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Race for the Playoffs – March 23; Western Conference in focus top to bottom

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

  1. Vancouver 103 pts
  2. Detroit 95 pts
  3. San Jose 92 pts
  4. Phoenix 91 pts
  5. Los Angeles 88 pts
  6. Nashville 88 pts
  7. Chicago 86 pts
  8. Anaheim 85 pts
  9. Dallas 85 pts
  10. Calgary 85 pts

Vancouver @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET

The top two teams in the Western Conference square off and for the Canucks, it’s their opportunity to lock down the top spot in the West for good, for all intents and purposes. Vancouver’s got an NHL-best 103 points while Detroit trails them with 95 atop the Central Division. A win for Vancouver gives them a nine or ten point lead in the West with eight games left to play. That would be one tough hill to climb.

Of course a Detroit win opens up the possibility of things getting stressful towards the end of the year for the Canucks.  Vancouver’s been on top of the West all year long and haven’t had a real threat from anyone in their division or the conference. If Detroit’s able to cut their lead to six with a regulation win, the final games of the season get much more interesting. As it is, there’s no telling who either team will draw in the first round regardless given how crazy things are below them.

Florida @ Chicago – 8:30 p.m. ET

While the Panthers don’t have any fight for the playoffs sitting 13 points out of eighth in the East, Chicago’s got everything to get psyched up for. The Blackhawks are currently alone in seventh place in the West with 86 points, just two points out of fifth with Los Angeles and Nashville just ahead of them. Chicago, like everyone else in the hunt in the West, can’t afford a loss and with Anaheim facing Dallas tonight a Chicago loss would put them in more immediate peril. Playoff time is about survival and winning is the only way to stay alive. For the spot that Chicago’s in a win puts them in fifth place whereas a loss could wind up with them being knocked out of the top eight with Calgary also in action tonight.

Anaheim @ Dallas – 8:30 p.m. ET

These two teams are tied in the West with 85 points and a win in regulation would be crucial for either team to put some space between themselves and the rest of the field. Anaheim rolls into this one winners of three in a row while Dallas has lost three of their last four. Those sorts of cold streaks are killers out West and for Dallas it’s knocked them down into the “danger zone” of having their season potentially decided by a three point game that they may or may not even be playing in. Given that Anaheim is doing well without, perhaps, their best player in Jonas Hiller their run and ability to stay in the playoff hunt this well is remarkable. For Dallas, they need a win, badly, and getting one against Anaheim would do themselves a huge favor.

Calgary @ San Jose – 10:00 p.m. ET

A game that’s huge on both ends of the spectrum. For the Sharks, they’d like to keep the Coyotes off their heels and they’ve won three straight while doing just that. Calgary, meanwhile, is barely hanging on and they’ve lost five of their last six games. Calgary is running out of games as after tonight they’ll have just six games left to play. If the Flames want to make the playoffs, winning out wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Doing so against a Sharks team that’s been playing great the entire second half of the season makes for a daunting task. If Calgary can win tonight, it breathes a bit more life into their playoff hopes while a loss sets them back in a potentially big way as the teams immediately ahead of them all have a chance to add points tonight.

Coyotes have work to do, with RFAs Murphy, Stone still unsigned

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes added a defenseman with a right shot to their roster, signing Luke Schenn on Saturday. And there could be more moves to the back end on the way for Arizona.

They still have work left with respect to two restricted free agents. Defensemen Connor Murphy, 23, and Michael Stone, 26, are still looking for new contracts.

Stone, another right-shot blue liner, had a career-best 36 points in 75 games last season for the Coyotes and has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.

His previous contract was a three-year deal with an average annual value of $1.15 million. But he’s also coming off surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his left knee, according to azcentral.com. In April, it was expected he could be out at least six months.

“I know he’s running well and moving pretty well,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka, as per azcentral.com. “ … He’s a big part of our blue line, so we’re hoping to get him back as soon as we can.”

However, when it comes to a new deal for Murphy, it appears there is some distance between the two sides.

From Arizona Sports 98.7:

While Chayka said the tenor of talks with Murphy has been good, Murphy’s agent, Brian Bartlett, said on July 18 that he was uncertain when a deal might be struck, and he reiterated on Saturday that nothing has changed in those negotiations.

“I hope we are close,” he wrote via text message last week. “Still have a gap to bridge, but confident we will get it done eventually. Could wrap up with one phone call but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get on the same page.”

Murphy is a Coyotes first-round pick from 2011. His entry-level contract, with its AAV of more than $1,075 million, is expired.

He appeared in 78 games for the Coyotes last season, increasing his point total from seven in 73 games in 2014-15, to 17 points in the 2015-16 campaign.

Blues’ Allen says he still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ No. 1 goalie

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) is scored on by the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The goaltending roles in St. Louis have been clearly defined this summer. Jake Allen is the No. 1 netminder and Carter Hutton, a free agent acquisition, is the No. 2.

For the past two seasons, especially, Allen and Brian Elliott were both counted on to shoulder the goaltending duties, but the platoon scenario was ended when Elliott was traded to Calgary last month.

Allen recently commented on what was a positive working relationship between himself and Elliott, but seemed relieved that the leash may not be as short as it may have been in the past if he has an off night.

“It was tough to make mistakes when Brian was around because one game — you had a bad game — he was right back in the net and vice versa with him and me,” said the 25-year-old Allen, as per a video on the Blues’ website.

“I think you get a little bit more leeway, I guess, now. But not a whole lot. Carter’s a great goalie and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him.

“I feel that I had to etch myself into the league consistently. Now that I’ve done that, I still have another place to go and prove I’m a legit No. 1 guy.”

Allen just wrapped up only his second full NHL season.

The highest number of starts he’s made in a single season at the NHL level is 44 — in the 2015-16 season.

Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong said in June that Allen lost the crease, with Elliott taking it over with his strong play down the stretch and in the playoffs. He also made it clear Allen would have to battle to get it back in September. That changes to some degree now that Elliott is no longer in St. Louis.

Hutton, 30, was the back-up in Nashville, but made a career-high 34 starts in the 2013-14 season, posting a .910 save percentage.

Eberle: ‘We haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change’

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 06:  Jordan Eberie #14 and Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after Eberie scores a goal 10 seconds into the game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on March 6, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators continues to make waves. That will probably be the case right up until the start of the season and beyond.

On that same late-June day, however, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by sending Taylor Hall, who four times in his young career has hit the 20-goal plateau, to New Jersey for right-shot defenseman Adam Larsson, who isn’t likely to be mistaken for a dynamic offensive blue liner.

It, too, is a deal that’s considered a major victory for one team — in this case, the Devils.

In trading Hall, the Oilers gave up a dynamic forward, although they certainly had a plethora of skilled forwards, and their need to make upgrades to their blue line, made it necessary to part with a player up front.

Hall and Jordan Eberle — now his former Oilers teammate — broke into the league with Edmonton in the same year, back in 2010-11. But despite an increase in talent up front, with four first-overall picks in a six-year span, Edmonton really hasn’t been close to competing for a playoff spot in years.

Eberle, with 425 games with the Oilers through some difficult times, at first said in an interview with the Andrew Walker Show that he couldn’t comment on the deal, but eventually admitted something had to give when it came to Edmonton’s quest to land a d-man, which led GM Peter Chiarelli to make the deal.

“Obviously I think he recognized there was an area on our team we needed to improve and maybe we had a surplus of forwards and it was something he needed to do,” Eberle told The Andrew Walker Show.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change, whether it was Taylor or whoever.

“I think Taylor will do very well in New Jersey and I think we significantly increased our blue line. I think that’s definitely going to help us in a tough Western Conference.”

Related:

Oilers GM justifies Hall trade, even if Larsson isn’t a ‘sexy defenseman’ 

Why are the Oilers still bad? Look at their drafting

The ECHL would have an ‘open mind’ if Las Vegas NHL team wanted Wranglers name

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  (l-r) Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Bill Foley celebrate the admittance of a new NHL franchise during the Board Of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The search for a general manager has been over for a while, the successful candidate in place. However, the Las Vegas NHL franchise is still looking to name its team. That search is still ongoing.

With its first season in the league set for 2017-18, the Las Vegas franchise has run into some trade mark issues with potential names, much to the dismay of owner Bill Foley.

One possibility could be the ‘Wranglers’ — the name of the former Las Vegas ECHL franchise, which officially folded in January of 2015.

However, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the ECHL still owns the rights to the name ‘Wranglers.’ The report also stated that the team does have a temporary logo — the NHL shield with ‘Las Vegas’ written underneath. Again. Only temporary.

“I have not been approached by either Mr. Foley or by the NHL,” ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“We own all the names of all the teams that have played or are playing (in the ECHL). Frankly, I would be surprised to hear from them now. But if they called to say they were interested in reviving the Wranglers name in Las Vegas, we would have an open mind about it. We always liked the name and the logo and the way they built up the brand in the community.”

Meanwhile, the people of Las Vegas have had their say on team names.

According to a bracket posted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the name ‘Outlaws’ emerged as the favorite among the people after the polls, which the newspaper admits are completely unscientific.

The Las Vegas Visitors didn’t make it out of the first round…

Related:

McPhee wants Las Vegas team to compete right away; history says it won’t be easy

Report: Las Vegas NHL team asked permission to speak with Capitals assistant GM