Jay Bouwmeester

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.

Keith Yandle seems very nonchalant about his iron man streak of 866 games

Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle discussed his “iron man streak” of 866 consecutive games played with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And Yandle discussed the pain he’s gone through to maintain that streak in such a deadpan way, it was kind of funny, and can also add to the brimming binder titled “hockey players are tough.”

Maybe that’s simply necessary to play 866 games in a row in the modern NHL. Yandle’s mark, by the way, ranks fourth all-time in league history. To be fair, Yandle has some immediate competition among active players Patrick Marleau and Phil Kessel, though:

1. Doug Jarvis – 964
2. Garry Unger – 914
3. Steve Larmer – 884
4. Yandle – 866
5. Marleau – 854
6. Kessel – 844

(Andrew Cogliano’s seventh-ranked 830-game streak ended controversially with a suspension.)

It’s interesting to note how many modern players own some of the biggest streaks, as Jay Bouwmeester (737, ninth) and Henrik Sedin (679, 10th) saw their runs end recently.

Perhaps it’s a testament to modern conditioning and diet; Yandle noted to Alex Prewitt in 2018 that he also holds a distinction of not ordering room service on the road. In the cases of Sedin and Kessel, maybe you attribute some of that to style. Staying healthy doesn’t usually come down to being the “hitter” rather than receiving the brunt of the abuse. In many cases, it’s about avoiding contact altogether.

Yet, while Yandle plays more of a finesse style, his interview with Tirico reminds that it hasn’t always been easy.

Biggest threats to Yandle maintaining his iron man streak

Again, Yandle quite nonchalantly discussed some of the near-missed-games. (Maybe it’s that “Boston dry funny sense of humor?”)

Yandle faced arguably the biggest threat to his iron man streak this season, in November. The Panthers defenseman took a puck to the face during the first period of a Nov. 23, 2019 game against the Hurricanes. Despite losing multiple teeth, Yandle didn’t just keep his iron man streak alive, he actually returned during the game against Carolina.

During the interview with Tirico, Yandle’s expression rarely changed while discussing those agonizing events. Again, Yandle ranks among tough hockey players, whether his sometimes downright odd critics want to admit it or not.

Yandle went through hours of painful dental work, and still managed to complete a back-to-back set. Remarkable.

Also, back in December 2016, then-Panthers coach Tom Rowe expected Yandle to be out “a while” after what looked like a bad foot injury. In the Tirico interview, Yandle said an Aaron Ekblad shot “shattered” the back of his foot.

Naturally, “out for a while” meant not missing a single game.

It all makes me wonder: will Yandle’s streak eventually end as a “coach’s decision?”

The 33-year-old’s still an important piece of the Panthers’ puzzle. While he’s seen his ice time plummet over the years (24:29 TOI in 2017-18; 22:27 in 2018-19; 19:42 in 2019-20), Yandle remains prominent.

But with the Panthers struggling to support Sergei Bobrovsky — and/or struggling to justify the cost of Bob — might they decide that Yandle’s too much of a “double-edged sword?” Yandle’s puck movement, skating, and offensive acumen might make him a “net positive,” but the criticisms of his defense aren’t mere myths.

His Evolving Hockey RAPM chart from 2019-20 isn’t really out of line with Yandle’s usual work:

Could poor defense threaten Keith Yandle iron man streak
via Evolving Hockey

It’s never a popular move to sit someone who’s on a Ripken-of-hockey streak, but it’s a scenario worth considering, especially since Joel Quenneville has the political clout to make such a decision. Even if it’s probably ultimately unlikely, and painful.

You know, like returning to the same game when you got about 20 percent of your teeth knocked out by a puck.

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 Blues’ long-term outlook?

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 St. Louis Blues.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who would be the top free agent available this summer, pretty much every key player on the Blues’ roster is signed (or under team control) through the end of next season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the two most impactful forwards on the roster and both have long-term deals through the end of the 2022-23 season at a combined salary cap number of $15 million. As long as they maintain their current levels of play (Tarasenko being a 30-35 goal winger; O’Reilly being a dominant two-way center) they are going to be the foundation of a contending team at a pretty fair price against the cap.

Things do get a little more complicated after next season when forwards Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Bozak, as well as BOTH goalies (Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen) will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou also provide some nice long-term potential at forward, with Thomas being especially intriguing. The team’s first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2017 has already shown flashes of top-line ability and is one of their best play-making forwards at even-strength. Still only 20 years old, big things could be in his future. He still has one more season after this one on his entry-level deal. Given how good he has already been, the potential he still has, and his current contract status he could be one of the Blues’ most valuable assets next season.

On defense, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo are all signed to long-term deals, while Dunn is still under team control as a restricted free agent after this season.

Overall, it remains a top-tier team in the NHL in the short-term and should still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Long-Term Needs

Getting Pietrangelo re-signed would probably be at the top of the list.

He is their captain, their top defenseman, and if he leaves they do not really have another option to take over that role. With Parayko, Faulk, Dunn, and Bortuzzo there would still be a solid defense there, but none of those players really fills the No. 1 defender spot. It is also unlikely — if not impossible — they would be able to find anyone comparable to Pietrangelo on the open market.

Scott Perunovich is probably their top prospect, and he does have a lot of potential on the blue line, but he has yet to play a game of professional hockey and is a long way off from being able to fill a top-pairing or meaningful role.

Beyond that, their farm system as a whole is not the strongest and they have some fairly significant free agents over the next two years that they will need to do with — including the two goalies.

Long-Term Strengths

In the more immediate future they have an outstanding goalie with Binnington and Allen in place, and that is also probably the one position in their farm system that has some potential long-term options.

Their biggest strength, though, is simply the players they have at the top of their lineup.

Acquiring O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres before the 2018-19 season has turned out to be an enormous win for the organization. Not only because it gave them a bonafide No. 1 center that could drive play at both ends of the ice, but because it cost them almost nothing of consequence to get him. He scores at a top-line rate, is a sensational defensive player, and plays big, tough minutes against other team’s best players while being able to stay out of the penalty box. At a $7.5 million salary cap hit that is an enormous bargain.

Then there is Tarasenko.

He has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers for the past six years and can be a game-changing talent when he is on the ice. The Blues did not really get a chance to experience much of that this season due to injury, but he is a star and might be the one player on this roster that might (emphasis on might) have Hall of Fame potential if he continues on his current path.

MORE Blues:
Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

Pietrangelo says Blues teammate Bouwmeester in good health

Jay Bouwmeester
Getty Images

St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo says teammate Jay Bouwmeester is in good health some seven weeks after having a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest.

Pietrangelo said he and his teammates have occasionally stopped in to see Bouwmeester while the NHL is on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he’s pleased to see Bouwmeester taking walks through their St. Louis-area neighborhood.

Saying “Bow’s good,” the Blues veteran defenseman provided the update Tuesday during an NHL video conference call featuring Central Division players.

The 36-year-old Bouwmeester has been ruled out from returning to play this season, including the playoffs, after he collapsed on the bench during the first period of a game at the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 11.

He spent five nights at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange County, California, where he had the device implanted to monitor heart functions. The defibrillator can deliver a shock to the heart if an arrhythmia occurs to restore a regular heartbeat.

Pietrangelo said Bouwmeester was already a regular at Blues home games and practices before the season was suspended on March 12.

“That was kind of a breath of fresh air for us, knowing he’s out and about and hanging around the guys,” he added.

Pietrangelo said Bouwmeester’s plan was to stay in St. Louis until the season ended, before seeking medical clearance to return home to Edmonton, Alberta.

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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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.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

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.