Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen

Are Hurricanes set to make a move in Eastern Conference playoff race?

Tonight’s trip to Chicago marks the second game in an important back-to-back as the Carolina Hurricanes battle for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Only one night after a thrilling overtime victory against the Sabres, a proverbial 4-point game, the Canes will face the surging Chicago Blackhawks in a game that both teams need to keep pace in their respective playoff races. Carolina will look to avoid a letdown as they try to chase down the Canadiens for the 6th spot.

Only a few weeks ago, the rumors around the league were that Carolina was going to be a seller at the deadline. Fast-forward to today and see that not only did the Hurricanes add a couple of players to the mix, but both Erik Cole and Joni Pitkanen are still members of their club. Just as we saw all over the league, parity will make teams switch roles quicker than we’ve ever seen.

Let’s take a look at what GM Jim Rutherford was able to do over the last few weeks. He jettisoned both Ian White and Sergei Samsonov who were treading water for the Canes and replaced them with players who are expected to contribute in Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman. Everyone knows the games down the stretch are harder fought with battles for every inch of ice. Allen and Stillman are exactly the type of players who thrive when the game gets more physical.

Clearly, the Canes aren’t the type of team that is going to strike fear into the hearts of fans around the league. But as Rutherford says, they’re a better team than they get credit for:

“I know there are better teams out there on paper than we are, but there might’ve been better teams on paper than we were in ’06, too,” Rutherford said in reference to Carolina’s championship season. “If you get the right breaks and play the right teams and all the things that you need to do come through in the playoffs, we have a structure here that would give us a chance to have a much more successful season than I think people would have thought we would have.”

The Hurricanes recent success in the playoffs speaks to the way Rutherford builds teams. Since the lockout, they’ve made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice and won the Cup in 2006. Then again, the other three seasons Carolina didn’t even make the playoffs. The moral of the story? Opponents better hope they don’t make the playoffs because they’ll probably make noise if they do.

The secret that Rutherford seems to have figured out is the way he builds his teams. Down the middle, they have three centers who are extremely tough to play against. Brandon Sutter’s game looks like it was created specifically to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their top line with Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and Cory Stillman has proven it can survive the rigors of the playoffs, wear down the other team, and emerge victorious in a 7-game series. Stay-at-home defensemen Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason are great compliments to Joni Pitkanen, rookie Jaime McBain, and Joe Corvo. The team is built to spread the responsibility around and not rely too heavily on a player or two.

There’s not doubt that Carolina has been a picture of mediocrity with their 6-6-3 record since the All-Star break. So why are we talking about the Canes as a team that could make a move down the stretch? Jim Rutherford. That’s why. With two mid-level deals he completely changed the face of his squad. The return of Stillman gives the Canes a formidable top-line and should help their struggling power play. He has 3 points in his 4 games since arriving in Raleigh and has helped create a few more goals for the team. Bryan Allen can play the tough minutes on the PK and instantly gives Carolina the depth on their blueline that they’ll need. The guys over at the Hurricanes blog Canes Country agree:

“It can’t be overstated how important it is to keep your defense fresh down the stretch. With a night of travel and a game Friday on tap for the Canes, having their defenders evenly sharing the workload should do a world of good compared to running Pitkanen and Corvo into the ground with ice times creeping toward 30 minutes. Throw in the fact they were able to do it in the biggest game of the year [vs. Buffalo], and GM Jim Rutherford has to be thrilled with how his changes on D have morphed the way Carolina approaches its game management.”

It’s hard not to like their top two lines and their defensive corps depth. Calder Trophy candidate Jeff Skinner is leading the NHL in rookie scoring with 22 goals and 26 assists. Tuomo Ruutu has 45 points while being a complete pain to play against and Chad LaRose has always had the knack of scoring big goals in his career.

On the occasion that the 18 guys on the ice aren’t getting it done, an all-star and Conn Smythe winning goaltender is always there to pick up the team. Even though he’s facing over 32 shots per game, Cam Ward still owns a .920 save percentage.

Exactly the kind of guy a team would want if they were looking to make a run towards the playoffs. Correction: exactly the kind of team to make a run towards the playoffs.

Islanders agree to terms with Dennis Seidenberg

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Word surfaced on Wednesday morning that the New York Islanders were expected to sign veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

On Wednesday night, the team announced that it has officially agreed to terms with him on a one-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to TSN’s Darren Dreger earlier in the day the value is reported to be $1 million.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Tobias Rieder #8 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL preseason game against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 2, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It seems that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba isn’t the only unsigned restricted free agent that might be looking for a fresh start somewhere else.

Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder also seems to be ready to explore other options.

It’s already been known that Rieder is frustrated in his current negotiations with the Coyotes and will not attend training camp once he is finished playing for Team Europe at the World Cup.

On Wednesday afternoon, his agent, Darren Ferris, told Arizonasports.com’s Craig Morgan via email that he thinks it would be best for both parties if the Coyotes simply trade his client at this point, and that Rieder is “really disappointed” with the team.

More from Arizonasports.com:

“It’s unfortunate that a good kid gets treated this way. He never balked at the defensive role they made him play, and they don’t seem to value the intangibles he brings to the team.”

The Coyotes do not seem to have any interest in actually dealing Rieder at this point.

There’s a lot of rhetoric here, and that really should not be a shock considering the circumstances, but when looking at the numbers that are being talked about this doesn’t seem like a situation that should be beyond repair. A middle ground isn’t that far off.

According to Rieder’s agent, he is seeking a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per year. The team is reportedly holding strong with either an offer at $2.2 million per year, or a lower one-year qualifying offer. Again, that’s not a huge gap in terms of asking price. In actual salary it’s a total of $600,000 over two years, while the cap hit is only an extra $300,000 each year. For a young player that is already fairly productive and still has some upside to get better.

The middle ground in those two numbers would be a cap hit of $2.35 million per season.

The 23-year-old Rieder has played two full seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes and is coming off of a 14-goal, 37-point performance.

Originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers, the Coyotes acquired Rieder in a 2013 trade for Kale Kessy. Seeing as that Kessy has yet to play a single game in the NHL and only recorded 12 points in 56 AHL games a season ago it’s been a pretty good deal for the Coyotes.

Now they just need to find a way to make sure they can continue to benefit from it by trying to bridge this (relatively speaking) small gap in contract talks.

NHL odds: Coyotes biggest long shot to make playoffs in 2016-17

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 26:  (L-R) Christian Dvorak #18, Luke Schenn #2, Radim Vrbata #17, Dakota Mermis #43 and Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrate after Schenn scored a first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the preseason NHL game at Gila River Arena on September 26, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Dylan Strome all in place, the Arizona Coyotes have an exciting core of young talent that should have a bright future in the NHL.

From a big picture outlook, there are plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding the Coyotes.

Vegas, on the other hand, isn’t a big believer in the Coyotes chances for the 2016-17 season.

The folks at Bovada released their playoff odds for the upcoming season and the Coyotes opened as the biggest long shot to make the playoffs (-600 to miss the playoffs; +400 to make them).

Here are the odds for every team, via Bovada.

Playoff Odds (From Most Likely to make the playoffs to least likely to make the playoffs)

Washington Capitals – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -1000 (1/10)
No +600 (6/1)

Tampa Bay Lightning – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -850 (17/2)
No +525 (21/4)

Chicago Blackhawks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

Pittsburgh Penguins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

St Louis Blues – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

San Jose Sharks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -700 (1/7)
No +475 (10/4)

Los Angeles Kings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -300 (1/3)
No +240 (12/5)

Dallas Stars – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Florida Panthers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Nashville Predators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Rangers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Islanders – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -250 (2/5)
No +200 (2/1)

Anaheim Ducks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -180 (5/9)
No +150 (3/2)

Boston Bruins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Montreal Canadiens – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Philadelphia Flyers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -150 (2/3)
No +120 (6/5)

Minnesota Wild – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -140 (7/5)
No +110 (11/10)

Winnipeg Jets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -115 (20/23)
No -115 (20/23)

Calgary Flames – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (2/3)

Edmonton Oilers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (3/2)

Detroit Red Wings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +125 (5/4)
No -155 (20/31)

Colorado Avalanche – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +150 (3/2)
No -180 (5/9)

Vancouver Canucks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +180 (9/5)
No -225 (4/9)

Buffalo Sabres – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +240 (12/5)
No -300 (1/3)

New Jersey Devils – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Ottawa Senators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Toronto Maple Leafs – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Columbus Blue Jackets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +275 (11/4)
No -350 (2/7)

Carolina Hurricanes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +300 (3/1)
No -400 (1/4)

Arizona Coyotes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +400 (4/1)
No -600 (1/6)

If you’re feeling bold, the Coyotes aren’t the worst bet to make here. They are certainly not a lock to make the playoffs, but the biggest long shot seems like it is a little much as well.

Getting into one of the top three spots in the division is going to be tough because Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose had a pretty commanding lead for those spots. But the Coyotes still weren’t that far out of a playoff spot this past season, finishing in 10th place in the Western Conference, nine points out of the second wild card spot. It’s not like they were a bottom-feeder in the NHL. Plus, they made the move over the summer to bring in veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski to help on the blue line and should have Strome, the No. 3 overall pick from a year ago, ready to make his NHL debut.

Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.