Jeff Carter, Thomas Vanek

PHT Predicts: Flyers vs. Sabres — Who do you have?

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These two teams can’t seem to go a few years without renewing their rivalry in the playoffs. Some classic battles have gone down between these two teams over the last 15 years and this one promises to be more of the same. The Flyers struggled at the end of the season but head into this series with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Buffalo’s most hated figure Daniel Briere ready to turn it on. The Sabres counter with Thomas Vanek carrying the offense along with Jason Pominville and Tyler Myers doing their part to score. While the status of Chris Pronger hangs in the air, drama in this series is oozing about everywhere.

With rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and his sweet new mask going up against American hero Ryan Miller in goal, there certainly will be some intrigue there to see if either goalie can carry them to victory. As for how we’re viewing this series, we’re expecting things to be especially fun if you like dramatic playoff series.

James says:
Much like the Capitals-Rangers series, this one smells a little fishy. The Sabres have Ryan Miller in net; the Flyers once again have uncertainty as their co-pilot. Yet the biggest question for me is: will Chris Pronger be healthy enough to play somewhat close to his normal game-altering level? Without Pronger, I would feel my hand shaking over the “Buffalo” button. With Pronger, I still wouldn’t bet against another run to the Stanley Cup finals for Philly. He’s truly that important.

Flyers in 7. If Pronger is too redundant, how about Danny Briere, a man who could break the hearts of fans who once adored him?

Matt says:
This looks like it could be the upset special of the first round. All year the Flyers looked like they were built for a long run and a repeat visit to the Finals—but the last month of the season has been a different story. They’re a different team without Chris Pronger and it’s always difficult for a team to “flip the switch.” On the other side of things, the Sabres have a sparkling 8-1-1 record down the stretch to earn their spot in the playoffs. Ryan Miller looks like he’ll be back—and he even got an injury-induced rest at the end of the regular season. There’s always an upset in the first round when a hot team entering the playoffs faces off against a team that has been complacent for months. This looks like it could be it. Sabres in 6.

Joe says:
Pronger’s presence in this series is huge. If he plays, the Flyers are instantly much more snarly and get a bit more of that swagger back that Bobrovsky could use to his benefit in goal. The Sabres play in the latter half of the season cannot be discounted though and Thomas Vanek’s play has been stellar. For as much of a thorn as he’s been in the Flyers’ side, Briere feeds off of the hate Sabres fans shower him with. It’s tight, but I see this one going seven. Flyers in 7.

With opinions all over the place on this one, we want to know what you think. Do the Flyers win and make another deep playoff run or does Pegula-mania run wild in Buffalo and lead the Sabres to the second round? Vote in our poll and let us know.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.