Around the Rink – Wednesday, November 24th

After such a quiet night last night, the NHL is back with a vengeance. 13 games are on tap tonight to make sure there’s something entertaining on TV while you’re out getting loaded up to ensure you’ve got a fantastic Thanksgiving hangover. Pass the gravy! All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ Buffalo

Ryan Miller and Craig River are no-go’s for Buffalo. That could mean trouble for the Sabres as the Pens come rolling into town on a three-game win streak and winners of five of their last six games.

Columbus @ NY Islanders

So, let’s see. Columbus is on fire and playing great. The Isles are in the midst of a 12-game losing streak and just sent Josh Bailey, one of their top forwards, down to the AHL. Columbus should win in a walk, right? Mmm, trap game.

Washington @ Carolina

The Caps have dropped their last three games and their previous two road games ended with 5-0 losses. It’d be a good time to turn things around, right? Carolina has lost four of their last five and their last two have come in the shootout. Something’s got to give here.

Detroit @ Atlanta

A pair of teams on winning streaks pair off in this one. Atlanta is coming off wins against Washington and the Islanders while Detroit is coming off their overtime comeback win against Calgary and winners of five out of their last six. The Wings get see Dustin Byfuglien once again while Alex Burmistrov will get to face off against his idol Pavel Datsyuk. It’s like the storyline for an episode of “Family Matters” or something.

7:30 pm

Los Angeles @ Montreal

Both teams are looking to bounce back after tough losses on Monday night and the players to watch in this one might just be the goalies. Carey Price has been nothing short of amazing for the Habs and Jonathan Bernier gets the nod for L.A. It’s a big deal for Bernier because he’s a Quebec native and will have plenty of family and friends in person to see him play.

Dallas @ Ottawa

Dallas is looking to put their ugly loss to Toronto behind them and going against an unassuming but tough Ottawa team might not be the solution they’re looking for. After dropping three straight ugly games, Ottawa’s win against L.A. made for a distinct change. That being they weren’t blown out. At least Brad Richards doesn’t have to worry about trade rumors to Ottawa… Right?

Calgary @ New Jersey

New Jersey is looking to get their first two-game win streak of the season. Yeah, it’s been that kind of year. Calgary, meanwhile, has played two tough games in a row against Detroit and the Rangers and dropping both in stomach-punch fashion. Henrik Karlsson will start in goal for Calgary so the Flames defense has to tighten things up for him. For the Devils, another dominating performance might get them going for the season.

NY Rangers @ Tampa Bay

Steve Stamkos mania will ramp up once again and with the Rangers in town, impressing the New York media might help continue the craze sweeping the league. We’re OK with that. Meanwhile, the Rangers are on a mini-roll of late winning their last two games. They’re playing tough hockey but trying to bust the Lightning’s four-game win streak will be tough to do.

Boston @ Florida

What will Nathan Horton do to get back at his old team this time? When these two met earlier this year, Horton had three assists in helping Milan Lucic’s hat trick in a 4-0 B’s win. The Panthers are seemingly stuck in this pattern of winning one game and losing the next. They can’t get a winning streak going, but they don’t get a losing streak either. Zen hockey? If the pattern holds, they’ll be celebrating a victory tonight.

8:00 pm

St. Louis @ Nashville

Barret Jackman makes his return for St. Louis and for the Blues, getting their defense back healthy will be a huge boost. Jaroslav Halak hasn’t needed the help all year, but lately getting some better work in front of him would help. The Blues are on a two game win streak but Nashville has been tough on them all year. The Preds are 2-1-0 against the Blues so far this year.

Philadelphia @ Minnesota

The Flyers hit the road and land in Minnesota to deal with the Wild. The key in this one for Philly will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Wild have the second best power play in the NHL and they play things a bit tougher at home. The Wild will send out Jose Theodore against the Flyers and in his career, he’s 14-8-1 against them. There’s your random stat for the day.

10:00 pm

Colorado @ Vancouver

The Canucks will honor former goalie Kirk McLean in their ring of honor in this one and Roberto Luongo could use the inspiration. Vancouver’s dropped four straight and having to deal with the speedy and tenacious Avalanche won’t help matters. The Avs, meanwhile, have won four in a row and are third in the league in scoring. Vancouver throwing out another stinker in this one could get fans pushing the panic button.

10:30 pm

Chicago @ San Jose

Antti Niemi will get the start for San Jose against his old team and while these two faced off in the Western Conference finals last year, obviously Chicago is a different team than they were then. San Jose would like to snap their three-game skid but with Chicago coming into town after thumping Vancouver on Monday, things might get scary. Big question: Do Chicago’s shooters have the book on how to beat Niemi the way they do Luongo?

Blackhawks adjust to returns of Saad, Sharp (and no Hossa, Panarin)

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The Chicago Blackhawks’ summer conventions are a time for fans to get a look at players, and sometimes, for people to get adjusted to new arrivals and departures.

Even with that in mind, that theme seemed to play a big role in Friday’s proceedings, as the Blackhawks wondered how Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp would fit back into the lineup … thanks to holes caused by Artemi Panarin being traded and Marian Hossa being unavailable.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville rattled off a long stream of possibilities, as CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers reports.

“You’ve got [Nick Schmaltz] who can play center or can play wing. [Artem Anisimov] in the middle, he can play with [Patrick Kane] so you’ve got some options there. With [Patrick Sharp] coming back and [Brandon Saad] coming back you’ve got some looks up front, some continuity from history and reacquainted again with [Jonathan Toews] and Saader on the the line,” Quenneville said. “And Sharpie and Kaner is a possibility.”

Yes, that’s a versatile set of options. It’s also plausible that Jonathan Toews could enjoy a nice boost with Brandon Saad back on his wing, yet let’s not assume that it’s a slam-dunk victory in everyone’s eyes.

Who knows how things will ultimately shake out, but at the moment, you wonder if Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov suffer a bit with Panarin out of the mix.

Still, as explosive as Kane + Panarin was at times for Chicago, they ultimately couldn’t get the job done. Kane acknowledged as much on Friday.

Can they do better next time around? Well, with Sharp and Saad back in the mix, at least they have more players who’ve cleared those playoff hurdles before.

Myers has more at CSN Chicago.

Red Wings’ cap future after Tatar signing: should they buy out Ericsson?

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In a vacuum, the Detroit Red Wings handing Tomas Tatar a four-season deal that carries a per-year cap hit of $5.3 million makes a lot of sense. Tatar ranks as one of their deadliest scorers, and at age 26, the contract likely takes up the final years of his prime.*

Still, it must be mentioned that Tatar’s contract reminds us that the Red Wings may no longer stand as an obvious contender, yet they sure spend like one.

Yes, Johan Franzen‘s near-$4 million will go to LTIR, but this Cap Friendly reading still stands as a reminder that there isn’t much breathing room, especially with Andreas Athanasiou needing a contract. Detroit figures to have a little less than $1 million minus Franzen:

OK, so there are a few options. Winging it in Motown brings up an intriguing idea: what if the Red Wings buy out defenseman Jonathan Ericsson‘s contract?

They used Cap Friendly’s tool to show that a cap hit of $4.25 million would be spread out over six seasons in this setup. Each year, the actual cost would be a bit less than $1.39 million.

The bright side is that, for the next two seasons, the Red Wings would see real savings:

2017-18: save $2.61 million
2018-19: save $2.86 million
2019-20: save $2.86 million
2020-21 and 2021-22: would cost them about $1.39 million

Naturally, that would be quite the price to pay to get a player to not play for the Red Wings, yet it would also help Detroit squeeze under the cap. More on that conundrum here.

Let’s leaf through most of the Red Wings’ structure to see which deals are good, bad, and ugly.

(Note: As usual, Cap Friendly was highly helpful in putting this together.)

Dicey defense

  • Obviously, Ericsson’s health issues and struggles make him a tough guy to keep around at 33 and with a $4.25M. He’s merely the most obvious defensemen who’s an issue for this team.
  • Mike Green presents an interesting situation. He still has his use, yet at 31 and with his $6 million cap hit to expire after next season, the Red Wings must ponder his future. If they don’t want him back, could they send him somewhere else, whether that be now or in-season? Salary retention would likely need to be a consideration, especially if they wanted to move him earlier. That said, their already dicey defense would experience a painful loss if they traded Green.
  • Danny DeKeyser‘s $5 million cap hit through 2021-22 would be very difficult to move. At least he has … some proponents in the organization?
  • Niklas Kronwall‘s been a great solider for DRW, and the positive news is that his $4.75 million cap hit will evaporate after two seasons. Much like Ericsson, health is really hampering what he can do in the present, though.
  • Trevor Daley was just signed this summer. While he brings some strengths to the table, you have to wonder if the 33-year-old will slip enough that the $3.16 million could be an annoyance rather soon.

Forwards

  • Tatar ($5.3 million) becomes the second-highest-paid Red Wings forward behind Henrik Zetterberg, who makes just over $6 million. Zetterberg quietly enjoyed a strong 2016-17, and you can bet that he delivered at far higher a value than $6 million through the earlier years of his contract. Still, he’s 36 and that cap hit runs through 2020-21, the same year Tatar’s ends. Not ideal.
  • That Franzen headache expires after 2019-20.
  • Frans Nielsen is a nice player, and he had a strong debut season for Detroit. Still, he’s somehow already 33 and his $5.25 million cap hit won’t expire until after 2021-22. One would think that, if the Red Wings wanted to move him, now would be one of the better times since his value is probably still reasonably high. Of course, savvy teams will balk at that term. Maybe, like DeKeyser and some other players, the Red Wings would need to move a “problem” (Nielsen’s term) for some other team’s issue.
  • Moving on, there are bit players getting too much. Justin Abdelkader‘s term (2022-23) and $4.25M cap hit give off an albatross vibe. Darren Helm, already 30, at $3.85M per year seems shaky. Even Luke Glendening‘s reasonable but maybe unnecessary $1.8M cap hit argues that Red Wings management might be overvaluing supporting cast members.
  • Then you have young players who may cost more soon. Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha could see big jumps with breakthrough contract years as their ELC’s expire. Will Athanasiou be on a shrot deal, too?

Goalies

The netminder situation is pretty cloudy as well.

Jimmy Howard‘s contract is worrisome, although at least that $5.3M only runs through two more seasons. Petr Mrazek‘s a baffling situation, though maybe a team would take him from Detroit if the Red Wings retained some of that $4M? Would that even be a smart move considering Mrazek’s still-considerable potential?

***

Yikes, that entire outlook is almost entirely dismal. It’s not easy to say what the Red Wings should do next, especially if you’re not in the “blow it all up” camp.

(Note: Ken Holland doesn’t seem to be in the “blow it all up” camp.)

* – Of course, he could defy the general odds by having a longer run of prime years.

Marcus Foligno aims for 20 goals in first season with Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Marcus Foligno has left the leap behind in Buffalo.

That doesn’t mean his offensive production can’t or won’t continue to rise in Minnesota.

Coming off a career-high 13 goals for the Sabres last season, the 25-year-old was acquired by the Wild to bring some needed grit and strength to the left wing position on the third or fourth line. He’s capable of putting the puck in the net, too, though he has so far been more of a sporadic scorer in the NHL.

“Definitely, 20 goals is something I envision myself to reach, and I hope to do that in a Wild jersey,” Foligno said. “Playing with some big centermen, playing on a well-rounded team, I think I can do that. I felt last year that my offensive side was getting there, and I’m looking to improve on that this season.”

Foligno was acquired with right wing Tyler Ennis and a third-round draft pick next year from the Sabres for right wing Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella, the only significant move made by the Wild this summer. General manager Chuck Fletcher said the day the deal was done he’d been pursuing the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Foligno for two years.

Foligno had his inconsistencies during five-plus seasons in Buffalo, but his 2016-17 performance was promising. He played in a career-most 80 games, with a minus-1 rating and 73 penalty minutes.

“It’s great for the confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Foligno said on Friday, his first appearance in Minnesota since the swap. “You’ve got to realize that Buffalo traded you, but you’re going to a team that really, really wants you and wants you to succeed. I’m put in a great position now.”

Foligno’s family is a small hockey factory . His older brother, Nick, is a 10-year veteran of the league and captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. His father, Mike, tallied 247 goals over 15 seasons in the NHL, including a full decade with the Sabres. His goal celebration was a two-legged leap straight up in the air from the ice, a signature move that Foligno adopted once he arrived in the league in the same city where his dad’s career took off.

The next time Foligno scores a goal, however, he’ll settle for a simpler move.

“I’ve just got to put the puck in the net and put my hands up. That’s how I’ve got to make sure I do it,” Foligno said. “If I do that 20 times, it’s a good thing.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Flames ink first-rounder Juuso Valimaki to rookie contract

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The Calgary Flames signed Finnish defenseman Jusso Valimaki to a three-year, entry-level contract on Friday.

Valimaki, 18, was the 16th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was selected in that spot after a nice year with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, scoring 61 points in 60 regular-season games and then added an assist in four playoff contests. He also played for the Tri-City Americans in 2015-16, putting up 32 points in 56 games.

Apparently he’s capable of at least one nifty shootout move, too:

People are pondering how Valimaki may fit into the Flames at the end of a three-year window Johnny Gaudreau recently cited. That seems a little far-reaching, although this nugget makes you wonder if Calgary might want to drag a little extra value out of his rookie deal:

Interesting. Either way, the Flames locked up a future piece, whether he can make an NHL impact sooner or later.