Minnesota Wild v Chicago Blackhawks

Hockey Day Preview: Who’s under the most pressure?

The fact that all eight teams involved in Sunday’s Hockey Day in America event hail from the United States is a given. The fact that all eight teams have a chance to make the playoffs, however, is just a blessed coincidence. Let’s take a look at what kind of pressure these teams will face in the four games, with a verdict regarding which team will have more on the line in each match.

Washington Capitals (road): The Caps’ hold on a playoff spot is secure right now, but few would have guessed that Bruce Boudreau’s bunch would be in second place in the Southeast this deep into the season. They’re still only four points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, though, so maybe Hockey Day could be part of a Caps surge to the top spot?

Buffalo Sabres (home): The Sabres are just two points out of a playoff spot after struggling during a significant chunk of the 2010-11 season. Still, they’re in a dogfight with at least the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes, if not an upstart team like the New Jersey Devils or Toronto Maple Leafs. Beating the Caps won’t be easy, but they need to do it since they’re at home.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Buffalo.

Philadelphia Flyers (road): If there’s one club who might be able to stretch their legs and play with empty minds on Sunday, it might be Philly. Sure, they’re in a tight race for the Presidents Trophy against the Vancouver Canucks right now, but that pales into comparison to the teams who are fighting for their playoff lives.

New York Rangers (home): After losing six games in a row, the Rangers righted the ship with two straight wins. Still, Henrik Lundqvist & Co. cannot rest on their laurels, as the East bubble teams could easily start breathing down their necks again if the Rangers stumble.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Rangers.

Detroit Red Wings (road): Much like the Flyers, the Red Wings aren’t that worried about their division mates right now, but instead how they compare to the Canucks.  Detroit has a legitimate shot to take the top spot in the West if Vancouver’s injury woes start to push them down the standings.

Minnesota Wild (home): How much longer will an ultra-loyal fan base show up in droves to support a middling franchise? The Wild continue to test the limits of hockey-mad Minnesota, although they’re at least (foolishly?) spending a lot more money on their roster lately. Mikko Koivu’s team is stuck in the West muck, so this should be an absolutely crucial contest against a very tough team.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Minnesota.

Pittsburgh Penguins (road): The banged-up Penguins probably believe that they can still make a run at the Atlantic Division crown, but with two less wins, five fewer points and two more games played, it seems like a long shot. Especially when you consider how bruised this roster is. On a more immediate note, this team is enjoying a nice break from NHL action (getting Thursday through Saturday off), so they’ll really kick themselves if they flop against Chicago.

Chicago Blackhawks (home): Could this be another rare instance in which a Stanley Cup winning team misses the playoffs during the following season? It’s a genuine possibility, as the Blackhawks sit at 11th place in the West (one point behind Minnesota). The ‘Hawks should also know if the Wild lost as they suit up for the Penguins, meaning this could be their chance to rise in the ranks by a position or two.

Who’s under the most pressure?: Chicago.

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So, the overarching point is that all eight teams have something to play for. It seems like the Sabres, Wild and Blackhawks have the most to lose because they’re currently outside the top eight in their respective conferences. If I had to pick one team that faces the biggest pressure, it would be Chicago for three reasons: they’re the defending champs, they’re playing a game they should win (against an undermanned team, plus they host the game) and they’ll know the outcome of Minnesota’s game already. That’s a stacked deck, but shouldn’t champions be able to roll with that?

The best part is that hockey fans can follow all the action via NBC. We’ll have more coverage of the games going forward – both from individual contest standpoints and big picture perspectives – so keep checking in on PHT this weekend.

With DeKeyser locked up, Holland still has work to do in Detroit

Ken Holland
AP
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There’s nothing too flashy about Danny DeKeyser‘s game.

“Basically,” he told reporters today, “my game, I just try to move the puck well, play solid defensively, chip in some points or goals here or there when I can, and just try to be a good team player and do things that help the team win.”

For that, the Red Wings gave the steady defenseman a six-year, $30 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing in the process. Yes, it’s a significant amount of money for a d-man that doesn’t contribute a ton of offense, but as we’ve already seen this offseason, players like DeKeyser have significant value. The Edmonton Oilers gave up Taylor Hall to get one.

Re-signing DeKeyser is not expected to stop GM Ken Holland from trying to add to his blue line. The Wings have a surplus of forwards, and Holland has said he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” prior to the start of next season.

If Holland can’t swing a deal, Detroit’s pairings could look something like this:

DeKeyser — Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall
Brendan SmithAlexey Marchenko
Xavier Ouellet

It’s not a particularly young group. Kronwall is 35, Ericsson is 32, and Green is 30. The Red Wings chose not to re-sign veteran Kyle Quincey, and so far he has not been replaced. In June, they drafted a defenseman in the first round, but Dennis Cholowski is a ways away from playing in the NHL; he’s off St. Cloud State in the fall. There are a few other young blue-liners in the system, like Joe Hicketts, Ryan Sproul and Robbie Russo, but they all still have some developing to do.

At the very least, Holland now has some cost certainty with DeKeyser. The next step will be getting Petr Mrazek‘s deal done, possibly with the aid of tomorrow’s arbitration hearing. After that, it’ll be working to get that defenseman he covets.

Related: Blues GM says he might just keep Kevin Shattenkirk

Nugent-Hopkins trying to ignore trade rumors — ‘If it happens, it happens’

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 14:  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on December 14, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Ryan Nugent-Hopkins trade speculation may have died down since it peaked at the draft in late June, but it’s not entirely dead.

The 23-year-old former first overall draft pick was asked to address the ongoing rumors Monday at an Oilers charity golf tournament.

“I try not to pay attention too much,” Nugent-Hopkins said, per the Edmonton Journal. “If it happens, it happens. I know it’s definitely a different group than the one we finished with last season.”

Indeed it is. Most notably, Taylor Hall is in New Jersey now, traded for defenseman Adam Larsson. The Oilers also signed Milan Lucic and drafted Jesse Puljujarvi.

What’s still lacking is an offensive defenseman who can run the power play, which is why the names Tyson Barrie (Avalanche) and Matt Dumba (Wild) have been floated as potential targets.

The Wild in particular could use a good, young center like Nugent-Hopkins, and the expansion draft is looming for a Minnesota club that already has defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella locked up in long-term contracts.

Barrie, meanwhile, has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Friday.

Blues d-man Kevin Shattenkirk is another name that’s come up; however, he can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, and whether he’d re-sign in Edmonton is in doubt.

Flyers reportedly avoid arbitration with Manning, sign him for two more years

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Chalk up another arbitration hearing that won’t be required. This time it’s Brandon Manning‘s. The 26-year-old defenseman has agreed on a two-year, $1.95 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, according to CSN Philly.

Manning’s hearing was scheduled for next Tuesday. He was the last restricted free agent on the Flyers, after Brayden Schenn re-signed Monday.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the Manning signing.

Manning played 56 games for the Flyers in 2015-16, his first full season in the NHL. He had one goal and six assists while logging an average ice time of 16:32.

Report: Blackhawks, Rundblad agree to terminate contract

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 09:  David Rundblad #5 of the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 9, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly parting ways with defenseman David Rundblad. The two sides have agreed to a contract termination, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Rundblad, 25, was set to earn $1.1 million this season, per General Fanager. His cap hit was $1.05 million, meaning the ‘Hawks will gain $100,000 in cap space by not having to bury his contract in the AHL next season.

Rundblad was unlikely to make the Blackhawks in 2016-17 — not after the additions of Brian Campbell and Michal Kempny, and also the re-signing of Michal Rozsival.

It remains to be seen where Rundblad will end up. One possibility is back in Switzerland, where he spent part of last season before dressing three times for the ‘Hawks in the playoffs.