Matchmaking is an inherent part of the human experience, because it combines two things most of us enjoy doing: Helping others find a sense of fulfillment in their lives and pretending that we know what’s best for them.
That established, we turn our attention to the remaining members of the NHL unrestricted free agent Class of 2019, which would have been a heck of an All-Star team about 10 years ago: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Thomas Vanek up front; Niklas Kronwall and Dion Phaneuf on the blue line; and … well, Cam Ward hasn’t retired yet, so we’ll just go with him in goal.
These players, and a few more, still need homes for the 2019-20 NHL season. So it’s time to play a little matchmaker. Keep in mind these are the matches we’d like to see made, and not necessarily predictions on where they’ll end up. Also, we’re trying to at least keep a foot on the ground while our heads are in the clouds, and acknowledging some basic cap and player preference restrictions on these potential matches.
Now, please excuse me as I grab my Cupid bow, heart-tipped arrows and large adult diaper to complete the costume. It’s time to make matches.
Best match: San Jose Sharks
At the NHL Awards, Joe Thornton announced he was returning for his 22nd NHL season in that laid-back, Jumbo-esque manner we’ve come to expect from him. ‘No worries, we’ll all sit down, we’ll figure it out, no problem’ … that kind of thing. So we take the Bearded One at his word. Erik Karlsson‘s deal, and whatever else GM Doug Wilson is cooking up, have likely left Thornton with a “Here’s what’s left for you” one-year deal, and that’s fine. The Sharks certainly can use him, as Thornton’s work on the third line last season was exemplary, and their forward group certainly took a hit this offseason. “Win it for Jumbo,” one more time.
Best match: Arizona Coyotes
Look, we want that Patrick Marleau reunion with the Sharks just as much as you do, but it’s hard to imagine Wilson slotting him in ahead of some of the younger talent he no doubt wants to get a gander at (before adjusting accordingly). Or that all the bygones between Marleau and Wilson are indeed bygones. Keeping in mind that Marleau has stated a desire to be out West, and noting that the other California teams might not be in the market for him, what about the Yotes? It might take a little cap maneuvering, but I like him on the left side down the lineup — and especially in that room. He lost two sons in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner; he could gain a weird nephew in Phil Kessel.
Best match: Edmonton Oilers
I’ll never forget the “Yeah, can you believe that?” tone when I asked Vanek, of the most traded players in the NHL, about getting a no-trade clause from the Detroit Red Wings. The guy that gave it to him was Ken Holland, who is now the general manager of the Oilers, a team that could use all the offensive help it can get on the left side right now. Plus, Vanek signing in Edmonton would bring it all full circle, as the franchise that offer-sheeted him with a seven-year deal in 2007 gets him 12 years later as a 35-year-old journeyman with a one-year contract. With a no-trade clause, of course.
Best match: Tampa Bay Lightning
The St. Louis Blues are obviously the “best” best match, because I’m a father, and every time I think about Maroon taking less money to play at home to be with his child and then winning the Stanley Cup in the process, the room gets dustier than an abandoned attic. But Maroon on the Lightning is just too perfect to pass up. Think about how they went out with a whimper against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now think about the way Maroon plays. The way he scores goals. The way his line of grunts could change the momentum with one good shift. This is the kind of player the Lightning, frankly, lack when they’re getting punched in the mouth by a lesser opponent. The Big Rig gives them one.
Best match: Philadelphia Flyers
Pominville turns 37 in November, and he has settled into a 0.42 points per game guy with reliable shot attempts metrics relative to his teammates. His expected goals percentage of 52.12 was fourth among Buffalo Sabres forwards last season. Having him as a veteran option on the right side down the lineup gives the Flyers a little bit of insurance, and he’s a better option than Tyler Pitlick.
Best match: Pittsburgh Penguins
Lose “Old Man” Matt Cullen, gain “Plays Like An Old Man” Brian Boyle for your fourth line. Boyle is a faceoff ace, a physical presence and would give the team another net-front body for when Patric Hornqvist is on the shelf. Plus, he would keep Boyle in the Northeast (sorta), which is obviously important for his family. Due respect to Teddy Blueger, but I like Boyle here.
Best match: Carolina Hurricanes
Earlier this summer, I said Williams should bring his particular set of skills to Arizona in order create a “Bunch of Jerks” vibe with the Coyotes. But the truth is that I want the Hurricanes to be the last team Williams plays for in the NHL. His role in the resurgence of the franchise last season was indelible. His performance as de facto player/coach with Rod Brind’Amour was vital. His next uniform should be whatever he wears as a member of the Hurricanes’ hockey operations staff after retiring with them.
Best match: Buffalo Sabres
I have no idea how the Buffalo Sabres are capped out. True, paying a combined $25 million against the cap to three forwards probably helps, but there’s no way a team that bad should have that much money on its cap. Stop stealing the Red Wings’ bit! Anyway, Gardiner is clearly biding his time until some team — the Maple Leafs or the Avalanche or someone else waiting on an RFA? — settles on their cap number. But Gardiner to the Sabres, where he slide in behind Rasmus Dahlin for the foreseeable future, would be a good fit for both. Provided, of course, that Buffalo can clear the necessary cap space, having committed so much money already to … that.
Best match: Toronto Maple Leafs
I think it’s probably Detroit Red Wings or bust for Kronwall, the 38-year-old defenseman who hit opponents so hard that his name became a verb. But if he did continue on elsewhere, what about a left-side role for peanuts with Mike Babcock in Toronto? He averaged 19:57 per game last season with Detroit and was just a nose ahead of his teammates as far as relative Corsi. His expected goals percentage (44.31) was putrid, but it would improve on a better team. He’s Ron Hainsey with Red Wings Cup nostalgia. And hey, maybe he gets one good Kronwalling in on the Bruins in their inevitable playoff series next spring.
Best match: Vegas Golden Knights
Six points in 67 games and a 1.3 shooting percentage aren’t exactly the kind of numbers that inspire one to get into the Dion Phaneuf business. Here’s a fact that might be more enticing: The buyout money owed to Phaneuf by the Los Angeles Kings for the next two seasons, which would allow the defenseman to take a bargain-basement deal with a capped-out contender like Vegas. The Knights could use another body on the blue line, and especially one with that kind of power-play experience. Now, to find an Elvis jumpsuit that fits …
Eschewing the usual Jersey Foul fodder, we focus on the new road jerseys for the New York Rang… er, Carolina Hurricanes:
Can’t wait to put this on next month. These jerseys are unreal. #canetrain pic.twitter.com/nZeQKwnlcq
— Jordan Martinook (@Martyman17) August 20, 2019
First off, kudos to the Canes for doing the “different styles of home and away” jerseys. Nothing wrong with that. Secondly, kudos to the Canes for finding a way to remove their swirly flushed toilet logo from at least one of their jerseys, because outside of the Colorado Avalanche, no team needs a logo refresh more.
The little Hurricane flags on the “C” are a great touch, and overall it’s a pretty clean look. Sure, the diagonal letters thing is being done by the Rangers and has been done by the Avalanche and the Lightning, who were the “BOLTS” before Carolina was the “CANES.”
Of course, there were other options:
What could have been though pic.twitter.com/n3hutMZbUi
— Meep (@tw1st3d_w1ll) August 20, 2019
Yes, what could have been.
Oh good, another European threat
Restricted free agents have very little leverage. Which is why, inevitably, their camps start making noise about potentially leaving for Europe in a desperate attempt to pressure management.
David Pastrnak had “multiple offers from the KHL” while negotiating with the Bruins in 2017. Dmitry Orlov fielded a KHL offer when he was working on a new deal with the Capitals. Ditto Rickard Rakell, whom HC Sibir Novosibirsk reportedly targeted as he discussed a new deal with the Anaheim Ducks. In 2014, Ryan Johansen‘s camp claimed a KHL offer during a nasty contract dispute with the Blue Jackets, one that had Columbus team president John Davidson calling the negotiation “extortion.”
Agent Darren Ferris prefers to use Switzerland as the geographic threat of choice. He used it with Josh Anderson in his talks with Columbus. He used it with Andreas Athanasiou in his talks with the Red Wings. And now he’s using it in Mitch Marner‘s stalemate with the Maple Leafs, in a predictable move.
This charade always reminded me of those times as a child when my mother, in a fit of frustration over a messy room or some other youthful indiscretion, threatened to “move to China.” (We’d always call her on her bluff, because the farthest past the Mississippi River she ever traveled was to Reno.)
The entire Marner ordeal remains stupefying, and it’s getting harder to predict how and when it will end. But it’s safe to assume it won’t be with him draped in Zurich gear.
Listen to ESPN On Ice
The full season archive of our podcast can be found on iTunes. Honestly, if you’re lounging at the pool on the last days of summer, nothing is better than listening to two people that have had it up to here about playoff officiating.
1. I was pleasantly surprised that Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold and his brain trust didn’t course-correct after the Paul Fenton disaster. Conventional wisdom was that the Wild were going to regurgitate a Peter Chiarelli-type retread rather than hire another assistant general manager. But Guerin had the goods — and Team USA teammate Mike Modano as a Leipold confidant — to earn him the gig.
2. After everything we heard about Fenton’s inability to connect on a human level with players and coworkers, as well as his general lack of managerial communication skills, it’s pretty easy to see how a charismatic, face-of-the-franchise guy would be seen as the antidote. Fenton didn’t connect with veteran leaders like Zach Parise. Guerin is a decade removed from having played against them.
3. Finally, this is the single greatest photo ever used to announce a new hire in the history of the NHL:
“I am thrilled to announce we have hired Bill Guerin, a four-time Stanley Cup champion, as General Manager of the Minnesota Wild.” – Craig Leipold
📰 News → https://t.co/uM3vPSoWqs #mnwild pic.twitter.com/kU0yhA6khQ
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) August 21, 2019
He looks like a colorized photo of a 1920s baseball player. And a little like a post-“Star Trek Generations” William Shatner. And … moist. You never want your first impression to be so moist.
You know, I really wasn’t one of those guys who complained about Hollywood remaking literally everything until I read that the dude who played Spawn is starring in a reboot of the greatest hockey movie of all-time.
Really interesting piece on Hilary Knight and that “not a boycott” of the NWHL by the best women’s players in the world: “I don’t think it’s sustainable, I don’t think it’s a viable option, and that’s why there are 200-plus women in the world willing to forgo playing in it to build something better. … When I say that, we’re not out there looking to destroy anything – we’re just looking to build. We have a grander vision of what the sport should look like, not only from a players’ perspective, but also the needs of future generations. So I think that’s where the intent is, to really build and cultivate the best group of women to be able to go and do that.”
Breaking down the Buffalo Sabres‘ 50th anniversary jerseys, which are pretty sweet.
Derick Brassard heads to the Islanders.
How New York Islanders arena construction is impacting the horse racing at Belmont.
A North Dakota vs. Penn State men’s hockey game in Nashville for 2020 remains on track. Now that would be sweet.
The Golden Knights are planning a Miracle On Ice night. We assume they mean the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and not, like, scoring four goals on a five-minute major to erase a three-goal deficit in a Game 7.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Corey Pronman is in the process of doing his farm system rankings ($).
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
We hope you enjoyed our All-Decade project this week on ESPN. Here are the best and worst teams, the all-decade awards, all-decade teams for all 31 teams and the 10 biggest ways the NHL has changed (and what comes next).