2010 NHL free agency: Stars re-sign James Neal and Matt Niskanen for two years

jamesneal3.jpgThe final two restricted free agents left in the pool are now signed. The Dallas Stars announced the signings of forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to two-year contracts. Neal will make $5.75 million over the next two years while Niskanen will make $3 million. Neal’s cap hit comes to $2.875 million while Niskanen’s is a nice, neat $1.5 million per year.

With these signings, the Stars’ roster is set for training camp which opens tomorrow in Prince Edward Island, Canada. With everyone being squared away and no holdouts to occur during training camp we’re all left to wonder just one thing now: What in the world did we get all worked up about in the first place? Everyone who was having “issues” getting signed all got into camp on time. At the moment, no one is grumbling about their pay and everything will go back to normal as far as playing time and lines go.

For the Stars, Neal represents their hopes for the future as he’s a big scoring winger whereas Niskanen is coming off a rough season last year but still more than young enough to improve his game. Neal scored 27 goals last season, good for second on the team. His 55 points ranked him third on the Stars in scoring. Niskanen had three goals and 12 assists last season, a decided drop off after his 2008-2009 season that saw him earn six goals and 29 assists. 

Both players are 23 years-old so getting them under contract for the next two years to avoid the restricted free agency dance for a little while is helpful. While the Stars might struggle in a very difficult Pacific Division this year, this will be a big year for both Neal and Niskanen’s development.

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    Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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    After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

    Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

    Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

    It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

    Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

    Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

    No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

    Elsewhere on Sunday…

    — It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

    Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

    Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

    Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

    Wild’s struggles continue with OT loss to Red Wings

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    Well, the good news for the Minnesota Wild is Sunday’s game in Detroit wasn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as their game on Saturday. They were at least competitive in this and took the game to overtime to earn a point in the standings.

    The bad news is the result was pretty much the same — another loss in the standings.

    Thanks to Andreas Athanasiou‘s 17th goal of the season 1:52 into the overtime period, the Red Wings were 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon, sending the Wild to their 11th loss in 14 games this month.

    The game continues Minnesota’s late-season collapse that has seen the team lose its stranglehold on the Central Division and play some of its worst hockey of the season with the playoffs just around the corner. They have collected just seven out of a possible 28 points in the standings this month and still sit seven points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the division after Sunday. The Wild led the division by five points at the start of the month.

    As bad as another loss is, this was far from the Wild’s worst game during this recent stretch. They limited Detroit to just 19 shots on goal, they had their chances to win it. But at the end of the day nobody in Minnesota wants to hear that right now because it’s still a loss, and it still looks like a team that is struggling to find answers on the ice. Not really the type of thing you want to see at this time of year.

    Minnesota actually entered the third period with a 2-1 lead but let it slip away early in the period on a Tomas Tatar power play goal 55 seconds in. The Wild had their share of chances late in the game only to have Jimmy Howard make a couple of huge stops on Eric Staal and Jason Zucker in the final minute.

    Staal did score his 26th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.

    As for the Red Wings, the win is their fourth in their past six games (and the fifth with at least a point during that stretch) while Henrik Zetterberg continued his recent strong play recording another assist.

    Defenseman Mike Green also scored in the win.

    Coyotes agree to terms with first-round pick Keller on entry level deal

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    The Arizona Coyotes have agreed to terms with Clayton Keller, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, the team announced on Sunday.

    Keller is one of two first-round picks the Coyotes had in 2016, along with defenseman Jakob Chychrun who has been with the team all season.

    The plan for Keller at this point is to join the Coyotes and spend the remainder of the season with the club. Since the team only has seven games remaining on the schedule his presence with the team the rest of the way will not burn one of the years off of his entry level deal (since he is under the age of 19, he would need to play in nine games to lose one year of his entry level contract).

    “We are extremely pleased to sign Clayton to an entry level contract,” general manager John Chayka said in a statement released by the team. “Clayton is a highly skilled, dynamic forward. He is a strong skater who has a powerful shot and great hockey sense. We are excited to have him join our team and finish the regular season with the Coyotes.”

    After spending the previous two years playing for the U.S. National Development Team, Keller joined Boston University for the 2016-17 season and put together a huge season for the Terriers, leading the team in goals (21) and total points (45) even though he only played in 31 games.

    The Coyotes’ next game is in St. Louis on Monday night.

    Keller was born in Swansea, Illinois which is less than 20 miles from St. Louis, so the timing for his debut would be pretty perfect.

    Along with Chychrun, Dylan Strome and Max Domi, Keller is going to be one of the talented young players that is going to be key to the Coyotes’ rebuild.

    WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings

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    The Minnesota Wild are looking to snap out of their recent slump that has seen them stumble down the stretch run of the regular season.

    After getting embarrassed on home ice on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks they are back in action on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Red Wings. It is their last ever visit to Joe Louis Arena before the building closes at the end of this season.

    All of the action begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

    Follow all of the action there, or via our Live Stream.

    Click here for the Live Stream

    Preview: Wild look to bounce back from embarrassing loss