Early ride on the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

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Boston 2, Tampa Bay 1

This hasn’t been an easy stretch for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On back-to-back nights they’ve been forced to play the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference on the road. In both games, the Lightning did a good job of holding their opponents to only 2 goals. Unfortunately, they only scored a single goal as they lost for the second straight night.

In a battle for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, Milan Lucic scored the eventual game-winner with about 4 minutes left in the game. Lucic netted the goal on a rebound after an unbelievable scramble in front of Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. For his part, Smith had a fantastic game and gave his team a chance to win. They’ll just need to start scoring more than once if they want to win.

Washington 3, St. Louis 2

Welcome to the Capitol, Mr. Arnott. The Caps have been saying for two years that they wanted a 2nd line center, and one game into the Arnott-era it seems they might have found the right guy for the job. Thursday’s win was their third in a row—the first time they’ve won three games in a row since the Winter Classic. In fact, the Caps didn’t have a lead until Arnott’s goal with 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. It was a tough way to lose for the Blues who played a good road game and desperately need the points in the tight Western Conference.

Toronto 3, Philadelphia 2

The good news for the Flyers was Kris Versteeg was able to bury 2 goals against his former team. The bad news is no one else was able to do anything and the Leafs escaped Wells Fargo Center with a 3-2 win. Escaped is really the right word. The Leafs controlled the play for most of the game, but once they scored the go-ahead goal with 4:30 left in the final frame, the Flyers threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Maple Leafs. At the end of the day though, it was the first time the Flyers have lost back-to-back games since the end of December.

The Leafs continued their hot streak as of late. This was the ninth one-goal game in a row with Toronto earning points in all 9 games (6-0-3). Rookie netminder James Reimer played well once again helping the Leafs win another tight game as they make a surprising push for the playoffs.

Minnesota 3, NY Rangers 1

Don’t look now, but the Rangers are in a freefall. Thursday night’s loss is their 11th in their last 15 games, dropping them down to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Once again, they played well enough to win—but fell short on the scoreboard. They got 41 shots on net against the Wild, but Henrik Lundqvist was only able to make 16 saves as the Wild escaped Gotham with a much needed win.

The Wild will take wins any way they can get them—and tonight that included surviving a horrific first period. Even though the Rangers dominated the play in the opening frame, Minnesota kept it close and made enough big plays to earn the win. At this point, it doesn’t matter how they get them. A win is a win.

Carolina 3, Buffalo 2 (OT)

For all of the teams in the East trying to push into the playoffs, this was the worst possible result. A 3-point game between the 8th and 9th place teams is NOT the way to climb the ladder to make any headway.

Defenseman Jaime McBain was able to pot the game-ender for the Canes only 26 seconds into OT. With the overtime win, the Hurricanes are now 11-3-2 in their last 16 at the RBC Center. As Eric Staal said after the game, he could sense the confidence building within the team with youngsters and veterans alike. That’s exactly what Carolina will need if they want to make the playoffs in April.

The loss snaps the Sabres 4-game winning streak even though newcomer Brad Boyes was able to score his 2nd goal in as many games for Buffalo. As a team battling for the final playoff spot, they were at least able to earn the loser point.

Ottawa 3, Atlanta 1

Why in the world didn’t Bryan Murray trade for Craig Anderson months ago? The former Avs netminder played well yet again as his 42 saves led the Sens to their fourth win in his sixth game. Better than that, it was the fifth time he’s only allowed 1 or fewer goals in a game for the Sens.

The 11th place Thrashers lost ground on everyone they were chasing as they lost their 7th game in their last 8. They have one game left on their current 5-game homestand that has seen them go 1-2-1. The loss drops them seven points out of the final playoff spot. Needless to say, this wasn’t the time to lose to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal 4, Florida 0

Unfortunately, the Panthers are going to have to play the rest of the season. After trading three defensemen and four forwards, the Panthers looked completely overmatched as the Habs jumped all over them in the 1st period. The final score was 4-0, but it seemed much worse than that. Maybe it had to do with the sellout crowd of Habs fans making the BankAtlantic Center their own. Maybe it was Tomas Vokoun getting pulled 9 minutes into the game.

The Canadiens must have been happy with their effort. Two first period goals and a 30 save shutout for Carey Price helped solidify their sixth place standing. Even Hal Gill scored a goal! That pretty much sums it up.

Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

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If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

“Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?

Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

(As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

Bloated supporting cast

There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

Yeah, not ideal.

It’s not all bad

Now, let’s be fair.

RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

Crucial future negotiations

GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

***

Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

It’s not just about those stars, though.

The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.