Five players to watch leading up to this year’s trade deadline

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The NHL trade deadline arrives on Monday at 3 p.m. ET and this year’s deadline has been made more interesting thanks to all the activity leading up to it this time around. Since February 9th when Toronto traded Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner, there have been 22 trades involving 46 players and 19 draft picks changing hands.

Given that we’ve still got the weekend to get through and rumors continue to swirl around almost virtually everyone, we’re giving you five players to keep your eye on when it’s time for GMs to lay it all on the line and decide whether they’re going for it or not. Keep in mind, this list comes from the copious amounts of speculation we’ve read and by no means are any of these guys as good as traded by the deadline. For appropriate irony’s sake, making up this list likely keeps all five of these guys from being moved at all.

1. Brad Richards – Dallas Stars

He’s out with a concussion but now he’s started skating and could be back soon. He’s easily the best player rumored to be out there and his ability to help create offense and set other players up is a hugely desired quality. He’s done it through his whole career with Tampa Bay and Dallas and he’s an impending unrestricted free agent. In a perfect world, Dallas signs him to a massive contract extension and everyone goes home smiling. But with the Stars ownership being up in the air and no major financial commitments being allowed, his future in Dallas may not be long.

Whether the Stars opt to hang onto him and then look to deal him before July 1st if their ownership mess isn’t cleared up or if they strike now while the price would be the absolute highest is the dilemma facing Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. The number of teams ideally interested in Richards would be many and the Rangers are an obvious landing spot given their desperate need for a top center and Richards’ former coach in Tampa, John Tortorella, being there. Any deal made would then see that team try their hardest to lock Richards up long term, so there’s an element of risk for anyone wanting to get involved as without that extension trading for Richards is a really expensive rental.

Oh yeah, Dallas is also smack in the middle of trying to make the playoffs. It seems crazy that they’d deal their best player, but if the reality in Dallas is that things aren’t going to loosen up off the ice, the Stars might have to make a move to get a big return to help them in the future.

2. Stephen Weiss – Florida Panthers

Weiss has made it clear before that he’d stay in Florida for as long as they’d want him to. Panthers GM Dale Tallon says it would take a huge offer to make him consider moving Weiss, but the Panthers playmaker is viewed as a guy that would make a nice second prize should Dallas not want to move Richards. With 16 goals and 24 assists this season, his numbers seem pedestrian but on the offensively-starved Panthers he’s their top scorer, a distinction he’s had the two years previous including last year when he had a career-high 60 points, including 28 goals.

For a lot of teams he wouldn’t be an ideal #1 center, but for most contenders he’d be a perfect fit as a #2 center. It’s a shame for the Capitals that the Panthers share a division with them and would then seem less likely to want to make a deal with them involving Weiss. Weiss has a no-trade clause but we’d assume if the right contending team came calling he’d waive it and look to play in the first playoff series of his career.

3. Bryan McCabe – Florida Panthers

Sure, we could put a few more Panthers on this list (David Booth, Tomas Vokoun) but there’s only so many spots we’ve got. McCabe is in the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent which makes him a prime target for a team needing defensive help with a hint of offense along the blue line. The Panthers captain has been battling injury this year but his imminent return to action means he’ll be well rested and ready to roll for anyone that acquired him. McCabe had his share of frustrations when he played for Toronto seasons ago, but he’s settled down into a solid, serviceable defenseman.

With five goals and 17 assists this season through 47 games, he can still chip in well offensively but his biggest number may actually be his plus/minus rating of +3.  On a team that’s often been giving up goals like candy, keeping that number positive is astounding. Teammate Dennis Wideman’s -26 rating tells you how bad it can get there.

4. John-Michael Liles – Colorado Avalanche

The offensive-minded Avalanche defenseman has seen interest in him pick up in a big way of late and with the Avs acquiring Erik Johnson from St. Louis last week, signs are pointing towards Liles being moved out of town to change things up even further in Denver. Toronto is supposedly heavily in the mix for Liles and with GM Brian Burke’s affinity for American defenseman that played college hockey it’s no wonder. What Liles can do is help spark the offense as he’s got six goals and 33 assists this season. He can run the point on the power play and help set everyone else up. One area where he struggles is defensively but in Toronto that wouldn’t be a big problem as he could be paired up with anyone else and get proper help. Yes, even in Toronto.

One catch for acquiring Liles is that he comes with a stiff price tag with a cap hit of $4.2 million that carries into next season. If a team wants him bad enough, they’d better be committed to paying for his offensive production and be able to look past his defensive shortcomings at that price.

5. Ales Hemsky – Edmonton Oilers

The super talented forward is one of a few guys in Edmonton that are rumored to be on the move and while either he or Dustin Penner would be the biggest gets of the pack, Hemsky’s abilities and offensive creativity make him the more attractive option. Hemsky has 13 goals and 28 assists this season and in the past, when he’s been healthy, he’s been the Oilers most dynamic scorer and playmaker. He was an All-Star this season (for whatever that might mean to you) and there’s talk leaking about that even the Capitals might have interest in him.

The problem with gunning for Hemsky (or Penner) is the asking price. The Oilers reportedly want a solid roster player, a prospect, and a draft pick in any deal involving either of these players. With that kind of price attached, it’s tough to see either of them going anywhere. All told, the Oilers might be better off hanging on to them and allowing Taylor Hall to keep emerging as the top talent that he is while having these veteran running mates. Whether or not Oilers GM Steve Tambellini gets blown away by an offer or not remains to be seen.

The Buzzer: Penguins rally, Golden Knights dominate again

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Two games to open the second-round on Thursday night

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Washington Capitals 2 (Penguins lead series 1-0)

The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed by two goals with 16 minutes to play in regulation and then scored three consecutive goals to take Game 1 against the Washington Capitals. They did this without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel helped provide the offense while Matt Murray made some huge saves all night in net to keep the game close and help protect the lead in the closing minutes. This is already the third game the Capitals have lost this postseason when leading by two goals. They have only played in seven postseason games to this point.

The Penguins could be getting Malkin back for Game 2.

Vegas Golden Knights 7, San Jose Sharks 0 (Golden Knights lead series 1-0)

They have played in five playoff games so far, they have won five playoff games. After sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round the Vegas Golden Knights opened the second-round on Thursday night with a systematic dismantling of the San Jose Sharks, scoring four goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win. Everything about this team remains incredible. The speed the play with. How relentless they are on the attack. How great Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in net. The way they just overwhelm every opponent they face.

Vegas scored more goals against San Jose on Thursday (three more goals to be exact) than the Anaheim Ducks did in their entire four-game series in the first round. In five playoff games Vegas is now outscoring its opponents by a 14-3 margin. They had seven different players score goals on Thursday while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of them recorded at least two points..

Making matters worse for the Sharks is that they may have to play Game 2 without one of their top forwards, Evander Kane, after he was ejected in the third period for a cross-check to the head.

This game was such a laugher by the end that Fleury was doing the wave in the third period with the fans.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. It will get lost in the fact Vegas won the game 7-0, but Fleury is just playing out of his mind this postseason. He already has three shutouts in five games and has allowed just three goals total. He has a .981 save percentage in the playoffs. When he was healthy the 2017-18 season was one of the best of his career and he is continuing that in the playoffs. With a goaltender playing this well and a deep, balanced offense that can score the way they can this Vegas team is looking like a team that really could win the whole thing this year.

2. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He has simply been incredible for the Penguins in the playoffs. He has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) so far this postseason and over the past two years is now up to 20 goals and 17 assists, including seven game-winning goals.

3. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not play great in the Penguins’ first-round series clinching win against the Philadelphia Flyers, giving up five goals including a couple of clunkers. He was outstanding on Thursday and was one of the difference-makers in the game for the Penguins. He stopped 32 of 34 shots including 17 out of 18 in the third period.

Factoid of the Night

Another Marc-Andre Fleury fact for you.

Friday’s schedule

Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Evander Kane ejected for cross-checking Bellemare in the head

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The first game of the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be a total dumpster fire for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

Not only were they completely dominated from the opening faceoff by the Vegas Golden Knights, they also lost their composure, taking nine penalties and giving Vegas two separate 5-on-3 power plays on the night.

The second two-man advantage happened because Sharks forward Evander Kane got himself thrown out of the game for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after the whistle.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That came with the Sharks already trailing 5-0 on on the scoreboard. Vegas converted twice on the ensuing major penalty to open up a 7-0 lead.

This could have quite an impact on the series because that will probably get a serious look from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a potential suspension. The league has already issued four suspensions this postseason and we have only completed one round of the playoffs. Keep in mind there was only one suspension throughout the entire postseason a year ago.

Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline, Kane entered play on Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first four playoff games. He scored 29 goals and had 54 total points during the regular season in 78 games. Nine of those goals and five of those assists came as a member of the Sharks.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals, wins in rout

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy and never slow down.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period on their way to a 7-0 win in Game 1.

They received goals from seven different players while 11 different players recorded at least one point. Seven of those players had at least two points in the win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Alex Tuch‘s goal to close out the first period scoring was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones was pulled after giving up the fifth goal early in the second period. He was replaced by Aaron Dell who went on to give up a pair of power play goals in the third period after Evander Kane was given a five-minute major penalty — and ejected — for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the head.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury also recorded his third shutout of the playoffs. Vegas has only played five games.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.