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Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

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Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

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.

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

NHL Free Agency: Three signings that will be looked back on with regret

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Every summer we see a few of these: free agent signings where it becomes immediately apparent that they’re going to hurt the team in the long run.

Some teams sign out of desperation. General managers facing increasing pressures to win, be it from not making the playoffs in the previous outing or getting bounced early on if they did, go out and try to find players who will make their teams better in an attempt to prolong their own tenure.

Others feel the need to expedite a rebuild or perhaps are getting a nudge from the man sitting in the corner office with the nicest view in the house; owners who are greedy and impatient with the slow, methodical process it takes to build a long-term contender.

Whatever the case, some players get signed to seemingly egregious pacts that appear asinine to everyone else.

Here are potentially three of those that have been agreed upon so far this summer.

3. Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s not necessarily the money here that is shocking — it’s silly season in the NHL, of course.

No. It’s the term.

Six years (and $21 million) for a player who hits a lot of people and was propped up in a big way by his linemates seems excessive. Sure, Tanev can be an effective player when put in the right situation. He’s a pretty good penalty killer. But the running joke in Winnipeg was that you could take away Tanev’s stick and you’d probably wouldn’t see much drop off in his play.

Now, Tanev isn’t going to score 14 goals and assist on 15 others without his twig, but the sentiment is he wouldn’t have had as good a year as he did without guys like Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp carrying him in the offensive zone.

Tanev w/ Lowry, Copp – 58.27 CF%
Tanev w/ Lowry – 52.74 CF%
Tanev w/o Lowry, Copp – 38.08 CF%
Tanev w/o Lowry – 41.49 CF%

Tanev is an exciting player to watch. In of world where gas tanks empty and must be re-filled, he’s the self-recharging electric car that laughs at those with fuel caps. He’s an Energizer bunny who goes and goes and goes.

He’ll block shots and hit everything that moves (and sometimes things that don’t.) But if the right folks aren’t beside him, his effectiveness on the scoresheet (and the data ones, too) will be limited.

Six years is a long time.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

2. Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks

At one point, this was looking much, much worse.

Some reports suggested that Canucks GM Jim Benning was ready to give Myers eight years and $56 million to wear the blue and green threads sporting a killer whale bursting out of the letter ‘C’.

That crisis was averted, but they still gave Myers five years and $6 million per season, at least going by the analytics, what appears to be a third-pairing defenseman with offensive upside and defensive deficiencies in his own zone. Myers is a defenseman, so that last bit is concerning, to say the least.

Myers is one of those buys at the deadline by a GM feeling the squeeze from upstairs and a squeeze from the fanbase who want a team back in the playoffs.

Again, people with an affinity for math and hockey have painted a not-very-good picture of Myers for that kind of money. A “defensively weak” defenseman is not something teams long for.

And the Canucks are in the middle of a rebuild, one where they already traded off a first-round pick for J.T. Miller and where they’re spending a lot of money to try and get good now even though they have big contracts to come, including this summer, where they have to figure out how to pay restricted free agent Brock Boeser more money than they have cap room at the moment.

You had one job…

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

The Panthers sometimes seem like the NHL’s version of a retirement home.

The accommodations are very nice, the weather is great and your breakfast is served by a man wearing a tuxedo. It’s all very wealthy and all very relaxing. And goalies seem to like it, good ones in years gone by that come to see out their playing days in the lap of luxury.

Ed Belfour, Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo and now Bob, to name a few.

There’s no doubt that Vezina-winning, free agent goaltenders command a lot of money in free agency. So it was no surprise when Bobrovsky got $10 million per season for the next seven. He’s an effective goalie when he wants to be.

Big-name goalies coming close to restricted and/or unrestricted free agency jumped for joy when Dale Tallon signed this monster deal. So did Panthers fans. And they should. At the moment, they have a legitimate goaltender who should lead them to the playoffs.

But for how long?

Bob is 30. While goalies age well at times, Bob has played a lot of hockey over the past three years (and has a nice .922 save percentage to show for it). But will he be a $10 million goaltender in Year 3 of the deal? What about Year 5?

That’s a big chunk of change for a team that seems to have drafted well and will need cash for those players down the line.

Bob is a great goalie. His new contract, however, comes with an untraversed mountain of risk.

MORE: Most long-term contracts will end in trade or buyout

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

Matt Cullen retires after 21 NHL seasons, three Stanley Cups

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A career that began in 1997 has come to an end after 21 seasons, 1,516 NHL games and three Stanley Cup titles. On Wednesday, Matt Cullen announced his retirement at the age of 42.

In a story he wrote for the Pittsburgh Penguins website, Cullen said that he knew entering the 2018-19 season it would be his final one in hockey. Over the past few summers, the topic of retirement would come up and the longtime NHL forward had his doubts if he could continue playing.

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night many times these last few years thinking, ‘What am I doing? I’m 40 years old,” he wrote. “I don’t think I can play another year in the NHL.’ After each time I signed the past few years I woke up in a cold sweat, not sure if I could still play.

“Honestly, if I could play forever, I would. All I know is hockey. I’ve never done anything. I never wanted to do anything else. I don’t know anything else.”

Cullen, a 1996 second-round pick, spent his first five and a half NHL seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim before being dealt to the Florida Panthers. He would later sign with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2004 and help the franchise win their first ever Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He finished tied for third on the team that postseason in scoring with 18 points.

A year after signing with the New York Rangers, Cullen was dealt back to Carolina. He’d later move on to Ottawa, Minnesota, and Nashville before landing with the Penguins where he was part of their 2016 and 2017 back-to-back Cup winning teams.

Cullen spent three of his final four NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, with a one-season stop back home in Minnesota in 2017-18. He gained clarity about his future over the last few seasons and was comfortable with hanging up his skates now rather than coming back for another season.

“It was an emotional time, but I knew it was coming. It just felt right and I was really at peace with everything when it was over,” Cullen wrote.

“I felt like it was only right to retire in Pittsburgh with everything that the organization had given me and done for me. I’m so happy I came back and finished my last year in Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t trade that last year for anything.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.