Paul Mara, Gregory Campbell

Which of the first round series will be the most (and least) exciting?

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Now that we’ve gotten the more run-of-the-mill prediction posts out of the way, it’s time to get down to the more fun/arbitrary stuff. First things first, I thought I’d rank the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs’ first round series from most exciting to least exciting.

Note: Keep in mind that exciting doesn’t just mean “most intriguing stories.” The expected quality of the on-ice product means a lot, too. Also — and this isn’t just lip service — it’s important to note that all eight series have something going for them. This should be a fantastic first round.

1. Vancouver vs. Chicago

For the third consecutive year, the Canucks will try to beat the Blackhawks in a best-of-seven. Even without Dustin Byfuglien’s big body giving Roberto Luongo fits, this is about as interesting an eighth seed matchup as Vancouver can get. History isn’t the only reason this should be fun, though, as there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ice.

2. Philadelphia vs. Buffalo

One underrated story going into this series is Danny Briere vs. Buffalo. Don’t forget, the Briere-led Sabres skated circles around Philly in a series that would eventually doom then-coach Ken Hitchcock and the Forsberg fueled Flyers. Along with that sneaky history comes two teams with plenty of variety on offense, with Philadelphia’s superior overall talent crashing head-first with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller trump card.

3. Boston vs. Montreal

Some people probably expected to see this series at No.1, but the one thing that holds me back is that both teams are defense-first clubs. In other words, the moments that aren’t hate-inspired and contentious could involve some really drab hockey. Hopefully the vitriol and raucous crowds (especially in Montreal) will help these teams transcend their yawn-inducing styles.

4. Washington vs. NY Rangers

This one would be higher if last year’s Capitals were involved, but believe it or not, the Rangers actually scored nine more goals than Washington this season. So on the negative side, this probably won’t be played a breakneck pace.

That being said, it should be a contentious series (the Caps cannot be happy about 6-0 and 7-0 losses from earlier this season) and might be evenly matched if Henrik Lundqvist plays like his all-world self.

5. Detroit vs. Phoenix

Hopefully this series will resemble 2010’s shockingly good (and surprisingly competitive) seven-game slugfest. One thing that points in the favor of solid series: Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is looking for a payday with his contract expiring in July. It probably won’t be enough for him to shut down the Red Wings’ high octane offense (even without Henrik Zetterberg), but it might motivate him to produce some inspired moments.

6. Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay

This would be great series with a 100 percent Sidney Crosby versus a full-strength Steven Stamkos, but Crosby probably won’t play and Stamkos seems a few strides short of his best work. With the Penguins low on ammo, they’ll probably try to make this a straight-forward series with little offensive artistry. On the bright side, Pittsburgh throws a lot of pucks on net so it shouldn’t be all bad.

7. Anaheim vs. Nashville

If the Ducks’ trio of top-end power forwards gets loose, this could be very entertaining. Simply put, watching Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan make music together is a pretty special thing. Heck, Teemu Selanne isn’t half bad himself.

Unfortunately, Predators coach Barry Trotz is too smart to let that happen, so these games could be a little dull at times. Then again, Nashville might show some serious fire because this might be their best chance to get to the second round for the first time ever.

8. San Jose vs. Los Angeles

These two teams hate each other, which should make for a spirited Battle of California.

Sadly, the two squads aren’t very evenly matched, which means the Kings might try to drag these games down to a slower, lower level. One cannot blame them since they’ll be skating without Anze Kopitar, but we don’t have to like it, either.

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So what do you think? Which series are you the most excited to see? Let us know in the comments.

Schwartz (hand) suffers scare at Blues practice, but Hitch says ‘he’ll be fine’

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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You couldn’t blame the Blues for freaking out a bit today when Jaden Schwartz left practice after an apparent hand injury, and didn’t return.

It was last October, of course, when Schwartz fractured his ankle during practice, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him for 49 games.

Thankfully for St. Louis, it won’t be deja vu.

From the Post-Dispatch:

Coach Ken Hitchcock said Schwartz was fine but would miss some practice.

“He’ll need a couple days off, but he’s a lot like Fabbri,” Hitchcock said. “He’s probably not going to skate this weekend in any of the games but he’ll be ready to go next weekend.

“He’s day to day. He’ll be fine.”

Signed to a five-year, $26.75 million extension this summer, Schwartz will be a big piece of the Blues moving forward.

He’s coming off a good playoff run — 14 points in 20 games — and the club is hopeful he can build on the goalscoring form shown in ’13-14 (25 tallies) and ’14-15 (a career-high 28).

 

Kucherov won’t report to Bolts until he’s signed

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 16: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is checked by Danny DeKeyser #65 of the Detroit Red Wings in front of Petr Mrazek #34 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 16, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Nikita Kucherov will not report to Tampa Bay Lightning training camp until he’s signed. The 23-year-old winger is not currently under contract, though as a restricted free agent he is partially under club control.

From the Tampa Bay Times, which confirmed through GM Steve Yzerman that Kucherov would not be reporting:

Kucherov, the team’s leading scorer last season, could warrant $6 million or more annually. And that makes it difficult for the Lightning, which has between $5-5.5 million of cap space remaining, per CapFriendly.com. It begs the question whether Tampa Bay may need to make another move to create room. With the season opening two weeks from today, no deal appears imminent.

Yzerman said earlier in the month that he can get Kucherov signed without making a trade, but as mentioned, no deal has been reached yet.

Kucherov is one of a handful of high-profile RFAs who remain unsigned as the regular season approaches. The others are Johnny Gaudreau, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and Tobias Rieder, the latter of whom requested a trade yesterday.

Trouba has also requested a trade.

Related: Ristolainen, still without a contract, makes ‘good will’ gesture towards Sabres

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22: Mattias Janmark #13 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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This has been a forgettable month for the Stars.

To say the least.

Having already lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injury — and Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL — Dallas could now be without versatile Swedish forward Mattias Janmark, who was spotted on crutches Thursday at the club’s practice facility.

Janmark missed Wednesday’s game against Colorado, and was held out of today’s training session.

After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

If there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that Dallas has arguably the NHL’s deepest forward group. Even with Seguin, Eakin, Hemsky, Nichushkin and Janmark out of action, the Stars can still roll the likes of Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler, and still have one of the league’s premier point producers on defense in John Klingberg.

That said, the team really can’t afford any more guys getting hurt.

Ristolainen, still without a contract, makes ‘good will’ gesture towards Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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Rasmus Ristolainen doesn’t have a contract yet, and he’s not particularly close to getting one either.

But the Sabres defenseman, a restricted free agent, doesn’t want to burn any bridges, so he arrived at KeyBank Center on Thursday as a “good will” gesture, reports The Buffalo News. He’ll practice with his teammates, head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed.

“Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer,” Ristolainen’s agent, Mike Liut, wrote in an email to the News. “In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term.”

The eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ristolainen had nine goals and 32 assists in 82 games for the Sabres last season.

“I still trust that we will make that contract happen,” Ristolainen told reporters a couple of weeks ago at the World Cup in Toronto, where he was representing Finland. “I like Buffalo. I want to be there as long as I can and I feel they feel the same way about me. I trust it’s going to be taken care of.”

Related: Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties