Top 10: 2014 unrestricted free agents with biggest cap hits

DanyHeatleyAllStar

It’s the new normal of the unrestricted free agency period: there’s not much talent on the market anymore. And the talent that is available? Veterans past their prime, many of whom hit the market after playing out massive deals.

There’s no way all 10 of the athletes on this list get a raise this summer. At least one will, and not surprisingly, it’s the player who’s a twentysomething and not a thirtysomething. However, they’ll all have numerous suitors. The insanity and desperation of GMs during UFA season is a certainty. Here’s the 10 players with the highest cap hits who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

10. Andrei Markov$5.75 million — age 35 (as of July 1)
If you have a few hours to kill, look up Markov’s injury history. Those knees have been through trench warfare. After scoring 64 points in 2008-09, the Mr. Bean lookalike played 45, then seven, then 13 games in the following three seasons. The Canadiens took a major risk by signing Markov to a three-year deal a season after he’d missed all but seven games, but the gamble paid — the Russian rearguard missed just one regular season game over the next two productive seasons. Despite his age and injury history, Markov should cash in with a deal that pays at least $4 million. Hard to see him signing anywhere but Montreal, but that’s how I felt about Sergei Gonchar before he left Pittsburgh for Ottawa as a 36-year-old. Read more

Benning’s first move as new Canucks GM should be to deal the Sedins, Kesler and Edler

Adam Proteau
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin  (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

If reports regarding Jim Benning taking over as Vancouver Canucks GM this week are correct, his first order of business will be clear: deciding exactly what this team really is. Are the Canucks just a re-tool away from a return to the playoffs, or do they need more substantive personnel changes and a longer timeline to reshape themselves into a bona fide, year-in, year-out Stanley Cup contender?

The answer should be just as clear: as currently comprised, the Canucks are nothing more than an ongoing example of the law of diminishing returns. And if Benning, new team president Trevor Linden and owner Francesco Aquilini deny what many in the hockey world can see plainly, it won’t make a difference which coach is hired to replace the dearly departed John Tortorella; the suffering period will be extended and fan discontent will continue to metastasize.

In so many ways, the Canucks resemble the Calgary Flames when Jarome Iginla was the cornerstone of that franchise. Nothing really changed when Darryl Sutter’s seven-year tenure as GM ended in 2010; Jay Feaster took over and – with the full blessing of team president Ken King and owner Murray Edwards – the Flames still chose not to deal Iginla for more than two years. The Flames continued to struggle and got half-pennies on the dollar when they eventually moved Iginla to Pittsburgh. That was two solid years of delusional thinking that only delayed a long-overdue basement-to-rooftop rebuild.

Should Benning decide he must hold on to the Canucks’ veterans at all costs, Vancouver will find itself in the same situation. Read more

Copycat alert: Does Montreal’s win change the NHL’s emphasis from big and strong to small and crafty?

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

If the NHL is a bunch of copycats like we’ve come to expect over the years, what will the league do now that bigger, meaner teams like Boston and St. Louis have fallen by the wayside and smaller, quicker teams like Montreal and the New York Rangers have advanced to the final four?

Follow suit and shift away from size and strength towards a more up-tempo, active game?

We shall see next season.

If the biggest and meanest team of all, the Los Angeles Kings, fall to the middle-of-the-pack size-wise Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal Friday, rest assured the league will take notice.

Montreal’s seven-game victory over Boston was a triumph for the small guy. For several seasons now, the Canadiens have made a concerted effort to get bigger, stronger and meaner, drafting the likes of Jarred Tinordi and Michael McCarron with high selections. But those players haven’t stepped in yet and Montreal remains pint-sized, icing a roster with a league-high nine forwards and four defensemen who stand 6-foot or smaller. The Habs are at the bottom of the NHL weight scale as well with just one regular (Alexei Emelin) weighing 220 pounds or more.

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Sam Bennett gets No. 1 billing in Draft Preview 2014

Kingston Frontenacs v Windsor Spitfires

Sam Bennett is our man.

The Kingston Frontenacs left winger is our No. 1 rated prospect for the 2014 NHL draft. But it wasn’t a slam dunk decision.

In fact, Bennett isn’t alone on the cover of The Hockey News Draft Preview. He shares that space under the headline ‘Fantastic Four’ with Sam Reinhart, Leon Drasaitl and Aaron Ekblad.

The four are considered a cut above the rest of the draft prospects and will almost assuredly be selected in some order in the top four.

Here’s how we came by our decision to make Bennett No. 1.

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Ducks and Kings have what many teams crave

Ryan Getzlaf

In late March, I interviewed members of the St. Louis Blues for a magazine feature that went in our playoff preview (And we all know how that worked out…) about how the team fared in “statement games” this season. I had picked match-ups against squads they would likely have to go through in order to win the Stanley Cup, such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim. The last two were the most fascinating.

For all the success St. Louis had for much of the season, the Blues had just one win against the three California squads in nine tries – and it was against a Kings team that didn’t have Jonathan Quick in net. So what was it about the Kings, Ducks and Sharks that gave St. Louis such fits?

“They’re rather large,” said coach Ken Hitchcock with a telling smile.

And this is from a guy with David Backes on his side. But with Anaheim taking Game 3 of its second-round freeway showdown with Los Angeles, it’s pretty obvious both teams have one of the most coveted types of assets in the NHL: The big, dominant No. 1 center.

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Fantasy Pool Look: Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames off-season report

Kevin Westgarth & Oscar Klefbom (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

It’s time for the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different. Let’s review the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. So you knew it wouldn’t be long before I tackled the Alberta teams. It just so happens that they finished 27th and 28th in the league in 2013-14, so here we go…

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Should the Florida Panthers trade the No. 1 pick overall?

ekblad

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is sitting in the cat-bird seat right now. His team won the draft lottery, giving the Cats the first pick overall in 2014 and now apparently, he’s open to the idea of trading that top selection. This class has no dominant name, but instead a group of four or five that promise to be very good NHLers.

But there’s only one defenseman in that crop and he’s the reason Edmonton and Calgary would be interesting trade partners for the Panthers. The Oilers have the most desperation for Barrie Colts star Aaron Ekblad, as Edmonton currently has no one resembling a No. 1 defenseman on its payroll. Could Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse be that top guy one day? Sure, but it won’t be this year and it won’t be next year – blueliners need time. Ekblad is a “plug and play” guy for scouts and even though you wouldn’t want him playing 24 minutes a night as a rookie, he would at least come in and contribute. While none of the three are guaranteed to be potent NHLers, adding Ekblad to the ranks dramatically increases the chance of getting that top blueliner in the organization.

In Calgary, the situation is less dire. The Flames rebuild is looking good so far, though the bulk of the talent is up front. Mark Giordano is the unquestioned No. 1 and in fact, the only question surrounding him this year was “how come that guy didn’t get more Norris love?” Then there’s 23-year-old T.J. Brodie, who has grown leaps and bounds in a short amount of time. But there’s still a need for depth and Ekblad would be great, especially since he could slide in on the second or third pairing to get his feet wet. If the Flames traded up from the fourth slot to get Ekblad, there would also be the extra satisfaction of taking him away from their hated rivals in Edmonton, which I’m sure Calgary fans would enjoy very much.

The best part about this situation for Florida is that the Panthers are deficient in any particular area. Obviously the current roster needs improvement, but the Cats have veterans such as Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski on defense, plus a stable of good futures in college kids such as Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen and Michael Downing.

Up front, your top two centers of the very near future are Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, with Jonathan Huberdeau on the wing and Drew Shore and Vincent Trocheck among the other talented pieces.

And the Cats have Roberto Luongo in goal. This team needs an identity and maturity amongst the youngest contributors, but it’s a decent situation. Plus, unlike in Edmonton, it’s a little easier to convince free agents to play in Florida thanks to the climate. In the recent past, many agents feared their prospects would get drafted by the messy Panthers, but that was before Tallon took over.

If Florida keeps the pick and tabs Kingston’s Sam Bennett, they get a character player who has been compared to Doug Gilmour – but bigger and faster – and can play wing. If they do trade down, they can still get an excellent forward; even with Bennett off the board, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl hold great promise while Michael Dal Colle is another excellent wing option.

So as long as the franchise’s marketing team isn’t invested in a “Seen Sam?” or “Ehhh, Ekblad!” campaign, Tallon has himself a feast of opportunity. Either get another great asset at the top, or trade down to get another great asset, plus another pick, prospect or player. Not a bad position to be in.

Handicapping the new breed of NHL GMs

Michael Futa

When you look at the roster of current GMs in the NHL, it’s uncanny how one thing stands out. What you come to realize is that the Old Boys’ Network™ is rapidly shrinking and is being replaced by young executives who have done their time in the industry, but don’t necessarily come with long hockey resumes as players.

There are currently 28 men occupying the top job in hockey operations departments around the league – the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks are currently seeking replacements – and for 20 of them, this is their first GM job. Twelve of them were brought in from outside the organization for which they currently work. Of the 28, it’s pretty much split down the middle in terms of those coming from a high playing background – 15 of them played at least one game in the NHL and 13 did not. (I’m including Joe Sakic in that list, even though technically Greg Sherman is still the GM of the Colorado Avalanche in title.) Read more