

Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been disastrous for the Sharks lately. Of course, there’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument, though, as the Sharks defense often hangs its goalies out to dry.

In Holtby, you have a Stanley Cup winner whose overall body of work is highly impressive. For a Sharks team tormented by playoff letdowns, Holtby’s postseason resume shines especially bright (Stanley Cup win, .928 save percentage over 89 career playoff games).

Yet, on the other hand, things have been bumpy for Holtby for some time. His game had already been slipping, but it really dipped badly in 2019-20 with a disturbing .897 save percentage. Holtby probably will demand a hefty contract thanks to his prior work, too.

So … there are a lot of red flags here. That said, the Sharks are pretty desperate. At minimum, it would be interesting to see if that gamble would pay off for San Jose.

Assorted fun NHL free agent scenarios of varying realism

  • As interesting as it would be for Joe Thornton to ship back up to Boston, I keep going back to Thornton with the Winnipeg Jets for some reason. The Jets would actually be a sensible landing spot for someone like Torey Krug, but Thornton chasing a Stanley Cup with the Jets just feels right.
  • The Maple Leafs are going to experience an agonizing cap squeeze. If Kevin Shattenkirk took another one-year, low-dollar deal, maybe Toronto would come calling? He’s the sort of double-edged sword defenseman who could help the Maple Leafs more than hurt them. But oh, how that hockey-crazed media and fan base will overreact to those mistakes …
  • The Blackhawks seem pretty deep in a “just try to outscore their problems” phase. Is there a better defenseman for that pursuit than Tyson Barrie? I mean, probably, but that could make for a white-knuckle ride.
  • Let’s get Evgenii Dadonov to a California team. With any luck, Dad would attend a Padres game.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

Jonathan Huberdeau making it a tough decision for management in Florida

Jonathan Huberdeau isn’t making life easy for management in Florida these days. You’d think the team would be ecstatic about their third overall pick’s performance in his first NHL training camp. After all, everyone wants their players succeed at the highest level, right? But Huberdeau has been exceeding just about all expectations—and now the organization is faced with the real decision of putting the 18-year-old on the opening night roster.

How’d this happen? Wasn’t Huberdeau the kid who was supposed to be good in a couple of years after he put on some much needed weight?

There’s no simple reason the Quebec native is still in the mix as the Panthers whittle their roster down to 23 players. For one, he’s been a beast in his first two NHL preseason games with the Panthers. Not only is he showing that he can hang with others trying to make the NHL, he’s showing that he’s one of the best players on the ice. He’s scored a pair of goals in his two preseason games and has earned “star of the night” honors in each contest.

Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen isn’t closing the door on Huberdeau making the team:

“The opportunity is out there. Jonathan’s done a very good job of showing everything he can at camp to make a statement for his case. He’s shown his skill set, his work ethic; he’s very respectful. He’s shown a quiet confidence. We think the world of him as a player, as well as a person.

“He’s doing his part.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just stellar play from the #3 pick. Mike Santorelli injured his shoulder and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. The Panthers have publically said that they expect him to be back sometime between opening night and Halloween. If he were to miss most of October, it would open up a spot for one of the fringe forwards looking to make the big club. Surprisingly, Huberdeau’s part of that group.

It might be the best of both worlds for Huberdeau that he’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do in the first nine games of the season. Performing well against good AHL players in the preseason is much different that thriving against NHLers in the regular season. Let’s face it: not all the players he’s faced in the preseason are going to be on opening night rosters.

A nine-game audition while Santorelli recovers would be the perfect opportunity for Huberdeau to get a taste of the size and speed of NHL players, as well as getting a taste of the expectations of being a professional athlete. There’s no substitute for a young player to see what professionals go through on a daily basis—from eating and health habits to on-ice preparation.

If he struggles on the ice or the Panthers decide there is no good role to make the most of his talents, they can easily send him down to St. John to continue to work on his overall game. The Panthers would also save a year on his entry-level contract as they face a potentially rough season in the standings. Then again, if he’s unquestionably ready for the show, they may want him to do his learning at the NHL level without the pressure of team expectations.

Regardless, watching the Panthers handle the Huberdeau situation should be one of the more interesting storylines as teams finalize their NHL rosters.

2011 NHL SuperSkills – Fans choose Alex Ovechkin as winner of Breakaway Challenge

It’s the NHL’s version of the slam dunk contest and Alex Ovechkin won the vote of the NHL fans to take home the Breakaway Challenge championship for the third time. This time around, Ovechkin used a from-the-knees shot done like a pool cue poke home past Marc-Andre Fleury.

Stealing the show tonight with their attempts were Corey Perry with his lacrosse-like puck-on-blade handling to try and beat Fleury as well as Montreal’s P.K. Subban who won the support of the crowd by donning Jeff Skinner’s jersey for his attempts. Fleury kept things lively during all the attempts by doing spins and push-ups before the skaters would approach the net. After seeing 24/7 we can only imagine what Fleury might’ve been saying to them as they approached.

Team Staal took a 12-2 lead after two events thanks to Ovechkin’s victory.

Crosby extends his scoring streak to 22 games while Penguins shrink Flyers’ lead with win over Panthers

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After a slight two-game hiccup that interrupted their 12-game losing streak, it looks like the Pittsburgh Penguins are right back to business.  The team pulled within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference/NHL standings with a nice win over the Florida Panthers tonight.

Sidney Crosby scored a goal to bring his career-best points scoring streak to 22 games (tying Dany Heatley for the best span of the post-lockout era), which is also the second best run of consecutive points in 18 years. He now has 28 goals and 30 assists for 58 points in 35 games played this season.

Pittsburgh 5, Florida 2

The Pens have out-scored their last two opponents (the Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes) by a score of 11-3. The red-hot team is taking care of business going into a Winter Classic preview against the Washington Capitals tomorrow night (a game that’s being carried by the U.S. version of the NHL Network, by the way).

It wasn’t all great news for the Penguins, though. The worst is that their steady backup Brent Johnson only played two periods, as it sounds like he got banged up when Evgeny Dadonov crashed into him late in the second. Another (far less relevant) bummer is that Evgeni Malkin went without a goal or an assist after earning eight points in his previous three games.

This game managed the rare feat of a one-sided match that still required all four goalies to play because of Johnson’s injury. Tomas Vokoun was pulled early in the game after allowing three goals to make way for backup Scott Clemmensen, who allowed two.