The Solid Contributors

Graves, like Gostisbehere, is another blue liner who has seen his career take a significant upward trajectory in recent years. At one point, Graves was more or less viewed as one of the dime-a-dozen minor league farmhands who patrol the many blue lines of the AHL.

Three seasons into his professional career, Graves had seen his importance in the New York Rangers organization decline, and he was unceremoniously shipped out west in exchange for Chris Bigras in a deal PHR at the time called a swap of minor leaguers.

The Avalanche organization saw something in Graves and believed it could get the most out of his hulking 6-foot-5 frame. After another year and a half spent in the minors, Graves earned a spot in the NHL with the Avalanche and didn’t let it go.

He played an extremely limited role in 2018-19, but the next season, he averaged the second-most ice time on the penalty kill of any Avalanche player.

The year after, Graves led Colorado in shorthanded ice time. With his cap hit set to rise as a restricted free agent, the team was forced to trade Graves to the New Jersey Devils.

In New Jersey, Graves has further solidified his status as a quality top-four defenseman. He flashed some more offensive touch last season, setting a career-high with 28 points.

This year he’s remained an important part of the Devils’ defensive plans even as he’s ceded his role as a penalty-killing anchor to John Marino and Jonas Siegenthaler, two other formidable defenders.

Graves will be 28 in the summer, and his age lines him up quite well for a potential payday. He isn’t having as strong of a season this year as he had last year, but he remains a valued defenseman nonetheless.

Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals 토토사이트

Orlov may well belong in the “marquee names” tier of free agents, but given that he’ll be 32 when (or if) he hits free agency this summer, it seems more appropriate to put him in a tier below Gostisbehere.

That’s not meant as any slight to Orlov’s play or value, though. Although he’s acted somewhat in the shadow of John Carlson, one of the league’s most prolific offensive defensemen, Orlov has been a rock for Washington for an entire era of Capitals hockey.

The Russian blue liner has played in nearly 700 career games and is typically a slam-dunk bet to score around 30 points. Orlov pairs that valuable secondary scoring with the ability to weather difficult defensive minutes, making him a dream No. 2 defenseman.

This season, Orlov has put an injury behind him and resumed his high-end play. He’s helping the Capitals penalty kill rank inside the league’s top 10 and is scoring at a 36-point pace.

While his age may mean a massive long-term deal is ruled out for him, his stock is holding steady in advance of the expiration of his $5.1M AAV deal.

Vladislav Gavrikov, Columbus Blue Jackets

While the Blue Jackets have had a season to forget so far in 2022-23, Gavrikov has continued his strong play from last season and positioned himself at the forefront of the NHL’s trade rumor news cycle.

After scoring 33 points last season, Gavrikov’s offense is down this year. He’s on pace to score just 20 points, but that may not take a major bite out of his overall value.

Ever since it was announced that franchise blue liner Zach Werenski would miss the rest of the season due to injury, Gavrikov has been thrust into a significant role as the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 defenseman.

Gavrikov averages the third-most shorthanded ice time per game, and although the Blue Jackets have been one of the league’s worst teams, their penalty kill actually ranks in the middle of the pack leaguewide.

He’s a big, physical defenseman who has been pressed into extremely difficult minutes and has found success in those circumstances.

Defensemen who bring that kind of value to the table are in-demand leaguewide, and Gavrikov should be one of the top defensemen in the mix around the trade deadline.

A trade to a contender and a deep playoff run would do wonders for Gavrikov’s stock heading into free agency, just as the Canadiens’ run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final did wonders for Ben Chiarot’s leaguewide standing.

Even if that extensive playoff run doesn’t materialize, Gavrikov’s play in extremely challenging circumstances has raised his stock heading into free agency. Since he’ll be just 27 when he hits the open market, he could be in line to land a major contract.

Dmitry Kulikov, Anaheim Ducks

There are certain players across the NHL who are established, known commodities. When teams add these players to their rosters, they know with a strong degree of certainty what they’ll receive, and those players in turn have established track records of providing performances well within what could reasonably be expected of them.

Kulikov is one of those players. The journeyman blue liner is on his fifth team in four seasons and could add a sixth in that time frame should he get traded before the trade deadline. He arrived in Anaheim as part of an offseason trade, landing in Southern California in exchange for future considerations.

The Wild weren’t able to generate a significant trade market for Kulikov, as his $2.25M cap hit may have been a major obstacle in a flat-cap environment. Nonetheless, the fact that he was acquired for essentially nothing hasn’t stopped him from providing value to the Ducks, one of the league’s worst teams.

Kulikov’s offense isn’t his calling card, and his performance of nine points in 39 games underscores that notion. What Kulikov does provide is steady defensive play and minutes a coach doesn’t need to worry about.

He’s been a bit overmatched as an anchor of a penalty kill in Anaheim, as he’s averaging over three minutes per night on the league’s third-worst shorthanded unit. In a less significant role on a contending team, he should be able to thrive.

The fact that he was traded for future considerations on just a $2.25M cap hit doesn’t bode very well for his odds of earning a raise in the summer, but nonetheless, Kulikov’s stock is holding steady. He remains a safe investment for any team looking to reinforce its blue line.

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