Around the rink – Saturday, December 4th

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Know how I can ruin your Saturday? You’ve only got three weeks until Christmas and I know you’re not done shopping yet.  Know how I can make your Saturday better? I can tell you that there are 12 games on the schedule today and that the first one drops the puck at 1:00 this afternoon. A full day of hockey? You bet your gingerbread house there is. All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

New Jersey @ Philadelphia

Philly is going to be looking for a bit of redemption in this one after dropping their last meeting against the Devils in a shootout. The Devils, meanwhile, are still trying to get things right and coming off a 5-1 loss to Montreal the other night, getting that kind of sting to heal could be made worse by having to deal with the Flyers. Martin Brodeur is still out for New Jersey and Ilya Kovalchuk is still not scoring. The Flyers, meanwhile, are looking to snap a three-game skid of their own. Something’s got to give.

2:00 pm

San Jose @ Montreal

Hockey Day in Canada? You got it. An afternoon tilt between the strong Habs and the on-again, off-again Sharks. San Jose comes into the game after thumping Ottawa 4-0 the other night. Montreal is riding high after delivering a sound beating to the Devils. If both teams are on top of their games, it should make for a great matinee in Montreal.

7:00 pm

Boston @ Toronto

If the Maple Leafs want to do their part to save head coach Ron Wilson’s job, beating Boston at home would be a good way to do it. The Leafs have struggled with Boston and Phil Kessel has been a non-factor in virtually every meeting between the two teams since he was acquired from Boston. With Toronto having lost four straight, dealing with the Bruins who have won two in a row including an 8-1 thrashing of Tampa Bay doesn’t sound like a good mix. Things could get ugly here.

Buffalo @ Ottawa

Buffalo gets a big win over Columbus last night after having nearly a week off. Their reward is getting to play back-to-back nights with the second coming against a team they struggle mightily with in Ottawa. If Buffalo is back, beating the Sens in Ottawa would make for a heck of a sign. Ottawa, meanwhile, needs to get things going especially after their brutal no-show against Dany Heatley and the Sharks on Thursday.

Atlanta @ Washington

The team in charge of the Southeast Division gets to deal with the upstart youngsters once again. The Thrashers and Caps have already met four times. The Caps are 2-2-0 against the Thrashers this year, but in their last meeting Atlanta mopped the floor with them 5-0 with Ondrej Pavelec getting the shutout. These teams play just six times this year and the schedule makers being funny like that are making sure they get all their games out of the way now. Their final meeting will come just before the All-Star break in late January. Look for the Caps to be angry after getting a bit hosed by the referees in their previous game in Dallas.

Pittsburgh @ Columbus

What’s Columbus’ reward for getting thumped by Buffalo?  A home game against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Worse yet, the game will be a virtually home game for the Penguins as fans from western Pennsylvania have no qualms about making the trip to Ohio to take over Nationwide Arena. It’s bad timing for the Jackets as they’ve dropped three straight. Meanwhile, the Penguins are winners of eight in a row. Some might say it’s a recipe for disaster for Columbus, but this has all the makings of a trap game for the Pens. This one could be a lot more interesting than it seems at first glance.

7:30 pm

Colorado @ Tampa Bay

Colorado got off to a bad start on their road trip dropping a game in overtime to Carolina last night. They’ll get to deal with a Lightning team looking to redeem themselves after an 8-1 beat down by Boston on Thursday night. Tampa has lost three of their last four games and the reason for them falling off has been goaltending. The Lightning are 29th in goals allowed this year. Colorado being one of the better scoring teams in the league will look to get back on track after only getting one goal last night.

8:00 pm

Carolina @ Nashville

Life without Pekka Rinne for the next 2-4 weeks starts for Nashville and it couldn’t come at a worse time for the Preds as Rinne had been playing great. Now it’ll be up to Anders Lindback to try and keep the Hurricanes at bay. The Canes will prove to be a tough opponent as while the wins have been inconsistent for Carolina, their games have been close. Expect a tight-knit affair here.

Minnesota @ Dallas

Minnesota comes in after losing a tough one against Calgary last night and they’ll look to turn around their fortune in Dallas. The Wild have a miserable record in Dallas as the Stars are 14-2-2 against the Wild in Texas. Yikes. Dallas will want to keep their eyes focused on Martin Havlat who has been carrying the bulk of the Wild offense of late notching 16 points in his last 11 games.

Florida @ Phoenix

The Panthers come into this one losers of five of their last six games and the Coyotes will be looking to pick up after their last game, a 4-2 win over Minnesota. Florida over that span of six games have allowed 20 goals, an average better than three per game. Tomas Vokoun and the Panthers defense will have to tighten things up if they want to have a shot to win. For what it’s worth, their offense hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been consistent at all.

10:00 pm

St. Louis @ Edmonton

Can the Oilers keep it going? They went 3-0-0 on their tour of eastern Canada and now they return home with renewed confidence. Getting to face off with the slumping Blues could help them keep rolling. The Blues are losers of four in a row but the rest they’ve had the last few days could be the thing they needed. The Blues looked a bit gassed in their 4-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. If the Blues are going to compete though, they’ll need goals. During their four game skid, the Blues have scored nine goals, five of which came in a 7-5 loss to Chicago.

10:30 pm

Detroit @ Los Angeles

The slumping Kings get to deal with a Wings team that is just on a roll. The Kings are 2-7-0 in their last nine games while Detroit has won four straight. Potentially working in the Kings favor in this one is who they’ll face in goal. Chris Osgood is back from injury and will make the start. Osgood has gone back to being inconsistent this year and if the Kings are looking for a means to shake off the cobwebs, perhaps getting a shaky and rusty Osgood will help matters.

Report: Avalanche will soon have AHL affiliate in Colorado

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There are upgrades that improve teams in dramatic ways, and then there are moves that improve quality of life.

Mike Chambers of The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche will make a tweak that would likely be a big plus in the quality of life category: starting in 2018-19, the Colorado Eagles will be their AHL affiliate. The Eagles will be bumped from an ECHL team to the AHL.

At the moment, the Avs’ affiliate is the San Antonio Rampage (pictured). So, yeah, there will be a nice advantage in a) calling players up and b) management having more opportunities to keep an eye on prospects.

The Budweiser Events Center is about a one-hour drive to the Pepsi Center according to Google Maps, depending upon traffic. So yeah, that’s an easier situation than traveling from Texas.

The Avalanche haven’t made this news official; Chambers cites two anonymous sources. With the change coming for 2018-19, it’s possible that confirmation might not come for a while. More from Chambers:

The Avs, citing their contract with the Rampage, declined comment, but vice president Jean Martineau confirmed the team’s contract with San Antonio ends after the 2017-18 season. Eagles general manager Chris Stewart could not be reached for comment.

Will Rangers fans warm up to Vigneault this season?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

From the way many New York Rangers fans discuss Alain Vigneault, you’d think he was presiding over the era of 1997-98 to 2003-04, when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

Impressive results

From a sheer win-loss standpoint, Vigneault’s been a success, even if the Rangers haven’t been able to win it all. The Rangers’ points percentage has been at .628, almost as strong as his .632 mark with the Canucks, when AV took Vancouver within one win of that elusive Stanley Cup title.

(Breaking: things haven’t gone so smoothly for Vancouver since he left town.)

The Rangers are 192-108-28 under Vigneault. They made an unexpected run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and also brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Plenty of critics

Of course, Vigneault wasn’t on the ice winning those games, and many would (understandably) attribute the Rangers’ successes to the players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist. In the eyes of many, this team’s successes come despite Vigneault.

Again, the criticisms are often as harsh as they are widespread.

Sometimes people find his defensive pairing decisions maddening. If you want to make some Rangers fans wince, just utter the name Tanner Glass. SBNation Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter provides a portal into such angst, with headlines like “Rangers demise started at the top” and failing grades for his playoff maneuvering.

Twitter can honestly get a little weird with the AV vitriol, although … maybe that’s to be expected? Consider this a random example that’s on the more, well, SFW spectrum:

Not everyone is bashing Vigneault, mind you, but his critics can sometimes resemble a chorus.

Glass floor

Of course, any passionate fan base will have its qualms with coaches. People have been discussing “the pros and cons of Alain Vigneault” for ages.

It’s easy to get caught up in your favorite team and ignore the notion that virtually every coach has “their guys.”

In this case, “their guys” means marginal players whose elevated roles leaves fans shaking their heads. Jon Cooper seemingly favored Andrej Sustr and arguably never really trusted Jonathan Drouin. Maple Leafs fans weren’t always thrilled to see, say, Roman Polak getting serious minutes. The list goes on and on.

A turning point?

With that in mind, the 2017-18 season could be an especially fascinating chapter in the love-hate affair between Rangers fans and Vigneault.

Frankly, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took measures to protect Vigneault from himself, and those changes might just leave fans begrudgingly agreeing with more AV moves than usual … or it might send some over the edge if old habits die hard.

As much as people criticize individual moves, Vigneault made a strong argument that he’s a versatile coach in 2016-17, taking a more modern approach with the Rangers. It mostly worked, and now this team has better tools to improve their transition game.

To an extent, it’s addition by subtraction, as Dan Girardi‘s time mercifully ends, and with it the motivation for AV to give him big minutes. This opens the door for more mobile defenders to get time, such as promising young blueliner Brady Skjei.

The actual additions are most important. Kevin Shattenkirk stands, on paper, as a massive upgrade, especially if he slides into a pairing with Ryan McDonagh (who some believe has been dragged down by Girardi for years).

Another key will be how Marc Staal is used. If the emphasis shifts from Staal to Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei, Brendan Smith and maybe even Anthony DeAngelo, stats-minded Rangers fans might be pleased.

Maybe most importantly for the mental health of some fans, that lure to put Glass in the lineup is also gone.

***

To some extent, criticisms are just the nature of the beast for coaches in professional sports. Vigneault’s been around long enough to realize that.

Even so, the highs and lows of Vigneault can sometimes be quite dramatic, making him a polarizing subject for fans. This season should be especially interesting to watch from the perspective of Rangers fans, whether AV makes changes or continues to frustrate them in familiar ways.

Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has indeed done a great job managing the team’s salary structure. In that context, it might be tough to justify the idea of extending an aging power forward who will be 34 when his current deal expires next summer.

There are more than a few people who believe that the Rangers would be wise to bring Rick Nash back, however. Just recently, Josh Lipman made such an argument for Fansided and a similar thought surfaced from Jackson Heil of The Hockey Writers.

Of course, wherever Nash goes, he figures to see a decrease in pay – maybe a drastic drop – from the $7.8 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

For Nash, it’s a fork in the road during what’s been a somewhat odd career.

Nash is closing in on 500 career goals, as the winger already produced 416 in 989 regular-season games. He’s become quite the specialist in New York, scoring 127 goals vs. 97 assists in 315 contests with the Rangers.

On those playoff questions

As Rangers fans likely know too well, there have been some playoff headaches.

It’s wrong to say that Nash has never enjoyed postseason success. In 19 games during their 2015 run, he managed 14 points. He also had four points in what was otherwise a miserable five-game series for the Rangers against the Penguins in 2016.

His strange run of bad luck resurfaced this past postseason, so for all we know, Nash might not ever fully silence critics regarding his supposed lack of “clutch play.”

Best option available?

When people picture Nash’s future, many envision him hitting the free agent market in 2018.

The Rangers might not be so wise to outright dismiss bringing Nash back, though. New York boasts some nice forwards, but it’s plausible that Nash could remain one of their most reliable snipers, even at an advanced age. Lipman points out that Nash easily outclasses other Rangers during his time with the team from a sniping perspective; while he generated 127 goals during that time, the second-most prolific scorer was Derek Stepan, who only managed 90.

It’s worth noting that, despite being limited to 67 regular-season games in 2016-17, Nash still scored 23 goals. Nash generated 42 goals as recently as 2014-15, which was one of his only healthy campaigns with the Rangers.

Now, it’s rarely safe to assume that a player will become more durable as he ages, so that’s another concern to consider.

Still, if the price is reasonable, Nash brings a lot to the table.

The 2017-18 season stands as a year that could have a huge impact on Nash’s future. The Rangers should at least keep an open mind about being a part of his future beyond this next season.

Butcher not seeking guaranteed NHL roster spot

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Even with numerous suitors lining up to try and sign him, Will Butcher isn’t making any unreasonable demands as a free agent.

Case in point, the 22-year-old defensemen — the same guy who just won the Hobey Baker Award after a terrific senior year at the University of Denver — isn’t saying he needs to play in the NHL next season.

“What ends up winning the day, I’m not sure,” Butcher’s agent, Brain Bartlett, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we have not told teams that if you don’t have an NHL spot for him in training camp, don’t bother even calling. It’s quite the opposite.”

Perhaps Butcher is using Justin Schultz‘s experience in Edmonton as a guide. Schultz, a highly sought-after college free agent in the summer of 2012, was thrown right into the deep end with the Oilers, and only the Pittsburgh Penguins could save him from drowning.

Not to suggest Schultz made unreasonable demands of the Oilers — he insisted he wasn’t guaranteed ice time — but Edmonton’s blue line was so bereft of talent that he got it all the same.

Given what Bartlett had to say, it may be that Butcher is looking for a team that, above all else, can guarantee his proper development.

The NHL ice time can come when he’s ready for it.

Related: Devils, Sabres, Vegas reportedly in on Butcher