Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin and Pekka Rinne named Three Stars of March

Moments ago, we discussed the notion that Brad Marchand is still trying to find the right balance between being a pest who goads opponents off their game while avoiding being the kind of guy who hurts his own squad in the process. In a dream world for the Boston Bruins, Marchand would emulate Anaheim Ducks super-pest Corey Perry, who was named the No. 1 star for the month of March.

Along with Perry, the league honored Vancouver Canucks winger Daniel Sedin and underrated Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne in its three stars award. All three players have generated some serious buzz for a Hart Trophy nomination, so perhaps it makes sense that they’re taking over during what is probably the most important full month of the NHL regular season.

Here are summaries of each players’ months, with our comments plus tidbits from the league’s press release.

First star: Perry

For years, Perry has been a fantasy hockey gem because he produces nice point totals and hefty penalty minutes, but this has been an even greater breakthrough season for him offensively. He leads the NHL with 46 goals, is fourth in the league with 89 points and also tied Daniel Sedin and Alex Ovechkin for the most game-winning goals with an impressive 10. Here’s a snapshot of his month:

Perry led the NHL in goals (15) and tied for the lead in points (21) in 14 games, helping the Ducks (44-28-5) climb to seventh place in the Western Conference standings. He also posted a League-leading four game-winning goals and registered a +9 rating.

Second star: D. Sedin

Last season was a true star-making moment for Daniel’s twin Henrik Sedin, as the freakish Swedish center showed he could succeed in spurts without his brother and earned a Hart Trophy for his troubles. It’s unclear if Daniel will match that Hart-winning achievement, but he makes a compelling argument as the league leader in scoring (100 points) on what is by far the NHL’s best team. Here’s a glance at his fantastic month.

Sedin tied for the League lead in points with 21 (nine goals, 12 assists) in 15 games, helping the Canucks (52-17-9) clinch the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the best record in the regular season. Sedin recorded points in 12 games and goals in nine, including three game-winning goals (Mar. 5 vs. Los Angeles, Mar. 12 vs. Calgary and Mar. 23 vs. Detroit).

Third star: Rinne

More and more, there’s a chicken vs. egg argument when a goalie puts up great numbers behind a fantastic defense. Sure, Tim Thomas is great, but would be put up those numbers in Edmonton?

Even if you wonder how much the Predators’ defense influences Rinne’s numbers, he’s still very impressive. In fact, it might be a two-horse race between Rinne and Thomas for the Vezina Trophy this season. Here’s what he did in March.

Rinne posted a 9-3-2 record with a 1.91 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and two shutouts, helping the Predators (42-26-10) finish the month in sixth place in the Western Conference playoff race. He allowed two goals or fewer in seven of 14 games, including a 29-save, 3-0 shutout victory over the Vancouver Canucks Mar. 3 and a 19-save 4-0 shutout over the Minnesota Wild Mar. 10.

Report: Predators avoid arbitration … with Marek Mazanec

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The Nashville Predators avoided salary arbitration in at least one case on Thursday, but it wasn’t the biggest name they were worried about.

FanRag’s Craig Morgan reports that Marek Mazanec settled for a one-year deal worth $650K at the NHL level and $100K in the AHL.

That two-way split is quite relevant, as Mazanec probably comes in fourth on the Predators’ goalie depth chart behind Pekka Rinne, Jusse Saros, and Anders Lindback. Actually, with Matt O’Connor in mind, Mazanec may even come in at fifth.

One interesting wrinkle is that Lindback gets the same $650K at both levels while Saros and Mazenec see different salaries depending upon where they are, according to Cap Friendly’s listings. From a sheer financial standpoint, that might give Lindback some fuel to push as Rinne’s backup, though Saros is already pushing for starts after strong showings in 2016-17.

It’s not the easiest situation for Mazanec, but credit Predators GM David Poile for giving his team plenty of options in net. Both Mazanec and Lindback saw elevated action when Rinne was hurt in 2013-14, so these situations can change quickly at times.

Mazanec was the least crucial of the Predators’ three salary arbitration situations, as Viktor Arvidsson‘s hearing is scheduled for Saturday (July 22) while Austin Watson is set for Monday (July 24). Arvidsson emerged as a legitimate first-line winger last season, so that will be a significantly trickier situation for the Predators.

For more on Arvidsson’s situation, click here.

Penguins GM confident they can find third-line center with Bonino gone

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August is nearing, and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made a trade or signing to replace Nick Bonino, their outstanding (but former) third-line center.

On the bright side, the Penguins have remarkable breathing room considering their status as repeat Stanley Cup champions. Cap Friendly places their 2017-18 room at about $10.38 million.

That robust space likely explains why GM Jim Rutherford seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“I do feel confident that, by the start of the season, we’re going to have a third-line center that we’re comfortable with,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s one of those guys on the list or one of the guys that I could go and get right today.”

Rutherford (jokingly?) said that he had a list of “hundreds of names” as options, although it’s difficult to top Mackey’s suggestion of Phil Kessel‘s buddy, Tyler Bozak. After all, Bozak is a competent player who carries a $4.2 million cap hit that Pittsburgh could comfortably absorb (and the Toronto Maple Leafs might need to shed). It doesn’t hurt that Bozak’s contract expires after 2017-18, so the Penguins wouldn’t be on the hook if things don’t work out.

Of course, Matt Duchene is another name worth considering. It almost feels a little strange to ponder that speedy Avalanche forward being a “third-line center,” especially if Pittsburgh would want to get the most out of him.

MORE: Duchene might begin next season with the Colorado Avalanche

After that, though … the pickings could be much slimmer than Rutherford indicated to Mackey.

Shallow pool

Take a look at this current list of forwards who are unrestricted free agents.

There are some potential bargains here (P.A. Parenteau, Jiri Hudler, anyone?), but the situation gets significantly shakier if you’re picky enough to look only at centers. The likes of Daniel Winnik and Ryan White are reasonable roster additions, but the drop-off from Bonino could be pretty drastic.

What about other trade possibilities?

That’s a shaky group, too, especially if you apply Bozak-like terms as far as guys who only have one year left on their current contracts.

Honestly, the Penguins’ best bet in looking at that list would probably come down to an in-season move with a team that realizes it’s not a contender or simply understands that a player won’t be back.

Maybe the Calgary Flames would want to cut bait on Matt Stajan or (less realistically) Mikael Backlund? Would the Ducks move speedy, versatile sometimes-center Andrew Cogliano? There are other remote possibilities, such as the Leafs instead trading Leo Komarov (or especially unlikely moves in Paul Stastny or Tomas Plekanec).

Even if the above list seems enticing, how many of those teams would really want to move those players now, especially the bigger difference-makers?

If you’re the Penguins, you’re probably hoping that a Bozak deal could take place. And maybe you’re sweating this situation more than you let on.

(Note: There’s also the slight possibility that the Penguins might identify a replacement from within, though a contending team like Pittsburgh might not be so comfortable with that approach.)

Blues have ‘wiggle room’ after locking up Parayko

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The St. Louis Blues didn’t break the bank to keep Colton Parayko for five more years, and that’s important since they don’t believe the NHL’s salary cap will rise significantly in the next little while.

Parayko’s cap hit came in at a manageable $5.5 million, as the two sides narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for today.

“You like to have as much wiggle room as possible,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now we view the cap will stay flat for the foreseeable future. We’re content with the space we have. We’ll move forward and get ready for training camp.”

The Blues now have a number of key players locked up long term, including Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen.

For Armstrong, the next big decision could involve Paul Stastny, the 31-year-old center who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But a decision on Stastny doesn’t need to be made now, or even before the season starts. It’s the trade deadline that could be the real pressure point, akin to the Kevin Shattenkirk situation this past year.

Per CapFriendly, the Blues have just over $3 million in cap space, with one roster spot left to fill.

‘Highly unlikely’ Suns will pursue shared arena with Coyotes

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The Arizona Coyotes appear to be on their own in pursuit of a new arena in the Phoenix area.

That’s because Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, says it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll pursue a shared arena with the Coyotes.

Instead, Sarver is focused on upgrading the Suns’ current home (and Coyotes’ old home) in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena.

From the Arizona Republic:

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena, formerly called America West Arena when the Coyotes played there, was designed for basketball and isn’t ideal for hockey. In that way, it’s a lot like Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which hasn’t been a great fit for the Islanders.

The Coyotes recently hired a new president and CEO, Steve Patterson, whose top priority is finding the team a new home in the Phoenix area.