The most underrated players in the NHL
The most underrated players in the NHL
Friday October 3rd, 2014

Surely by now Ryan Johansen senses that the walls are closing in.

The restricted free agent fought the good fight in an effort to win the contract he thinks he deserves from the Blue Jackets, something befitting the center's status as a 30-goal scorer and the centerpiece of the franchise.—something in the $6 million per year range.

He has to know there's no way that's happening now.

Metropolitan Division 2014-15 Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

A spate of team-friendly signings has kicked the legs out from under him. The Blues and 25-goal scorer Jaden Schwartz agreed to a two-year deal on Saturday that averages $2.35 million per season. On Monday, center Cody Eakin inked a two-year deal with the Stars that has an average annual value of $1.9 million. On Tuesday, the Bruins signed 20-goal scorer Reilly Smith and All-Rookie defenseman Torey Krug to one-year deals worth $1.4 million each. On Thursday, blueliner Brendan Dillon agreed to terms with Dallas on a one-year, $1.25 million contract.

All that action left Johansen as the only remaining unsigned RFA. More significantly, the deals have reinforced the level of control that NHL teams have over players who are coming to the end of their entry level contracts. The teams, after years of abandoning the one position of strength that was granted to them by the CBA—check out the generous second contracts that were given to RFAs Jeff Skinner (six years, $34.35 million), Jordan Eberle (six years, $36 million) and Tyler Seguin (six years, $34.5 million)—have finally decided to exercise their power.

Does Johansen deserve more than the $3 million or so the Jackets are offering? Maybe ... but, to quote Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.” Columbus has held the trump cards all along. The team might increase its offer slightly as a conciliatory gesture, but that's about all Johansen can hope for.

If Johansen wants to play in the NHL this season, he's going to have to bite the bullet. Or he can stay home and pout. His call.

GMs playing lowball

With new deal, Bobby Ryan gets to be 'The Man' in Ottawa

Though it won't generate the same media buzz as trading for Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza, the last two deals orchestrated by GM Jim Nill reinforce how effectively he's managing the Stars.

Cody Eakin's contract slightly favors the team, but the Brendan Dillon signing is so heavily weighted to Dallas's benefit that you almost want to take up a collection to help the kid out. It's easy to make the case that a top-four defenseman with Dillon's unique physical skill set is more valuable (and certainly more irreplaceable) to the team than a third-line center like Eakin. The blueliner's request to be paid like Erik Gudbranson ($2.25 million) or Danny DeKeyser ($2.125 million) was perfectly reasonable.

But Nill held firm. Whether he did so based on principle or a desire to keep space under the cap in the event that Rich Peverley can return at some point this season doesn't really matter. The CBA gave Nill that power. He used it.

Given how pervasive Nill's approach was throughout the NHL over this past week, you have to believe that these signings are going to reverberate into next summer. Player agents might want to begin the process of lowering their clients' expectations now.

• With Gonchar out, who gets the Stars' last defense spot?

Camp Notes

Best case scenarios for Eastern Conference teams

* In Montreal, the battle for the last blue line spot has come down to 39-year-old Francis Bouillon and 22-year-old Jarred Tinordi. It shouldn't even be close. Bouillon is in camp on a PTO agreement after being a healthy scratch 30 times last season for the Canadiens. Tinordi, on the other hand, should be ready to make a contribution now, four years after he was taken with the 22nd pick in the 2010 draft. The problem is, Tinordi isn't ready. “You look at him standing there, he's 6'-6", 230, I mean, he just looks exactly like the guy you want patrolling your blue line,” a scout told “And then you watch him play and you realize he's just not there yet. Bad puck decisions. Gets caught out of position. He's still making too many mistakes.” The Habs could keep Tinordi around as a seventh defenseman in the hope that some NHL experience would do more for him than would a return ticket to Hamilton. It's more likely, though, that they will assign the kid to the AHL and hope he's ready for a promotion by midseason.

• Why the Canadiens defense will be better this season

In Arizona, the Coyotes' return of Max Domi to juniors—without any apparent consideration given to granting the 19-year-old center a nine-game NHL trial—isn't surprising. Despite having four assists, including three on the power play, in four preseason games, Arizona decided that Domi didn't warrant a top-nine spot. That's telling considering how desperate the team is for offense after losing both Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro this summer. But if the kid isn't mature enough to handle the big-league grind it's better that he work his problems out in a lower-stakes game. The 'Yotes are still likely to have at least one fresh face who breaks camp with the varsity: Justin Hodgman, a 26-year-old center who played for three different KHL teams last season.

• Are the Coyotes for sale again?

Best case scenarios for Western Conference teams

In Calgary, the rebuilding Flames could open the season with as many as three rookies on the roster. No surprise that Johnny Gaudreau's one of them. In his first NHL camp, the 21-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner has been everything he was supposed to be, handling the challenges of the faster/harder pace and conjuring up the occasional magical moment. First rounder Sam Bennett has been equally impressive. His smart, self-assured performance has earned him a nine-game trial, but there's already buzz that he'll last longer in the NHL than that. “It's a lot like [Sean] Monahan last year,” a local observer commented. “He never looks rattled out there. He takes care of the little things” Bennett won nine of 10 draws on Thursday night against the Jets—his strength on face offs is one of the “little things” that could keep him in the league full-time this season. There are other considerations of course—he's a young 18 and while the courage is there, he might not be physically ready to handle the rigors of a long season. There's also the future to consider. Just how good does Calgary want to be this season, considering the prospect of next June's draft?

• Calgary kids Gaudreau, Jooris make case for sticking around

In Philadelphia, GM Ron Hextall is said to be fired up over rumors that he's actively shopping Luke Schenn and/or Nick Grossmann to clear a roster spot for 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin. The reports originated with TSN's Bob McKenzie, who is not exactly someone who throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks—he has a lot of credibility. Assuming that McKenzie's reporting is correct, just what is Hextall thinking? There's nothing wrong with considering trades with the goal of improving his club, and that may be all that's going on here. Or maybe he's testing the waters to see what his options are in case Morin makes himself indispensable after his nine-game trial. The Flyers' blue line is already shorthanded with leader Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) out indefinitely. But moving a proven top-six NHL defenseman to create space for a 19-year-old rookie—even one who's 6' 7", 225—seems like a risky move for an executive who has always been held in high regard for his patience. Doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, just that it would seem out of character.

• Flyers scrapper Rinaldo gets what was was coming to him

The three keys to the Washington Capitals' defense initiative

It didn't take Dan Carcillo long to find a new gig. Released from his PTO by the Penguins on Thursday, he found a spot with the Blackhawks on Friday morning. ... Barring an injury or unexpected trade, winger Andre Burakovsky is going to start the season with the Capitals. "Yeah, he’s earned the right,” coach Barry Trotz said after the 2013 first-rounder scored against Philadelphia on Thursday night. “He’s gotten better every game. I don’t imagine him not being here.” ... I loved hearing Gary Bettman say that the decision to schedule the Sharks to play the Kings on Oct. 8, the night that L.A. will unfurl its Stanley Cup banner, "was not accidental." The guy knows good theater. ... After coasting through the summer Kevin Cheveldayoff-style, San Jose GM Doug Wilson might have to make a deal or two in the next few days to clear roster spots for a couple of promising kids. Forward Nikolay Goldobin, a 2014 first-rounder, has been solid, as has forward Barclay Goodrow. Either, or both, could earn a spot up front. The Sharks still have three rookie blueliners in camp, with the smooth playmaking skills of 19-year-old Mirco Mueller likely giving him the edge over 6' 8" behemoth Taylor Doherty and AHL vet Taylor Fedun. The trick now is finding a taker for an aging/low value vet like Scott Hannan or Adam Burish. Hannan is on a one-year deal that pays him $1 million, but Burish has two years remaining at $1.85 million a season. Wilson would have to include a sweetener to move Burish's contract. Mike Brown, another redundant forward with two years remaining on his current deal, could also be shopped. ... Disappointed to see the Panthers cut Rocco Grimaldi this morning. The 5' 5" (maybe) forward looked dynamic in the pair of preseason appearances I saw, playing the sort of fearless and creative hockey that made him a fan favorite at North Dakota. He'll benefit from a heavier workload in San Antonio and should be one of the first options for a call-up when the injury bug strikes Florida.

• NHL 15 predicts Kings over Bruins for Stanley Cup

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