Dallas Stars v Phoenix Coyotes

Race for the Playoffs: Stars-Coyotes highlights a night of tests for West teams

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.”

For the Eastern Conference breakdown, click here. Now let’s get to the West’s biggest games.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver – 109 pts (76 Games Played)
2. Detroit – 98 pts (76 GP)
3. San Jose – 97 pts (76 GP)
4. Phoenix – 93 pts (77 GP)
5. Los Angeles – 92 pts (75 GP)
6. Nashville – 92 pts (76 GP)
7. Anaheim – 91 pts (76 GP)
8. Chicago – 90 pts (75 GP)
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9. Calgary – 87 pts (77 GP)
10. Dallas – 86 pts (74 GP)

7:30 pm ET

Chicago @ Boston

This is the tough second half of challenging back-to-back games for the Blackhawks, who beat the Red Wings on the road last night. They might have earned two points last night, but this is just another game in a must-win stretch for the team. Dallas is four points behind them right now, but the Stars have a game in hand and play a game late tonight. If Chicago loses, that cushion could get dangerously small in one night.

8:00 pm ET

Vancouver @ Nashville

The Predators are currently on a six-game winning streak and the Canucks don’t have much at stake in this game, but Vancouver is never an easy out. This team built a nice lead by beating the Stars and Ducks last week, but cannot rest on their laurels just yet. They play four of their last six games in Nashville, so maybe the Preds could move up the ladder a bit?

9:30 pm ET

Los Angeles @ Edmonton

The Kings begin life without Anze Kopitar in this game, while Dustin Penner gets to play against his former pals in the Oilers. Los Angeles has a great chance to earn the fourth seed and an outside shot at winning the Pacific Division, but it won’t be easy for them to reach that objective without their leading scorer, though.

10:00 pm ET

Dallas @ Phoenix

The Stars hope to close the gap between themselves and the Blackhawks while the Coyotes only have five games left to make sure that they don’t fall to one of the West’s lower seeds. Surely Dave Tippett would like to make life difficult for his former team by beating them in this big game tonight. It’s a more desperate situation for Dallas, but the Yotes still have plenty to play for too.

Daly: NHL could skip 2018 Olympics and return in 2022

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Sidney Crosby #87 celebrates with Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44, John Tavares #20, Shea Weber #6 of Team Canada after his first period goal against Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey game at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s participation in the 2018 Olympics is in Pyeongchang, South Korea is still undetermined, and on Tuesday deputy commissioner Bill Daly didn’t sound overly optimistic about the chances of their players taking part.

At a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday before the first game of the World Cup Final, Daly said that there has been no progress on the NHL’s participation in the games and that he is currently more down on the possibility than he was two years ago.

“I’m not going to handicap it, but what I’d say is I think time is very short to make a decision and I’m not sure there’s been a lot of progress made in the past six months,” Daly said, via the Canadian Press. “And I’m not sure there’s any prospect of progress being made.”

He also added, via Sportsnet’s, Chris Johnson that it is possible that the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for the 2022 games in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the Winter Olympics since 1998, and in recent years there’s almost always been a debate leading up to the games as to whether or not the NHL will be able to come to an agreement with the IOC and IIHF. Game times, shutting the NHL season down for more than two weeks and the insurance that goes with covering the players It has, to this point, always worked out.

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has repeatedly said that he will play for Russia in 2018 whether the NHL agrees to send its players or not.

On Tuesday, Daly was asked about Ovechkin’s desire to play and said that at this point it will be something that the team has to handle at its own discretion.

Gretzky returns to NHL fold as official ambassador of centennial celebration

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League was founded on November 26, 1917. Almost ninety-nine years later, the commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman, was in Toronto to announce that Wayne Gretzky, arguably its greatest player ever, would be the official ambassador of its centennial celebration.

For Gretzky, whose relationship with the NHL was tested during the Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, it marks a return to representing the league in an official capacity. (In 2013, he was reportedly paid around $8 million in a settlement.)

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Gretzky said in a statement. “I’ve said this a million times that everything I have in my life is because of hockey and because of the National Hockey League. I happen to think it’s the greatest game in the world. It was kind to me my whole life. The game just gets better every year, so for me to be involved in just trying to help promote and sell our sport even more it’s a great thrill for me and an honor to be part of it.”

Watch the following video to see what the NHL has in store for 2017, starting on Jan. 1 with the Centennial Classic at BMO Field between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings:

 

Report: Panarin wants six-year deal from ‘Hawks, at least $6M per season

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Artemi Panarin is looking to cash in on his Calder-winning campaign.

Chicago’s prized Russian sniper and the reigning rookie of the year, Panarin is reportedly seeking a six-year contract extension “worth more than $6 million per season,” per the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune points out, that figure could be problematic. Nobody’s arguing that Panarin isn’t worth the money — he’s 24, and coming off a 30-goal, 77-point campaign — but people are wondering how the ‘Hawks can afford him. Eight players on the active roster are pulling in at least $4 million per season, which includes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they of the $10.5M cap hits.

That said, it sure sounds like Panarin will get done.

Reports last week said his agent and ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman were well into extension talks, and Bowman seemed confident a deal would be inked.

“I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent], he’s a very knowledgeable guy and I know Artemi put a lot of faith in him,” Bowman said. “Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin’s heading into the last of a two-year, $6.775 million deal with a $3.387 AAV — a deal that gained plenty of notoriety as the season progressed. Since it was so performance-laden, Panarin cashed in a couple of times, including a $1.725 million bonus for finishing among the top-10 scorers in the NHL.

That led to Bowman making some tough financial decisions this offseason, including the deal that sent Bryan Bickell — more specifically, Bryan Bickell’s contract — and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in exchange for draft picks.

So, this latest situation isn’t anything new for the ‘Hawks GM. He’s been down the financial squeeze road before, and usually found a way to keep his core players in the mix.

If Panarin is considered a core guy — and at this point, it sure sounds like he is — then finding common ground on an extension shouldn’t be too difficult.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.