Around the rink – March 8; Habs-Bruins, Sabres-Pens highlight busy night

All times Eastern

7:00 p.m.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh

Playoff position jockeying begins in earnest as the Sabres can jump to seventh in the East with a win over the Penguins. Meanwhile, a Penguins win paired with a Flyers regulation loss puts them in a tie with Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division. And some people say regular season hockey doesn’t have any bite to it. Silly people. Making life tougher for the Sabres is they’ll be without Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta tonight. Mark Parrish and Luke Adam get the call from the minors to help out. We’re figuring the Penguins won’t really miss dealing with Kaleta.

Ottawa @ New Jersey

Seems almost unfair that the Devils get to try and continue their winning ways against a Senators team decimated by injuries. Hey, at least they’ve got Craig Anderson in goal which means it’ll probably just be another 2-1 game. The Devils are just seven points out of eighth place and going up against the NHL’s worst team figures to be a good way to keep the good times rolling.

Toronto @ NY Islanders

The Leafs would like to keep up with the slumping Jones’ at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race and finding a way to beat the much improved Islanders would go a long way towards that. Having these two teams playing better hockey late in the season makes us nostalgic for the early part of the 2000s when these teams would play some legendary-ish games in the spring. Having some nostalgia break out on the ice tonight would make us feel at home. The Leafs are four points back of Carolina for the eighth spot in the East.

Edmonton @ Philadelphia

All right so the Flyers have lost four in a row and they’ve got what would appear to be an easy game with one of the NHL’s worst teams in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup finals from the 1980s these are not. Of course, the Oilers are winners of seven of their last ten games. We’re not going to call this a trap game, but we’re thinking that if Peter Laviolette’s reasoning for the Flyers recent slump is just a matter of fatigue, then things should return to normal for Philly.

7:30 p.m.

Boston @ Montreal

When last we left these two teams, they were putting on the foil in Boston in a big, old fashioned way in an 8-6 Bruins win featuring line brawls all over the place all night long. If we see more of that tonight in Montreal, we’d be surprised. We don’t think the Habs will be seeking revenge with their fists but would rather try to narrow the gap in the standings between themselves and the Bruins. Montreal trails Boston by five points and if they want to win the division wins are more important than payback. A Boston win and a Philly loss in regulation moves the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Chicago @ Florida

Panthers GM Dale Tallon gets to meet up with his former team in Sunrise tonight. With how hot the Blackhawks have been of late, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have a tough time dealing with the trade reduced Panthers, especially with a motivated Michal Frolik looking to beat his former team. Chicago could pull within four points of Detroit for the Central Division lead with a win.

8:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Minnesota

If the Wild are hoping to get in the mix for the playoffs, beating a downtrodden Avalanche team would go a long way towards that. Andrew Brunette may be out with illness and Guillaume Latendresse might suit up tonight. So much intrigue for the Wild! As for the Avs, they’ve lost 17 of their last 19 games including their last five. That’s stunningly awful. No pressure here Minnesota, but if you want to be taken serious as a potential playoff team you’d better beat the Avs.

9:00 p.m.

Vancouver @ Phoenix

A game with some bite to it out West as the Canucks look to keep flexing their muscles on the rest of the conference. After winning against L.A. and Anaheim the Canucks appear to have turned things around after going mild for a stretch just winning and losing on alternating nights. Phoenix may have turned around their fortunes with their comeback win in the shootout over Detroit on Saturday night. They had lost five in a row up until that point. The Coyotes could use a rally for a few different reasons and knocking off the front running Canucks would be another feather in their cap.

10:30 p.m.

Nashville @ San Jose

San Jose continues to be on fire while the Predators have slipped up of late. The Sharks did lose their last time out against Dallas, but they’d won eight in a row prior to that. Nashville’s lost six of their last eight and have fallen out of the top eight for the playoffs for the moment. They need to get consistent again and getting their offense together would go a long way toward that. Meanwhile, San Jose has a three point lead on the resurgent Stars in the Pacific Division. Keeping distance on them should be a priority for the Sharks.

Fletcher isn’t too worried about Wild’s cap situation

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A lot of eyes were on the Minnesota Wild at the NHL draft watching to see if they would make a move involving one of their defensemen.

No move happened (at least not yet).

Part of the issue for the Wild — and the reason for the trade speculation — is their need to re-sign restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund this offseason, while also making any other necessary additions to the team. They have to do all of that staying under the NHL’s salary cap.

As of Saturday, the Wild have around $14 million in salary cap space (via CapFriendly) with only 15 players under contract for next season, while the new deals for Niederreiter and Granlund are almost certain to eat up a significant portion of that remaining salary cap space.

That is going to make things tight under the cap because they certainly do not want to let either of those RFA’s get away. That led to speculation that a defenseman such as Marco Scandella or Mathew Dumba could be on the move this weekend.

But general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t sound too concerned about the situation and seems convinced the team can open the season the way it is currently constructed with a few minor moves to fill out the fourth line.

Here is Fletcher, via the Star-Tribune:

“I’m not too worried about that. We have some young guys ready to make the team that will carry good cap hits. We need to fill a couple spots probably in free agency, but again, we’re looking more at fourth-line type players. We like our group, the defense is the strength of our team, we’ve got three lines up front that we like.”

The Wild were determined to keep all of their defensemen out of the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft and were willing to part with prospect Alex Tuch to steer the Golden Knights toward Erik Haula.

Overall, Minnesota’s roster is pretty solid as it stands so it doesn’t need a ton of work. They have an excellent goaltender, a deep defense and a balanced group of forwards making up their top-three lines so if they have to stick with the status quo it wouldn’t be the worst situation to be in. They were one of the best teams in the league until a late-season slump cost them the top spot in the Central Division. It carried over into the playoffs were they lost to the St. Louis Blues in five games.

Hextall staying patient in Flyers’ goalie search

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The Philadelphia Flyers were hoping to add a veteran goaltender this weekend to complement Michal Neuvirth and as of Saturday evening they had yet to accomplish that goal.

General manager Ron Hextall does not seem too concerned about that development and is leaning on the fact it seems to be a buyer’s market at the position.

“I don’t know what’s going to present itself. My comfort level is there’s a number of goalies out there. Not six No. 1 spots out there and one goalie out there. I have comfort in that,” Hextall said, via Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

“We’re still doing our due diligence and in the end it’ll probably come down to the guys we like and then we’ll look at term and length. If we like this guy and he’s asking unreal term or whatever we’ll go somewhere else.”

He also added that Steve Mason is still in the mix to potentially return, even though most signs point to that not happening.

So far this offseason a number of goalies have already changed teams, with Ben Bishop going to the Dallas Stars, Mike Smith going to the Calgary Flames and Marc-Andre Fleury being selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, Hextall isn’t wrong in his assessment of the goaltending market because there are more good goalies available than there are starting spots.

Just about every team in the league right now is settled with its starting goalie. Other than maybe the Winnipeg Jets there really isn’t anybody else out there along with the Flyers that is in the market to find a No. 1 goalie. That leaves the Flyers with what should be their pick of potential starters (or platoon partners for Neuvirth).

The unrestricted free agent market includes Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and Mason.

As of this moment the Flyers’ goaltending duo would be Neuvirth and rookie Anthony Stolarz, a combination that Hextall did not seem entirely comfortable with given Stolarz’s inexperience and Neuvirth’s injury history, so he seems determined to bring in somebody else to help solidify the position.

It is just a matter who it is going to be and how much it costs to acquire. He is certainly going to have plenty of options over the next week.

The Neuvirth/Mason duo was a fantastic value for the Flyers two years ago, but due to injury and just all-around poor play everything kind of fell apart for them this past season.

It was a big factor in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing season for the Flyers.

McPhee says Golden Knights ‘accomplished a lot of things’ in first draft

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No team was busier at the NHL draft this weekend than the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Armed with 13 draft picks thanks to their dealings in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights began the process of building the real future of their team. It started on Friday night when they kept all three of their first-round selections and used them to select a pair of centers along with a puck-moving defenseman. They continued the process on Saturday with the remainder of their picks.

A quick look at the selections indicates McPhee tried to begin by building his roster down the middle by selecting six centers, two defensemen and a pair of goalies.

“We accomplished a lot of things in this draft,” McPhee said, via Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review Journal. “We got some skill, we got some size and we got some goaltending.”

Their entire draft haul ended up as follows

1 (6) — Cody Glass, center

1 (13) — Nick Suzuki, center

1 (15) — Erik Brannstrom, defense

2 (34) — Nicolas Hague, defense

2 (31) — Jake Leschyshyn, center

3 (65) — Jonas Rondbjerg, right wing

4 (96) — Maksim Zhukov, goalie

5 (127) — Lucas Elvenes, center/right wing

5 (142) — Jonathan Dugan, left wing

6 (158) — Nick Campoli, center

6 (161) — Jiri Patera, goalie

7 (189) — Ben Jones, center

Along with those picks, they also traded one of their second-round picks (No. 45 overall) to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for prospect Keegan Kolesar, a 6-2, 223-point forward that is ready to make the jump to pro hockey after averaging a point-per-game the past two seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Size did seem to be a common trend with their picks as eight of their selections were listed as 6′ or taller, including Hague, a 6-5, 207-pound defenseman.

While the inaugural Golden Knights roster will be made up primarily of players taken in the expansion draft this past week, most of them will not be with the team for more than a year or two as the organization begins to take shape.

Some of them probably will not even begin the season on the team as McPhee continues to wheel and deal.

This weekend is where the real building of the organization started.

Treliving: Flames paid price in Hamonic deal, but ‘you can never have enough top d-men’

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Two years ago, Brad Treliving acquired Dougie Hamilton at the draft. On Saturday, he picked up Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders.

Those are two moves that have significantly helped the Flames build a formidable top-four defense in the Western Conference, and it’s already been suggested it could be in the conversation with Nashville’s group that includes Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Yes, the Flames paid a price — first and second-round picks in next year’s NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft.

But after making the playoffs this season and then making a recent trade with Arizona to acquire goalie Mike Smith, the Flames seem to feel they’re in their window to win now. Today’s move further solidifies that notion.

“You’ve got to give to get,” said Treliving, the Flames general manager, of the Hamonic deal. “You hate paying the price. But we looked at a lot of things: We looked at the makeup of our team, where he fits. He’s a right shot. We think he fits in real good with our team.

“I like the looks of our top-four. He moves pucks. He’s a character kid. He’s got some bite to him.”

The Flames now have their top four defensemen locked into contracts through at least 2020, which was one of the important factors in acquiring Hamonic, according to Treliving. Mark Giordano, who turns 34 in October, is signed through 2022 and Hamilton is signed through 2021.

Treliving lauded the puck-moving ability of Giordano, Hamilton and T.J. Brodie — who combined for 31 goals and 125 points, led by Hamilton’s 13-goal, 50-point campaign. But, he said, the move to acquire Hamonic brings added toughness and versatility into the group.

“He checks a lot of boxes for us,” he said. “I think you build up through the middle. This, to me, solidifies our defense. I like our center ice position. There’s depth there and we’ll keep tweaking at it, but I like the looks of that defense.”

As a result of injuries, Hamonic played in only 49 games last season.

With the way Hamonic plays, Treliving admitted there may be greater risk for injury, but the Flames don’t have any concerns about that heading into next season.

The Flames also have some young, up-and-coming defensemen in their system, most notably 20-year-old prospect Oliver Kylington, who fell to 60th overall in 2015, even though there was talk he could be a first-round pick.

“I think we’ve got some young kids coming. It allows them to progress and develop at their own timeline,” said Treliving. “But you can never have enough defensemen. You can never have enough top defensemen.”