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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    NHL Playoff Push: Another huge day ahead for Western Conference race


    Entering play on Sunday there are six teams in the Western Conference that fighting for three playoff spots (the third spot in the Pacific Division, both Wild Cards). Those teams are all separated by just four points.

    Five of those teams are in action on Sunday.

    First, here is a look at how the standings look entering the day.

    The Kings lost on Saturday to New Jersey and failed to gain any ground on the rest of the pack, while the Blues were able to get a huge win against the New York Rangers and set up another big game for them on Sunday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks. You can catch that game on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

    On Sunday the Avalanche are hosting a Detroit team that is just circling the drain down the stretch and have a great opportunity to pick up two more huge points. The other Wild Card team at the moment, Dallas, is trending in the wrong direction down the stretch having won just five of their past 16 games. They are in Winnipeg on Sunday to play a Jets team that has one of the most powerful offenses in the league.

    The Ducks, meanwhile, who can climb into the third spot in the Pacific Division with a point on Sunday, are hosing the Devils team that knocked off the Kings on Saturday.

    The other team in that mix is Calgary. The Flames are the team that probably have the longest odds in this group, sitting four points back with all of the aforementioned teams sitting ahead of them. They are in Vegas to take on one of the best home teams in the league this season. The Flames, for what it is worth, have been one of the absolute best road teams. Given the standings and deficit they are facing the Flames have almost no margin for error the rest of the way.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    In the East, New Jersey has a chance to to move up a couple of spots in the standings with a win and some help.

    A Devils win in Anaheim, combined with a Flyers loss to the Washington Capitals, would put the Devils into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Even if the Flyers win and maintain their hold on the No. 3 spot in the Metro the Devils could still leapfrog the Blue Jackets for the first Wild Card spot.

    The other game in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with playoff implications is Tampa Bay hosting the Edmonton Oilers.

    The Lightning have seen its lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle down to just two points after losing to the Boston  Bruins on Saturday night while the Bruins still have a game in hand. The Lightning could reclaim that four point lead with a win. The Oilers have been playing a bit better as of late, thanks almost entirely to Connor McDavid making a late season push for the scoring title.

    If The Playoffs Started Today

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

    Sunday’s Key Games

    Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
    Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 4 p.m. ET
    Edmonton Oilers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 p.m. ET
    Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 5 p.m. ET
    St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
    Dallas Stars vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m ET
    New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to continue playoff push against Blackhawks

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    NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

    The St. Louis Blues are one of the many teams in the middle of the free-for-all playoff race that is the Western Conference and are in desperate need of wins. They got a huge one on Saturday night by defeating the New York Rangers in overtime, and now they need to come back 24 hours later and try to get another one when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The only downside to Saturday’s win is that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko left the game due to an injury.

    His status for Sunday is uncertain at this point, but it would obviously be a pretty significant blow to the Blues’ lineup if he is unable to go.

    He is the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) and is second in total points with 57, trailing only the 59 that Brayden Schenn has.

    The Blues enter the day three points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and have a chance to pick up a couple of more points in that race if they can knock off a Blackhawks team that is, if we are being completely honest, going in the tank down the stretch.

    After losing to Buffalo on Saturday the Blackhawks are just 8-18-2 in their past 28 games.

    This is one of three games that the Blues have remaining with the Blackhawks down the stretch.

    St. Louis has been through a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks recently. It is a stretch that included a pretty significant collapse in the standings, a major trade (Paul Stastny), and some significant injuries. But they are still alive in the playoff race, barely, thanks to wins in three of their past four games.

    They desperately need another one on Sunday night.


    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    The Buzzer: Shutouts for three, Dubnyk gets win No. 200

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    Players of the Night:

    Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils and Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do we begin on the night of the shutout? Rask didn’t have a particularly busy night making 23 saves, but when you’re facing names like Kucherov and Stamkos, it’s always dangerous. Still, Rask kept rolling along. He is 27-3-2 in his past 32 starts. That’s just silly. … Kinkaid, meanwhile stopped 38 — including 19 in the first period — in a 3-0 win against the Kings for his fourth career shutout. … No Frederik Andersen for Toronto? No problem. McElhinney stepped in and pitched a 33-save performance as the Leafs down the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.

    Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The Blues defenseman scored twice in regulation and then assisted on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime winner to cap off a three-point night.

    Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While he didn’t get a shutout, Dubnyk did stop 30 of 31 en route to his 200th career NHL win. The win was also important for the Wild, who moved to within five points of the Winnipeg Jets for second place in the Central Division, and moved five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for third place.

    Highlights of the Night:

    Filthy pass:

    First-goal celebrations are always the best:

    Voracek with a slick move in front:

    Save of the year candidate:

    Factoids of the Night:

    Home is where the wins are:

    A legend passes a legend:

    Believe in McJesus:

    Scary Scenes of the Night:


    Sabres 5, Blackhawks 3

    Oilers 4, Panthers 2

    Devils 3, Kings 0

    Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 0

    Bruins 3, Lightning 0

    Flyers 4, Hurricanes 2

    Blue Jackets 2, Senators 1

    Blue 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

    Wild 3, Coyotes 1

    Sharks 5, Canucks 3

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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    We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

    Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

    Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

    Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

    Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

    He did not return to the game.

    If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck