Could the Penguins steal the Atlantic Division title from the Flyers?

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It seems like a far-fetched goal considering the fact that they will try to do it without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the next few days present a solid opportunity for the Pittsburgh Penguins to steal the Atlantic Division title from the Philadelphia Flyers.

First, let’s take a look at why not (beyond the fact that the team lacks Crosby and Malkin). The Flyers currently hold a four-point lead for the division title, as well as the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They also have one more win – 45 to Pittsburgh’s 44 – and an important game in hand.

That being said, Sunday and Tuesday could provide the Penguins with an outstanding opportunity to make Philadelphia’s lead uncomfortably small. The Penguins are about to host the fading Florida Panthers at home this afternoon, which is a great opportunity for a win. Meanwhile, the Flyers host a far hungrier and more dangerous opponent in the Boston Bruins tonight.

The best part comes on Tuesday, though, when Pittsburgh faces Philadelphia in what could be a big home game for the Penguins.

If the Penguins win both games while the Flyers lose to Boston and Pittsburgh in regulation, the two teams would be tied at 100 points and the only advantage Philadelphia would have is their single game in hand. At that point, the Penguins would have five games to earn one more point than the Flyers, who would have six games left.

Pittsburgh’s last five games after their big game against the Flyers:

The closing schedule might or might not be friendly to Pittsburgh. The negative side is that four of their final five games are on the road, but the plus is that four of those opponents (the Panthers, Devils, Thrashers and Islanders) might be in “tank mode.” The toughest game is against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning in what might be a preview of a fourth vs. fifth seed match … if the Penguins can’t steal the Atlantic, that is.

Philadelphia’s final six after Tuesday:

The Flyers play three home games and three away games in their last six. You can break down those six games into three groups: tanking teams (Atlanta and maybe New Jersey), teams that should be tanking but aren’t totally committed (Ottawa and the Islanders) and teams fighting for playoff positioning (Buffalo and the Rangers).

In some ways, Philadelphia’s closing schedule is easier. In others, it might be a little bit tougher, since the Sabres and Rangers have plenty to play for while the Senators have been a tough out lately.

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Overall, Philadelphia remains the odds-on favorite to retain their Atlantic Division lead. That being said, those plucky Penguins have a legitimate chance to usurp them, although they must rely on a few “ifs.” Today’s games plus Tuesday’s match will go a long way in either giving Pittsburgh a serious chance to win the division or confirm the fact that Philly will stay on top.

Naturally, we’ll let you know which side prevails.

Carolina re-signs ‘physical, smart’ McGinn — two years, $1.775 million

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After a breakout campaign, Brock McGinn has cashed in with the Hurricanes.

McGinn has signed a two-year, $1.775 million extension, the club announced on Wednesday. The deal carries a $887,500 average annual cap hit, and comes on the heels of a campaign in which he scored 16 points in 57 games, averaging 12 minutes per night.

“Brock took a step forward last season and was a regular presence in our lineup,” GM Ron Francis said in a release. “He is a young player who plays a physical, but smart brand of hockey, and can contribute offensively.”

McGinn, 23, is the youngest of the McGinn brothers. Tye spent last year with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, while Jamie wrapped the first of a three-year deal in Arizona.

 

Avalanche re-sign Andrighetto to two-year deal reportedly worth $2.8 million

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Sven Andrighetto was one of the few bright spots on the Colorado Avalanche this past season — and he didn’t even join the last-place club until the beginning of March.

On Wednesday, he was rewarded with a new two-year contract extension,  reportedly worth a total of $2.8 million, per Adrian Dater of BSN Denver. That’s a raise from the $650,000 he made in 2016-17 while on a one-year contract and a pending restricted free agent at its conclusion.

Originally taken by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft, the now 24-year-old Andrighetto was traded to Colorado at this year’s deadline, after scoring just two goals and eight points in 27 games this season with the Habs.

While the Avalanche was once again mired in a disastrous campaign, falling all the way to the bottom of the overall standings, Andrighetto put up some impressive numbers in a short amount of time in Colorado, leading the team in points (11 points in 14 games) during the month of March.

He scored five goals and 16 points in 19 games following the trade, while posting strong offensive and puck possession numbers in nearly 200 minutes of five-on-five time with Nathan MacKinnon.

“We were pleased with what Sven added to our team at the end of last season,” said Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic in a statement. “He sees the ice well and brings speed and scoring to our lineup. We’re excited to have him under contract.”

Signing pending RFA Parayko is priority for Blues — and it won’t be cheap

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The St. Louis Blues kickstarted their prospects camp on Wednesday, however their greatest offseason priority right now is getting pending restricted free agent defenseman Colton Parayko under contract.

The Blues recently extended Parayko a qualifying offer to retain his negotiating rights, and general manager Doug Armstrong is fully aware that the 24-year-old defenseman will require a significant raise from the two-year, $1.85 million (including $925,000 in NHL salary this past season) entry-level deal he has now concluded.

In two seasons, Parayko has transformed into a valuable player with the Blues. He not only brings size on the blue line at an intimidating 6-foot-6 tall and 226 pounds, but he’s been a strong contributor in the offensive end of the rink and boasts impressive puck possession numbers, as well.

He set new single-season career highs for assists (31) and points (35) with the Blues in 2016-17, while taking on a larger role as a top-four defenseman behind Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo.

“We’ve got a defenseman to take care of financially,” said Armstrong, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “Last time I talked to him, he wasn’t ready to play for the love of the game anymore.”

Going back to the days immediately following their second-round playoff loss, Armstrong referred to Parayko as a “cornerstone player” and admitted he wanted to get him signed to a long-term contract. It was suggested that Parayko may be able to look toward Morgan Rielly (six-year, $30 million extension with Toronto) or Hampus Lindholm (six-year, $31.5 million extension with Anaheim) as possible comparables.

The Blues currently have five defensemen under contract for next season, with about $17 million currently committed to the position. They also have about $11.6 million in projected cap space right now, per CapFriendly.

The Blues also had some bad news on Wednesday, as forward Patrik Berglund underwent shoulder surgery and is out until December. His absence isn’t likely to be filled through free agency, based on Armstrong’s comments.

“There are some internal options and we’ll explore those,” he said. “We’re always looking to see if we can get creative maybe.

“We’re talking to some potential free agents, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up that there will be a lot of change to this roster.”

The Blues did, in fact, announce the re-signing of a defenseman on Wednesday, inking Chris Butler to a two-year, two-way deal. However, right now, the priority is to get their young blue liner Parayko signed to a long-term deal.

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.