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NHL Free Agent Updates


The end of June means the start of the NHL free agent period. Here are some of the top stories creating the most buzz around the league.

Kovalchuk to the Kings?

Could this be the final piece in a championship run for L.A.’s “other” team. Even before the whisperings of New Jersey Devils Ilya Kovalchuk to the Kings, I thought Los Angeles might be the team of the future.

Already at 20-years-old you won’t find many defensemen as poised and as smooth as Drew Doughty, and it just seems like the Kings encompass every component of a winning hockey team.

Need physical play? Look no further than Dustin Brown, who with 24 goals last year, is begging to be a threat not only to those in the corner but to goaltenders as well.

Every team needs veteran scorers and leaders which the Kings have in Ryan Smyth and Michal Handzus, who does a great job clogging the lane on defense, but a team also needs someone with youthful energy.

For the type of player who doesn’t know the meaning of stop. Enter 22-year-old Wayne Simmonds, who responded to higher playing time after Ryan Smyth went down, with a streak in which he recorded 8 points in 6 games, scoring 4 goals.   

The Kings also have the type of natural scorer that every team needs in creative center Anze Kopitar, who like Simmonds and Doughty, is under 23. To say the future for hockey is bright in Los Angeles is about as obvious as saying that it’s a pretty decent place to find a plastic surgeon.

And if the rumors are true and Los Angeles is indeed at the front runner of signing Ilya Kovalchuk and there’s speculation the signing could occur as soon as early Thursday.

If the Kings win the Kovy sweepstakes, they will also dress their biggest superstar since Wayne Gretzky took the ice in the late 80’s. Since everyone wants to attach themselves to a winner, especially if you are as obsessed with relevance as the Hollywood set, might we soon be seeing Jack at Kings’ games? 

Does Savard get traded?

Bruins management has already shown their hand and said they are not looking to shore up the team with any free agent signings. Instead the B’s will try to cut salary from the books as they look to dump goaltender Tim Thomas ($5 million annual cap hit) and potentially center Marc Savard. ($4.083).

While most talk has centered on Savard possibly moving on to play in Toronto, a number of other teams badly need depth at the center position including the Washington Capitals.

Don’t be surprised if they aggressively become involved, however, a 7-year, $28.05 million contract might dissuade some teams.

Saku Koivu is still very much in demand. But why?

The center position has gotten a lot of attention in this brief pre-free agency period, and for good reason. The last four teams that made the Stanley Cup had elite depth at the center position with not one, but two guys who could play at the highest level. (Chicago: 1C- Kane.  2C- Sharp. Philadelphia: 1C- Briere. 2C- Richards. Pittsburgh: 1C-Crosby. 2C- Malkin. Detroit: 1C- Zetterberg 2C- Datsyuk).

Having one guy who can play but no second line center who can proficiently run an offense is no longer an option for teams that want to win at the highest level. This is a lesson that the Washington Capitals, with the great Nicklas Backstrom, but no one else who could significantly guide the offense at center, learned the hard way.

Because of that fact, even outside of the Savard trade talk, expect a lot of chatter over free agents like Coyotes center Matthew Lombardi, who plays a very complete game, as well as rising New York Rangers center Chris Higgins.

Like Higgins and even Lombardi, 35-year-old free agent Saku Koivu may not be considered a great option as a No. 1 center. Nevertheless with depth at center now a necessity and not a luxury item in the NHL, look at a lot of competition for him as the veteran center showed last season that he still has a little something in the tank with 52 points.

Scarcity of supply versus demand should have something to do with it. When Matt Cullen is your best center free agent option after Koivu, Higgins and Lombardi are eliminated, you know you are looking at a market for centers that isn’t exactly deep.

Finally, teams could also roll the dice and take a stab at Flames center Olli Jokinen, but at only 31, it appears his best years are well behind him.

The best of the rest free agent options.

The deepest position in the free agent market is at defense so we’ll start with that.

Anton Volchenkov, Defenseman, Ottawa Senators- I’ll straight up call you a liar if you tell me your team somehow does not need the man nicknamed the “Russian Bear.” A physical force; a puck moving defenseman and a man who averages 2.4 hits and 2.7 blocks per game. For the ladies enjoying this column, I’m also told he enjoys long walks on the beach and the poetry of Robert Frost.

Teams that may be actively looking for an upgrade at defense:

Buffalo, (if Henrik Tallander or Toni Lydman leave), Carolina, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Long Island, (the Islanders have plenty of cap space,) Minnesota, (if the Wild lose Marek Zidlicky,) Philadlphia, (especially after trading the rights to Dan Hamhuis to Pittsburgh for a 3rd round draft pick) Ottawa, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington, and Vancouver.

Other prized defensive options

Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh– It appears that the Penguins are ready to give Gonchar his walking papers. Gonchar at 36 is still one of the best offensive minded forwards in the league, but unlike many of his offensive minded cohorts, (cough, cough, errr. Mike Green) he doesn’t typically make a lot of mistakes getting back into position or coughing the puck up.

Paul Martin, New Jersey- Martin’s game is no thrills in a good way. He rarely makes a mistake in his own end, and with the puck he may not go down the ice, guns ablaze, but Martin’s controlled style was perfect for the Devils power play. Martin finished the year with two goals and 16 assists on the power play, as his 18 power play points tied for the team lead.

The Highest Sought Free Agent Goaltender

Evgeni Nabokov, Goaltender, San Jose Sharks- Even though it always seems to come apart for him eventually in the playoffs, you can’t deny Nabokov’s considerable talent. You also cannot deny the fact that he is the only who has posted three consecutive 40+ win seasons in the past three years.

Teams that may be in the market for a goaltender

Atlanta, Buffalo, (backup to Ryan Miller) Calgary, Edmonton, Long Island, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, San Jose, (if they decide not to resign Nabokov,) Toronto and Washington.

The next best option after Nabokov

Chris Mason, St. Louis- With the Blues trading for Jaroslav Halak, it appears Mason has a one-way ticket out of the “show me” State. For everyone in search of a starting goaltender, Mason could be a relative bargain as he will likely receive less money than free agents Nabokov and Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, despite posting a solid 2.47 GAA in his two years with the Blues.

Best Bargain

Jay McKee, Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins- The perfect 3-5 defenseman on most any team. Jay “The Key” McKee is not the type of player that will ever have a slick New York marketing company touting his rugged individuality, but he is a player who is consistently steady, having only been a minus player in 3 of his 14 seasons in the league. McKee just plays the position and the man he is defending well, nothing more nothing less. McKee also averaged 2.21 blocks a game, having blocked 137 shots in 62 games. Not to shabby for a guy who makes $800,000, a year and next season might command even less.

Re-printed with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax.  

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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It’s Time for Ozzie to Bail Out the Red Wings . . . Again


DETROIT, Mich. – After Red Wing goalie Jimmy Howard gave up a goal to Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Sami Lepisto just 29 seconds into Game 3 on Sunday, the ice tilted with the Red Wings stealing the momentum and dominating the play the rest of the period.

At the first intermission with the score deadlocked at one, Hockeytown was confident the hometown guys in red had red wings osgoodregrouped and were setting themselves up for another win. But only until the reality kicked in of what can happen when you play a rookie goaltender with no experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this case it was a 4-2 loss on home ice.

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard had a strong regular season ending 4th in the NHL in save percentage with .924 and 5th in GAA (2.26) but the during these playoffs, the youngster has looked lost several times with his back completely turned to the play. During that time he has given up 3, 4, and 4 goals in the first three games of the series and has his heavily-favored team in a hole.

In all, the 11 goals Howard has allowed to Phoenix in the first three games of the series marks only the fourth time in 45 series since the Wings playoff streak began in 1991 that a Wings goalie has allowed 11 goals in the first three games.

After Howard let in two softies in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Coyotes, he put the Red Wings dynasty in the challenging position of needing to win 3 out of the next 4 games to advance, and two of those games are on enemy ice.

While this rookie display of goaltending has been going on, a seasoned goaltender who has been through it all has been sitting on the Red Wing bench watching, occupying a spot he has grown way too familiar with this season.

Chris Osgood has his name engraved on hockey’s Holy Grail after winning several Stanley Cups and was actually a lot of people’s vote for the Conn Smythe MVP two years ago when the Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Red Wings would be trying to 3-peat this year if they would have given Ozzie a little more offensive support going down the stretch in last year’s finals when they lost Game 7 to the Penguins, no fault of the goaltender’s.

So when does Mike Babcock hand the reins back to Ozzie?

Now!

Without another second ticking off the clock, let the veteran Osgood know to start emotionally preparing to step between the pipes when these two teams meet again on Tuesday night.

Coach Babcock received praise for a quick roster move after Game One of this series but it’s time for this more important move. If the Red Wings want any chance of gaining the three wins they need to advance and doing it with less bumps in the road before entering the next tougher series, Babcock needs to make that move now.

It isn’t time to panic because the Red Wings are the most disciplined team as far as sticking to a plan and getting the job done; as long as their goalie gives them a chance to win. But if they need to score 4 or 5 goals every night during these playoffs, they may as well start dusting off their golf clubs right now.

This wouldn’t be the first time Ozzie bailed out the Red Wings after being benched. In 2008 when the Nashville Predators battled back to tie the opening round series at two games apiece, Dominick Hasek was pulled during Game 4 in favor of Osgood and that was the turning point of the series and playoffs.

Osgood won that series and went on to lead his Red Wings to another Stanley Cup title. In those finals, Osgood started the series with spectacular back-to-back shutouts giving his team a 2-0 advantage, one Sidney Crosby and the Penguins could never overcome.

Howard is young and looks like he may possibly be the goalie of the future for the Red Wings but the rookie has put his team in the position where they would have needed 5 goals to win on Sunday. They actually needed that same number to take game two. In that game the Wings scored 7 so earned the victory but a pattern like this is one that will surely send any team to the golf course early in mid-April.

Osgood has made himself available to the rookie for guidance but the bottom line is winning. 

I can hear the chants echoing throughout The Joe already . . . Ozzie. Ozzie! Ozzie!!

MORE: Boyle scores into his own net to hand Avs 1-0 OT win (Video)

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Wings/Avs Famous Brawl and Probert Classic Fights – (Video)

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax™

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Canada Squeaks Past U.S. 3-2 in OT & Wins Gold


VANCOUVER, B.C. – The 2010 Winter Olympic Games closed out with a classic hockey battle between rivals U.S. and Ryan MillerCanada and when it was all said and done, Sidney Crosby and his team sat at the top podium wearing gold.

A late goal by U.S. player Zach Parise with just 25 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 2-2 and forced it into overtime. With  host country Canada sitting at the edge of their seats, Pittsburgh Penguins player Sidney Crosby netted the winner in OT sending the arena and country into a frenzy.

The 3-2 victory marked the first time Canada has won gold on their home turf but it did not come easy. The overachieving U.S. team behind the stellar play of netminder Ryan Miller had upset the Canadians earlier in the competition and again showed up to play.

Miller was named the MVP of the tournament after setting a U.S. Olympic record with a 1.35 GA average. Jim Craig held the previous record of (2.14 GA) during the team’s 1980 Miracle On Ice gold medal run.

“It was tough to lose that way in overtime, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the team,” said US head coach Ron Wilson. “Their character was great throughout the tournament. It was a great game today and hockey in general wins.”

Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Anaheim Ducks Corey Perry but the Americans fought back finally tying the game with 25 seconds left with Miller pulled for a 6th attacker.

The silver medal is the 11th medal for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team and brought the final tally of U.S. medals in these Vancouver Winter Games to an Olympic-best 37. After never winning gold on their home turf, Canada took home the most gold with 14.

Note: Parise (4g-4a) and Red Wings player Brian Rafalski (4g-4a) led the U.S. scorers with eight points each.

GAME SUMMARY & STATS

Scoring By Period

CAN 1 – 1 – 0 – 1 – 3
USA 0 – 1 – 1 – 0 – 2

First Period – Scoring: 1, CAN, Toews (Richards), 12:50. Penalties: USA, Ryan (tripping), 14:02.

Second Period – Scoring: 2, CAN, Perry (Getzlaf, Keith), 7:13; 3, USA, Kesler (Kane), 12:44. Penalties: USA, Malone (high-sticking), 2:33; CAN, Staal (interference), 4:41; CAN, Toews (tripping), 8:25.

Third Period – Scoring: 4, USA, Parise (Langenbrunner, Kane), 19:35. Penalties: None.

Overtime – Scoring: 5, CAN, Crosby (Iginla), 7:40. Penalties: None.

Shots on Goal 
CAN 10-15-7-7- 39
USA    8-15-9-4-36

Goaltenders
CAN Luongo, 36 shots-34saves
USA Miller, 39 shots-36 saves

Power Play:CAN 0-2; USA 0-2
Penalties: CAN 2-4; USA 2-4

Officials: Referees-Bill McCreary (CAN), Daniel O’Halloran (CAN); Linesmen-Stefan Fonselius (FIN), Jean Morin (CAN)
Attendance: 17,748

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Several Reasons For Atlanta Thrashers’ Hot Start


ATLANTA – Riding the wave of a four-game win streak and dramatic last-second victory Monday night against division rival Rich PeverleyFlorida Panthers, the Atlanta Thrashers will be taking a great deal of momentum into their game Thursday night against the New York Islanders at Philips Arena.

The Thrashers under the great leadership of Captain Kovalchuk appear to be adapting to Coach John Anderson’s offensive scheme as the team leads the NHL in goals per game with an impressive 3.46 mark. To put that in perspective, the dominating Detroit Red Wings led the NHL last season with a 3.52.

One of the reasons for the Thrashers hot start is the contribution of several players who were not on the roster at the start of last season.

Three of the top four names found on the team’s current stats sheet are Rich Peverley (10g-16a-26pts), Maxim Afinogenov (11g, 14a, 25pts) and Nik Antropov (2g, 21a, 23pts). Afinogenov scored the game winner with 5 seconds remaining in regulation time in that dramatic win against the Panthers.

Another factor is the impressive play of their youngsters. Nineteen-year-old Zach Bogosian leads the NHL in goals by a defensemen with 8 while eighteen-year-old rookie Evander Kane, another first-round pick, has contributed as well, adding (8g, 5a, 13pts), creating a rookie-of-the-year buzz around the city of Atlanta.

Goaltending is another area the team has improved and they’ve done it without Kari Lehtonen, their starting goaltender over the past few seasons. While Lehtonen continues to recover from an injury that required surgery, back-up goaltenders Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec have been sharing the crease duties.

After registering two shutouts (one each) over the past four games, the Thrashers find themselves in the upper half of the league in goals against average, a vast improvement over the past few years when they hovered near the basement in that category.

Pavelec, who earlier this season allowed a 180-ft shot to score, shut out the Red Wings 2-0 in Detroit while Moose put up a 1-0 goose egg at home against the pesky Philadelphia Flyers. Moose’s win snapped a 14-game winless streak against the Flyers.

Currently the Thrashers own one of the best road records in the NHL at 8-2-1 and find themselves in the 5th position in their conference with several games in hand on the leaders.

To put that in mathematical perspective, if the Thrashers win all four of the games they have in hand on the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Thrashers would find themselves one point ahead of Sid The Kid in the standings; but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

More NHL:

Thrashers’ Goalie Pavelec Allows 180-ft Shot to Score (video) – Sports Climax

Captain Kovalchuk Returns Early & Shows Great Leadership –  Sports Climax  

Yahoo!Sports – Puck Daddy

Bill ‘Iceman’ Tiller – Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

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