Around the Rink – Monday, December 20th

Let’s take a look at today’s seven games, with start times at Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

7:00 pm

Phoenix @ Pittsburgh

While the day-to-day upheaval in the Western Conference provides great evidence too, the top of the East provides a great sense of the “What have you done for me lately?” nature of this hockey season. The Flyers ended the Penguins’ 12-game winning streak and after two Pittsburgh losses, Philadelphia now has a five point divisional lead.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes are hanging tough in the playoff race in the West, as they’re tied with the Kings for ninth place at the moment.

Florida @ Philadelphia

Speaking of the Flyers, they host the perennially just-short-of-decent Panthers tonight. While Tomas Vokoun & Co. have been stingy enough to tie their club for the least goals allowed with Pittsburgh (albeit in three less games), their goal differential is only +2. In other words, the Flyers will kick themselves if they lose this one.

Atlanta @ Toronto

The Leafs are still a questionable team, but they’re almost playoff-caliber at home with an 8-6-3 record. The Thrashers are scrappy on the road, though, with an 8-5-3 record. In other words, this one could go either way.

Could this game be more exciting than a shouting match between the two boisterous general managers (Brian Burke vs. Rick Dudley), though?

7:30 pm

Carolina @ Tampa Bay

There’s a significant difference between the top eight teams in the East (Lightning included) and the teams on the outside looking in, but the Hurricanes are one of three teams that might have a chance to make up the difference. Tampa Bay has played six more games on the road than at home so far this season, though, so my guess is that Carolina will have to pass someone else.

(Naturally, you never know.)

Anaheim @ Boston

Hey, look at that: the eight best team in the West vs. the eight best team in the East. Well, for once, the East team should be better, theoretically at least. The Bruins and Ducks both have 38 points, but Boston took five less games to get there. Of course, Claude Julien’s bunch doesn’t have to deal with the brutally competitive Pacific Division, so this game could go either way.

8:00 pm

Calgary @ Minnesota

I’m not going to lie, this is a paring of two of the NHL’s least optimistic franchises. The Wild’s glass might be closer to half full, as they can boast young talent like the underrated Miikko Koivu and slightly younger goalie Niklas Backstrom. The Flames seem like an older, clumsier version of Minnesota (only with more angst).

Then again, the Wild (-15 goal differential) have been losing much uglier than the Flames (-6 goal differential) this season, so perhaps they’re both equally down in the dumps.

Vancouver @ St. Louis

The Canucks are hot right now (8-1-1) and can re-claim the Northwest Division lead from the Avalanche with a win. The Blues find themselves in the just-out-of-the-playoffs muck, but are a tough out at home (10-3-2 in St. Louis; 5-8-3 on the road). In other words, these are two teams in their element right now, so this should be another good one.

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

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David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.