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Early ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, December 16th

Let’s take a look at some of Thursday’s earlier games. We’ll recap the latest couple contests later tonight.

NY Rangers 4, Phoenix 3 (SO)

It’s been a nice couple days for Erik Christensen, who earned Wednesday’s goal of the night and won the game for the Rangers with the only shootout goal in the contest. If the Coyotes end up missing the playoffs by a narrow margin, this will be one of those games they’ll remember with regret. They had a 3-1 lead but Jason LaBarbera couldn’t off the Rangers in this one.

NY Islanders 3, Anaheim 2

The Islanders almost lost their 3-0 lead in this one, but Rick DiPietro (30 saves) and company were able to hold on to end a six-game losing streak. Curtis McElhinney couldn’t make it through the first period, as he allowed three goals before giving way to Jonas Hiller. Maybe the Ducks are the ones who should consider signing Evgeni Nabokov to spell Hiller and spite the Sharks?

Montreal 4, Boston 3

The Canadiens widened their division lead over the Bruins to four points in the best way: by beating them. This ended a three-game winning streak for Montreal and extended Boston’s losing streak to three. Michael Cammalleri scored a gorgeous shootout goal, Max Pacorietty had a goal and an assist and P.K. Subban nailed Brad Marchand with a wicked check as the Habs were too much for the Bruins tonight.

Carolina 3, Atlanta 2 (SO)

Speaking of three-game winning streaks, the Hurricanes extended their run to that level with a shootout win over the Thrashers, who are starting to struggle just a bit after a scorching-hot November. Ondrej Pavelec has been the best goalie in the Southeast lately, but Cam Ward – normally the Southeast’s best – topped him with 45 saves.

St. Louis 6, Los Angeles 4

The banged-up Blues really needed this one. They’ve been struggling on the ice (3-5-2 in their last 10, including tonight’s win) and keep losing valuable players to amend that situation. St. Louis beat Los Angeles to tie the two teams at 35 points thanks to a game winning goal by Alex Steen and a one goal, two assist performance by Vladimir Sobotka.

David Backes – one of the few top Blues forwards who is healthy – scored one goal and two assists to contribute to the win.

Ottawa 3, Minnesota 1

For a second, it seemed like Wild forward Tyler Bozak would be the hero of this one. He scored a goal and looked like he had his second, but that one was called off because of a too many men on the ice penalty. Nine seconds later, Senators forward Nick Foligno scored what would be the game winner on the power play as Pascal Leclaire won in his return from yet another injury.

San Jose 4, Dallas 3 (OT)

Don’t sleep on Logan Couture when you fill out your imaginary (or real) Calder Trophy ballot. The talented rookie scored the game winner in during a power play in overtime, as Mike Ribeiro gave the Sharks a four minute man advantage late in the third (and into OT) by drawing Dany Heatley’s blood with a high stick. Devin Setoguchi (two goals) and Joe Pavelski (two assists) also stood out in this one.

On the bright side, Brenden Morrow scored a goal and had 10 hits while wearing a shield for his broken nose, Kari Lehtonen returned to keep them in the game (39 out of 43 saves) and the Stars are still hot at home, going 9-0-2 in their last 11 in Dallas.

Is Rickard Rakell worth $4M per season to the Ducks?

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have two significant restricted free agents they still need to take care of, and Hampus Lindholm is easily the most important name to cross off the list.

(Seriously, the analytics community pegs him as a budding star, so the Ducks should probably lock him up for as long and cheap as possible.)

While Lindholm is a must-sign, Rickard Rakell‘s situation is more interesting since it presents a murkier risk-reward debate.

Elevated ground

Rakell broke through in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. He blew away all of his previous numbers while logging more than 16 minutes per game.

His agent Peter Wallen told the OC Register that the team and his RFA client “I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement,” yet one must wonder if Ducks management is trembling at the gamble ahead.

That report ponders a long-term deal that would net Rakell around a $4 million cap hit, something that the Hockey News backs up.

Kadri’s six-year, $27-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which pays an average of $4.5 million per season, is probably the upper limit of what Rakell is set to earn, while Coyle’s five-year, $16-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, an average of $3.2 million per season, is likely the low end. The most likely comparisons boil down to two players, then, with Rask and Backlund each having signed their current deals over the course of the past 13 months.

For a budget-conscious team like the Ducks, betting big on Rakell could be especially risky.

Cushy gig

If the 23-year-old does land a generous deal, he should send Bruce Boudreau a “Thank You” note or three. Rakell began a whopping 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2015-16, putting him in a great position to maximize his chances.

His most common skating partners were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sami Vatanen and Lindholm to boot.

One shouldn’t penalize Rakell for seizing his opportunities, but with a limited sample size of the young forward being a difference-maker, you have to wonder how much his value has been inflated.

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The OC Register explains the advantages of locking him up for a longer term (avoiding arbitration years, not having to risk an even bigger deal if Rakell pans out), yet a “bridge deal” might be the better way to go here.

Replacing Boudreau with Randy Carlyle was a polarizing decision, yet that the Ducks face some other tough calls this off-season.

Report: Blue Jackets on the verge of signing Sam Gagner

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before a face off against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It sounds like Sam Gagner may determine his destination for 2015-16 in the near future.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets are close to signing Gagner to a one-year, one-way deal. Such an agreement might not be made official until Monday, according to Portzline.

After a bumpy season with the Philadelphia Flyers in which he spent some time in the AHL, Gagner must especially appreciate the one-way nature of his next contract.

The Blue Jackets aren’t the only team interested in the 26-year-old, as his name was also connected to the Vancouver Canucks:

It looks like the still-quite-young scorer will get a clean slate after bouncing around and being defined by a bloated contract originally signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

Remember when he broke one of Wayne Gretzky’s records during an eight-point night?

Gagner’s presence could make life easier for the likes of Boone Jenner:

It’s conceivable that Gagner could enjoy a nice rebound season if used in a specialized, protected role. The Blue Jackets may very well be the right fit.

… And on the other hand, the deficits in Gagner’s all-around game could at least provide some John Tortorella rage and entertainment.

Everyone wins.

Former Sabres forward Jochen Hecht calls it a career

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01:  Jochen Hecht #55 of the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Mannheim Eagles announced that German forward Jochen Hecht is retiring from hockey.

(It’s OK to be a little bewildered that he was still playing, just don’t be too mean about it.)

Hecht played 833 regular season games and 59 playoff contests at the NHL level, making his greatest mark as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

His last bit of NHL action came in 2012-13, when he scored 14 points in 47 games for Buffalo.

Since then, he wrapped up his career with the Mannheim Eagles, a team he’s sporadically played for since 1994-95.

Honestly, it’s weird to see Hecht in any sweater not related to German’s national teams, the Eagles or Sabres, even though the Blues actually drafted him:

Then again, he could also look odd in a certain Sabres sweater.

Apparently he got the NHL 16 Hockey Ultimate Card treatment:

Plenty of Sabres fans and reporters fondly remember Hecht, so here’s to a nice career.

Yes, it’s really happening: Vegas NHL team installs ice for first time

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Sometimes you just need a reminder that a remarkable thing actually is happening.

Saturday presented the latest evidence that the NHL coming to Las Vegas isn’t just a collective fever dream, as the still-nameless franchise noted that they’ve begun the process to install ice at T-Mobile Arena for the first time.

It’s not the prettiest picture, but it means a lot:

While setting up the first sheet of ice is a physical sign that things are coming together, the front office side will dictate the sort of team that eventually plays on it.

For more insight into that process, Puck Daddy takes a look at Murray Craven, who appears to be a key part of bringing things together … even if it’s difficult to nail down a specific title.