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Brian Duff's Blog: Will underrated Stillman cash in?

Cory Stillman will be one of the more intriguing free agents if he's still available this summer.

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Cory Stillman will be one of the more intriguing free agents if he's still available this summer.

As of mid-November this forward was ninth in NHL scoring, third in points per game, sixth in goals per game and second in game-winning goals.

In recent history, he is the only player to win Stanley Cups in back-to-back years on different teams.  He turns 34 just prior to Christmas, could be an unrestricted free agent next July, and is incredibly – at $1.75 million per season – the eighth highest-paid forward on his current team.

Cory Stillman is one of the true underrated stars in the NHL. The question now is how much will he command, both in dollars and years, on the open market if he remains available?

If you’re Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, can you make room to keep him around? Or has the time come to put more money into the blueline?

If Stillman stays in Raleigh you’d think he’d slide in above Ray Whitney and below Rod Brind’Amour, meaning a deal with an annual cap hit of about $3.56 million (click HERE to see Carolina’s salary grid).

But if Stillman continues to produce at more than a point per game and finds himself in the top 10 in a number of league categories, wouldn’t he be more likely to seek out a deal worth $4 to $5 million per? And what kind of term?

He won’t be the dreaded “35 or older” when he signs the deal, which means the team that nabs him will have some flexibility should things go horribly wrong or Stillman opts for early retirement. (Had he been 35 or older signing a multi-year deal, each year of his deal would count against the cap regardless of whether he plays or not).

Only two forwards currently 34 or older have recently inked long-term deals. Thirty-four-year-old Jason Blake has four years remaining on his deal in Toronto after this season at $4 million per. Thirty-five year old Michael Nylander has three years to go on his contract with Washington after this season, and he’s a cap hit of $4.875 million.

It says here Stillman is better and more valuable than both. But I also believe he’s unlikely to get a Blake/Nylander-type term. As we witnessed through most of last summer and early this season, long-term deals are going to the kids. Blake and Nylander may be the last of the exceptions, particularly when it comes to forwards.

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Sorry, Cory.

ODDITIES From Nov. 9 to 17 there were two teams that posted two shutouts each: the San Jose Sharks (but they blanked the Coyotes each time, so does that really count?); and…wait for it…the worst defensive team in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0 against Buffalo and 3-0 over Ottawa)…

At the time I wrote this, a glance of the Western Conference standings showed all five Central Division teams in the top nine. And the only reason the Blues were ninth was because of far fewer games played. Is it possible the entire division could make the playoffs?...

The Montreal Kanadiens? I thought there was something wrong with my eyes when I saw the game summary against the Bruins from Saturday night. The Habs got goals from Koivu, Kostopoulos, Kostitsyn, Kovalev and Komisarek in a win over their arch-rivals…

And one of the best shifts of the season belongs to one of the best stories of the season.

After playing in only 93 NHL games over the past four years due to injury and personal issues, Sandis Ozolinsh is a Shark once again. Here’s hoping he’s authoring the proper ending to what once was a very solid career.

On Saturday night, the 35-year-old blasted a third period face-off win towards J-S Giguere, drawing an assist as Torrey Mitchell tipped it home.

To witness his expression was inspiring.

He showed so much emotion in seeing his team rally against their rivals. And less than a minute later, Ozolinsh came up with the save of the year.

The Sharks lost the game in a shootout, but earned a point thanks to Ozolinsh. He just might earn them a few more with plays like that.

Brian Duff is a host of the NHL Network’s ‘On the Fly’ and host of Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio.

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