Tomas Kopecky signs four-year, $12 million deal with Florida to help inch closer to salary floor

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The charmed life of Tomas Kopecky continues to roll on. While a member of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 he was part of their Stanley Cup winning team. In Chicago in 2010 he helped Slovakian teammate Marian Hossa lift the Cup as Blackhawks. Now he’s been dealt to Florida and while that seems to be not-so exciting, it’s going to pay off in a big way for him.

Kopecky signed a four-year, $12 million deal  good for a $3 million cap hit with the Panthers today to have him be a contributor to the turnaround of the franchise under GM Dale Tallon. Kopecky making that much money seems outlandish and honestly insane because he finally had a solidly productive season last year punching in 15 goals and 27 assists with the Blackhawks. It was the first time he broke 40 points in his career after only scoring 21 and 19 points the two seasons prior.

The part of this deal that makes it so ridiculous is how it’s helping the Panthers reach the salary floor. While some teams are dealing with how to dance around the salary cap and spending too much money, the Panthers have to spend a lot of money just so they can rightfully play hockey. According to CapGeek, the Panthers have 13 players signed up for next year worth just over $26 million. The salary floor for next season is at $48 million and while the Panthers acquired Brian Campbell last week to help them boost their payroll and play defense, Kopecky’s deal seems to be a gross overpayment to help the team get caught up on the books.

Kopecky did get time last year playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and was able to be somewhat productive while the Blackhawks fought off injuries. In Florida, however, depending on what else they do in free agency or otherwise he could wind up being their second line winger full time. That’s a bit daunting for a team turning things around and banking on a guy who has had just one statistically productive season.

It’s a continual work in progress for the Panthers but as a team that’s not generating a ton of money and being forced to spend at least $48 million on payroll, it’s a rough life as Michael Traikos of The National Post in Canada finds out. Dale Tallon says it’s a challenge he’s eager to tackle.

“We’re excited about this,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told reporters. “It took a lot of pain to get ourselves in this position. We’ve earned the right to do what we need to do to get this franchise turned around.”

Sadly for Tallon, the free agent group this year isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. With Brad Richards as the top guy available and the Panthers in need of a goalie should Tomas Vokoun leave town as a free agent, the Panthers have a lot of work to do either in free agency or through more wheeling and dealing. Panthers fans have been down and out of it for a while, but for the first time in a long time they’ve got a reason to pay attention come July 1.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.