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Around the Rink – Wednesday, December 15th

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Here are previews for tonight’s 11 games. As usual, all start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Phoenix @ New Jersey

The Coyotes and Devils are prime examples of the disparity at the lower levels of the two conferences. While New Jersey is so far behind the pack that some wonder if they’re already out of playoff contention, Phoenix is only four points behind the Pacific Division lead and seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the overall lead in the West.

So yeah, the West is better.

Anaheim @ Washington

On paper, this should be an easy win for Washington. The Caps have 12 of their 18 wins at home while the Ducks only won five in 15 games on the road. Yet, you know the drill: the West tends to beat the East more often than not. If nothing else, the offense on both sides should make for an entertaining contest.

Boston @ Buffalo

Despite losing their last game, the Bruins are now only two points behind the Canadiens for the top spot in the Northeast and Boston also owns two games in hand. Beating the stuck-in-the-bubble Sabres would be very helpful, especially considering the daunting task facing the Habs tonight.

NY Rangers @ Pittsburgh

The Rangers won’t get the chance to end the Penguins’ winning streak after Pittsburgh lost to Philadelphia last night, but they can start a losing trend for their division rivals tonight. They’re more rested than Pittsburgh, so it might come down to whether or not the Penguins are more angry or tired on these back-to-back games.

7:30 pm

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

With the Capitals on a six-game losing streak, the Thrashers and Lightning can entertain the idea of leading the Southeast Division sooner than almost anyone imagined. Atlanta could tie Washington’s record (before the Caps play tonight, though) while Tampa Bay would only be one point behind them, depending on who wins tonight.

Carolina @ Florida

Tonight’s games feature the other Southeast Division teams, as the Hurricanes and Panthers also square off. Carolina is a model of up-and-down mediocrity (12-12-4) while it’s difficult to say if Florida is mediocre or just bad.

Philadelphia @ Montreal

The Habs will have Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek back, but will that be enough for them to beat the newly crowned kings of the Eastern Conference? It should be fun to see another rematch of last summer’s conference finals either way.

St. Louis @ Detroit

With the Blues being seriously depleted by injuries and the Red Wings so clearly strong at home, it would seem like a shoo-in for Detroit. That might happen, but don’t count scrappy old St. Louis.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ Nashville

It’s almost a joke at this point; since the days of Tomas Vokoun, the Predators have had resounding success when their should-be starter goes down with an injury. This time around, it’s Anders Lindback carrying the torch for Pekka Rinne. The result is hard to deny: Nashville is going for their fourth win a row against San Jose tonight.

8:30 pm

Colorado @ Chicago

The Avalanche and Blackhawks share the same numbers of wins (16) but Colorado has more points (36 to 35) in two less games. The Avs are quietly hot, too, as they’re on a three game winning streak.

10:00 pm

Columbus @ Vancouver

To show how closely matched the West is: the Canucks are tied with the Avalanche (but with less games played) and only two points ahead of the Blue Jackets. In other words, it seems like just about every game matters in this wacky conference.

Matt Nieto should be available to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 03:  Matt Nieto #83 of the San Jose Sharks skates against the Nashville Predators during the second period of Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 3, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks are confident that forward Matt Nieto will be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Whether he actually plays or not is a different story.

The 23-year-old suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of San Jose’s second round series against Nashville and he hasn’t suited up since.

Nieto might not be one of the biggest names on the Sharks roster, but he’s definitely a useful piece of the puzzle.

“He brings speed,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, per NHL.com. “He’s one of our faster forwards. He’s another guy that gives us a little bit of a different dimension and a little bit of a different element.

“I’ll know more by Monday, but I’d anticipate that he’d be available.”

Nieto practiced with his teammates on Saturday, but he didn’t skate on any of the Sharks’ top four lines. It doesn’t look like DeBoer will make changes from the team that beat St. Louis in Game 6 of the conference final, but a lot can change between now and the start of Game 1.

Nieto has one goal and three points in 11 postseason games in 2016.

Chiasson’s agent expects his client to be moved this summer

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10:  Alex Chiasson #90 of the Ottawa Senators skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Alex Chiasson has been in Ottawa for each of the last two seasons, but he’s fallen way short of expectations.

Chiasson was a key piece of the trade that saw Jason Spezza head to Dallas in 2014. The Sens received two prospects, a draft pick and Chiasson in the deal. During his two years in Ottawa, he’s scored 19 goals and 40 points in 153 games. It simply hasn’t worked out the way either side had hoped.

Now, it sounds like his camp is expecting him to be moved before the start of next season.

“I think that’s a potential scenario, but I don’t know if you ever really know if anything materializes until it happens,” agent Kent Hughes said, per The Hockey News. “But yeah, (a trade) wouldn’t surprise me.”

Chiasson may have struggled in the last two years, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple teams inquire about him. He’s still just 25-years-old, he has size (6’4, 205 pounds), and he’s set to become a restricted free agent on July 1st. Whatever contract he signs will likely be pretty affordable.

“I think at the end of the day, for a lack of a better term, it’s the lack of a successful marriage, I guess,” added Hughes. “You get to a point where you either decide you’re going to say to an organization, ‘move on’ or you’re going to continue to try, but as you continue to do that, your asset continues to diminish in value.”

P.K. Subban takes Canada 2016 World Cup ‘snub’ in stride

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 02:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on March 2, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just about any contending hockey nation will force some “snubs” heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Snubs feel especially inevitable for Canada, though.

P.K. Subban has taken some confidence hits, relative to his abilities, when it comes to international play. Maybe that explains why he essentially shrugged off not making the team, as Sportsnet notes.

“I mean, everybody wants to make the team, right? And there’s a bunch of guys that I’m sure wanted to be on the team. But that’s the way it goes,” Subban said. “Listen, at the end of the day, we could take four or five teams to this thing. When I was speaking to [Team Canada GM] Doug Armstrong, my number one thing was I just want to see Canada win gold. So, I’ll be there cheering just like everybody else.”

Let’s face it, it’s probably pretty easy for Subban.

He’s super-rich, generally beloved and has a gold medal to his name. That probably makes it easier to shake off a snub.

That said, he also brings up a fun idea. If the Team North America idea runs out of steam, wouldn’t it be fun to watch Canada A vs. Canada B, or something of that nature?

Hey, if you’re bored, feel free to fantasy draft a second Canadian team for such a scenario. Or, you know, each a sandwich instead.

In other Subban news, he had fun with the Toronto Blue Jays:

Should Lightning trade Bishop and hand the torch to Vasilevskiy?

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Erik Erlendsson poses what may seem like a bold question on Hockey Buzz: should the Tampa Bay Lightning hand the reins to Andrei Vasilevskiy by trading Ben Bishop?

Erlendsson points to these comments made by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, with the last sentence likely being most pertinent:

“I think we’re in a fantastic position,” Yzerman said. “We have two outstanding goaltenders, based on what we’ve seen from Andrei both last year and this year and in particular, him coming in in the Pittsburgh series, I think we have a brilliant young goaltender and a proven, I don’t even want to call Bish a veteran because he’s still relatively young in terms of years played and games played, but we’ve got two outstanding goaltenders. I know that at some point, when that is, we may for expansion or cap reasons, have to make a decision.”

Yes, at some point Yzerman would be forced to make a decision. Assuming an extension doesn’t come early, both Bishop’s $5.95 million cap hit and Vasilevskiy’s rookie deal ($925K cap hit) will expire after 2016-17.

One would think that this would be the fork in the road moment … but what if Yzerman decides to be proactive and trade Bishop now?

Stevie Y has plenty on his plate with new deals needed for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin.

Still, this is expected to be an expensive offseason, whether it’s literal (locking all or more of those big pieces) or more figurative (possibly losing franchise player Stamkos). As great as Bishop has been, his near-$6 million could go toward locking down those pieces, especially if management already expects Vasilevskiy to be The Guy.

Granted, the Lightning have seen firsthand how crucial it can be to have two starting-quality goalies (at least for however long you can hold onto them).

Quite a conundrum, right?

If nothing else, it’s a point to consider, even while acknowledging Bishop’s strong work.

More on the Lightning off-season

Steven Stamkos on the situation

The Bolts want to bring back Jonathan Drouin