Forget about bridge with Nathan MacKinnon – pass Go and collect a big-money, long-term contract

Ken Campbell
Nathan MacKinnon (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even Nathan MacKinnon would be surprised if you told him that almost a quarter into the season, the guy that nobody recognized at the Tim Hortons drive through in those television ads would be 10 points ahead of the guy everyone seemed to know.

Such is life for MacKinnon these days. In his third year in the NHL, MacKinnon seems more comfortable in his skin than ever and it’s showing. The No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft is on pace for 92 points this season and finds himself firmly ensconced in the top 10 NHL scorers. And the other guy in those commercials? Well, Sidney Crosby is off to a miserable start, with just nine points.

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Five free-agent signings making an early impact

Justin Williams (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The salary cap era has made it increasingly difficult for GMs around the league to improve their clubs through trades. As such, it has put more importance on being able to lock up the right free agent to add to a team’s already stacked roster or be the piece that can change the tides.

If the 2015 free agent market will be remembered for anything, it will be the cost-conscious ways of GMs league-wide, which led to some free agents having a difficult time finding work. Veteran winger Curtis Glencross, for instance, chose to retire instead of heading any further into the season without a contract. Blueliner Cody Franson, who doesn’t appear on this list, waited almost the entire off-season before signing a deal with Buffalo.

But even in a tight market, there are more than a few GMs would made savvy signings, be it by dishing out top dollar or using a cost-effective model. Here are five free agent signings who have been well worth their money: Read more

Any way you slice it, Tomas Plekanec deal a steal for the Canadiens

Ken Campbell
Tomas Plekanec (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Another stroke of genius by Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin or the harsh realities of today’s NHL marketplace? When you look at the two-year contract extension Tomas Plekanec signed with the Canadiens today, that’s the first question that comes to mind.

First, on the genius side of the ledger. Bergevin, who is rapidly gaining a reputation and one of the shrewdest negotiators in the league, got a solid second-line center who plays both ends of the ice and scored 60 points last season to sign a two-year deal worth $12 million, one that comes without either a no-trade or no-movement clause. On the surface, it looks as though Bergevin was wearing the same mask and carrying the same gun he used three summers ago when he got Max Pacioretty to agree to a six-year extension worth $27 million. (That contract, incidentally, was considered a disaster before the ink was dry and it led to Pacioretty firing his agent.)

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Mike Richards has ‘desire and want’ to get back to NHL, suitors taking wait-and-see approach

Jared Clinton
Mike Richards (Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Richards played his final NHL game with the Los Angeles Kings on April 9, 2015. He registered an assist, had one shot on goal and had 11 minutes of ice time. And that’s the last time he’s been involved with NHL calibre competition.

Richards was part of a contract termination saga with the Kings that dragged out through the entire summer. Los Angeles announced they were terminating Richards’ deal on June 29 for a “material breach,” the NHLPA filed a grievance on Richards’ behalf Aug. 10 and the former King was charged with possession of a controlled substance — the incident which led to his contract termination — by Manitoba RCMP Aug. 27. The entire ordeal didn’t have a conclusion until Oct. 9, when the Kings and Richards agreed to settle the grievance.

Now Richards is officially an unrestricted free agent and his agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports Management, says the 30-year-old center is ready to get back to playing the kind of hockey that earned Richards his 12-year, $69-million contract in 2007. Read more

Steven Stamkos on contract situation: ‘I’ll let my play do the talking’

Ken Campbell
Steven Stamkos  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

BUFFALO – Going into the off-season, it was the deal that had to get done. But not only is a contract extension for Steven Stamkos not signed, there’s nothing to suggest that it will happen anytime soon. The two sides have met briefly, but there have been no numbers exchanged, no offers made, no meetings scheduled.

In fact, there’s a chance the Tampa Bay Lightning will get coach Jon Cooper signed to a contract extension before Stamkos. It’s believed that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has been negotiating with Cooper on a contract extension that could be announced fairly soon.

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Brad Boyes makes most of PTO, signs one-year deal with Maple Leafs

Jared Clinton

Earlier this off-season, the Panthers’ buyout of Brad Boyes caught the hockey world off guard. It wasn’t that Boyes was irreplaceable in Florida, but his steady production and decent price tag made him a quality contributor in the Cats’ top-six. But Florida’s decision has turned into Toronto’s gain, as the Maple Leafs have inked the former 40-goal scorer to a one-year deal.

After going through the entire off-season without a contract, Boyes came to Toronto’s training camp on a professional tryout before signing a deal with the Maple Leafs for the 2015-16 campaign. Boyes’ deal will pay him $700,000, which is a healthy dropoff from the $2.5 million he was set to earn had he remained with the Panthers.

With the Maple Leafs, Boyes won’t automatically slide into a top-six role, but he could very well play himself into minutes on the top two lines should he outperform either of Joffrey Lupul or P-A Parenteau. Boyes has spent the past two seasons on a Florida team that was one of the most offensively stunted in the entire NHL, yet still managed 21-goal, 36-point and 14-goal, 38-point campaigns in the Sunshine State. Read more

Hawks sign Seabrook to eight-year extension; now something has to give

Edward Fraser
Brent Seabrook (Getty Images)

Last year, Brent Seabrook averaged 22:10 minutes per game; his ‘D’ partner, Duncan Keith averaged 25:33; Patrick Kane 19:51; Jonathan Toews 19:33; and Marian Hossa 18:33.

That quintet, assuming they’re all still around, better get used to playing a lot more than that.

After Seabrook signed an eight-year, $55-million extension ($6.875-million per year) that will kick in next season, the above five players, along with Corey Crawford, will have a combined cap hit of $44.7 million, or 62.8% of their overall allowance, using this year’s ceiling. In other words, unless the cap shoots up next season – and don’t count on that – the Hawks will have less than $30 million to fill out the rest of the roster (and that’s not taking into account Niklas Hjalmarsson’s $4.1 million, Artem Anisimov’s $4.6 million or Bryan Bickell’s $4 million).

So you can expect one of two things: 1) Chicago’s roster in 2016-17 will feature a lot of cheap prospects and reclamation projects, resulting in a top-heavy collection that will see a bunch of ice time. 2) One or two of the Big 6 has to go. Read more

We finally understand the Anaheim Ducks’ goalie situation

Matt Larkin
John Gibson (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The off-season, naturally, is a time for reflection. We try to project the standings. We assess which teams won and lost the summer based on their signings and trades or lack thereof. And, without fail, we speculate on goaltending battles.

If I use Twitter, blog comments and reader emails as the measuring stick, no crease has the world’s hockey fans more puzzled than that of the Anaheim Ducks. Has Frederik Andersen solidified himself as the No. 1? Isn’t John Gibson supposed to be the world’s top goaltending prospect? And what the heck is Anton Khudobin doing in Orange County?

Believe it or not, John Gibson’s new three-year, $6.9-million extension helps us finally understand how GM Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau will sort out the Ducks’ net.

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