Around the rink – Tuesday, January 11th

With ten games tonight and lots of All-Star Game snubs to discuss for the next week, we’re guessing the NHL wanted to keep people talking about games and putting a lot of them on our plate tonight. Sadly for them there’s not really any particular game that grabs your attention, but lots of eyes will be on New York tonight and not just at Madison Square Garden for Wojtek Wolski’s Rangers debut. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Montreal @ NY Rangers

All eyes turn here because we’ll get to see if Wojtek Wolski can once again find his motivation to play strong, offensive hockey and give the Rangers the offensive boost they’re dying to have. There’s also the side possibility of having coach John Tortorella crack the whip on Wolski for being lazy on the other side of the puck as well. Montreal comes in winners of three of their last four and will send Alex Auld out to give Carey Price a much needed rest.

Vancouver @ NY Islanders

This games wasn’t really one to take notice of before… That is until we found out this morning that referee Stephane Auger was assigned to it. This marks the first time since last year that Canucks forward Alex Burrows will be on the ice for a game that Auger works. Last season, Burrows alleged that Auger told him he’d be out to get him in the game. Think we’ll see any favorable officiating going the Islanders way in this one? The Isles could use all the help they can get against the powerful Canucks who look to bounce back after losing to Detroit on Saturday snapping an eight game win streak.

Ottawa @ Boston

It’s an important game for the Bruins to prove that their win against Pittsburgh last night wasn’t just a one-off positive night. Building momentum off that win is key for the B’s. Getting to deal with a struggling Ottawa team should help them out, but playing back-to-back nights is rough and the Senators will be doing their part to take advantage of that to snap their five-game losing streak.

Calgary @ Carolina

Riding high off the All-Star announcements today, the Hurricanes will hope to keep the good mojo working and extend their win streak to three games. With Calgary kicking off a four game road trip in Raleigh looking to snap a three game skid, expect things to get feisty. The Hurricanes will hope to put the game out of reach though. Three of their last four games have gone to overtime with the Canes losing two of those.

Phoenix @ Columbus

Phoenix is riding high after beating St. Louis last night and the Blue Jackets are about as low as it can get these days as people are talking about blowing it all up after what’s been over a month of miserable hockey. Sounds like the makings of a trap game for the Coyotes, doesn’t it? Phoenix has won three of their last four while the Jackets have lost four in a row.

7:30 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Buffalo

A pair of teams on a relative roll clash in Buffalo. The Flyers are winners of three in a row and four of their last five while the Sabres have won two in a row. The Sabres are hoping to get back into the thick of the playoff hunt and have to hope Ryan Miller’s great play of late continues to make it happen. The Flyers, meanwhile, want to put some space between themselves and the Penguins in the Atlantic Division. Guy to look out for in this one is former Sabres stud and current Flyers goal leader Daniel Briere. The fans in Buffalo love to hate him.

Washington @ Florida

After playing a tough one with Florida the other night, highlighted by a great goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Caps will look to keep good things going in Sunrise. The Caps have won four of their last five games and have been on a roll since before Christmas winning six of eight. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be looking to snap a three game skid. Getting one over on the Caps would be well received in the Panthers locker room.

8:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ Nashville

Minnesota will be looking to get back to winning while the Preds are hoping to keep a good thing rolling as they’ve been on fire of late. Expect the goalies to take center stage in this one as Pekka Rinne and Jose Theodore have been on fire of late. The Preds are playing great hockey and have lifetime Predator David Legwand to thank for it. Since returning from injury he’s got a goal and three assists in five games. That may not sound like much, but the stability he brings up the middle has been huge for the injury-riddled Preds.

8:30 p.m.

Edmonton @ Dallas

Remember when this rivalry was nasty and these teams went at each others throats? The only guy on the ice that recalls those days is Jamie Langenbrunner so here’s to hoping he starts having flashbacks to those nasty, gnarly days. The Stars will be looking to keep the good times rolling as they’ve gotten points in four straight games (3-0-1). Edmonton has lost eight of their last nine games and have seen their offense dry up and their goaltending go down the toilet. This isn’t shaping up too well for the Oilers tonight.

10:30 p.m.

Toronto @ San Jose

The red hot Maple Leafs roll into San Jose winners of three in a row. That might not sound like a big deal to you, but for the Leafs it’s their longest win streak since starting the season 4-0-0. Mikhail Grabovsky and James Reimer have been the leaders for them on the ice and getting help from AHL call-ups Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb has been especially useful. The Sharks are desperate for a win but doing that against a team beaming with confidence might prove difficult. You can’t help but feel the Sharks are on the precipice of a huge offensive breakout soon, the Leafs are hoping they can keep it from happening for one more game.

Fletcher isn’t too worried about Wild’s cap situation

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A lot of eyes were on the Minnesota Wild at the NHL draft watching to see if they would make a move involving one of their defensemen.

No move happened (at least not yet).

Part of the issue for the Wild — and the reason for the trade speculation — is their need to re-sign restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund this offseason, while also making any other necessary additions to the team. They have to do all of that staying under the NHL’s salary cap.

As of Saturday, the Wild have around $14 million in salary cap space (via CapFriendly) with only 15 players under contract for next season, while the new deals for Niederreiter and Granlund are almost certain to eat up a significant portion of that remaining salary cap space.

That is going to make things tight under the cap because they certainly do not want to let either of those RFA’s get away. That led to speculation that a defenseman such as Marco Scandella or Mathew Dumba could be on the move this weekend.

But general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t sound too concerned about the situation and seems convinced the team can open the season the way it is currently constructed with a few minor moves to fill out the fourth line.

Here is Fletcher, via the Star-Tribune:

“I’m not too worried about that. We have some young guys ready to make the team that will carry good cap hits. We need to fill a couple spots probably in free agency, but again, we’re looking more at fourth-line type players. We like our group, the defense is the strength of our team, we’ve got three lines up front that we like.”

The Wild were determined to keep all of their defensemen out of the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft and were willing to part with prospect Alex Tuch to steer the Golden Knights toward Erik Haula.

Overall, Minnesota’s roster is pretty solid as it stands so it doesn’t need a ton of work. They have an excellent goaltender, a deep defense and a balanced group of forwards making up their top-three lines so if they have to stick with the status quo it wouldn’t be the worst situation to be in. They were one of the best teams in the league until a late-season slump cost them the top spot in the Central Division. It carried over into the playoffs were they lost to the St. Louis Blues in five games.

Hextall staying patient in Flyers’ goalie search

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The Philadelphia Flyers were hoping to add a veteran goaltender this weekend to complement Michal Neuvirth and as of Saturday evening they had yet to accomplish that goal.

General manager Ron Hextall does not seem too concerned about that development and is leaning on the fact it seems to be a buyer’s market at the position.

“I don’t know what’s going to present itself. My comfort level is there’s a number of goalies out there. Not six No. 1 spots out there and one goalie out there. I have comfort in that,” Hextall said, via Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

“We’re still doing our due diligence and in the end it’ll probably come down to the guys we like and then we’ll look at term and length. If we like this guy and he’s asking unreal term or whatever we’ll go somewhere else.”

He also added that Steve Mason is still in the mix to potentially return, even though most signs point to that not happening.

So far this offseason a number of goalies have already changed teams, with Ben Bishop going to the Dallas Stars, Mike Smith going to the Calgary Flames and Marc-Andre Fleury being selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, Hextall isn’t wrong in his assessment of the goaltending market because there are more good goalies available than there are starting spots.

Just about every team in the league right now is settled with its starting goalie. Other than maybe the Winnipeg Jets there really isn’t anybody else out there along with the Flyers that is in the market to find a No. 1 goalie. That leaves the Flyers with what should be their pick of potential starters (or platoon partners for Neuvirth).

The unrestricted free agent market includes Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and Mason.

As of this moment the Flyers’ goaltending duo would be Neuvirth and rookie Anthony Stolarz, a combination that Hextall did not seem entirely comfortable with given Stolarz’s inexperience and Neuvirth’s injury history, so he seems determined to bring in somebody else to help solidify the position.

It is just a matter who it is going to be and how much it costs to acquire. He is certainly going to have plenty of options over the next week.

The Neuvirth/Mason duo was a fantastic value for the Flyers two years ago, but due to injury and just all-around poor play everything kind of fell apart for them this past season.

It was a big factor in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing season for the Flyers.

McPhee says Golden Knights ‘accomplished a lot of things’ in first draft

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No team was busier at the NHL draft this weekend than the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Armed with 13 draft picks thanks to their dealings in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights began the process of building the real future of their team. It started on Friday night when they kept all three of their first-round selections and used them to select a pair of centers along with a puck-moving defenseman. They continued the process on Saturday with the remainder of their picks.

A quick look at the selections indicates McPhee tried to begin by building his roster down the middle by selecting six centers, two defensemen and a pair of goalies.

“We accomplished a lot of things in this draft,” McPhee said, via Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review Journal. “We got some skill, we got some size and we got some goaltending.”

Their entire draft haul ended up as follows

1 (6) — Cody Glass, center

1 (13) — Nick Suzuki, center

1 (15) — Erik Brannstrom, defense

2 (34) — Nicolas Hague, defense

2 (31) — Jake Leschyshyn, center

3 (65) — Jonas Rondbjerg, right wing

4 (96) — Maksim Zhukov, goalie

5 (127) — Lucas Elvenes, center/right wing

5 (142) — Jonathan Dugan, left wing

6 (158) — Nick Campoli, center

6 (161) — Jiri Patera, goalie

7 (189) — Ben Jones, center

Along with those picks, they also traded one of their second-round picks (No. 45 overall) to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for prospect Keegan Kolesar, a 6-2, 223-point forward that is ready to make the jump to pro hockey after averaging a point-per-game the past two seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Size did seem to be a common trend with their picks as eight of their selections were listed as 6′ or taller, including Hague, a 6-5, 207-pound defenseman.

While the inaugural Golden Knights roster will be made up primarily of players taken in the expansion draft this past week, most of them will not be with the team for more than a year or two as the organization begins to take shape.

Some of them probably will not even begin the season on the team as McPhee continues to wheel and deal.

This weekend is where the real building of the organization started.

Treliving: Flames paid price in Hamonic deal, but ‘you can never have enough top d-men’

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Two years ago, Brad Treliving acquired Dougie Hamilton at the draft. On Saturday, he picked up Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders.

Those are two moves that have significantly helped the Flames build a formidable top-four defense in the Western Conference, and it’s already been suggested it could be in the conversation with Nashville’s group that includes Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Yes, the Flames paid a price — first and second-round picks in next year’s NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft.

But after making the playoffs this season and then making a recent trade with Arizona to acquire goalie Mike Smith, the Flames seem to feel they’re in their window to win now. Today’s move further solidifies that notion.

“You’ve got to give to get,” said Treliving, the Flames general manager, of the Hamonic deal. “You hate paying the price. But we looked at a lot of things: We looked at the makeup of our team, where he fits. He’s a right shot. We think he fits in real good with our team.

“I like the looks of our top-four. He moves pucks. He’s a character kid. He’s got some bite to him.”

The Flames now have their top four defensemen locked into contracts through at least 2020, which was one of the important factors in acquiring Hamonic, according to Treliving. Mark Giordano, who turns 34 in October, is signed through 2022 and Hamilton is signed through 2021.

Treliving lauded the puck-moving ability of Giordano, Hamilton and T.J. Brodie — who combined for 31 goals and 125 points, led by Hamilton’s 13-goal, 50-point campaign. But, he said, the move to acquire Hamonic brings added toughness and versatility into the group.

“He checks a lot of boxes for us,” he said. “I think you build up through the middle. This, to me, solidifies our defense. I like our center ice position. There’s depth there and we’ll keep tweaking at it, but I like the looks of that defense.”

As a result of injuries, Hamonic played in only 49 games last season.

With the way Hamonic plays, Treliving admitted there may be greater risk for injury, but the Flames don’t have any concerns about that heading into next season.

The Flames also have some young, up-and-coming defensemen in their system, most notably 20-year-old prospect Oliver Kylington, who fell to 60th overall in 2015, even though there was talk he could be a first-round pick.

“I think we’ve got some young kids coming. It allows them to progress and develop at their own timeline,” said Treliving. “But you can never have enough defensemen. You can never have enough top defensemen.”