Around the Rink – Saturday, January 1st

I imagine when the schedule makers constructed tonight’s slate of six non-Winter Classic games, they did so with the thought that perhaps they could satiate some new hockey fans after the afternoon WC. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided this weekend would help hockey people relate with the rain delays that are a regular reality for baseball fans, so those games instead must take place in moderate obscurity.

That being said, there are six games played without fear of rain or unseasonably hot weather, so we thought it would be wise to discuss them too. As always, start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Boston @ Buffalo

Both of these teams appeared in Winter Classic games themselves (Boston against Philadelphia in 2010, Buffalo in the first WC versus Pittsburgh in ’08), so they cannot pout too much about being upstaged tonight. Instead of going toe-to-toe for the Northeast this season, the Bruins hold the division lead while the Sabres find themselves in 12th place in the East. Woops.

New Jersey @ Carolina

The Devils are coming off a rare win against the Thrashers while the Hurricanes are gradually gaining on the eighth spot in the East. Hey, it’s a new year. They might as well be a little positive, right?

Toronto @ Ottawa

New Year’s resolution for these two teams: make like George Costanza and do everything the opposite way in 2011.

7:30 pm

NY Rangers @ Tampa Bay

The Rangers finally seem like they have a clear vision thanks in large part to John Tortorella. Oddly enough, this metamorphosis is taking place in the same season that the Lightning finally found a good replacement for their former coach.

8:00 pm

Washington @ Pittsburgh

Wait, the Capitals are playing the Penguins tonight? Really?

9:00 pm

San Jose @ Los Angeles

These battles of California are always more fun when they mean something. Considering how jam-packed the Pacific Division is with competitive teams, it might be a while before these contests are irrelevant again.

10:00 pm

Calgary @ Edmonton

Sadly, the Battle of Alberta is the new standard for irrelevant rivalries, unless you’re a hardcore Flames or Oilers fan. (Then it’s always relevant, I would guess.) On the bright side for Calgary, they’re starting to look relevant again with a three game winning streak and a relatively friendly schedule going forward.

BREAKING: Isles acquire Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way towards signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid is eligible to sign an extension this summer, as is Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those contracts are going to be expensive.

Losing Neal to Vegas was a ‘pretty big price to pay’ for Predators

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The Vegas Golden Knights named their team on Wednesday, and it was no surprise that James Neal was among their selections in the expansion draft.

Why not? Since entering the league in 2008, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons, hitting the 40-goal mark in 2011-12 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after coming up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup this spring, Neal was left unprotected by the Predators.

Predators general manager David Poile had reportedly been in talks with Vegas GM George McPhee, but a deal couldn’t be achieved.

“With how well we played in the playoffs, I’d certainly like to bring everybody back, but the prices [to make a deal with Vegas] were very high,” Poile told the Predators website.

“[McPhee] was looking for younger players or high draft picks, and at the end of the day, I just felt that we had to do what the Expansion Draft was set out to do and that was to lose a player. In this case, we lost James Neal and that’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Neal has one more year left on his six-year contract that has an annual cap hit of $5 million, before he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Nashville has about $22.7 million in cap space, per CapFriendly, but five pending restricted free agents — Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg and most notably Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — in need of contracts. In Arvidsson’s case, he’s due for a significant raise from the $640,000 he made in NHL salary last season, in which he scored 31 goals and 61 points.

“James had a much bigger contract and he only had one year left before he was an unrestricted free agent. We didn’t have any negotiations, but there was no guarantees that we would be able to keep him. It really was a business decision. It was as simple as that,” Poile the Tennessean.

Caps re-sign Christian Djoos, who could get his NHL shot next season

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The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.

It’s a two-way deal in 2017-18, and a one-way deal the following season.

Djoos, 22, is expected to push for an NHL spot next season, along with Madison Bowey and possibly Tyler Lewington.

That’s because Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected to re-sign with Washington.

On top of that, the Caps lost d-man Nate Schmidt in yesterday’s expansion draft.

Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, had 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games for AHL Hershey this past season.

It was his second full season in the AHL.

Bettman says NHL will call more slashes next season

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Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL will look to enforce slashing penalties more next season.

Following the league’s board of governors meeting, Bettman said pointless slashes to players’ hands will be called more. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were among the players to miss time last season with hand injuries from slashes.

Related PHT coverage:

Gaudreau (finger) out six weeks, Treliving says Staal slash the culprit

— Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

— Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby slash

— Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash