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10 best free agents still available: Where will Mike Hoffman, others sign?



The 2020 NHL free-agent frenzy has started to mellow out. The flat salary cap had teams scrambling to find the right fits under less-than-ideal financial conditions, leaving some free agents waiting to see if lucrative opportunities would still materialize.

Here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents still on the market as of Thursday morning. Keep in mind we’ve left off a couple of big-name veterans in Zdeno Chara and Joe Thornton, whose markets seem limited to one or two teams. Contract projections are courtesy of Evolving Hockey.

Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Hoffman is the best goal scorer still on the UFA market, with 65 goals in his past 151 games. If your team needs scoring on the wing, Hoffman is going to provide it; especially on the power play, where he has netted 28 goals in the past two seasons. But in his past three seasons, Hoffman has a combined minus-9.2 defensive goals-prevented above average; he’s a liability at 5-on-5, and that’s been the case for years. But given his goal-scoring prowess, there’s a market for him. The Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes are all reportedly in the mix.

Age: 28 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5.75 million
Previous team: Nashville Predators

Granlund generated only 19 goals and 17 assists in his 79 games with Nashville. A fresh start is necessary, and the team that signs Granlund will get a solid defender who is only two years removed from an 0.87 points-per-game season (and a 14.3 goals-scored above average). He is still in his prime, and because of that, don’t look for much of a discount. Evolving Hockey has him at a $6.525 million AAV for whoever lands him. Columbus and Philadelphia have been mentioned as potential landing spots.

Age: 31 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4 million
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Dadonov could very well end up back with the Panthers, but there could be interest from teams impacted by injuries (Boston) or seeking more scoring depth (Edmonton). The best news for those seeking to acquire his services is that the price likely dropped after a middling season, at least by his standards: 25 goals and 22 assists for a 0.68 points-per-game average, down from the previous two seasons.

But let’s not just write off last season as a total anomaly. He’s 31, and his numbers declined despite a significant uptick in offensive zone starts (60.1%) and spending the majority of his time with Aleksander Barkov. He is still worth a long look given his three-season production and some of his underlying numbers, but we’ll also issue a buyer beware warning.

Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $1.5 million
Previous team: Dallas Stars

There have always been two sides to Corey Perry. There’s the guy with 377 career goals, and there’s the side with 1,180 career penalty minutes. To that we can add that at age 35, he’s the guy with five goals in 57 regular-season games in 2019-20 who then matched that total in 26 playoff games this postseason. But his offensive output remains in steep decline, with a shooting percentage far below league average.

His value as a veteran on a contender has been fortified by the Dallas playoff run, and someone will want to add that at the right price. Perry, meanwhile, can afford to wait to pick his spot.

Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $2.750 million
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Haula had a remarkable season in 2017-18, with 29 goals and 26 assists. He hasn’t come close to that production in the two seasons since, mostly due to injuries. When he’s healthy, he can be an offensive asset but a defensive liability — he’s at minus-3.2 defensive goals above average over the past two seasons.

He has drawn interest from his old mates, the Vegas Golden Knights, but making that money work will be tough. Given the market for forwards, could we see Haula fall in between the $2.25 million AAV of Cody Eakin (Buffalo) and the $3.1 million AAV of Craig Smith (Boston)?

Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.875 million
Previous team: Carolina Hurricanes

It’s peculiar that Vatanen hasn’t been signed yet. Heck, over 30 of his UFA peers have gotten new contracts. Vatanen is a player who should produce more offensively for the roles in which he’s been placed (50.1% offensive zone starts for the Devils in 2019-20) and should be better defensively for the amount of admiration he receives (he’s been in the negative on possession for six straight seasons).

He has also missed significant time the past two seasons to injury. Of course, the Devils were so terrible, there probably wasn’t much to make him rush back. But after being acquired at the trade deadline by the Canes, he didn’t make it back for any regular-season games, though he appeared in seven contests this postseason. There are going to be opportunities out there for him to make the $4.581 million AAV that Evolving Hockey projects for him. They may just not be with contending teams.

Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.75 million
Previous team: Arizona Coyotes

Soderberg celebrated a birthday recently, turning 35 as he waited for his next NHL destination to materialize. He had one fairly productive campaign in the desert (35 points in 70 games). He’s a durable player coming off a slight downtick of a season, especially on offense. But on a short-term deal, he could be an effective bottom-six center — emphasis on “short-term deal.”

Age: 37 | 2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
Previous team: Washington Capitals

His 22 games with Montreal were actually outstanding (13 points, plus-6). His one assist in eight playoff games with Washington, not so much. Is there a market for a full season of a 37-year-old Kovalchuk, other than as an asset to flip at the trade deadline? For a team looking specifically at adding his offensive touch to its power play, while accepting his defensive liability, perhaps.

Evolving Hockey predicts a $2.328 million AAV on a one-year deal for whoever signs him … assuming he still wants to stick around the NHL. One note: The Canadiens just gave No. 17 to Josh Anderson, for those seeking that reunion.

Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $3,857,143
Previous team: Calgary Flames

The Philadelphia Flyers were among the teams that kicked the tires on Hamonic, but word is that he’d prefer to remain in Western Canada. There’s a lot of respect for his “defensive defenseman” game and his work on the penalty kill, but three of the past four seasons have been beset by injuries. His strong 2018-19, when he was at 55.5% expected goals, looks more and more like an anomaly given his underlying numbers in the past five seasons. But the market has been robust for veteran defensemen.

Age: 26 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.9 million
Previous team: Minnesota Wild

His next destination will be his fourth team in three seasons, after stops in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Last season was supposed to be a resurgence; instead, he was a spare part in Pittsburgh before scoring seven points in 14 games with Minnesota, for a career-low 0.41 points per game. It feels like he’s in line for a one-year “show me” contract for a team, and Evolving Hockey predicts a $1.498 million cap hit. Galchenyuk has a 30-goal season on his ledger, but that was in 2015-16. Still, someone while take a chance to see if he can show an iota of that form again.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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