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NHL defenceman cash in on free

With a couple of weeks to look back at this year's half a billion dollar free agent bonanza, here's one of the trends that stood out: depth forwards didn't do as well. And, the beneficiaries were imitation van cleef and arpels necklace defencemen.

Twelve months ago, Eric Nystrom and Brandon Prust got four years and $10 million US. Boyd Gordon: three years and $9 million. Matt Cooke: three and $7.5 million. Matt Hendricks' average became $1.85 million over four seasons.

The big winner from this time around was Leo Komarov, recruited hard with $11.85 million over four years by his former bosses in Toronto. Brian Boyle turned down more money to take $2 million per in Tampa, but that was about it.

Daniel Winnik just finished making $1.8 million. He had 30 points in 2013 14, more than any of the players listed above. He's still unemployed.

Meanwhile, the market was down on defenders in 2013. Andrew Ference (four years, $13 million) and Rob Scuderi (same term, but with an extra $500,000) scored big, but that was about it. This was different. Mark Fayne, Matt Niskanen and Anton Stralman more than doubled their salaries. Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner, triple. Deryk Engelland: five times.

That doesn't include Dan Boyle, Willie Mitchell, Brooks Orpik, Kyle Quincey and Stephane Robidas, who signed for a combined $62 million.

Look who's available next summer, for now: A 28 year old Marc Staal. A 29 year old Andrej Sekera, who just had a 44 point season. Cody Franson and Alec Martinez at 27. Imagine if Mike Green, who will be 29, has any kind of success. Could Jeff Petry be 2015's Niskanen?

What about Johnny Boychuk or Marc Methot?

Lost in the middle of the July 1 craziness was Colorado locking up Nick Holden one year before he could hit the market. He will earn $600,000 in 2014 15 before a three season deal worth just under $5 million kicks in. How much will the Avalanche save by wrapping up that business now?

Get your blue line deals done early, because they'll be seeing imitation van cleef and arpels earrings much green.

1. Here's another trend for you: Right now, there are eight teams in the NHL without a centre carrying a $5 million average salary. Only one made last season's playoffs the New York Rangers. The others are Arizona, Buffalo, Calgary, Nashville, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg. I'm not sure this is a coincidence. Look at the arms race for centres since the Stanley Cup was awarded.

2. The cash value for middlemen is trending upward, too. Fourteen teams have a centre above $6 million. Only one (Montreal) has their top earner right at $5 million. Derick Brassard's negotiations/arbitration could change the Rangers' situation, but if he doesn't crack five, you have to assume Derek Stepan will.

3. With all this in mind, there's no doubt opponents are eying Arizona's Antoine Vermette, with one year left on his contract. At the GM meetings, I asked Don Maloney if he would try to extend him. Maloney wants to, but knows there will be Garden of Eden level temptation for Vermette.

4. When the Blue Jackets extended Brandon Dubinsky, teammate Ryan Johansen hilariously tweeted, "Congrats to our second line centre." After all, if the second liner gets $5.85 million, shouldn't Johansen get even more? The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reported Sunday that agent Kurt Overhardt recently submitted a shorter term bridge offer for Johansen. Last year, the Jackets gave Sergei Bobrovsky $12 million over two years. (They are also working on a new contract for him.) You have to figure that's the endgame for Johansen, too, a bit more money in exchange for fewer years.

5. Paul Stastny is gone and you've got to think Ryan O'Reilly will follow. When Colorado was winning Stanley Cups, they had one of the NHL's highest payrolls and those players deserved it. We're not talking about Roy, Sakic, Blake and Forsberg here, but you see the potential, and, more importantly for the Avalanche, the local interest generated after years of apathy. The most logical rationale is Colorado wants to make sure its salary structure eventually fits underneath Nathan MacKinnon. But will the earth be scorched in attempts to get there?

6. The good news is the $1.225 million difference in arbitration filings is actually less than the rumoured gap in O'Reilly's contract talks. The tone from both the Avalanche and agent Pat Morris will be critical. It will not be hard to ignite a powderkeg. Suggestion: Colorado shouldn't use the "elephant and the mouse" story Brian Burke tried with Brendan Morrison years ago. That didn't work.

7. So, is Alex Ovechkin a right winger or a left winger? "He's a right winger in the defensive zone who can cross over to the left side offensively," said Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. "I'll start him on the right, but we know he can play left," said coach Barry Trotz. "For sake of simplicity, let's start that way."

8. In researching the Capitals, it's very clear what the organization believes: their roster is not as good as it should be, and Trotz is the man to unlock potential. According to a couple of players, sometime after the now famous Dallas game where Ovechkin's back checking became a focal point, there was a harsh team meeting where the captain took heat.

9. I did not know about it when I spoke to MacLellan. Trotz refused to comment about the specific incident, but did say this: "I think a lot of things get deflected on Ovie. My job is to do that. The first thing to do was dig around to find what problem was: accountability.

10. Trotz said he wants to move up Tom Wilson, and the third linemate with Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom probably depends on who becomes the second line centre. MacLellan said newly signed Justin Peters was told Braden Holtby begins the season as number one in goal. But the interesting thing was the defence pairs.

11. Both coach and GM say Orpik may be used as a sort of reverse Sedin, doing the heavy lifting defensively. His partner could rotate sometimes a Mike Green, sometimes a John Carlson but generally freeing up others to worry about offence or transition. MacLellan said Washington lost out on Willie Mitchell a few years ago because they were scared of term, so they took the chance with Orpik.

12. MacLellan seemed lukewarm to the idea of trading Green. They want to see if Trotz's system helps him. He also said something interesting about Green's presence helping Niskanen handle the newfound pressure of the big contract. Niskanen will be expected to score, but, in a perfect world for Washington, Green handles a big chunk of that, too.

13. The Trotz quote about accountability is why I find it hard to believe players are avoiding Detroit because of Mike Babcock. If you took a secret ballot, more than half the league would probably say they don't like their coach. Babcock may grind his players, but both the Red Wings and those on Team Canada say this about him: you are never unprepared, nothing is overlooked, and he will do whatever it takes. Players want to win, and he puts you in position to do it. For years, Detroit was the place everyone wanted to be. It goes in cycles.

14. Christian Ehrhoff surprised by taking one year in Pittsburgh, but no one would be stunned if he's extended not long after Jan. 1. That's when he's eligible to do it.

15. The Islanders were prepared to give Jarome Iginla four years.

16. Isles coach Jack Capuano is spending his summer working on structural adjustments to the team's penalty kill, which was 29th. "We're going to change the way van cleef pendant replica we forecheck on it, and, when the puck is in our zone, we're going to pressure differently."

17. With a glut of centres, Capuano said that Brock Nelson is going to get a shot at the wing with John Tavares (who is skating again) and Kyle Okposo. Nelson played with them on the power play and spent time on the wing at the world championships. Frans Nielsen is not switching positions. "Frans is one of the smartest players in hockey. And he thinks the game as a centre."

18. As for Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, Capuano did not promise that they would be united, "But, we do know what the advanced stats say about them together." (Hint: they are good.) He added that Calvin de Haan is a going to get a long look as Travis Hamonic's full time partner.

19. Here's the question Capuano can't answer, but is very hopeful about. New York's three goalies combined for an .898 save percentage last season, which just won't do. If Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson play to their career averages (.918 and .926, respectively), how many more points is that worth?

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