Rostislav Klesla, Dustin Brown

Race for the Playoffs: Kings or Coyotes can clinch, Ducks-Sharks battle in Anaheim

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.”

Western Conference playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (3 GR)
4. Nashville – 97 pts (2 GR)
5. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
6. Los Angeles – 96 pts (3 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (3 GR)
8. Chicago – 93 pts (3 GR)
9. Dallas – 91 pts (3 GR)
10. Calgary – 91 pts (2 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

St. Louis @ Chicago – 8 p.m. ET

Chicago was able to get a point last night, but in their quest to make the playoffs, getting two points each night is the goal and right now they’re teetering on the edge of trouble. With a pair of games against Central Division champion Detroit awaiting them this weekend, beating St. Louis is a must for the Hawks. With the Stars streaking in the right direction and with a pair of games coming up against Colorado and their final game in Minnesota, they can’t expect Dallas to go away easily. If the Blackhawks want to get back to the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup, it starts tonight against the Blues.

St. Louis being a longtime rival of Chicago, they’re eager to put a hurting on Chicago’s hopes and with St. Louis playing better of late (winners of three of their last four, and five of their last seven) it’s not going to be easy. It never is this time of year. If Chicago wants to avoid having their hated rivals from Detroit helping decide their fate completely, they’ll get the job done tonight.

San Jose @ Anaheim – 10 p.m. ET

The Sharks have everything tied up in the division as they won the Pacific Division after disposing of the Kings on Monday night.  Anaheim is still in a perilous position however. After dropping their last two games, they’re still in danger of being passed by Chicago or caught by Dallas and Calgary. While the Ducks own the tiebreaker over all of those teams, getting far enough ahead of them to make it not matter would be ideal. Having to do it against the Sharks tonight and wrapping the year up with a home-and-home battle against Los Angeles doesn’t sound pleasant.

Anaheim hasn’t gotten the stellar goaltending that’s been sustaining them this season in their last two losses allowing four goals in both games. While Jonas Hiller still tries to shake off vertigo, it’s on Ray Emery and Dan Ellis to hold things down. Doing that against a Sharks team that’s been lighting everyone up in the second half of the year is daunting. The Sharks aren’t without something to play for as they’re hoping to lock down the two seed in the West and get an edge on Detroit there. These teams greatly dislike each other so if you’re in need of a real primer for the playoffs, waiting out til the end of the night for this one would be a good idea.

Phoenix @ Los Angeles – 10:30 p.m. ET

It doesn’t get any more cut and dried than this. The winner of tonight’s game punches their ticket to the playoffs while the loser continues to hang in an elevated state of limbo. Tonight’s winner also gets to jump into the fourth seed in the West for the night and continue their battle with Nashville and others to see who can take down the middle two seeds to face each other in the playoffs and hopefully avoid San Jose or Detroit.

L.A. has had their ups and downs since Anze Kopitar went out of the lineup for the remainder of the season and playoffs. They’ve been able to stand tall against the weaker teams, but against the likes of San Jose and Vancouver they’ve struggled. How they do against Phoenix provides a good measuring stick to see where they’re at and where Phoenix is at as well. After Phoenix rattled off a five game win streak a couple weeks ago, they’ve been flip-flopping between wins and losses. Getting consistent would do them a world of good heading into the playoffs and beating a shorthanded Kings team would be a good way to do it.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

P.K. Subban,
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An injury to Carey Price essentially meant the beginning of the end to the 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens.

With their No. 1 goalie, their most valuable player, out of the lineup, the Canadiens tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs. The fan base in Montreal would feel even more frustration in the summer as general manager Marc Bergevin suddenly sent fan-favorite and right-shooting defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for right-shooting defenseman Shea Weber in an absolute blockbuster deal.

Weber is four years older than Subban and under contract until 2026. Subban’s deal expires in 2022.

Subban feels closer to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Weber isn’t going to try to be the next P.K. Subban in Montreal. And Bergevin, surely, has been feeling the heat for the controversial trade. Some in the media have called it the worst trade in franchise history. Subban is not only very talented on the ice, but he was popular away from it, too, in the city of Montreal.

Not only did the Habs lose Subban in the deal, but their analytics consultant, Matt Pfeffer, didn’t have his contract renewed because he reportedly disagreed with the trade. Pfeffer later confirmed he made a “passionate” case to keep Subban in Montreal.

The deal occurred on the same day the Edmonton Oilers traded star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Yet, this Subban-Weber trade has provided material for the hockey world to debate and discuss just about every week for two months now. And you can bet that will happen when the season begins.

The Habs also signed forward Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.

This is Radulov’s third stint in the NHL. He’s supremely talented and the Habs could use a player that can score goals. But he’s also been at the center of off-ice disciplinary issues, including a team-imposed suspension for reportedly violating curfew when he was in Nashville.

And getting back to Carey Price: He has been deemed to be 100 per cent healthy heading into the new season, after playing in only 12 games last season with a knee injury.

Crouse brings the ‘total package’ of size, skill and speed to Coyotes

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL - JUNE 25: Lawson Crouse attends the Top Prospects Media Opportunity at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort on June 25, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Lawson Crouse has joined a talented group of young forwards in Arizona, after the Coyotes acquired the 2015 first-round pick from the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

The Coyotes had to take on the contract of injured forward Dave Bolland, but in their minds, it was worth it to get a player like Crouse, who certainly brings size up front at six-foot-four-inches tall and 212 pounds. He had 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games this season with Kingston in the OHL.

“He’s a unique guy because usually when you add a guy with the type of size he has you usually give up a little bit in skating or you give up a little bit in skill,” said general manager John Chayka, as per the Coyotes website.

“He’s a guy that you add the size and he actually enhances that for your entire group. In our opinion, it was a guy that’s rare to find, difficult to obtain. Certainly, once they become established in the league, those players are locked up well into their 30s and then you end up trying to maybe overpay for a player that has these attributes that’s not in the prime of his career.”

Crouse, who turned 19 years old in June, now joins the likes of Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair as part of Arizona’s group of up-and-coming young forwards. He has familiarity with all three from playing in the OHL or for Team Canada at the world juniors.

“He can fly. He’s fast and he hits and he scores goals. You kinda get the total package,” Strome told Sportsnet.

The Las Vegas Desert Knights? Maybe . . .

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  New Las Vegas NHL franchise owner Bill Foley addresses the media 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. The NHL's board of governors approved expanding to Las Vegas, making the franchise the 31st team in the league. The team will start play during the 2017-18 season and play at the newly built T-Mobile Arena.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There’s been another possible development in the search for a team name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

The Las Vegas ‘Desert Knights’ could perhaps be a thing.

Maybe.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

DetroitHockey.net first reported the new domain name Thursday morning.

Foley said via text message he had no comment regarding the process when reached by the Review-Journal.

As the Las Vegas franchise continues to hire key members for its hockey operations department, there is growing intrigue when it comes to the search for a new name.

What will this new franchise be called?

The wait continues, and there has been a lot of space dedicated to speculating and discussing the possibilities.

It’s been reported that the expansion franchise could use one of at least three ‘Hawks’-orientated names. Owner Bill Foley also said this summer that Las Vegas can’t use a ‘Knights’ nickname is Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

Stay tuned . . .

Las Vegas hires former Panthers director of player personnel Scott Luce

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  Director of scouting Scott Luce of the Florida Panthers smiles before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.

Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.

Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.