Clarkson, Weiss among NHL’s biggest free-agent flops

David Clarkson (Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The NHL’s unrestricted free agency period is a crapshoot and sometimes the emphasis is on the crap. For every savvy signing – say, Tampa Bay’s five-year contract with Valtteri Filppula, or Boston’s one-year deal with Jarome Iginla – there is at least one free agent deal that sends fans screaming for the weeping tissues. Here are the worst free agent deals signed last summer:

10. Damian Brunner, Devils, two years, $5 million. Some devout Red Wings fans were sad to see Brunner depart the organization after a rookie NHL campaign that included 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games last season. They were less sad after watching him score just 11 times in 60 games this year while averaging only 13:32 of ice time.

9. Derek Roy, Blues, one year, $4 million. Yes, Roy only signed a one-year contract with St. Louis, but it hardly could’ve gone worse for him. The onetime 32-goal-scorer had only nine goals in 75 games as a Blue and was a regular-season and playoff healthy scratch. There’s no chance the 30-year-old returns to the team or makes nearly as much money next season.

8. Daniel Briere, Canadiens, two years, $8 million. Briere is renowned as one of the league’s good guys and seeing the Montreal native head home to play for the Canadiens made for a nice off-season story. It didn’t translate on the ice, though: he had only 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games – nearly one-third of the totals he posted for Philadelphia in 2010-11 (34 goals and 68 points in 77 games). Read more

Playoff Warrior Vladimir Tarasenko, plus three other playoff performances to keep an advanced stat eye on

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As a 20-year old with SKA St. Petersburg in 2011-12, Vladimir Tarasenko had a terrific playoff performance. He was acquired by the team late in the season via trade, since his old team, Sibir Novosibirsk, figured he was leaving for the NHL at the end of the season. So Tarasenko became the newest member of the top seed in the Western Conference.

St. Petersburg played 15 games in that Gagarin Cup run, but failed to meet expectations by losing in the conference final. Tarasenko, however, exceeded what was expected of him. He led the team with 10 goals and 16 points to finish fourth in overall playoff scoring. And he was six points better than the next player who didn’t qualify for the final.

And now Tarasenko is lighting it up in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and against the best competition he’s faced in the NHL yet. Read more

Seabrook suspended 3 games. Would it be more in regular season?

Jason Kay
Chicago Blackhawks v St. Louis Blues - Game Two

We sure hope the time of year had nothing to do with the length of suspension the NHL handed Brent Seabrook.

The Chicago defenseman got three games for charging and interference, not to mention knocking David Backes into a different dimension during Game 2 of the St. Louis-Chicago game the other night.

Fair enough. The NHL department of player safety explains its decision in the video below. That Seabrook is not a repeat offender factors into the punishment.

But too often we hear that because it’s the playoffs, when more is on the line, disciplinarians modify the suspension. That is, one playoff game equals two or three regular season games, giving the offender, ostensbily, a lighter sentence..

The problem with that thinking is the same holds true for the victim – in this instance, Backes and Blues.

Time of year should not matter. When the stakes are higher, so are the consequences and the perpetrators should be held fully accountable.

Bruins, Avs dominate my NHL Awards picks

Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Once again, I’m privileged enough to receive a ballot for the NHL’s annual individual player awards. It’s a huge honor for any hockey journalist and one I think deserves the respect of full transparency to the public. If we’re supposed to represent the fans, we owe it to them to reveal and stand behind our choices – choices I make after numerous discussions with NHL executives and players.

So here are my picks, along with some brief thoughts on why I chose the players I did for the five awards. You probably won’t agree with all of them, but the last thing these honors are about is pure consensus.

HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

The Rationale: As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve come to see the Hart as a most valuable player award, if only because the concept of “value” is so nebulous. But certainly, Crosby’s value to the Penguins – especially during Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season – cannot be questioned. Nor can his status as the game’s best all-around individual force. Getzlaf was a very close second, while Giroux got the nod over Bergeron because he was the catalyst in Philadelphia’s remarkable season-saving turnaround. Read more

Alex Steen scores in third overtime, but Ryan Miller saves the day

Alex Steen

St. Louis’ Alex Steen has had a rewarding season. He set a career high with 33 goals and 62 points in 68 games, gained some traction as a Selke candidate and signed a three-year extension worth north of $17 million. In Game 1 against Chicago, he put another egg in his basket.

The Blues-Blackhawks series is going to be a brutal one…in a good way. With so many banged up stars and gruff bruisers battling for pride and glory, the immense skill and ruthless carnage mix for a perfect playoff painting. The opening game of this series was physical, full of offensive chances, great saves and was a test of endurance.

The Blues and Blackhawks were on their way to playing two games Thursday night, but Steen put the game, and everyone watching it, to bed, only 26 seconds into 3OT. Read more

Why will the Blues win the Stanley Cup? They’ve learned their lessons

Ryan Kennedy
St. Louis Blues

(Editor’s note: The Blues were our pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup and when it came time to put together our Playoff Preview edition late in the season, we saw no reason to change. Of course, then they went out and lost six in a row to close the regular season. Are we nervous our Cup pick could go out in the first round? That’s an understatement. But we still believe. And a big part of that belief comes from what Ryan Kennedy explored in his cover story for the Playoff Preview issue: the Blues have learned from their tough lessons. Here is that story.)

Since his star turn for team USA at the Sochi Olympics, T.J. Oshie hasn’t had much time to soak in life as a real American hero. Along with all the fame he got stateside for his shootout heroics against Russia, he welcomed his first child, Lyla Grace, into the world. “It’s been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster,” he says. “But all for the best, I guess besides leaving the Olympics with nothing to show for it. Having my baby girl was the best moment of my life, hands down.”

In the professional arena, there is one thing that could come close, of course: finally bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis, the only still-functioning franchise from the 1967 expansion cohort yet to win the title.

The St. Louis Blues played for the Cup in their first three years of existence thanks to an unbalanced NHL that had the expansion teams in one division and the Original Six in another. Despite the presence of future Hall of Famers such as Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante, the Blues were bludgeoned all three times, winning zero games in sweeps to Montreal (twice) and Boston. As the years went on, no manner of star power could get the team back to the final, and that includes vaunted names such as Brett Hull, Al MacInnis and even Wayne Gretzky.

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Four most likely sweeps in the first round

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images Sport)

As I posted on Twitter Monday, I’m picking two series sweeps in Round 1. But there’s a chance two more go the minimum.

 

Sweeps are killjoys, though, so let’s hope for longer, and therefore much more exciting, series. But the possibility remains that at least one team, or more, will be on the links within a week.

Here are the most likely series sweeps in Round 1:

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