Tonight's games: Time to focus on the playoffs

The 2010 Winter Olympics allowed hockey to take center stage (at least for one day) but now it’s time to get back to business. With 24 teams returning to action, let’s take a look at each game beginning with the most intriguing match-ups.

Today’s Best

New Jersey Devils (37-21-3, 77 pts) at San Jose Sharks (40-13-9, 89 pts) – 10:30 PM ET

A staggering 13 players from the Sharks and Devils represented their countries in Vancouver. There won’t be much time for them to lick their wounds, though, because both teams hold paper-thin leads over their rivals.

Buffalo Sabres (33-18-9, 75 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-4, 76 pts) – 7:30 PM ET
Yes, it would have been sexier if we had the chance to see overtime gold medal winning goal (OTGMWG?) scorer Sidney Crosby play against USA goaltender Ryan Miller a mere two days after that thrilling game on Sunday. Still, with only one point separating Pittsburgh from Buffalo, both teams have plenty to play for.
Rest of the games after the jump


Montreal Canadiens (29-28-6, 64 pts) at Boston Bruins (27-22-11, 65 pts) – 7:00 PM ET


Montreal’s grasp on the 8th-seed is tenuous at best and slightly-more-comfortable Boston would like nothing more than to make life miserable for their eternal rivals.

Chicago Blackhawks (41-15-5, 87 pts) at New York Islanders (25-29-8, 58 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET

With nearly 30 points separating these teams, this is a true battle of  the “Haves” versus the “Have nots” …

Carolina Hurricanes (24-30-7, 55 pts) at Toronto Maple Leafs (19-31-11, 49 pts)  – 7:00 PM ET
… while this game basically pits the poor versus the homeless.
Florida Panthers (24-27-10, 58 pts) at Atlanta Thrashers (26-24-10, 62 pts)  7:00 PM ET

In the spirit of Wednesday’s trade deadline, we have the most demoralizing move of last year (Florida losing Jay Bouwmeester for nothing) against this year’s most depressing trade (Atlanta receiving peanuts for Ilya Kovalchuk). H-hooray?
Vancouver Canucks (37-22-2, 76 pts) at Columbus Blue Jackets (25-28-10, 60 pts)  7:00 PM ET

Obviously, the Canucks probably went home during the break but it’s way more fun to imagine the team on the road this entire time as if they’re in some Homer-like odyssey. Right?
New York Rangers (28-27-7, 63 pts) at Ottawa Senators  (36-23-4, 76 pts)   7:30 PM ET

Two of the most unlikely success stories in the NHL face each other in this one. The Senators are inexplicably on fire (8-2 in their last 10 games) while Glen Sather inexplicably made two good trades this season.
Philadelphia Flyers (32-25-3, 67 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-24-11, 63 pts)  7:30 PM ET

If the Flyers actually do land Dan Hamhuis, we might as well call Philadelphia “Nashville East.” Which, strangely enough, is one of the nicest things anyone ever said about the Flyers.
Edmonton Oilers (19-36-6, 44 pts) at Nashville Predators (33-23-5, 71 pts) – 8:00 PM ET
When you shoot the puck though the net like Shea Weber did, you can drink at my imaginary bar for free.
Los Angeles Kings (37-20-4, 78 pts) at Dallas Stars (28-21-12, 68 pts) – 8:30 PM ET

It’s kind of weird that Johnathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury received medals for doing nothing, sort of like when Tom Brady’s backup gets a Super Bowl ring for holding a clipboard. Can’t they get half medals or something?
St. Louis Blues (28-25-9, 65 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (37-21-5, 79 pts) – 9:00 PM ET

With the Coyotes seemingly poised to make an improbable run to the playoffs (and possibly, gulp, home ice for the first round), it’s pretty difficult to argue against  naming Dave Tippett coach of the year.

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    Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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    It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

    The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

    Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

    MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

    CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

    Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

    Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

    The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

    Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

    Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.

    Katie Bieksa enlists husband Kevin, other Ducks to promote book (shirtless)

    via Kevin Bieksa's Twitter feed
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    Katie Bieksa, wife of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, found herself in a bind after he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks. With extenuating circumstances keeping her from working normally, she wrote a novel … and decided to promote it in a brilliant way.

    AJ Manderichio of the Ducks website provided an in-depth look at Katie Bieksa’s experience writing “Newport Jane,” which Bieksa compares – in some ways – to “Desperate Housewives.”

    Which seems like a convenient segue to mention one way of hyping up the noveal: “Hot Guys Reading My Book” on Instagram.

    It started with Kevin, although Katie told Manderichio that it required some negotiating.

    “These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that’s where the idea came from,” Katie says. “There was someone – it may have been Kevin – who said ‘I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,’ and I said ‘Oh yes you are.’

    “When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They’ve all been so supportive, and that’s such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It’s so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture.”

    Good stuff.

    Kevin’s caption really sold it “Yes this is how I usually read.”

    As you can see on the Instagram feed, noted pest Ryan Kesler also “contributed,” but Andrew Cogliano‘s missing teeth stole the show.

    Here is part of the “Newport Jane” summary on Amazon, which in a just world would inspire people to call Kevin Bieksa “the cardiac surgeon.”

    From the outside, Ellen has it all: a glamorous new life in a sun-soaked city more like a movie set than the small Northern town where she grew up, and her very own McDreamy. But being married to a gorgeous, brilliant cardiac surgeon also means standing in his shadow, putting aside her dreams to follow his—and having way too much time home alone to think about how much she’s given up to follow him to California.

    Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a spin-off involving shirtless blogging.

    Flames hand Hathaway a two-way deal

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    The Calgary Flames signed forward Garnet Hathaway to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

    Hathaway, 25, earned some reps on the team despite being undrafted.

    Here’s how his NHL work looks so far:

    2015-16: three assists, 31 PIM in 14 games played.
    2016-17: one goal, four assists, 44 PIM in 26 GP.

    If the penalty minutes didn’t make it obvious, Hathaway is the “rugged” type. He’s already provided some snarly action shots against the Flames’ rivals, as you can see below and in this post’s main image.

    via Getty

    He clearly makes friends quickly.

    The Flames celebrated his first – and so far only – NHL goal after the signing.

    Penguins are ‘prepared to go to arbitration’ with Sheary, Dumoulin

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    Earlier today, PHT discussed how the Pittsburgh Penguins might take advantage of robust cap space to replace Nick Bonino. Of course, that cap space could really start to dry up depending upon how things go with RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.

    At the moment, both are heading toward salary arbitration hearings, with Dumoulin’s scheduled for July 24 while Sheary is slated for Aug. 4.

    Both situations are pretty tricky, so it’s not too surprising that GM Jim Rutherford admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the hearings will “probably” happen.

    “We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Rutherford said.

    There’s still time – especially for Sheary – yet both hearings could be especially interesting considering the variety of different ways you can break down their value.

    Dumoulin: strong defense, weak offense (so far)

    Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson and FanRag’s Dave Holcomb both went pretty deep on what Dumoulin might be worth, as did Matt Cane. The disparity is pretty interesting; Cane puts Dumoulin at about a $2.5 million value, Wilson proposes a five-year, $15M deal, and Holcomb wonders if Dumoulin could be worth as much as $5 million per season.

    Dumoulin’s reps might point to Olli Maatta as a handy comparable, although that comparison falls flat from simpler (i.e. Dumoulin not producing as much offense) and fancier perspectives. Sometimes it’s pretty plain to see HERO charts smiling upon one player more than the other.

    Still, both Dumoulin’s prominent use and his strong at-home work indicate that he’s worth a pretty penny, however many he’d receive.

    While he generated 16 and 15 points during the past two regular season runs, Dumoulin saw solid ice time in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. That was especially true during the playoffs, as he averaged 21:31 per night in the 2016 run and 21:59 TOI during this last postseason.

    Considering the waves of injuries the Penguins endured during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in particular, Dumoulin really showed his importance to the team.

    Now, will those details matter as much as weaker counting stats? We’d find out if Dumoulin’s hearing actually took place.

    Sheary’s sheer luck

    Somewhat amusingly, Conor Sheary is almost in the opposite situation.

    If you look at his simple stats, Sheary could argue for a pretty nice little raise.

    While his 2015-16 numbers are modest, he really took advantage of his time alongside Sidney Crosby this past season, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points … in just 61 regular-season games. That would be about 71 points over an 82-game span.

    His postseason numbers weren’t as great (seven points in 22 contests after 10 in the previous run), but one could imagine a solid argument made on the 25-year-old’s behalf considering that 23-goal output.

    Of course, the Crosby effect was significant. Sheary spent 697 of his 836 even-strength minutes with Crosby, while only spending 139 minutes without him last season. To his credit, Hockey Analysis’s numbers reveal that Sheary at least maintained decent possession numbers in those rare moments without number 87, but the sample size is too small to refute claims that Sheary was Jonathan Cheechoo to Crosby’s Joe Thornton.

    ***

    Ultimately, it’s tough to tell how much each player is worth, which might explain why arbitration hearings may just need to happen. Such hearings would be fascinating, though both the players and the Penguins would likely experience some serious nerves.