Cam Ward, Erik Cole

Race for the playoffs: Caps can clinch top spot, Buffalo looks to lock in, Canes control destiny

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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.”

Eastern Conference playoff race

y-1. Washington – 107 pts (1 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 101 pts (2 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 94 pts (1 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (1 GR)
9. Carolina – 89 pts (2 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Philadelphia @ Buffalo – 7:30 p.m. ET

Part of our attention tonight will be focused on Buffalo where a point of any kind earned by the Sabres locks them into a playoff spot. Buffalo has an open door to make a run at the sixth seed after Montreal’s overtime loss to Ottawa last night but going up against a Flyers team that’s down in the dumps but looking to win the Atlantic Division won’t make it easy.

The Flyers have just a one point lead on Pittsburgh for the division and all the Flyers need to do is finish tied with or ahead of the Pens to win the division title. With the Penguins in Long Island tonight in what could turn into a circus, the Flyers might want to find a way to take home two point no matter how in this one. A Flyers win and Penguins loss either in regulation or overtime/shootout would give Philly the division crown. The Sabres just need a point of any kind at all to stay out of the potential mess brewing underneath them between the Rangers and Hurricanes.

Carolina @ Atlanta – 7:30 p.m. ET

Carolina has playoff life and it’s thanks to the Thrashers that they’ve got that after Atlanta dealt a crushing shot to the Rangers last night beating them 3-0 to put playoff destiny firmly in the hands of the Hurricanes. A Carolina win gives them 91 points, the same as New York, and with the Hurricanes holding the tiebreaker on New York, would slip them into eighth place and shift all attention to Saturday night to see who goes to the postseason. A Carolina loss would mean the Rangers would just have to get one point on Saturday to clinch. Guess who the Rangers are rooting for in this one.

For Atlanta, while they’re not enjoying the role of spoilers, they probably wouldn’t mind getting one more over on a divisional foe and having a healthy hand in screwing up everyone’s playoff hopes. A Carolina loss in overtime or the shootout would clinch a playoff berth for Buffalo even if the Sabres lost in regulation tonight.

Pittsburgh @ NY Islanders – 7 p.m. ET

A point by Pittsburgh would guarantee them at least the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a win and depending on what happens with the Flyers against Buffalo they could vault them into first place in the Atlantic Division. With just one point separating those two teams, the Pens still have a shot at the division title, but they’ll need the Flyers to at least lose one game in regulation to help make it happen. Should the Pens and Flyers end the season tied in points, the Flyers would win the division thanks to having fewer shootout wins. This game against the Islanders won’t be easy nor will it necessarily be all that clean.

Florida @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m. ET

Most of the scenarios for Tampa Bay are out of their hands, but a Lightning win and a Penguins loss in regulation means the fourth seed is in play for them heading into the final game of the season. Getting home ice in the first round of the playoffs for Tampa Bay would be huge as their home record this year is outstanding at 24-11-5. The only thing Florida could be playing for is trying to not end up the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

‘There’s still lots of room for growth’: Stars GM preaches patience with Nichushkin

Valeri Nichushkin
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Valeri Nichushkin has the tools — listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 205 pounds with devastating speed. He has the skill.

However, now at the end of his entry-level contract, the 10th overall draft pick for the Dallas Stars in 2013 has endured the highs and lows associated with a young player trying to make his mark in the National Hockey League after a promising rookie campaign.

For starters, his sophomore 2014-15 season was essentially wiped out — he played only eight games for the Stars — by a hip injury that required surgery. He also didn’t get off to the greatest start this season, and coming back from surgery likely played a factor as to why, as he found his way into Lindy Ruff’s doghouse early on.

As a result, was made a healthy scratch.

His bottom line offensive numbers included nine goals and 29 points in 79 games played, and one assist in 10 playoff games for the Stars, as they were eliminated in the second round.

Still, he’s just 21 years old. When playing with top players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, he was able to get on a bit of a roll offensively.

Stars GM Jim Nill, speaking on SiriusXMNHL, referenced the difficulty for a young player coming back off surgery, but remains confident in Nichushkin.

“We’re happy with Val,” he said (at around the 5:30 mark).

“Came back this year, got off to a slow start because of that. We thought the last five games of the playoffs, he really started to look like himself. He started to dominate down low and in the corners.

“He is only 21. I know there’s still lots of room for growth, so we’re going to be patient with him. We think he’s a big part of our future.”

 

Coyotes hire new COO

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Anaheim Ducks executive Ari Segal as chief operating officer.

The move was announced by the team on Wednesday.

Segal previously served as a special assistant to Anaheim CEO Michael Schulman and as president of business operations for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Segal helped with preparations for the new AHL club and recently worked with the NHL in the league’s broadcast media strategy group, evaluating league and team broadcast rights and distribution deals.

Segal previously worked as an associate in the sports practice at McKinsey & Company, a New York-based management consulting firm.

Related: The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

Jackets re-sign Sedlak, AHL affiliate’s leading playoff scorer

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 20:  Lukas Sedlak #85 of the Columbus Blue Jackets waits for the pass during the game against the Winnipeg Jets on September 20, 2011 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio.  The Blue Jackets defeated the Jets 5-1.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
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Columbus farmhand Lukas Sedlak, who currently sits tied atop AHL Lake Erie’s playoff scoring leaderboard, has signed a one-year, two-way deal, the Jackets announced on Wednesday.

Sedlak, 23, was a fifth-round pick in 2011 that’s spent the last three years in the American League. This season was by far his most successful — in addition to potting a career-best 14 goals, he’s become close to a point-a-game producer in the playoffs, with 11 through 12 games.

“Sedlak has been on a run for us with goal-scoring,” Lake Erie head coach Jared Bednar said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “He’s not a guy who does it for us every night. But he works so hard in all the other areas.”

Sedlak has yet to make his NHL debut, but could be in the mix for a recall next season.

Despite Canadian dollar, Bettman still expects ‘revenue increase’

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman answers a question during a news conference before the NHL All-Star hockey game skills competition, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Canadian dollar is trading at around $0.77 USD today. While that’s up considerably from where it was a few months ago, the damage has already been done to NHL revenues.

“If the Canadian dollar was still at par, we would be $100 or 200 million higher perhaps than we may find ourselves,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Bloomberg Television today.

Having said that, Bettman still expects there will be a “revenue increase” compared to last year, adding that “we continue to grow year after year and set new records.”

More from Bloomberg:

Bettman said that while the NHL’s revenue growth has come across the entire business, the league has seen its biggest boon in its digital platform. The league last year signed a six-year, $1.2 billion contract with Major League Baseball’s interactive media and Internet arm, or BAM, to operate the its digital operations, streaming services and TV network. The NHL got a 10 percent stake as part the deal.

The NHL playoffs are currently in the middle of the conference finals. The NHL’s fiscal year ends June 30.

League revenues, of course, have a direct impact on the salary cap, and let’s face it, that’s the only thing most fans care about.

As of March, the cap was expected to grow from $71.4 million in 2015-16 to $74 million next season.

However, that projection assumed the NHLPA would accept the CBA’s standard five percent growth factor, and with escrow topping the list of player concerns, that’s no given.

The players’ association will discuss and make a decision on the growth factor at some point before July 1.

Related: Bowman noncommittal on Shaw and Bickell, needs to know salary cap first