Tag Archives: Jim Nill

Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

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October 6 – Day Three – Welcome to the league

Man, a week goes by fast when there’s hockey involved. All of a sudden it’s Friday!

Speaking of, we have three games on the schedule tonight in anticipation of a 15-game Saturday. The action starts at 7 p.m. with the New York Islanders visiting Columbus, followed half an hour by Florida at Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup. Finally, Vegas heads to Dallas (NHLN/SN360/TVAS) to close out the night at 8:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s only one chance for a franchise to play its first NHL game, so is there any doubt which game we’re featuring tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Now that it is officially game day for the Golden Knights, allow us at Down the Frozen River to welcome Vegas to the NHL!

Officially, the process of bringing the NHL’s 31st team to Las Vegas began in late 2014 when Commissioner Gary Bettman allowed Bill Foley to test the season ticket market, though the league has had a presence in the city since the early 90s (not counting the bookies).

Over 13,000 season tickets and 18 months later, the Golden Knights were approved for business and preparing to start winning hockey games.

Unfortunately, history is not on their side in this contest. The last expansion franchises to win their opening games were Tampa Bay (7-3 against Chicago) and Ottawa (5-3 against Montréal) in the 1992-’93 season. Since then, expansion teams have gone a dreadful 0-6-1 in their first-ever regular season games, getting outscored 25-11 in the process.

Ouch. Maybe the Golden Knights can do better.

For them to buck the trend, they’ll need exemplary play from stars like G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith. Considering Vegas’ lack of an effective blue line and the prowess of the Stars’ forwards (more on them in a minute), Fleury’s job description is simple even though it’s not simply filled.

And it’s with that in mind that puts even more pressure on the Knights’ forwards. Given that Dallas doesn’t necessarily play the best defense in the league, Marchessault, and Smith will hopefully be able to find some chemistry on the top line with C Vadim Shipachyov to keep Vegas competitive.

In addition to playing their first game, the Knights are also bringing with them some the Stars’ old friends. In particular, C Cody Eakin spent the last five seasons in Dallas before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. During his tenure in the Lone Star State he registered solid 61-85-146 totals, but last season’s 3-9-12 performance was a drastic decline that forced General Manager Jim Nill to leave him exposed.

Speaking of Nill, now that Eakin is on the Golden Knights’ second line, he had the opportunity to make some much needed changes to the Stars’ roster. After finishing 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Predators last season, Nill was able to improve his team by adding the likes of G Ben Bishop, C Martin Hanzal, D Marc Methot and RW Alexander Radulov.

Pair that group of players, who should provide at least a 10-point improvement in the standings compared to last year’s team, with Dallas’ mainstays of LW Jamie Benn and F Tyler Seguin and you find a club that should have something to say about the Blackhawks winning the Central Division for a second-straight season.

Considering the poor history of expansion teams in their first regular season showing and the fact that RW David Clarkson, F Mikhail Grabovski, W James Neal and D Clayton Stoner are all on injured reserve, I’m not expecting much from the Golden Knights this evening. Instead, I’m going to be enthralled by what could be the best top-line in hockey (Benn-Seguin-Radulov) backed by the first number one goaltender Dallas has seen in years.


Of all the teams to make it a priority to defend their new home, I suppose I should have pegged Detroit, who beat Minnesota 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings scored two goals in 23 seconds – both courtesy of their second power play unit. First Star of the Game W Anthony Mantha (RW Martin Frk and Third Star D Mike Green) claimed the honor of scoring the first goal in arena history by burying a five-on-three wrist shot with 5:20 remaining. Under normal power play conditions, that lead doubled 23 seconds later when F Dylan Larkin (Green and Mantha) tipped a loose puck past G Devan Dubnyk.

Not to be outdone, the Wild had a scoring blitz of their own, starting with C Joel Eriksson Ek‘s (W Chris Stewart and LW Marcus Foligno) wrister two minutes into the third period, followed by Stewart’s (F Tyler Ennis and D Kyle Quincey) wrister only 48 seconds later to level the game at two-all.

The tie lasted 4:19 before F Henrik Zetterberg (Green and F Tomas Tatar) found the game-winning snap shot on his stick. From between the face-off circles, he collected a Green pass deflected off W Jason Zucker‘s skate and fired it five-hole on Dubnyk to set the score at 3-2.

Frk (Mantha and Green) secured the win by burying a slap shot with 9:21 remaining in the contest, setting the 4-2 final score.

Second Star Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced for a .949 save percentage, leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-31 (.871 save percentage).

After three games, road teams have a slight one-point advantage in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 2-1-0 record.

Carolina Hurricanes 2017-’18 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

36-31-15, 87 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: G Scott Darling, C Josh Jooris, C Marcus Kruger, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, RW Justin Williams

Subtractions: G Eddie Lack (traded to CGY), G Michael Leighton (signed with TBL), D Ryan Murphy (traded to CGY), F Andrej Nestrasil (signed with HC Neftekhimik), D Matt Tennyson (signed with BUF)

Offseason Analysis: I’ve been high on the Hurricanes all offseason, but now is the time to put everything in writing.

I’m beyond excited, but let’s simply tackle the transactions to get started.

In the crease, Carolina made arguably its biggest move by bringing in Darling from Chicago to replace Lack, who was eventually traded to Calgary. For the Canes last year, Cam Ward’s 29-year old backup started 18 games for an 8-7-3 record with a .902 season save percentage and a 2.64 GAA. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Darling started 27 contests in Corey Crawford’s place for an 18-5-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.

Given that Darling is certainly the goaltender of the future – and maybe even the present, taking into account 33-year-old Ward’s decline over the past two seasons – Carolina definitely improved in net.

The Hurricanes also made a major move on defense, as they allowed Tennyson to sign with Buffalo to make room for van Riemsdyk. At 27-years-old, Tennyson notched only six assists last season for a -13 rating over 45 games. Meanwhile, the former Blackhawk (noticing a trend yet?) notched 16 points in only 58 games played (he missed over a month of action with an upper-body injury) for a +17 rating. The scoring numbers may not be much of a change, but the fact that Chicago generated one more goal that it allowed while he was on the ice is far more attractive than the Canes’ efforts last season while Tennyson was playing.

Net result of a 26-year-old van Riemsdyk taking over Tennyson’s spot: an improvement I’d make any day.

And lastly, the forwards. As if General Manager Ron Francis hadn’t already gotten Head Coach Bill Peters enough new toys to play with, he also made an effort to add Mr. Game 7 – yes, the same Williams that scored the final goal in Carolina’s Stanley Cup-winning game in 2006 – to a two year, $4.5 million AAV deal. Last year in Washington, the soon-to-be 36-year-old notched 48 points evenly split between goals and assists, but his experience may be an even bigger asset for an offensive corps that had an average age of 25.6 years-old before he was added to the mix.

Even though he’s not an alumnus of the Blackhawks’ organization, I’m sure he’s going to fit in just fine.

But what makes all these additions exciting is how well the club they’re joining performed at the end of last season. From March 9-30, the Hurricanes amassed an incredible record of 9-0-4 – the best in the league during that span – by scoring over 3.5 goals-per-game for 46 tallies (that’s six more than even Edmonton’s mighty offense managed in that time).

That offensive assault was spearheaded by 2011 Calder winner F Jeff Skinner and his 12-3-15 performance (37-26-63 for the season) over that stretch, so he may need a similar start to the 2017-’18 season to prevent another slow start that has plagued Carolina in the past.

Last year, the Canes were only 9-9-4 by the end of November; they were an even worse 8-12-4 over the first two months of the 2015-’16 season. Together, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs by only a combined 18 points. If not for those slow starts, perhaps this campaign could be Carolina’s third-straight playoff appearance.

Offseason Grade: B+

All in all, Francis’ offseason acquisitions may not be quite as good as Jim Nill’s considering how much work was needed in Dallas, but he was no less effective. Carolina only improved their young core this offseason and are prepared to make some serious noise in the Metropolitan Division – but therein lies the problem. Given the competition in that division, the Canes could struggle to bust into the playoffs this season as a top-three seed, but they should be well in the hunt for a wildcard seed.

Revised Mock 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

If you’re a regular here at Down the Frozen River then you know Colby Kephart, Connor Keith and I discussed our ideal Vegas Golden Knights rosters on last week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.

Well, after careful (re)consideration, thanks to Sunday’s release of the protected and available lists for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Connor and I have decided to reselect our Golden Knights rosters. Special thanks to CapFriendly for having such an amazing “mock expansion draft” tool available to everyone all season long leading up to this moment.

Without further ado, here they are…

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Nick Lanciani’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

ANAHEIM DUCKS– D Sami Vatanen (26 years old, 3 years left, $4.875 million cap hit):

The logic behind this one is fairly simple– Vegas picks the best player available from Anaheim’s pool of available players and either 1) utilizes his services or 2) flips him for even more assets (current or future, the choice is yours, Golden Knights GM George McPhee). Vatanen had 3-21-24 totals in 71 games with Anaheim in 2016-2017.

ARIZONA COYOTES– LW/RW Jamie McGinn (28, 2 years left, $3.333 million cap hit):

Choosing McGinn (9-8-17 totals in 72 games played last season) provides the Golden Knights with the safest pick from the Coyotes organization. He’s not expected to be the best player, but his contract is the perfect fit for a team that’s just starting out. It he does well, he’ll stick around, but if he doesn’t perform, then Vegas didn’t waste too much on being able to have a NHL caliber forward right out of the gate.

BOSTON BRUINS– D Colin Miller (24, 1 year left, $1.000 million cap hit):

While Boston does not want to have to see Colin Miller heading to Vegas, there wasn’t much the Bruins could do to protect the young blue liner, considering their vast expanse of core forwards to protect and defensive prospects lining up to take Miller’s current job in Boston. The Golden Knights luck out on this one, if Miller’s brilliance returns.

Despite playing in 19 more games this season than in 2015-2016, Miller had 6 goals and 7 assists (13 points) for Boston (whereas he had 3-13-16 totals in 42 games in 2015-2016).

BUFFALO SABRES– LW Matt Moulson (33, 2 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Moulson’s time with the Buffalo Sabres was up and down, but he gets a fresh start in Sin City. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings between the Sabres and Moulson on what otherwise seems like a natural, mutual, separation.

He had 14-18-32 totals in 81 games played in 2016-2017, which was better than his eight goals, 13 assists (21 points) in 81 games in 2015-2016 (after amassing three consecutive 40-plus point seasons).

CALGARY FLAMES– C/LW/RW Lance Bouma (27, 1 year remaining, $2.200 million cap hit):

Three goals and four assists (7 points) in 61 games played this year with Calgary doesn’t scream “exceptional forward”, however, it’s his intangibles that make him a quality asset for a franchise that has to build its identity from the ground up. Also, his durability as a forward (he can play either wing or center) makes him an attractive option for a franchise that won’t nearly have as much minor league depth to call up in the event of injuries throughout the season.

CAROLINA HURRICANES– LW Joakim Nordstrom (25, 1 year remaining, $1.275 million cap hit):

His production was cut in half (7-5-12 totals) this season despite taking part in 81 games with Carolina, however, Joakim Nordstrom is just one season removed from an impressive stint in his first full year with the Hurricanes (10-14-24 totals in 71 games played in 2015-2016) since being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 offseason. At 25 years old, he should be entering his prime.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS– D Trevor van Riemsdyk (25, 1 year remaining, $825,000 cap hit):

The Golden Knights hit the lottery with their selection from the Blackhawks in the sense that Trevor van Riemsdyk is an exceptional, young, defenseman, who should otherwise be stepping into a more prominent role as the future of Chicago’s blue line, but instead will become a household name in Vegas. Limited to only 58 games this season, van Riemsdyk notched 5-11-16 totals in his sophomore year after amassing three goals and 11 assists (14 points) in a full 82-game season his rookie year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE– C Carl Soderberg (31, 3 years left, $4.750 million cap hit):

Carl Soderberg went from a 51 point season in his first year with the Avalanche to just 6-8-14 totals in 80 games played this season, but the former Boston Bruin and three-time 40-plus point scorer can rejuvenate his career with the right combination of forwards around him in Vegas. Plus he’s not too shabby on the faceoff dot (Soderberg won 52% of his faceoffs this season alone).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS– D Jack Johnson (30, 1 year remaining, $4.357 million cap hit):

Simply put, Jack Johnson would be the oldest defenseman on my version of the Vegas Golden Knights and that’s exactly where you’d want them to be, just starting out. He contributed 18 assists to go along with his 23 points for the Blue Jackets in 82 games this season, after being hampered by injury to just 6-8-14 totals in 60 games last season.

DALLAS STARS– D Greg Pateryn (26, 1 year remaining, $800,000 cap hit):

Pateryn has yet to play a full season, but perhaps the Golden Knights can give him more of a taste of being a regular in the NHL than the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens did. He has 16 career points to his name and at best, is a depth guy that becomes a top-6 blue liner. At worst, he sees no time in the lineup and watches a season from the comfortable press box seats at T-Mobile Arena.

DETROIT RED WINGS– G Petr Mrazek (25, 1 year remaining, $4.000 million cap hit):

Once again, we have another offseason rendition of Character Issues (season two, 2017, starring Petr Mrazek, guest starring references made to season one (2016) star, P.K. Subban).

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

EDMONTON OILERS– D Eric Gryba (29, pending UFA on July 1st):

Since Gryba tallied 12 assists in 75 games played in the 2014-2015 season with the Ottawa Senators (one more point than the previous season in 18 more games), he hasn’t produced and has become a depth defenseman at best. A second, second chance with the Vegas Golden Knights might finally prove that Gryba is worth more to a franchise than just as a go-to healthy scratch. Or then again, he might just be a roster placeholder until free agency begins on July 1st.

FLORIDA PANTHERS– LW/RW Reilly Smith (26, 5 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Who didn’t have a down year with the Florida Panthers this season? Reilly Smith failed to reach the 40-point plateau for the first time since his 37 games played as a newcomer with the Dallas Stars in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Instead, he had 15-22-37 totals in 80 games with the Panthers, following his trend of “on again, off again” performance. By Smith’s standards, he’s due for a spectacular season in 2017-2018 and he’s not the only surprise Florida left unprotected *cough cough Jonathan Marchessault cough*.

LOS ANGELES KINGS– D Brayden McNabb (26, 1 year remaining, $1.700 million cap hit):

Two goals and two assists (4 points) were all that McNabb put on the scoresheet for the Kings this season in 49 games. In 2014-2015 with Los Angeles, he had 22 assists in 71 games played (his first full season in the NHL and first appearance in the league since his acquisition by the Kings from the Buffalo Sabres). But nobody’s paying him to score goals and rack up points when they consider his heavy hitting approach to protecting his own zone.

MINNESOTA WILD– C Eric Staal (32, 2 years left, $3.500 million cap hit):

Why not? Make things interesting, George McPhee, and take Eric Staal over the plethora of defensemen that seem to be rumored in and out of Minnesota every other day. True to form, he had 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games with the Wild last season after a dismal 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 83 games with the Hurricanes and the Rangers in 2015-2016. He makes everyone around him better, so he’s worth it.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS– C Tomas Plekanec (34, 1 year remaining, $6.000 million):

I said it on last week’s episode of the podcast, but this is the easiest way for the Canadiens to avoid the awkward breakup with Plekanec reminiscent of their uncoupling with Saku Koivu almost a decade ago.

He had 10-18-28 totals in 78 games with Montreal this season a year after notching 54 points in 82 games and two years after reaching 60 points in 82 games played. He’s not the 70-point scorer like he was in 2009-2010, but he’s still a gifted center that brings a veteran presence to the new franchise.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS– C Colton Sissons (23, 2 years left, $625,000 cap hit):

Colton Sissons only had two goals and eight assists (10 points) in 58 games played this season for Nashville, but he came up clutch in their Stanley Cup Final run (and eventual defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins). Someone good and young on the Predators is bound to be lost to the Golden Knights, unless they’ve already worked out a trade to avoid the inevitable scenario. Take a hard pass on James Neal, if you can.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS– RW Stefan Noesen (24, pending RFA on July 1st):

There’s really no stellar selection to make from the Devils, so why not go with a young, pending RFA forward? Besides, he had eight goals in 44 games with Anaheim and New Jersey this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS– LW Shane Prince (24, 1 year remaining, $850,000 cap hit):

Shane Prince had 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 50 games with the Islanders this season, which bested his scoring output from last year in a dozen fewer games, so just imagine what a full season could do for him in the right situation.

NEW YORK RANGERS– G Antti Raanta (28, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

OTTAWA SENATORS– D Fredrik Claesson (24, 1 year remaining, $650,000 cap hit):

Claesson amassed 3-8-11 totals in 33 games with the Senators this season, one year after recording 2 assists in 16 games played. So there’s room for improvement if he’s only just entering his prime. Otherwise he’s a tactically smart depth defenseman addition to Vegas’s roster.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS– C/LW Michael Raffl (28, 2 years left, $2.350 million cap hit):

Michael Raffl’s 2016-2017 campaign was shortened due to injury and was largely one to forget (8-3-11 totals in 52 games played, down from 13-18-31 totals in a healthy 82-game 2015-2016 season). However, Raffl is durable and should be back to being a dependable depth scoring glue guy in a top-9 forward spot with Vegas.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS– G Marc-Andre Fleury (32, 2 years left, $5.750 million cap hit):

Should I even have to explain this one? I’m going to go with “no”.

SAN JOSE SHARKS– D Brenden Dillon (26, 3 years left, $3.270 million cap hit):

Brenden Dillon is a solid top-4 defenseman that has some time left on his contract that’ll see him into his prime with the Vegas Golden Knights. Did I mention he’s a good defenseman? He likes to hit people and stuff.

ST. LOUIS BLUES– RW/LW Dmitrij Jaskin (24, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

In 2014-2015, Jaskin had 13-5-18 totals in 54 games. Since then, he had 4-9-13 totals in 65 games (2015-2016) and just one goal and ten assists (11 points) in 51 games this season. He seems to be the odd man out for the St. Louis Blues and may be sparked by a change of scenery to shape up or lose a full-time NHL job– destined for the life of an AHL Lifer™.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING– RW J.T. Brown (26, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Okay, so 3-3-6 totals in 64 games played was a step backwards from a career year, 8-14-22 totals in 78 games in 2015-2016 for J.T. Brown, but he’s a gritty fourth liner. It’s well worth the risk/reward factor of taking him on for a season, trying him out and either 1) keeping him around because he’s won the hearts of the fans in Vegas, 2) let him go or 3) begin stockpiling veteran AHL Lifers™.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS– D Martin Marincin (25, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Toronto doesn’t seem to be entirely sold on Martin Marincin and that’s understandable given his 1-6-7 totals in the last two seasons (but over 25 games played this season and 65 games played in 2015-2016). He’s not an offensive minded defenseman, that’s fine, just hit somebody or block a shot. Auston Matthews and the rest of the teens on the Maple Leafs aren’t available, so let’s go with Marincin.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS– G Richard Bachman (29, 1 year remaining, $650,000):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*. **Actually, Bachman’s probably going to be their AHL starter with the Chicago Wolves, so we’ll leave it at that.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS– G Philipp Grubauer (25, pending RFA on July 1st):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

WINNIPEG JETS– G Michael Hutchinson (27, 1 year remaining, $1.150 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

Total Cap Hit (excluding players already on VGK roster): $68.410 million

Average age: 27 years old

At the end of the day, my thought process was to build around a few guys, bring in a lot of short-term contracts, flip a lot of goalies and attain a ton of draft picks (just like Danny Ainge, but in hockey). Don’t try to build your team via free agency in your first year. Do that next year and win the Cup in 2019, obviously.


By: Connor Keith

Connor Keith’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

After making my initial selections (effectively my preferred player off each roster), I found myself lacking forwards, a few 2018-’19 (or beyond) contracts and almost $10 million under the salary floor. This led to three or four modifications to my original selections.

ANAHEIM – G Dustin Tokarski

Patrick Eaves, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were all available, but I decided to go with the 27-year-old netminder. Spending much of the 2016-’17 season in San Diego with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, he posted a .898 save percentage for a 2.93 GAA, 17-win season. Yes, that’s not all that impressive, but he did post a 10-minute shutout (that’s a thing, right?) in his only NHL action this year. Tokarski’s true upside is that he has only one year remaining on his $650,000 two-way contract, meaning Vegas can send him to Chicago to prove himself or provide competition for their other goaltending prospects and not be committed to him long-term.

ARIZONA – RW Radim Vrbata

Is there any question of the best available Coyote? He notched 55 points (fourth-most among all Expansion Draft-eligible forwards) with a lackluster Arizona club that managed only a measly 191 goals all season, including 35 assists (fifth-best among forwards in the draft). Vrbata is not currently under contract, so George McPhee might need an impressive offer sheet to ensure 36-year-old veteran doesn’t run off in pursuit of a Stanley Cup in the twilight of his career.

BOSTON – D Adam McQuaid

There are few things I love more than a physical, stay-at-home defenseman – and McQuaid is just that. He blocked an impressive 144 shots this last season (eighth-best among defensemen in the draft) while also throwing 157 hits (10th-most among draft-eligible blue-liners). Not much gets past this 30-year-old (be it the puck or a skater), and he’ll be able to impart some wisdom among the youngsters while also making a few defensive contributions of his own.

BUFFALO – G Linus Ullmark

There’s not many skaters of value to Vegas in Upstate New York, but both available netminders could be solid picks. In particular, 23-year-old Ullmark is four years younger than Anders Nilsson and is under contract for two more seasons at the low price of $750,000, but the cherry on top is that he’s still waivers-exempt, meaning he can still be sent to Chicago if needed without other teams having the opportunity to sign him.

CALGARY – C Freddie Hamilton

Hamilton isn’t the sexy pick, but I’m not willing to pick free agent Michael Stone and have to fight to keep him, as he’s coming off a $4 million deal. Instead, we’ll take the 25-year-old youngster that was sneaky-good at the face-off dot in his 26 games played this season. He won almost 60 percent of his 126 play-resuming scrums to rank third-best among the centers available for the Golden Knights to select. If he can be convinced to put on a little more weight, he could be an effective fourth-liner.

CAROLINA – RW Lee Stempniak

Other than a 33-year-old long-time starting goaltender, the Hurricanes’ offerings are sparse. That leaves Stempniak as the obvious choice for McPhee and the Knights. He provided 40 points for a Carolina club that narrowly missed the postseason, but his biggest strength is his ability to steal the puck away from the opposition. He committed 57 takeaways during last season, the third-most among draft-eligible forwards.

CHICAGO – D Trevor van Riemsdyk

There are a few star-studded rosters that couldn’t protect everyone, and the Blackhawks are one of those. That leaves this stud of a young defenseman out to dry, and Vegas would be wise to bring him to the desert. At only 25 years of age, he notched 16 points during ’16-’17 and a +17 rating. The future is bright for this youngster, and he’s a perfect piece to build the first 10 years of Vegas’ defense around.

COLORADO – C Samuel Henley

If Chicago is on one end of the spectrum in terms of roster quality, Colorado is on the other – made apparent by its terrible 22-win season. Because of that, I decided to take a chance on one of the Avalanche’s prospects, a 23-year-old center. He only played in one NHL game this season, but it was a head-turner: he tied the December 1 game against the Blue Jackets at two-all in the second period (Columbus went on to win 3-2). He’s currently a restricted free-agent, but it shouldn’t be too hard to sign him to a low-cost contract.

COLUMBUS – D Jack Johnson

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they have a resurgent defenseman available to be selected. Johnson joined the Jackets during the 2011-‘12 season, and it’s been an up-and-down affair. This last campaign was certainly an “up,” as he registered a +23 rating and scored five goals (tied for ninth-most among draft-eligible defensemen). Though he comes in at a price tag exceeding $4 million, the offensive threat from the blue-line is worth the money.

DALLAS – F Mark McNeill

If there’s anything Jim Nill and the Stars know how to do, it’s how to identify offensive talent (Exhibit A: the 2015-’16 season). Unfortunately, there are only four forwards (including Adam Cracknell) available for the Expansion Draft with more than 41 NHL games played this season, meaning McPhee might be led to snag a prospect. If for no other reason than his versatility (he can play both center and right wing), I’m drawn to McNeill. He registered only 39 points between Rockford and Texas in the AHL this season, but he proved his willingness to get his nose dirty by blocking a shot in his only game with Dallas on April 28. He’s currently a restricted free agent, so it shouldn’t be difficult to sign him to another minor league contract.

DETROIT – F Luke Glendening

For whatever reason (*ahem* tank *ahem*), the Wings decided to leave this versatile forward exposed for the draft. Vegas would be crazy to leave Glendening off its club. Locked into his contract until 2021 at the relatively low price of $1.8 million, he accounted for 14 points in 74 games played this season. Of course, Glendening isn’t known so much for his offensive contributions as much as his defensive presence. With 62 blocks to his credit last year, he registered the seventh-most among draft-eligible forwards.

EDMONTON – RW Iiro Pakarinen

Colby made fun of me for picking Pakarinen in our podcast last week, but I’m holding my ground with the right wing. The Oilers are a hard team to select from with a lot of their talented youth being ineligible for the expansion draft. I thought about selecting Kris Russell, but ended up needing a player signed through next year. Pakarinen has only one year remaining on his contract, but maybe he’ll be able to impress and earn a new contract.

FLORIDA – C Jonathan Marchessault

Since I had this center on my fantasy team this year, it must have been destiny that I’d choose him for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. Marchessault is an excellent pick having scored a whopping 51 points – including 30 goals (third-most among draft-eligible forwards) – for the Panthers in 2016-’17. Making him even more attractive, he also leads draft-eligible forwards in takeaways with 64. In short, Marchessault is a must for Vegas.

LOS ANGELES – G Jack Campbell

Though he only has two NHL appearances for his entire career, Campbell is an attractive goaltending prospect. In 52 games with Ontario in the AHL, he posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.52 GAA, 31-win season – not to mention his perfect 20-minute shutout in his single appearance for the Kings.

MINNESOTA – D Matt Dumba

It is my opinion that the basis for a successful club is a solid defense, and this 22-year-old blue-liner is exactly the guy for the job. Pairing with fellow youngster van Riemsdyk, these two have the potential to grow into one of the best defenses in the league.

MONTRÉAL – LW Charles Hudon

To put it simply, I needed players under contract for next season. That being said, this left wing has also shown promise as a physical player. Throwing 11 hits in his three NHL games this season, he actually led all draft-eligible forwards in hits-per-game.

So there’s that.

NASHVILLE – RW Miikka Salomaki

There are quite a few solid players available from Nashville’s roster, including Mike Fisher, Matt Irwin, James Neal, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson just to name a few. Unfortunatley, at least a few of those are not under contract for next season, so I was led to draft Salomaki. The young right wing doesn’t seem attractive on the surface, but he actually averaged the third-most blocks-per-game at 1.8.

NEW JERSEY – D Ben Lovejoy

Not much is going right in New Jersey these days, but since Cory Schneider wasn’t available I had to make another pick. Though he comes with a considerable price tag of $2.7 million for the next two years, I think Lovejoy should be high on the Golden Knights’ list. If there’s one thing the defenseman does well, it’s block shots. He rejected 149 over the course of last season to rank sixth-best among draft-eligible blue-liners.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – D Calvin de Haan

While we’re near the Big Apple, let’s grab another defenseman from the Isles. Similar to Lovejoy, de Haan has been a shot-blocking stud for a while now, as his 190 is the third-best total available among the expansion draft class’ defensemen. But he’s so much more than a simple blue-liner, as he also managed an impressive 25 points, including 20 assists.

NEW YORK RANGERS – RW Michael Grabner

Need a goal scorer that’s definitely under contract for next season? Since T.J. Oshie is a free agent, look no further than the Rangers’ incredible right wing. Not only did Grabner bury the fifth-most goals at 27, but he also didn’t yield many, as his +22 rating is the second-best among all draft-eligible forwards.

OTTAWA – RW Mike Blunden

I have no good reason for Vegas to draft Blunden other than he’s a decent pest at three hits-per-game this NHL season and that he’s under contract next year. If it weren’t for the contract rule, I was looking at Tom Pyatt.

PHILADELPHIA – D Michael del Zotto

This blue-liner is a free agent this summer, but I don’t expect him to garner a contract similar to the nearly $4 million deal he’s coming off of with the Flyers seeing as they were trying to trade him at the deadline and no other club took him. He’s a physical, two-way player that scored the fourth-most goals by a defenseman eligible for Vegas’ roster.

PITTSBURGH – D Ian Cole

Everybody that’s anybody is choosing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) the Penguins are holding him out as bait to keep the Knights away from the true treasure that is Cole and (2) I want to be different. Overshadowed by Kris Letang and his known offensive talents, Cole is an excellent, physical two-way defenseman that not only notched 26 points in 2016-’17 (tied for sixth-most among draft-eligible blue-liners), but also an impressive +26 rating – the second-best among his peers eligible for Vegas – and 194 blocks – another stat he ranks second-best in among exposed blue-liners. At the age of 28, he still has a few more good seasons in him to make a real contribution to a club.

SAN JOSE – D Paul Martin

If Vegas doesn’t select Cole, they have another opportunity to pick a similar player in Martin. Though not as physical, Martin can still earn his wages with the puck on his stick by registering 26 points. What sets Martin apart is not only his ability to contribute offensively, but also his skill at stealing the puck. With 36 takeaways, he leads all Vegas-eligible defensemen in steals.

ST. LOUIS – W David Perron

Able to play either wing, Perron is a no-brainer for the Golden Knights given the rest of the Blues’ offerings. Under contract through next season, Perron registered the ninth-most assists among forwards with 28, but of even more significance is his ability to maintain possession. During the entire 2016-‘17 season, he gave the puck away only 21 times. Pair that with his 48 takeaways and he has a +27 turnover differential that ties for third-best among all available forwards.

TAMPA BAY – G Peter Budaj

Forwards, forwards, forwards – yet few of them have any real quality, and the ones that do aren’t under contract for long. Instead, let’s snag a goaltender that spent most of last season in the Pacific Division before being traded to the Bolts at the deadline. Especially without Fleury being selected in my draft, Budaj provides a quality immediate starter in net while the Knights establish their franchise goaltender.

TORONTO – G Antoine Bibeau

Speaking of, Bibeau could be just that guy should Ullmark not work out. He didn’t have an excellent showing with the Marlies this year, posting a .894 save percentage for a 13-win, 3.08 GAA campaign, but his two games in the NHL were relatively decent. Over 121 minutes, he posted a .927 save percentage and 1.98 GAA. It remains to be seen if that was a sampling of the future or just a solid two weeks.

VANCOUVER – RW Derek Dorsett

I had originally selected Alex Biega, but was forced to choose Dorsett to meet the proper number of contracts. If that doesn’t explain the Canucks’ situation, nothing will.

WASHINGTON – D Brooks Orpik

I wanted so badly to select Karl Alzner from Washington, but – similar to Vancouver – was forced to change my pick to meet contract rules. Orpik was easily the second-best selection even with his $5.5 million price tag for no reason other than his +32 rating, the best of any expansion draft-eligible defenseman. Pair that with his physicality, and Vegas should have a solid defense.

WINNIPEG – D Brian Strait

In only five NHL games played this season, Strait notched two points. Though it doesn’t sound like much, his points-per-game is actually sixth-best among all draft-eligible defensemen. Here’s hoping that effort continues if he can make it back to the league.

 

At the end of the draft, my Vegas Golden Knights cost a measly $45.1 million (only $1.3 million over the salary floor) with an average age of 28-years-old. Built into the roster are four two-way contracts eligible to be moved between Chicago (AHL) and Vegas as Gerard Gallant and McPhee see fit with another two being waivers-exempt (meaning they can be sent to the Wolves without going through the waiver process).

Though this draft may not maximize all the players under contract, it does provide the Knights almost $28 million to sign free agents and a draft pick or two. With that room, they might be able to attract names as elusive as Eaves, Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk or Thomas Vanek.

2017 NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Central Division

Unknown-21. Minnesota Wild– 37-12-6 (80 points, 55 GP)

To nearly everyone’s surprise, the Minnesota Wild are first in the Central Division. I say “to nearly everyone’s surprise” because the Central Division is usually just assumed to be controlled by the Chicago Blackhawks, since at least 2010.

Aside from needing to maintain this surge in momentum that the Wild have been on, it’s reasonable to believe Minnesota will move someone that’s been largely expendable for the Wild organization, but could perhaps use a fresh start elsewhere in return for a nice little package that’ll get them further in the playoffs than in recent years. Look, I really don’t know what Minnesota needs, other than to end some of the rumors that are always swirling the team about Jonas Brodin’s future and such.

Potential assets to trade: F Erik Haula, D Jonas Brodin

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Drew Stafford (WPG)

Unknown-22. Chicago Blackhawks– 35-17-5 (75 points, 57 GP)

The Chicago Blackhawks look like they’re going to go with their usual formula this season at the trade deadline. Acquire a veteran or two, make them look like they robbed the team they made a deal with, then not be able to sign a bunch of people in the offseason after winning the Cup. It is an odd year, after all.

The Blackhawks have a plethora of later picks in the 2017 draft, which all but solidify the “acquire some old guy” theory. They also have almost all of their first, second and third round picks as well, so if they needed to replenish anything immediately and focus on maintaining a future, they could do so.

This could be the year that some 38-year-old forward with a lengthy term and cap hit remaining on his contract gets moved to find a more suitable and long term replacement alongside Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, et al.

Potential assets to trade: F Marian Hossa, F Marcus Kruger, F Andrew Desjardins, D Michael Rozsival, G Scott Darling

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Dennis Seidenberg (NYI), F Drew Stafford (WPG), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown3. St. Louis Blues– 29-22-5 (63 points, 56 GP)

The St. Louis Blues really shouldn’t be where they are in a playoff spot, but this is the world we live in now with the current structure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs format. I digress.

St. Louis is one of those teams that’s marginally decent and could, on a whim, take a turn for the worst. This is one of those years where the Blues management should strongly consider whether or not they have the tools for a deep playoff run and a future, because at a glance– they don’t. They’re getting older and they’ve had to witness the loss of a franchise player in David Backes to free agency because of the salary cap and all.

It’s always better to get something for a player than to get nothing at all. And St. Louis has a defenseman that’s in demand that they’ll probably lose this offseason in free agency if they don’t try to move him now. They’ve got to stay ahead of the downward curve as much as they can to stay competitive.

Potential assets to trade: F Patrik Berglund, D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Carter Hutton

Potential assets to acquire: F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), G Reto Berra (FLA), F Tyler Johnson (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown4. Nashville Predators– 27-21-8 (62 points, 56 GP)– currently the first Wild Card in the Western Conference

After acquiring one of the better defensemen in today’s game in June, the Nashville Predators are far from hitting the mark everyone expected they would. Now, whether or not the Preds will make the playoffs and just how far might they go remains to be seen, but if anything, they should be buyers at the trade deadline, as opposed to sellers.

The floor hasn’t fallen out from underneath Nashville and they’ve simply been caught in a transition year. Could they restructure some parts of their roster, yes, but it might be wise to just do that in free agency when more options will be open. It would be unwise to simply do nothing at the deadline, though, as Nashville could dangle some of their veterans as bait.

Potential assets to trade: F James Neal, F Mike Ribeiro, F Vernon Fiddler, D Yannick Weber

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Tyler Johnson (TB), F Onrej Palat (TB)

Unknown-25. Dallas Stars– 22-25-10 (54 points, 57 GP)

Facing a lot of injuries and an aging roster, the Dallas Stars have a lot of attractable options to sell as rentals for teams looking for just a little more depth to get them further this season.

This is not how the Stars expected this season to go, but this is what they’ve got. Contrary to what Dallas likes to believe, they should trade at least one of their goaltenders and acknowledge that other parts of their roster could be filled with a younger player that might be able to keep up with the speed game of the Central Division, let alone the modern NHL. Additionally, Stars GM Jim Nill has some repairs to make on the blue line, but it’s best if they wait until free agency to do so.

Potential assets to trade: F Adam Cracknell, F Patrick Eaves, F Jiri Hudler, F Lauri Korpikoski, F Patrick Sharp, G Kari Lehtonen, G Antti Niemi

Potential assets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Jonathan Drouin (TB), F Tyler Johnson (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB), F Drew Stafford (WPG), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)

Unknown-46. Winnipeg Jets– 25-29-4 (54 points, 58 GP)

Despite all of the hype from earlier this season, the Winnipeg Jets have cooled down a bit. After having a taste of the postseason in 2015, Winnipeg’s been on the lookout for a savior like Patrik Laine for quite some time. This might not be their year to get into the playoffs and on a long run, but they can certainly set themselves up for next year as sellers on March 1st.

They don’t have much to sell, but they have just enough to revamp parts of their roster, while still being able to land a good draft pick or two and really building a solid foundation for the future. It’s not wrong to think that the Jets might be taking the Toronto Maple Leafs model and fast forwarding through all of the mumbo-jumbo that the Leafs had going on for the last decade until now. The kids are alright in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Potential assets to trade: F Shawn Matthias, F Drew Stafford, F Chris Thorburn, D Paul Postma, D Mark Stuart, G Michael Hutchinson, G Ondrej Pavelec

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), G Malcolm Subban (BOS), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), F Ondrej Palat (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB)

Unknown-17. Colorado Avalanche– 15-36-2 (32 points, 53 GP)

This is pathetic, stupid, hockey. I mean, the Colorado Avalanche are like, when the Atlanta Thrashers first came into the league level bad. I won’t go as far to say that they’re like an AHL team, but the Avalanche have a situation that couldn’t possibly get any worse– but looks like it will– before it gets better.

Fifteen wins in 53 games played so far this season. Fifteen.

Colorado GM Joe Sakic has an immensely improbable mountain to climb. Yet, as we’ve seen Super Joe do before (at least on the ice), he’s looking to perform and perform in a big way. The biggest sellers at this year’s trade deadline, the Avalanche are looking at dumping everyone except for Nathan MacKinnon and their head coach, Jared Bednar. Though it pains me to see franchise players, like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, being shopped after an unsuccessful turnaround since 2009.

Potential assets to trade: F Rene Bourque, F Joe Colborne, F Blake Comeau, F Matt Duchene, F Jarome Iginla, F Gabriel Landeskog, F John Mitchell, D Tyson Barrie, D Cody Goloubef, D Erik Johnson* (*pending his injury status), D Fedor Tyutin, G Calvin Pickard

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), G Malcolm Subban (BOS), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Tyler Johnson (TB), F Ondrej Palat (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB), D Martin Marincin (TOR), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Defensemen

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. So let’s continue our journey with the lackluster UFA defensemen market this summer.

Down the Frozen River- Smaller Circular Logo

1. D Jason Demers (7-16-23 totals with the Dallas Stars)- $3.400 million cap hit, 27 years old

Look, none of these defensemen are spectacular, but they’re all about to be paid ridiculous sums of money because of that good ol’ supply and demand factor. A lot of teams need to fix their blue line, not a lot of defensemen can do that for them. Your best bet is to trade for a defensemen if you can’t at least patch some wounds (and hope they turn out better than expected) with these guys.

To start, let’s take a look at Jason Demers who is the best of this group, in terms of age, experience and a chance to supply you a little more depth and stability. His season was cut short due to injury, but he managed to put up a respectable 23 points on the season in 62 games played, which almost matched his 25 point season in 2014-2015 in 81 games played with Dallas and the San Jose Sharks.

His career year was in 2013-2014 when he notched 5-29-34 totals in 75 games played for the Sharks, but judging from how he was tracking this season, despite the injury, he might have been able to pace, if not better, his career best totals.

A healthy Demers at only 27 years old is a risk worth taking if you are in desperate need of a guy or you cannot find a trading partner. His value will be driven up immensely compared to some of the other older UFA defensemen. Likewise, he’s better at the defensive aspect of the game than Kris Russell, so he’s sure to be a hot commodity if teams are smart.

2. D Brian Campbell (6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers)- $7.143 million cap hit, 36 years old

Brian Campbell was an almost 40 point scorer in 2013-2014 and he’s certainly nothing like his former self in 2007-2008 when he had 8-54-62 totals in 83 games for the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks.

Although age doesn’t appear to be an issue for his competitiveness.

With proper balance on a lineup with some already mature defensemen, like the Chicago Blackhawks, where he has a distinct interest in returning, Campbell could have his minutes easily distributed and become a clutch asset for an organization in the waning years of his career. Because of that, a short term contract only seems logical.

In 82 games this season, Campbell had 6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers. That’s only five points shy of Aaron Ekblad’s sophomore season 36 points in 78 games, but one defenseman is sure to shine and the other will soon decline. Though it can’t hurt to take on Campbell while he’s still capable of producing.

3. D Luke Schenn (4-12-16 totals with the Philadelphia Flyers/Los Angeles Kings)- $3.600 million, 26 years old

Chalk Luke Schenn up as one of the best “why not, maybe he still has something to prove” potential UFA defensemen. Schenn’s been in the league since the 2008-2009 season and has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Although he was kind of an afterthought in the late season acquisition by the Kings in the Vincent Lecavalier trade, we’re talking mostly depth guys that can solidify your top-6 defensive scope on the blue line this offseason.

Schenn usually ends up with somewhere around 20 points a year, ranging from a career low 3-8-11 totals in 47 games played during the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season to a career high 22 points in 2010-2011 (82 games played) and 2011-2012 (79 games played). His numbers this season could have been around 20 points or more, had he not played in only 72 games. Maybe there’s still hope if you find him the right pair.

Whatever you do, just don’t over pay or let him over stay. Give Schenn another chance to prove his worth and maybe things will work out. If not, he’ll be trade bait once again around the trade deadline, when teams are searching for just about any depth defenseman.

4. D Patrick Wiercioch (0-5-5 totals with the Ottawa Senators)- $2.000 million cap hit, 25 years old

Highly underrated and touted as a “should have been traded at the deadline while you still could’ve gotten an asset in return,” Patrick Wiercioch is a defenseman that might be able to help you now, but still has plenty of room to grow, develop and be groomed properly.

If you’re the Ottawa Senators you have got to be kicking yourselves for not trying. If you’ve seen the asset management around the league lately when it comes to trades, who knows, maybe the Senators would have been able to walk away with two or three decent draft picks and maybe even a roster player had they moved Wiercioch in March. I mean, I’m sure Don Sweeney would’ve taken that deal, based on how the Boston Bruins acquired John-Michael-Liles.

But enough about other guys, more on Wiercioch’s playing ability.

If there’s one positive for sure to signing Wiercioch in free agency it’s that he’s 25 years old. Defensemen normally start to reach their prime around 27 years of age and until then are very malleable in the right circumstances. The question is how much are teams willing to pay and how much is he going to drive the price up for his services because the ball is in his court— or should I say the puck is in his zone?

His services were dismal this season though, notching five assists in 52 games played. Granted, Ottawa juggled him in and out of the lineup more times than he could have been able to get any rhythm going. In 53 games in 2013-2014, Wiercioch had 4-19-23 totals as a young 23-year-old hungry for more.

5. D Kris Russell (4-15-19 totals with the Calgary Flames/Dallas Stars)- $2.600 million cap hit, 28 years old

In this year’s “bound to be overpaid, but since there’s no one else available, he’ll easily get overpaid and sign a long contract, reminiscent of Brooks Orpik’s deal with the Washington Capitals” category, we have Kris Russell.

In 62 games played he had 4-15-19 totals among his time with the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars this season. The trade deadline pickup by Stars GM Jim Nill didn’t pan out as well as he had been performing in Calgary, though, when Russell went from a top-4 to a top-6 defenseman (if that in Dallas).

Yes, his scoring was up in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 from 29 points to 34 points, however, the secondary assist is still a thing that exists and the Flames as a whole have dramatically improved their offense with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and company.

Buyer beware, Russell might be a top-5 pending UFA defenseman, but he’s really one of the worse options and has traveled around the league a bit from his rookie year with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007-2008. He’s since made visits with the St. Louis Blues, Flames and Stars as the 28 year old has yet to play a full 82 game season and faces a shaky performance.

Honorable Mentions

D Eric Gryba (1-5-6 totals with the Edmonton Oilers)- $1.250 million cap hit, 27 years old

In 53 games played with the dismal Edmonton Oilers, Eric Gryba put up 1-5-6 totals, which is not good, but not bad either. If anything, it shows you that Gryba is an average guy, who, when not injured or out of the lineup as a healthy scratch, can be a dependable top-6 defenseman when you need a quick fix.

He’s no end all solution to any problem, by any means. He’s just a guy that in the right environment, could really take his career best 0-12-12 totals in 2014-2015 and at least match it, if not improve it and/or double it. A lot of teams see no more second chances in Gryba, but clearly Peter Chiarelli wanted him for something in Edmonton when he acquired him. Maybe now Gryba can find a better roster at his discretion.

D John-Michael Liles (6-15-21 totals with the Carolina Hurricanes/Boston Bruins)- $3.875 million cap hit, 35 years old

When you’re in a jam like Sweeney was, you go out and get a veteran defenseman to give you a better chance than a bunch of pylons. Okay, jokes aside about the Bruins defense, John-Michael Liles actually had a lot to contribute, before missing the last game of the regular season due to injury.

Liles floats around 20 points a season as one of those sturdy top-6, bottom pair, defensemen, that can play top-4 minutes when you need someone to step up. In 2010-2011 with the Colorado Avalanche, Liles had 6-40-46 totals in 76 games played. Likewise, his career best 14-35-49 totals in 82 games came back on a very different looking Avalanche roster of the 2005-2006 season. Liles was also a lot fresher then and highly underrated. But nowadays, he’s that quality veteran defensive voice on your roster that absolutely still has a place in this league for a few more years.

D Zach Trotman (2-5-7 totals with the Boston Bruins)- $625,000 cap hit, 25 years old

If you’re willing to take a risk on any pending-UFA defensemen and you don’t get one of the highly coveted players already mentioned, why not take a risk on young Zach Trotman? It’s perplexing when one analyzes Boston’s depth chart and their use of Trotman as to why they are not giving him at least one more year, but maybe he’s the next Matt Hunwick.

Disregarded as a potential top-4 defenseman, Hunwick and Trotman have a lot in common. They weren’t utilized properly. Hunwick’s now found his stride, albeit older and as a top-6/depth defenseman with the Maple Leafs, while Trotman has the chance to double his career totals, if only someone would let him play more than the 38 games he played this season. Perhaps the last pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft could be more valued than the top six picks of that draft year? Only time will tell, but one thing remains for sure, all six of those guys got traded.

2016 NHL Awards Live Blog

By: Nick Lanciani

Tonight is the 2016 NHL Awards ceremony from Las Vegas, so I figured I’d recap every award tonight as they are presented.

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Calder Memorial Trophy winner- Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) and Connor McDavid (EDM)

Ted Lindsay Award winner- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists- Jamie Benn (DAL)  and Braden Holtby (WSH)

General Manager of the Year- Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins

Other finalists- Brian MacLellan (WSH) and Jim Nill (DAL)

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner- Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

Other finalists- Mats Zuccarello (NYR) and Pascal Dupuis (PIT)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award winner- Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Other finalists- Alex Ovechkin (WSH) and John Tavares (NYI)

King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner- Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Other finalists- none announced

NHL Foundation Player Award- Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Other finalists- Matt Martin (NYI) and P.K. Subban (MTL)

EA Sports NHL 17 Cover Athlete- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Other finalist- Joe Pavelski (SJ)

James Norris Memorial Trophy- Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Brent Burns (SJ) and Erik Karlsson (OTT)

Frank J. Selke Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Ryan Kesler (ANA)

Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy- Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)

William M. Jennings Trophy- Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Jack Adams Award- Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Lindy Ruff (DAL) and Gerard Gallant (FLA)

Then NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took some time out in the night to remember Ed Snider and Gordie Howe. We had this to say…

Art Ross Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Other finalists- Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Loui Eriksson (BOS)

Vezina Trophy- Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Other finalists- Ben Bishop (TB) and Jonathan Quick (LA)

Hart Memorial Trophy- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Other finalists-  Jamie Benn (DAL) and Sidney Crosby (PIT)