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Atlantic Division Watch (February 23)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (February 23 -March 1)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (39-15-6 for 84 pts; 60 Games Played)

Current streak: One loss in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. NY Islanders (Thursday), @ Ottawa (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Penguins are clearly fading from the Flyers’ rear-view mirror right now, so it’s more about keeping pace with the Vancouver Canucks for the Presidents Trophy.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-20-5 for 77 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Wed), @ Carolina (Fri), @ Toronto (Sat).

Thoughts: Is James Neal the “answer” the Penguins have been searching for on the wing? Maybe not in the most absolute way, but he’s a major upgrade for Pittsburgh.

3. New York Rangers (32-26-4 for 68 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: @ Washington (Fri), home vs. Tampa Bay (Sun), home vs Buffalo (Tues).

Thoughts: The Rangers were really struggling coming into Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but they pulled out a win in a three-point game that might have left people groaning.

4. New Jersey Devils (26-30-4 for 68 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: Eight wins.

Week ahead: @ Tampa Bay (Fri), @ Florida (Sun).

Thoughts: The Devils actually play another game against the Lightning in New Jersey next Wednesday, so it’s been quite the run of non-traditional franchises for the Devils. If nothing else, they made the jump from italics to bold this week.

5. New York Islanders (23-31-7 for 53 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Washington (Sat), @ Washington (Tues).

Thoughts: The Isles are quietly hot, but this run of three elite East teams might flatten them out a little bit.

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?