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Around the rink – Saturday, December 18th

A busy day and night lies ahead in the NHL with one matinee game kicking things off in style in Philadelphia as the Flyers play their first game without Chris Pronger. Getting the gutsy Rangers first should make for an interesting test. As for the rest of the night, our eyes are peeled in Boston as the Capitals come calling again and in Nashville where the red hot Predators deal with the Kings. Oh yeah, and Ilya Kovalchuk makes his less-than-triumphant return to Atlanta. Does he get booed or laughed at? All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

NY Rangers @ Philadelphia

No Pronger for Philly and Oskars Bartulis gets to replace him. No pressure there we’re sure. Meanwhile, the Flyers are on a four game win streak while the Rangers come in winners of three straight. It’s got all the makings of a rivalry classic in Philly. The Rangers are winning the tough close games while the Flyers have found the offense to put teams away more effectively.

7:00 pm

Washington @ Boston

Something’s got to give here. Two teams that are trending in bad ways. The Caps are losers of seven in a row while the Bruins have dropped their last three. Boston’s played tough in their last two but have come out on the short end of things while the Caps have been temperamental alternating between poor efforts with worse results to playing great and getting no breaks. This is the fourth and final time these two teams meet up this season and the Bruins own a 2-1-0 edge on the Caps. Washington will be without Alexander Semin who didn’t travel with the team to Boston because of a lower body injury. The flu bug that’s gone through the entire Caps locker room is bothering defensemen Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan. There’s one great eight the Caps don’t want to see by the end of the night and that’s an eighth straight loss. Captain Ovechkin will have shoulder the load against the tough Bruins.

New Jersey @ Atlanta

How’s this for a turn of events? Ilya Kovalchuk gets dealt to New Jersey after years of playing for losing teams in Atlanta. Now he returns to Atlanta for the first time this season and the Thrashers are in the thick of the playoff hunt while the Devils are mired in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. We know that Kovalchuk will hear boos but we can’t help but wonder if a chorus of “Ha-Ha’s” a la Nelson Muntz from “The Simpsons” might be more fitting. The Devils are coming off another bad loss last night, this time to Nashville, meanwhile Atlanta has dropped two in a row in the shootout.

Phoenix @ NY Islanders

Well hey look, the Islanders are on fire. All right, so one win doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on fire but it’s close enough for the woeful Isles. Getting to match up with a Coyotes team that isn’t fairing too well on the east coast trip could help keep themselves motivated. Phoenix has dropped two in a row and are coming off a shootout loss to the Rangers that stung worse because they blew a 3-1 lead in that one.

Anaheim @ Carolina

A grumpy Ducks team rolls into Raleigh after suffering the ignominy of losing to the Islanders. Carolina, on the other hand, have won three straight including two in the shootout. The Hurricanes are getting some great play from Brandon Sutter of late and having him pick things up helps keep the pressure off of rookie Jeff Skinner. The Ducks, meanwhile, need to get some production from lines aside from the first one. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry can’t do the heavy lifting every night.

Dallas @ Columbus

Columbus sure seemed to miss Kristian Huselius. Without Huselius’ hat trick against Edmonton on Thursday night the Blue Jackets 6-3 loss would’ve looked even uglier than it actually was. As it is, the Jackets would kill to get some efficiency out of goalie Steve Mason. Mason over the last four weeks has been nothing short of miserable and now that backup goalie Mathieu Garon has returned to earth after a hot start of his own, the defensive deficiencies of Columbus are really starting to show through. Going up against a Dallas team that’s got Brad Richards and James Neal playing great won’t help matters there very much. After going on a five game win streak, the Blue Jackets have won just two of their next 11 games. The Stars would like to just regain some consistency as they’ve alternated between wins and losses over their last four games.

Toronto @ Vancouver

An odd early start out on the west coast for this one, but for Leafs fans across Canada, they get to see their team in prime time on Hockey Night in Canada. The Leafs will be without Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he’s out indefinitely with another groin injury.  If the Leafs continue to play defense the way they did in a 5-2 loss to Calgary it won’t matter who’s in goal for them because they will lose. Vancouver has won three of their last four games and appear to be snapping out of their mental funk that’s kept them playing inconsistent this year winning seven of their last nine games.

7:30 pm

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay

After laying an egg last night against Florida, the Sabres hope to find their stride again. After they got a big win over Boston earlier this week, that could’ve been the turnaround they were looking for. A 6-2 loss to Florida says they’re back to square one. Tampa Bay meanwhile has Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup and they’re winners of two in a row. If they can get their goaltending right, they’ll be able to start scaring some teams.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ St. Louis

The Blues will be hoping to continue their assault against California teams. They’re coming off a big win over Los Angeles and now dealing with a Sharks team that’s playing like they’re on a roller coaster, catching them on the right night means getting a win. With the Sharks you just never know what you’re going to get. One night it’s the offensive juggernaut, on others it’s a fight with bad goaltending, and on others it’s the team decked out in v-neck sweaters singing fractured Christmas carols.

Los Angeles @ Nashville

Life is good for Nashville of late. They’re missing a bunch of guys up front and their starting goalie and it just doesn’t matter. They keep winning. They’ve won eight of their last nine games and have trimmed the distance between themselves and the Red Wings in the Central. Now they face off with a Kings team eager to put their failure in St. Louis behind them. For the Kings it’s the first of two brutal back-to-back games as they’ll head to Chicago for a game on Sunday following this tough one with the Predators. If the Kings are going to show what they’re made of, getting a win in Nashville would be huge.

10:00 pm

Minnesota @ Calgary

Hockey Night in Canada’s nightcap game doesn’t really give us the warm fuzzies, but when these two get together you’re either guaranteed a huge game from Jarome Iginla or the Wild opening up the floodgates on the Flames. This time around, we’re praying for both things to happen to keep us going into the late night hours. The Wild come in losers of two in a row while the Flames have won two straight.

Update: Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Connor Murphy #5 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Washington Capitals at Gila River Arena on November 18, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Capitals defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Coyotes GM John Chayka is putting the finishing touches on a productive off-season. Chayka was able to acquire Alex Goligoski, re-sign Shane Doan, sign Jamie McGinn, he improved his position in the draft by acquiring Pavel Datsyuk and also signed former King Luke Schenn.

Now, it sounds like he’s close to locking up another piece of the puzzle. Connor Murphy‘s agent, Brian Bartlett, believes that his client will have a new deal with the Coyotes by the end of the week, according to Arizona Sports 98.7. 

UPDATE: The Coyotes announced that they’ve re-signed Murphy to a new six-year contract reportedly worth $23.1 million (3.85 AAV).

“We are extremely pleased to sign Connor to a long-term contract,” said Chayka, in a team release. “At only 23, Connor has established himself as a very good NHL defenseman. He’s a great skater, a fierce competitor and he has an excellent work ethic. We look forward to him taking the next step and having him on our blue line for many years to come.”

Murphy is coming off his entry-level deal. He scored six goals and 17 points in 78 games with Arizona last season. The 23-year-old was the Coyotes’ first round pick, 20th overall, back in 2011.

The Coyotes now have two restricted free agents to sign before the start of the season, as defenseman Michael Stone and forward Tobias Rieder also need new deals.

Stone and the Coyotes are scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 4, while negotiations between the club and Tobias Rieder don’t seem to be going very well.

Marchand might be ‘obnoxious,’ but he helped convince Backes to sign in Boston

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Brad Marchand is one of those players that you hate to play against, but you love him if he’s on your team. That much is fairly obvious.

But last month, Marchand (as well as teammate Patrice Bergeron) proved to be effective recruiters for at least one free agent. David Backes admitted that the phone calls he received from the two veterans definitely helped him settle on the idea of joining the Bruins.

“Talking to [Marchand] a little bit during the interview process before July 1, I hung up the phone and kind of had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Is that the little disturber, pain-in-the-butt? He’s actually a pretty good guy,” joked Backes, per the Bruins’ website.

In an exclusive interview with CSN’s Joe Haggerty, Backes reiterated that both Bergeron and Marchand are a “pain-in-the-butt” to play against, but he quickly added (with a smirk) that Marchand is more ‘obnoxious’ (click the video at the top of the page for the full interview).

So what exactly did Marchand and Bergeron say to Backes during the phone calls?

“Those guys are the best teammates when you get them on your team,” Backes said of Marchand and Bergeron. “When they talk about sharing critical ice, and hard ice, and hard minutes with a couple of lines, to me that’s what you need in this league.”

Backes has always been known for his physical style of play, but at 32-years-old he may not be able to do all the dirty work for much longer. It sounds like both Marchand and Bergeron convinced Backes that the heavy lifting will be a team-effort, as opposed to a one-man or one-line thing.

Of course, the five-year, $30 million contract the Bruins gave Backes was also an effective recruiting tool.

Flames say there’s still ‘no real update’ on contract talks with RFA forwards Monahan, Gaudreau

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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NHL training camps open in September and although most teams have done the bulk of their off-season tweaking, there’s still at least one team that has some serious work to do.

The Calgary Flames are still working on signing forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to contract extensions. Both players are currently restricted free agents.

“No real update there,” said general manager Brad Treliving, per the Calgary Herald.  “We’ll continue to work away at it.”

The Flames have just under $15 million in cap space remaining, according to General Fanager. There’s a good chance both RFA forwards will take a deep bite into those remaining dollars.

Monahan already said he’d be willing to take less money to get a deal done, but that doesn’t mean he’ll come cheap. The 21-year-old scored 58 goals and 125 points in 162 games over the last two seasons.

As for Gaudreau, he’ll cost a pretty penny as well. The 22-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games.

Here’s an excerpt from the Herald regarding these two players:

With 11 weeks until the regular season begins, here is what we know:

• Both players are restricted free agents and received qualifying offers from the Flames earlier this month. Talks are ongoing.

• Both are expected to receive whopping raises.

• Both are seeking long-term contracts, expressing that they’d like to play together for the foreseeable future.

• Both could be getting paid in the neighbourhood of between $6-million and $7.5-million for between six and eight years (if you use the com parables of Vladimir Tarasenko, Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Aleksander Barkov, and Nathan MacKinnon).

Thankfully for Calgary, they’ve done a decent job of managing their roster and the cap. Gaudreau and Monahan are the only two players on the roster that still need new contracts. The rest of the team is locked up for at least one more year.

Edmonton will have a captain by opening night, says McLellan

Todd McLellan
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After going without a captain last season, the Oilers will have someone wearing the “C” in 2016-17.

“Will we have a captain? Yeah, we will,” head coach Todd McLellan said on Wednesday, per the Oilers’ website. “We will have a captain.”

The last player to serve as captain in Edmonton was Andrew Ference, who inherited the position from Shawn Horcoff in ’13 and held it for two seasons.

Last year, the veteran blueliner appeared in just six games, and underwent season-ending hip surgery. He was in no position to serve in the club’s leadership group and, ergo, the Oilers opted to play without a captain.

So… who will be next to wear the “C?”

Most are thinking about Connor McDavid. Though he’s not publicly campaigning for the role, the 19-year-old did say it would “be one of the greatest honors. ” Though he missed significant time to injury last year, McDavid still enthralled Oilers fans with a rookie campaign that saw him rack up 48 points in 45 games, finishing as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Of course, there will be others in the mix.

Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Hendricks have all served as alternates in Edmonton, and Hendricks captained the U.S. at this year’s world championships. There’s definitely some leadership to choose from, and it’s worth noting Eberle is one of the most vested veterans in Edmonton, having appeared in 425 games over the last six seasons.