Around the rink: Wednesday, November 3rd

It’s the happiest of hump days when there’s nine games on the docket in the NHL. As always, all times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Boston @ Buffalo

It’s unknown as of yet if Ryan Miller will get the nod in goal for Buffalo, but the Sabres will get Jason Pominville back in the lineup. Meanwhile the Bruins roll into town on fire in goal with Tim Thomas leading the way with his 0.50 goals against average and three shutouts. The Bruins offense hasn’t been all that great, but do they need to be when no one can score against them? It could be a long night for the struggling Sabres.

Toronto @ Washington

The Leafs have remembered how to score after getting two goals in a loss to Ottawa last night, but having to go to Washington to deal with Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals may not be the thing that cures what ails them. Washington, meanwhile, is doing pretty well considering the relative offensive quiet coming from their big guns. Expect the Leafs to be without Dion Phaneuf after he left last night’s game with a cut on his leg that required stitches. Brett Lebda would likely take his spot in the lineup. Yikes.

NY Islanders @ Carolina

Two of the league’s more intriguing teams face off. Each of them have some issues scoring goals and occasionally keeping the puck out of the net, but they both play an intense brand of hockey with plenty of youth to show off. Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner… What’s not to like? All right, that’s as much as I can do to try to hype up this unassuming game.

7:30 pm

Atlanta @ Florida

Two of the builders of the Chicago Blackhawks Cup-winning team last year have their new teams face off. Thrashers GM Rick Dudley and Panthers GM Dale Tallon have their new crews do battle and right now, Atlanta is looking more like the team further along. Of course, Atlanta traded for half of the Blackhawks team that won it all last year so that makes sense. Which Tomas Vokoun shows up for Florida is the question. He’s been either lights out or getting ripped up. He’ll have to look out for Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien as both players have been hot of late.

8:30 pm

New Jersey @ Chicago

Speaking of Chicago, the current Hawks get to deal with the smoldering corpse of what used to be the New Jersey Devils. The Devils begin their three month tour of playing without Zach Parise who’s out of action after getting his torn meniscus operated on. The game is the last one on the Devils road trip and they’d like to end it on a high note. Doing that against a stingy Chicago team doesn’t look good.

Pittsburgh @ Dallas

Zbynek Michalek may suit up for Pittsburgh, meanwhile Evgeni Malkin’s status remains questionable. Will Marc-Andre Fleury get a shot in goal or will Brent Johnson get the nod once again? Lots of questions for the Pens. Meanwhile, Kari Lehtonen and the Stars get a chance to prove themselves against a high-profile team. A curious eye will be turned towards the attendance with Sidney Crosby in town and the World Series over with.

9:30 pm

Detroit @ Calgary

Jimmy Howard figures to get the start for Detroit. If not, look for Joey McDonald to get a surprise start for Detroit with Chris Osgood ailing. The Flames, meanwhile, will try to not give up six or more goals the way they have their last couple of times out. These two teams seem to bring out the best and worst of each other when they meet. Lots of potential here for a crazy game.

10:00 pm

Nashville @ Phoenix

This would’ve figured to be Matthew Lombardi’s first game back in Phoenix after spurning the Coyotes to sign with Nashville. Instead, he’s out of the lineup and the Preds are looking to bounce back after dropping their last two games. Phoenix is looking to bounce back after a bad home loss to Tampa that saw the Coyotes get shutout. Expect goal scoring to be tough for both teams with a pair of the league’s most underrated goalies getting the nod in Pekka Rinne and Ilya Bryzgalov.

Tampa Bay @ Anaheim

The Lightning will do their part to stay off of Ducks coach Randy Carlyle’s bad side. Considering the Red Wings and Sharks are already there, perhaps it’s OK to get there since that means you’re winning and beating the Ducks around the ice. The Ducks, on the other hand, have to learn to both play better and stay out of the box. When Ryan Getzlaf’s line is taking all the heat for the Ducks failings, you know things are rough.

Under Pressure: Tyler Johnson

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Tyler Johnson was such a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than a few people believed that he could ease the pain of possibly losing Steven Stamkos to free agency. He tied Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (72 points) and topped all Lightning players with 23 playoff points during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

The 2015-16 regular season was a bumpy one for Johnson … in some ways literally.

Painful year

Health was a major obstacle for Johnson, starting with the hangover from a wrist injury he suffered during Tampa Bay’s magic run.

Even afterward, there were moments of pain. Sometimes it came down to flat-out bad luck:

Other times, there were questionable hits:

It wasn’t until late in the regular season that Johnson seemed to feel himself, as he noted to the Tampa Bay Tribune.

“I feel I’ve got the speed back, got everything I can do,” Johnson said. “I’m actually mentally there, not worried about other things …”

Big commitments

He’ll have some things to worry about in 2016-17.

The Lightning handed out a ton of money this off-season, locking up Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy to lengthy deals. They still need to sort out a contract for Nikita Kucherov, a talented forward who rose while Johnson stumbled.

Fair or not, Johnson must prove that he’s a core member of the Lightning

He made a strong argument in his own favor once he was healthy, generating 17 points in 17 playoff games as the Lightning made it to within one game of another Stanley Cup Final appearance despite missing Stamkos.

Still, Johnson faces a fork in the road. Ben Bishop either needs a new deal or (most likely) a trade to a team that will make him “the guy.” Ondrej Palat likely won’t be the easiest player for Tampa Bay to re-sign, either.

Few players could gain or lose more money with one season of play than Tyler Johnson. He can prove that 2015-16 was derailed by bad luck or allow injury concerns to linger.

Millions are on the line, and those personal goals may very well help Johnson drive the Lightning to another deep run.

For all we know, he could also find himself driving out of town.

Bovada gives Canada best odds at 2016 World Cup of Hockey

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  (l-R) Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban #76 of Canada pose with the gold medals won during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s no secret that Canada’s been on a strong run at the international level, and it’s no surprise that they’re considered the favorites heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Seriously, just look at the B Team put together by The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy; even with the strange hook of having to go around the under-23 North American team, that group would be one of the top contenders if it existed.

The real fun is judging how Bovada’s odds fall with the other leading nations. Is Russia given too great a chance considering some recent struggles when facing the best of the best? Did that odd little under-23 team not get enough love?

Here are the odds Bovada released on Monday:

World Cup of Hockey 2016 Champion

Canada                         10/11

Russia                          9/2

Sweden                        5/1

USA                             13/2

Finland                         14/1

North America U23        16/1

Czech Republic             22/1

Team Europe                33/1

Interesting stuff.

Vegas confirms trademarks for Desert Knights, Golden Knights, Silver Knights

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  A general view of the Fabulous Las Vegas sign on Las Vegas Boulevard on March 24, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On Monday, a spokesman for the Las Vegas expansion team confirmed to NHL.com the group has trademarked a trio of potential nicknames — the Desert Knights, the Golden Knights and the Silver Knights.

The news comes on the heels of owner Bill Foley telling Yahoo “we’re kind of getting to the point where we’re almost there,” adding that he was “close” to naming the team.

More, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

Earlier this summer, Foley — a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy — said Vegas can’t use a straight-up ‘Knights’ nickname in Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

There was some thought to use the Black Knights moniker, which is what the teams at West Point use. But Foley said the name wasn’t popular among the fans.

He also added that the “Nighthawks” moniker is still reserved, and could be used.

Poll: Is Kucherov’s contract situation anything to be worried about?

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (32), of the Czech Republic, falls down on the puck in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…

“We continue to communicate with his representation, and we expect to have him under contract to start the season.”

That was what Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman told the Times back on July 27, in discussing the future of RFA forward Nikita Kucherov.

That was 33 days ago.

Since then, most — if not all — has gone silent on the Kucherov front. The 23-year-old, coming off career highs in goals (30) and points (66), remains unsigned with a bunch of key dates on the horizon.

The first few are mostly to do with the World Cup of Hockey. Kucherov will represent Russia in the tourney, with the Russians set to begin training camp on Sept. 5 — one week from now.

Their first exhibition game takes place on Sept. 8, against the Czechs, and they open tournament play on Sept. 18.

There are insurance policies in place to so unsigned RFAs can play in the World Cup, meaning Kucherov should be a go for the Russians. Other RFAs look as though they’re in a similar boat — Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba with Team North America, specifically — so it doesn’t feel like Tampa Bay needs to get Kucherov locked in ASAP.

But when?

That’s the big question.

Yzerman’s earned a reputation as a tough, unflinching negotiator. He stood firm during the Jonathan Drouin trade request saga, and remained steadfast with his contract offer to Steve Stamkos. In both instances, Yzerman “won” — Drouin rescinded his request and is now fully back in Tampa’s mix, while Stamkos eschewed going to free agency to ink a long-term deal with the Bolts.

Hence the intrigue around Kucherov.

Pundits have pointed to a pair of contracts — Filip Forsberg‘s six-year, $36 million extension and Nathan MacKinnon‘s seven-year, $44.1 million deal — as potential benchmarks for Kucherov. What we don’t know is where Yzerman is at.

We do know that Tampa Bay is in a cap crunch. Yzerman could alleviate some of the pressure by putting Ryan Callahan (hip) on LTIR to start the year, but that’s a temporary solution. Yzerman also has to be wary of the future, especially since the likes of Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will all need new deals next season.

So, we turn it over to you — is the Kucherov situation a concern? Or will it all get sorted out, as it so often does with Yzerman?