Ramblings: Looking to free agency; Craig Anderson; trade bait; Pittsburgh cap problems; future international rosters – September 25

Michael Clifford

2020-09-25

The Sens announced they won't be bringing back goaltender Craig Anderson. He had spent the bulk of his franchise with the team but he's had a few rough seasons in a row playing behind really bad teams and at the age of 39, it makes sense the team looks for new goaltending as their rebuild continues.

Anderson and his wife Nicholle were big parts of the Ottawa community and team for a long time. Nicholle had a battle with cancer a few years back around which the team rallied, and it seemed they really had a special place in the hearts of Sens fans before, during, and especially after.

Best wishes to Craig, Nicholle, and their family in whatever comes next.

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The Montreal Canadiens signed forward Jake Evans to a two-year extension. The first year is a two-way deal but the second year is one-way. They expect him to be in the lineup in short order, then.

Whatever happens from here on out, Evans has gone from being drafted outside the top-200 picks of the 2014 draft (207th overall) to earning an actual one-way NHL contract (if only for a year). The young man deserves lots of commendation for just getting to this point, regardless of what happens next.

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The last couple days, I looked through which teams have significant cap space heading into the off-season and where I thought some players may end up. For anyone looking to get a bit of a head start on free agency, hopefully that can help.

Alex MacLean also posted his top-200 free agent projections.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins announced a partnership with Bet Rivers, an online betting site that is operating in various American jurisdictions that are now permitting gambling. By the looks of things, this is going to include in-house betting at the arena, as well as a section of the audience dedicated to gamblers.

Relationships between gambling operators and the NHL is going to be fascinating to watch moving forward. Things like lineups, injuries, and goalie confirmations are sometimes difficult to come by in the NHL (imagine an NFL team not announcing their quarterback until kickoff), and that has been compounded with the "unfit to play" designations. Do more partnerships with betting sites change the NHL's stance on this, beyond just removing that designation? Lineups announced hours before the game like MLB? Inactives announced an hour or so before puck drop like the NFL? Something that is long overdue but I'm not certain the NHL goes in this direction. They are extremely protective of whatever they deem a competitive advantage.

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On the topic of the Penguins, TSN released their league-wide trade bait board yesterday. Some guys may be traded, some won't.

What caught my eye was this: apparently the Penguins are going to operate with an internal cap of $75 million next season, or more than $6 million under the cap. As of today, they're already in excess of that number with neither Jarry/Murray signed. (I realize one is likely to be traded.)

Also, I put together a preliminary list of trades I think make sense in exchange for Laine. Please note that there would likely be other pieces involved on either side, either for cap or trade balance reasons, it’s just what the trade would be centred around. Assuming the Jets are looking for a young, cost-controlled top-6 centre or top-pair defenceman, here are six targets:

  • Anthony Cirelli
  • LA’s second overall
  • Ottawa’s third overall (or fifth – it could be a draft-day trade if someone like Byfield or Stützle is still on the board at five)
  • Jake Bean
  • Matt Dumba
  • Some sort of RNH/Pulju package

Again, more would need to be added to something like a Jake Bean trade, but as a base, these all make sense to me. What about to you, dear reader?

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An eye-opening video from Rick Westhead at TSN about painkillers in the NHL. Basically, it's an overview of how players maintain their level on a day-to-day basis, largely with painkillers. As someone who has had back problems for half my life, this speaks to me. For parents out there with kids that may be heading to high-level hockey, like Major Junior, it's worth noting what may be happening in the trainer's room. Players need to be well informed of the future ramifications, and parents of high-level hockey players need to alert them to the dangers.

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It's the end of the week and there was no game last night. No trades, no draft, no free agency. In that sense, I wanted to pose a question to our Dobber readers that I asked of a few buddies a couple nights ago: who are going to be Team Canada's four centres if the NHL is back at the Olympics in 2022?

Now, Canadian national teams typically bring many more centres than four, but only four guys actually play the position. Yes, guys may rotate in for face-offs and the like, but four players have a centre's responsibilities. Who are they going to be?

It seems a lock that both Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon are included. After that, I think it's a bit more up in the air.

Sidney Crosby will obviously be on the team, but he'll also be 34 years old, and in my opinion, we've seen slips in his play. Which is to say he's not the slam-dunk best centre in the world. I have him as the third-line centre, but could see him lining up on the wing.

Patrice Bergeron is an interesting player here. He's even older than Crosby and will be 36 if the Olympics roll around in February of 2022. He's still very good, but it's a question of how good he'll be in two years, and what kind of wear-and-tear continues to build. Does he get moved to the wing as well?

My fourth-line centre would be Brayden Point but with Bergeron on the wing and likely taking face-offs. So, I have McDavid-MacKinnon-Crosby-Point right now but I am very flexible on those final two names. Who has an idea? Sound off in the comments.

The funny thing about putting a list like this together is I looked right past Mark Scheifele, who is over a point per game spanning four years, and Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Selke last year, was nominated this year, and was the Conn Smythe winner in 2019 as well. It also doesn't include other centres like Steven Stamkos (he likely ends up on the wing), Mat Barzal (same), John Tavares, Sean Couturier, Jonathan Toews, and Bo Horvat, among others. I look at my top four centres and think, "oh yeah those are the guys," and then see Stamkos/Barzal/Tavares/Scheifele/O'Reilly/Couturier/Toews/Horvat and think, "oh man I'm glad I don't have to make this decision."

There were 12 centres named in the paragraphs above. There are 12 forwards on the starting roster. I suppose it's a nice problem to have.

The real problem is when we start including the slam-dunk wingers like Brad Marchand, Mark Stone, and Mitch Marner, then figure out which all-star centre has to stay home. What if we have a situation similar to 2014 where, say, Team Canada brings both MacKinnon and Taylor Hall should Hall sign in Colorado and the pair show chemistry? That would knock another elite centre off the list.

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This is coincidental, but a couple days ago Dom Luszczszyn and Ed Duhatschek of The Athletic posted what they believed to be the best rosters for an imaginary 2020 World Cup, which includes the young stars team again.

What stood out to me is the stark change in talent for Team USA. Remember the 2016 World Cup Team USA roster? I know it's four years ago which basically feels like another lifetime. What about Brandon Dubinsky, Justin Abdelkader, and both Jack and Erik Johnson? (Yes, the young stars team took most of the talent. That’s the reason for the next paragraph.)

Rather, this iteration of Team USA is so deep that The Athletic has a fourth line of Pacioretty-Larkin-Boeser with a third defence pair of Slavin-Carlson. All that talent that filtered through the Development Program is starting to show itself at the NHL level, and it's why Team USA can put together a roster that looks like a best-on-best competition rather than a who's-left-at-11PM-pickup-hockey.

I sincerely hope we get NHLers back for 2022. It's the one chance for a true best-on-best tournament.

And because I always read the comments: the person who suggested 2022 Team Finland is just the Dallas Stars made me laugh.

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On the flipside, when I was doing my four centres bit, I started thinking about the defencemen and I ran into a problem: there are a lot of great Canadian defencemen I'm not sure will be very good in two years. Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Giordano, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kris Letang, and on the list goes. All these guys are on the wrong side of 30 years old right now, some in their mid-30s, and a lot of these players have been staples of the Canada blue line for many, many years.

It's time to turn things to the younger generation but honestly, go look at the top young defencemen in the league. Sure, Cale Makar is the clear stand-out. After that? Fox, Hughes, and Marino are all American while others like Dahlin and Heiskanen are out of Europe. For Canada, assuming they only bring along a couple of the elder d-men like Pietrangelo and Doughty, there's going to be a lot of fresh faces. Guys like Dougie Hamilton, Sam Girard, Thomas Chabot, Aaron Ekblad, and the like. Not that all these guys are super young, but it's obvious there's going to be an issue here for Canada that may not exist on other top teams like USA, Sweden, or Finland.

UPCOMING GAMES

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency DAL Players
21.2% JAMIE BENN JOE PAVELSKI ALEXANDER RADULOV
18.6% JOEL KIVIRANTA COREY PERRY TYLER SEGUIN
7.2% NICK CAAMANO JASON DICKINSON MATTIAS JANMARK

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