Around the rink – Saturday, November 13th

There’s far too much going on tonight to be really witty. As always, all times listed are Eastern because that was our favorite failed airline.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Boston

After winning four of their last five, Ottawa starts a four-game road trip in Boston against Tim Thomas, a guy who has owned them throughout his career. Thomas is 17-7-2 in his career against the Sens with a 2.02 goal against average. Ottawa could stand to see their offense continue to improve. During their stretch of success in their last five games they’re averaging over three goals a game.

Washington @ Buffalo

The Sabres are on a roll of late and their reward for that is facing the best team in the league. The Sabres have five points in their last three games, meanwhile the Caps and Alex Semin come roaring into Buffalo with a 12-4-0 record and the top scoring offense in the NHL. Semin leads the way with 11 goals and has been an offensive revelation making teams forget a bit about Alex Ovechkin the goal scorer. Meanwhile, Ovi leads the team with 12 assists and leads in scoring with 21 points.  For Buffalo, look for Ryan Miller to get the nod tonight for the first time since late October. They’ll need him to be in top form to stop the flying circus of offense from Washington.

Vancouver @ Toronto

Think there’s any pressure on Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri? After being called up from the AHL yesterday, the 2009 first round pick gets to make his debut on home ice on Hockey Night In Canada against gold medal winner Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. The Leafs are in desperate need of offense and Kadri’s been producing that of late in the AHL. No pressure, kid. Meanwhile, the Canucks continue their tour of eastern Canada looking to build off their stomping of the Senators the other night. This one could turn out to be special for Kadri and the Leafs or continue pouring gasoline on the speculation over Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s job security.

Carolina @ Montreal

The first place Canadiens welcome the Hurricanes to town fresh off of a 8-1 thumping at the hands of the Flyers. Meanwhile, the Habs are riding high after back-to-back wins over the Canucks and Bruins. The Habs are doing it with defense and after all the preseason speculation over Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, it appears that Price has settled in just fine and many Habs fans are happy to just stop talking about Halak from now on. Do the Hurricanes that won 7-1 or lost 8-1 show up tonight for the Habs to deal with? We shall see.

Florida @ Philadelphia

Florida will be without Steve Bernier after catching a butt-end in the face from Minnesota’s Brent Burns last night in their 2-1 win over the Wild. In his place, enforcer Darcy Hordichuk gets the call and it’s convenient considering the ever-forceful Flyers are the opponent. The Flyers, meanwhile, are winners of eight of their last nine games and have Sergei Bobrovsky and Claude Giroux to thank for that.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta

The Penguins look to keep things rolling after a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay last night. Marc-Andre Fleury redeemed himself for at least one night. Ondrej Pavelec gets the nod against the Pens and his history against them is a bit dubious. In his career, he’s 0-4-0 with a 5.22 goals against and just an .843 save percentage. Considering how shaky Atlanta’s defense and goaltending have been of late, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be putting on a show for the Atlanta fans tonight.

Colorado @ Detroit

An old rivalry renewed it’s not, so let’s put that to bed right now. Still, these two get together to play some exciting games of late. The Avs continue to do well despite all their injuries, including a 5-1 spanking of the Blue Jackets last night. Meanwhile, quietly, Detroit is having a very solid season. Jimmy Howard is playing well and the stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are producing in a big way for the Wings. This game shapes up to be like a movie script with the young, plucky upstarts going against the veteran machine of a team. Whether it plays out like Hollywood would dictate remains to be seen.

8:00 pm

Chicago @ Nashville

The Predators get a big boost tonight with the return of defensemen Ryan Suter and Alexander Sulzer. With Suter back, the steadiness of the Preds blue line becomes even more improved. With Pekka Rinne in goal, tonight’s Preds lineup gets a bit closer to looking the way it should which means potentially big headaches for the middling Blackhawks. The Hawks have been inconsistent of late and while there have been flashes of brilliance, it’s not quite the same. With Dave Bolland back in the lineup for Chicago, they’ll have at least one more top producer out there and a key factor on special teams.

St. Louis @ Phoenix

We’ll say this right now to get it out of the way: If Vernon Fiddler strikes back with another hat trick tonight we’ll be stunned. One Fiddler hat trick last night was enough to throw the universe into disarray and having another one would have us questioning mankind. Meanwhile, the Blues M.A.S.H. unit rolls into town without David Perron once again and now without T.J. Oshie as well as a host of starting defenseman. Yet still they’re tied with Detroit atop the Central Division. Jaroslav Halak has to be some kind of miracle worker, right?

10:00 pm

Calgary @ San Jose

The Flames roll into San Jose coming off a bad loss to the Coyotes last night. Sure, the final was 5-4 but it wasn’t actually that close. The Flames could stand to get those goals a bit sooner in the game and put the pressure on the opponents for once. Meanwhile, the Sharks are looking like they’ll roll out Antti Niemi in goal tonight and they’re looking to get things right. They’ve won two of their last three games, sure, but they’ve yet to look like the world beaters they’re expected to be. Thumping on an inconsistent Flames team will help them out as they’ve got a date with the Kings after this.

10:30 pm

NY Islanders @ Los Angeles

Speaking of the Kings, could they be looking at a trap game against the hapless Isles? Sure, the Isles have lost eight in a row, but they’re not losing games by a wide margin. They’ve looked tight but at least defensively responsible in their last three losses to the Flyers, Ducks, and Sharks. With the Kings slated to have a game with San Jose up next, the possibility for getting caught looking ahead is there and real. If the Kings fall asleep at the wheel in this one, the Isles might be able to break that streak.

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

They didn’t come cheap.

Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

Then, the playoffs happened.

Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

More to follow…

 

Report: Vegas among teams in on Pens draftee Byron

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Will Butcher isn’t the only college free agent garnering interest in free agency.

University of Maine senior Blaine Byron, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in ’13, has passed on signing with the club and can now ink with a team of his choosing. Per The Hockey News, the four “lead suitors” for Byron are Vegas, New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo.

Byron, 22, is coming off a great year. He racked up 18 goals and 41 points in 36 games, finishing tied for 18th in the country in scoring. It’s unclear where he would’ve fit in the Pittsburgh organization, though, and one has to think the signing of Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese might’ve played a factor in his departure.

In a recent Tribune-Review piece, Byron did make a list of the club’s top-20 prospects, coming in at No. 17.

Yesterday, Butcher — the reigning Hobey Baker winner — announced that he wouldn’t sign with Colorado, the team that drafted him four years ago. Instead, Butcher will parlay a successful senior campaign at Denver University into interest on the open market.

Under Pressure: Barry Trotz

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This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.

Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.

A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.

Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

But MacLellan didn’t offer an extension, either.

Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.

“No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.

“I’m not worrying about that at all.”

This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.

Defiant, almost.

Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”

The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?

From the Washington Post:

“Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.

“I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

“That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”

That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.

So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?

Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.

Fun times in Washington. As they always are.