The Ultimate Battle

The ultimate battle in hockey is overcoming injuries. A study shows $218 million in salaries is lost each season due to injuries. The research was done three years ago. That number is now greater due to the league’s higher market value.

Franchise players dash their team’s ability to make the postseason or winning it all every year. Sidney Crosby gets hit in the head in consecutive games midway through the season in 2011 turns into a first round exit. Connor McDavid breaks his collar bone last year, which puts the Oilers back in the cellar for one more season. Steven Stamkos’s absence from the ice the last two years has not allowed Tampa to take the next step. Lightning lost in the finals three seasons ago, one game away form the finals two seasons ago and missed the postseason altogether last year.

Hockey is a sport of matchups. Four trios of forwards and 3 pairs of defenseman, which makes chemistry paramount in a team’s success. One injury to a forward or defenseman puts a team’s alignment into a puzzle. However, the reality is that lineups are drastically shaken up throughout the course of the season.

The St. Louis Blues

The faithful in the Gateway to West will be without four top 9 forwards (Steen, Berglund, Sanford, Fabbri) and one defenseman (Bouwmeester) to start the year. However, one of which (Robby Fabbri) has been ruled out for the entire regular and postseason.

ultimate battle

Robby Fabbri had surgery, rehabbed all offseason and was medically cleared in July. A big hit for the 21 year old that was entering a contract year. Photo courtesy by NHL.com

Two rookies (Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin) now have every opportunity to show and prove they belong on the Blues’ roster. Depth was an issue during the playoffs last season as the Blues were ousted in the 2nd round by Nashville. Pressure and responsibility may or may not be what these hungry rookies need, but that is what they are getting. This could shapeup as a very exciting or struggle-filled start to St. Louis’s season.

These injuries have General Manager Doug Armstrong looking at not just the rookies, but potential replacement players to fill the current voids. Jaromir Jagr, a 45 year-old future hall of famer has been discussed as a potential signing. It would most likely come after the olympics if it does happen because of Jagr’s desire to play in the tournament. The #2 all-time scorer has shown he still has enough in the tank to compete as he recorded 16 goals and 30 assists last season.

The Importance of depth

The saying “we gotta roll four lines and bang bodies” is crucial to the success of any hockey club. Contributions must be made by each top 12 forward and top 6 defenseman in a push for the playoffs and run to the Cup. Goons and enforcers are few and far between in today’s NHL. Every line has to have offensive output for a team to win with great regularity.

ultimate battle

Mark Letestu of the Oilers is a 4th liner, but tallied 16 goals last season (11 on the powerplay). Edmonton later made their 1st playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Photo Courtesy of Canoe Sports

Injury occurrence forces reshaping of lines, which reforms game plans. Coaches have to be on their toes and be prepared to battle just like his players. The man in charge on the bench is the most underrated person of value in a hockey game. He is the one who executively decides who goes onto to the ice at every point in time.

Some matchup their lines differently. The home coach gets to decide. Some go with their first line against the opposing team’s 4th line or the opposite. The point is that a coach’s decisions are constantly altered due to the injuries. Mike Yeo (Blues head coach) is facing these challenges all at once before the season even starts, but countless more will follow.

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NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Unsigned Players

Just as it came in with the uneasiness and excitement it always brings, the NHL free agency frenzy has come and gone.

During the past few weeks, Kevin Shattenkirk went to the Big Apple to sign with his hometown team. Alexander Radulov crossed the border to head to Big D. The aging Patrick Marleau joined the youth movement in Toronto.

Even with the key players out of the market, there are still steady free agents available that can help teams out. Here are the top 5 skaters to watch out for as free agency continues.

5. Jarome Iginla

Jarome Iginla is still available in NHL free agency

Jarome Iginla. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Jarome Iginla has excelled in 19 NHL seasons. His 625 goals are 15th all-time in the NHL, per QuantHockey. He collected 1,300 points in that span as well. Undoubtedly, he is skating towards a Hall of Fame career. However, it depends when he gets in, considering he hasn’t officially retired yet.

After ending last year with the Kings, they have said they won’t resign him. At 40 years old, the age is enough to scare teams away. He isn’t the same prolific scorer he once was, as his totals have decreased in the past four years. Take that out of consideration and Iginla doesn’t do much of anything else.

Although he’s well past his prime, he can assist a young team thanks to that longevity. He’s a tremendous locker room presence and brings a winning attitude to a team, similar to what Marleau will do for the Maple Leafs. And though his scoring has declined, he still chipped in 14 goals and 27 points between Colorado and Los Angeles. If Iginla can scratch out one more contract before his retirement, he can aid a team with secondary scoring.

4. Drew Stafford

Drew Stafford picked a bad time to have a down year. After scoring more than 20 goals for the fourth time in his career in 2015-16, Stafford regressed to four goals in 40 games for Winnipeg last season. The Jets traded him to Boston for a sixth-round pick, and he scored four more goals. Eight tallies for over $4 million last season is not great value at all.

Still, the reason he is on this list is he is a buy-low candidate. It’s doubtful he gets more than a couple million on his next deal. For someone that has a nice shot as well as improved Corsi and Fenwick ratings (according to Hockey Reference, 51.6 percent and 52.7 percent, respectively), that is a bargain.

There is not a lot of traction for Stafford yet. The Bruins are talking to his camp, but there aren’t any substantial rumors at this point. When he does sign, his team is gambling that he’s more consistent than last year.

3. Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek is on the NHL free agency market

Thomas Vanek. Photo courtesy of The Hockey News/Photo by Mike Carlson, Getty Images

Vanek has enjoyed a nice career in the NHL, but he is no longer the explosive player he once was. He could’ve ascended to top-10 status in the league after notching 84 points when he was 23. However, he is still a top-six forward capable of 40 points in a season.

The Panthers are not interested after he ended last season in Sunrise. It’s likely he plays for his seventh team since 2013. Last week, Vanek was talking to several teams, but none were specified and he hasn’t signed yet. The Rangers, Bruins and Sabres supposedly have interest.

Vanek brings speed to the table. Even at 33, he is the fastest player in NHL free agency at the moment. He is a streaky player, but when he gets hot, he is a solid asset. So long as he keeps up his speed, he has value in today’s NHL.

In addition, Vanek’s time on the market should drive down his value. He got $2.6 million last year from Detroit, according to Spotrac. He can sign for a couple million that doesn’t break the bank.

2. Cody Franson

With Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner signed, Cody Franson is the best defenseman available. After missing 23 games two seasons ago, he rebounded in his second year with Buffalo. He increased his minutes, blocks, and hits according to Hockey Reference. He improved his possession metrics to positive ratios as well.

Franson is not the same player that he once was in Toronto. If anything, he is more of a second or third-pair blue liner at this stage. However, teams will love what he can bring to the table. On top of the possession skills, he has a right-handed stick and is 6-foot-5, which is great size for a defenseman.

Franson’s last contract with Buffalo had an annual value of $3.325 million. At this rate, it may be slightly lower if he doesn’t lower his expectations. Andrew Gross, the Devils’ beat reporter for The Record, brought up Franson’s name as a possibility. New Jersey whiffed on Shattenkirk and they have the cap room. The question, like he poses, is if the Devils would give for years on his deal. With the way he’s played recently, a few years seems fair.

1. Jaromir Jagr

Was there any doubt he wasn’t going to be the top one left in NHL free agency? He’s second all-time with 1,914 points and he still has no job. If there’s a positive, he can use social media to market himself.

If you ask any fan in the NHL, chances are they want Jagr on their team. With that history and success, combined with a great presence in the locker room, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, at 16 goals and 30 assists last year, he can still play the game.

Although he is a big hit within the NHL fandom, teams are acknowledging they aren’t getting Jagr’s prime. He’s 45 years old and has lost some speed, which is almost a necessity in this era. If a team brings him in, it’s under the impression that he is a second or third-line skater.

Contract-wise, Jagr isn’t looking for much. He has said himself he wants one-year deals moving forward. He made over $5 million last year, but he likely won’t make as much. At this point, he’d take anything he could get.

A team should sign him with his intangibles. He’s a legendary player that inspires others around him. It’ll shock the hockey world if he doesn’t get that next contract.

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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