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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.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers open ‘make it or break it’ portion of schedule against Capitals

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers checks Karl Alzner #27 of the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Washington Capitals at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Last year, the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy and although they aren’t light years ahead of everyone this time around, they remain the top team in the NHL heading into tonight’s game.

But as hot as they’ve been, the Caps are finding out that coming back from the bye week is no easy task. Before their six-day break, Washington had rattled off six consecutive victories over Boston, Montreal, Los Angeles, Carolina, Detroit and Anaheim. Since the end of their break, they’ve dropped back-to-back games to the Red Wings and Rangers.

It’s the first time since Dec. 27-29 that the Capitals dropped two in row. Not to make excuses for them, but the condensed schedule and extended breaks have done wacky things to some good teams.

“We were just moving too slow, moving the puck too slow and not moving our legs quick enough,” Matt Niskanen said after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers, per the Washington Post. “It showed. . . . We’re shaking off the rust a bit, but the second two periods is a step in the right direction.”As Niskanen mentioned, the Caps looked better as the game wore on, but in both losses, sluggish starts have been an issue. We’ll see if they can fix that tonight.Unlike Washington, Philadelphia’s spot in the playoffs is far from secure.The Flyers enter tonight’s game three points back of the Florida Panthers for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference (they’ve played one more game than Florida).This will be Philadelphia’s first game back home after their Western Canadian swing. The first two games of that trip didn’t go very well, as they were outscored 9-4 in a pair of losses to Calgary and Edmonton, but they salvaged the trip with a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Sunday.Starting tonight, the Flyers will begin a tough stretch of games. They’ll close out the month with a road tilt against Pittsburgh before returning home to face the last-place Avs. Things will get even tougher for them in March, as they’ll play 15 games in 30 days. Of those 15 contests, 13 will come against Eastern Conference opponents.

“It is make it or break it. That’s it,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said, per Philly.com. “You are either in the playoffs or no, and you are going to play against the hardest teams and it is going to be a little bit of a dogfight for us.”

PHT Morning Skate: A spirited fight between Sam Bennett and Ryan Johansen

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–Making trades in the cap era isn’t easy, but almost every team that went on to win the Stanley Cup pulled off a key move or two before the trade deadline. Sportsnet’s Steve Dangle breaks down some of the key trades that helped teams lift the cup. From Carolina’s acquisition of Mark Recchi and Doug Weight in 2006 to Los Angeles getting Jeff Carter in 2012, every one of these moves helped in some way. (Sportsnet)

–As part of their centennial celebration, the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled the green and white St. Pats jerseys they’ll be wearing against the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 18. The Toronto St. Patricks existed between 1919 and 1927. The jerseys are fairly plain, but they represent a special part of the organization’s history. It’ll still be weird to see the Leafs wear green. (sportslogos.net)

Joe Thornton has always been known as an elite playmaker and he’s now just two assists away from becoming the 13th player to hit the 1000-assist mark. The things Thornton has and continues to do with the puck on his stick are impressive. When his career is over, he’ll surely go down as one of the best set-up men in league history. (The Hockey News)

–Last night’s game between the ‘Hawks and Wild turned into the Jonathan Toews show, as Chicago’s captain scored three goals and two assists in his team’s 5-3 victory. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore has a bright future ahead of him, but he still hasn’t established himself as a regular NHLer. That much is obvious when you consider the number of miles he’s put on his truck by driving between Anaheim and San Diego (AHL affiliate). The season isn’t even over yet and he’s already officially been up and down 13 times in 2016-17. “When he leaves, you wouldn’t know if it’s for five minutes or if he’s gone for a month,” says teammate Jaycob Megna. “I’ll be out getting groceries and I’ll come back and he’ll be gone or packing up again. You never know when you’re going to see him.” (Sports Illustrated)

–The Fourth Period is the latest website to break down the top 25 players that could get moved before the March 1st deadline. Kevin Shattenkirk is at the top of the list, while Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are fourth and fifth respectively. Two Arizona Coyotes cracked the top six. (The Fourth Period)

–Flames forward Sam Bennett and Preds forward Ryan Johansen don’t drop the gloves very often, but they definitely let their fists fly during last night’s game. The whole thing started because Johansen went after Matt Stajan. Bennett didn’t appreciate that. Here’s the video:

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

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