Race for the Playoffs: Tuesday’s a big night up and down the East

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.”

This post will detail the East games. Stay tuned for the West version later on.

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia – 100 pts (75 Games Played)
2. Washington – 98 pts (76 GP)
3. Boston – 94 pts (75 GP)
4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts (76 GP)
5. Tampa Bay – 91 pts (75 GP)
6. Montreal – 87 pts (76 GP)
7. NY Rangers – 87 pts (76 GP)
8. Buffalo – 85 pts (75 GP)
—–
9. Carolina – 80 pts (75 GP)
10. Toronto – 78 pts (76 GP)

Here are the biggest games. Please note that we are spotlighting the most playoff-relevant contests rather than every single game tonight.

7:00 pm ET

Carolina @ Washington

For a full preview of this game, click here. The bottom line is that the Hurricanes need to close a five-point gap in seven games to take a playoff spot from the Buffalo Sabres. Meanwhile, Washington can focus on seeding in this game, as they can improve their chances of winning the top spot or at least the Southeast Division title with a win.

Buffalo @ Toronto

I listed the Maple Leafs in this post’s relevant standings, but the bottom line is that their chances are slim at best. Beating Buffalo in regulation would improve those long odds, although accomplishing that feat would probably be a bigger deal for the Hurricanes than the Leafs. The Sabres hope to avoid losing their third straight game against Toronto, so this is far from a sure thing, especially since it is a home game for the Maple Leafs.

Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh

As we discussed on Sunday, the Penguins could move into a virtual tie for the Atlantic Division crown – as well as the Eastern Conference’s top seed – with a regulation win tonight. It wouldn’t be a fully legitimate tie because the Flyers hold a game in hand, but it would certainly be a slim margin for Philly if that happened.

Perhaps the most interesting subplot might be that the Capitals, Flyers and Penguins could all finish tonight’s games with 100 standings points. For that to happen, Philly would need to lose to Pittsburgh in regulation while Washington would need a win.

For more information about the Penguins’ home stretch and their big-picture chances of stealing the division, click here. If you want another look at the game, check this out.

7:30 pm ET

Atlanta @ Montreal; Chicago @ Boston

The Thrashers are probably too far gone for serious consideration, so the focus shifts to the Habs, who may be too far behind the Bruins for the Northeast Division title. Even if the Bruins might lose to a desperate Blackhawks team. The Canadiens must also worry about seeding, as they only own a tie-breaker over the seventh place Rangers and might even need to fight off the eighth place Sabres.

Ottawa @ Tampa Bay

The Lightning can keep their very slim Southeast Division title dreams alive, while also boosting their also-questionable chances of usurping the Penguins for the fourth seed. It won’t be as easy as it might look, though, because the Senators have been a pesky bunch lately.

Agent: Schultz likes Pittsburgh, but wants to be ‘rewarded’

Getty
Leave a comment

Justin Schultz took a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

He doesn’t begrudge the deal he signed, as the Penguins have been a big part of turning his career around.

One assumes winning a couple of Stanley Cups has been pretty fun, too.

That being said, the 26-year-old defenseman wants a raise.

“We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did,” Schultz’s agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.”

Schultz, a restricted free agent, had a career-high 51 points in 78 games last season. Those 51 points were the seventh most among NHL defensemen — just five fewer than this summer’s biggest UFA, Kevin Shattenkirk, managed.

Schultz then added 13 more points in the playoffs, as the Penguins managed to win it all without Kris Letang.

For the record, Schultz wants to stay in Pittsburgh. The question is whether the Pens can afford to keep him, or if they’d be better off selling high in a trade.

“We’ll probably have some more direction here this week with where we’re going with [a possible extension],” Arnott said. “But we’ve had some good discussions.”

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

Getty
1 Comment

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

Getty
Leave a comment

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

Getty
Leave a comment

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.