6th overall pick Mika Zibanejad signs entry-level deal with Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators came to terms with their first round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Mika Zibanejad on Wednesday. The three year entry-level deal comes with a $1,775,000 cap hit per season. For the 18-year-old, he’ll head back to Sweden to continue his training before he joins the Senators for their preseason training camp in September. From there, the Senators will give the first round pick every opportunity to make the team to start the season.

The timing of the signing is interesting as the team was up against a July 15th deadline to sign the Swedish Elite League prospect. As The 6th Sens pointed out, Ottawa would have been forced to pay an extra $100,000 if they waited until after the 15th; and if they couldn’t sign him by August 15th, he would be guaranteed to play in Sweden next season. They avoided the potential mess entirely by signing him while he was in North American for Ottawa’s prospects/development camp.

Moving forward, Senators GM Bryan Murray was asked whether Zibanejad will be ready to make the jump next season:

“In July, probably not,” Murray said. “In September, hopefully. He has a little time here. There’ll be an adjustment and I think when you see a whole group of young people competing, it will be quite different when they come to training camp — they’ll get playing with veteran players and we’ll get a better comparison.”

The Senators had three first round picks in June, but only Zibanejad has a serious shot of making the team for the 2011-12 season. Both Stefan Noesen (#21 overall) and Matt Puempel (#24 overall) are expected to return to the Ontario Hockey League to continue to develop their overall games. Zibanejad, on the other hand, has been touted as one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2011 Draft. The 6’2, 191 pound center has already played amongst men in the Swedish Elite League and throughout the second half of the season proved that he belonged with the big boys. Ottawa will either give him a shot to show what he can do in the NHL or allow him to continue his development with Djurgarden in the SEL.

For his part, Zibanejad sounds like he has a healthy mix of excitement and perspective going forward:

“I’m excited. It’s a dream coming true, for sure. You’ve always been dreaming (since you were younger) and you always have a goal to make it to the NHL. I think I’m one step closer, but there’s so much hard work left.

“I’ll try to do everything I can to make the team and help the Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup someday. It’s very exciting and I’m really happy.”

One of the biggest determining factors for Zibanejad next season may have nothing to do with the player at all. On paper, the Senators look like they could be in for a rough season. Do they want to “waste” an expensive year on his entry-level deal as he goes through some growing pains on a team that isn’t expected to make the playoffs? Or would he organization rather have him develop his skills and grow into his body in Sweden where they’d still maintain all three years on his first contract?

It’s a part of the business that has become increasingly important as teams are forced to maximize every penny in the salary cap era. Would they rather have him next season on a struggling team for less than $2 million or would they rather have him for the same price in four years as the Senators try to put all of their young pieces together? These are the decisions that GMs like Bryan Murray are forced to deal with these days.

For today, fans in Ottawa can celebrate an exciting prospect putting his name on the dotted line. Can we just fast-forward to September to see what the guy can do?

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?