Around the Rink – Saturday, March 12th

Today is a typical Saturday, being that it’s full of games (10) with plenty of playoff implications. (OK, plenty of playoff implications is typical for any day, but we digress.) Since there’s so many contests, we’re going to keep it fairly simple. All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

2:00 pm

Montreal @ Pittsburgh

Is this uncomfortable reunion week for the Canadiens? After losing Max Pacioretty, the team was forced to play against the goalie who took them to the Eastern Conference finals (4-1 loss to St. Louis) and now play the team they beat to get there in Pittsburgh. This should be a good test for both teams.

7:00 pm

Columbus @ Carolina

As bad as things have been going for the Hurricanes (three losses in a row, seated outside the East’s top eight), they’re that much worse for the bumbling Blue Jackets. Columbus is on a seven-game losing streak, so they should be a desperate team, but file this under “Games you must win if you want to make the playoffs” for the Canes.

NY Islanders @ New Jersey

The Devils keep winning and winning, while the Islanders quietly stay just a stride or two behind New Jersey. If the Isles win today in regulation, they will have the same amount of standings points (although the Devils will have two games in hand). That’s quite the turnaround, though one wonders how much it will benefit Garth Snow’s team in the long run.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia

Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger (health permitting) get to renew their hostilities Stanley Cup finals, although the match loses some of its luster since Buff is playing on defense/being a rover. The Thrashers need this one badly after losing to Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils last night.

Buffalo @ Toronto

One must wonder if Toronto-area hockey fans are just hoping that one of these two teams make the playoffs. After all, Buffalo is just a hop, skip and a jump away from that area, making it an interesting foster team for jilted Leafs fans. It’s definitely a big one for both teams, with the Sabres in seventh and the Maple Leafs in 10th.

Tampa Bay @ Florida

This might be the week in which the Lightning’s Southeast Division hopes go up in smoke, unless they excel during this four-game road swing. The Panthers are a very Panther-like 1-1-1 in the first half of their six-game homestand. Will this be the night their playoff hopes will be put to bed?

8:00 pm

Detroit @ St. Louis

The Blues seem like the West’s answer to the Islanders: they’ve been hit with a litany of injuries yet they’re currently putting together a winning run that might ultimately be pointless. This might be their best chance to take points from Detroit, though, being that the game’s in St. Louis and the Red Wings squeaked out an OT win against Edmonton last night.

Colorado @ Nashville

Jeez, the Avalanche are a downer. Either that, or they’re very committed to tanking this season. The 10th place Predators would love to help them maintain that losing spirit as they have some ground to make up to get back in the top eight.

10:00 pm

Vancouver @ Calgary

As stunning as the Flames’ turnaround has been, they’re one of those home-dependent (21 wins in Calgary vs. only 15 on the road) clubs who might be in serious trouble in a 1 vs. 8 seed match. Then again, who wouldn’t be in trouble against the Canucks in the playoffs?

10:30 pm

NY Rangers @ San Jose

The Ducks slapped the Rangers around on Thursday. Will the Sharks be equally unaccommodating as New York plays its second game against tough California teams? With the Stars nipping at their heels, San Jose has plenty to play for, which might not bode well for the Broadway bunch.

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.

 

 

Kassian gets three-year, $5.85 million commitment from Oilers

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Zack Kassian, after some terrific performances for the Oilers in the playoffs, has signed a three-year contract extension in Edmonton.

The deal is worth $5.85 million, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. That’s a cap hit just below $2 million.

Kassian, 26, seems to have salvaged his NHL career after missteps in Vancouver and Montreal. The big winger had seven goals and 17 games in 79 games for the Oilers during the regular season. But it was in the postseason where he really made an impact — especially in the first round against San Jose.

Twice Kassian scored game-winning goals against the Sharks. He was also a physical force:

Granted, Kassian was less noticeable in the second round, but the fact he received a three-year commitment from the Oilers speaks to the organization’s belief that he’s truly turned his life around.

Related: Kassian opens up about struggles with alcoholism