Chicago Blackhawks v Toronto Maple Leafs

Patrick Sharp remains willing to adjust to assignments; Blackhawks hope to re-sign him

In most cases, the heroes of the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup run took a step back during the 2010-11 season. That’s not to say that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook totally flopped last season; in most cases they simply didn’t meet the lofty levels of that championship year.

One mainstay who produced an even better encore performance was versatile sniper Patrick Sharp. Despite being limited to 74 games with some minor injuries, Sharp produced the best offensive output of his career. He scored 34 goals (his second best total ever) and 71 points (a career-high) while earning his first trip to an All-Star Game. Sharp’s best moments came as a winger on a super line with Toews and Kane, but the dangerous scorer consistently proves that he’s willing to play wherever the Blackhawks ask him to. It seems he finds success in a variety of different situations, too; NHL.com points out that he went on his point per game 2010 playoff run (22 points in 22 games) while playing as a center.

Brian Hedger writes that the Blackhawks might expect him to play center (or even move around some more) in 2011-12 and Sharp seems OK with that proposition.

“I’m fine with that,” Sharp said of playing in the middle. “I think from the last six years I haven’t really played one position more than another – left wing, right wing, center and even defense on the power play. I think it’s an asset. You prepare to play all positions. I really don’t care which, as long as I’m on a line that’s working. If I can contribute on that line, then I’m happy.”

The Blackhawks must focus on another avenue to keep Sharp happy: contract negotiations. The 2011-12 campaign is the fourth and final season of a bargain deal in which Sharp’s cap hit is $3.9 million per year. GM Stan Bowman has a track record of re-signing the team’s biggest pieces before they hit free agency – he did so most recently with Seabrook – so the team will probably get something done with their sniper.

Sharp would command quite a bidding war if he manages to hit the unrestricted free agent market in 2012. He’ll be 30 next July, making him young enough to attract the kind of offers that a two-time 30+ goal scorer with his kind of flexibility could receive. Sharp played a wide variety of positions for the Blackhawks over the years and even ranks as a dangerous scoring threat on the penalty kill. (He lead the league with seven shorthanded goals in 2007-08.)

Here’s a little more insight about Sharp’s contract negotiations from NHL.com.

“I really don’t have much to say about it, to be honest with you,” said Sharp, who’s entering the final year of his current contract – which has a salary-cap hit of $3.9 million according to capgeek.com. “I’ve stated that I want to stay here. Hopefully the organization wants me to stay, and besides that I’m not really going to focus on it. I’m just going to try and be the best player I can be and be a good teammate and let those things kind of sort themselves out.”

(snip)

“You can’t have a core group of 20 guys,” Bowman said this weekend at the team’s fourth annual fan convention in the Chicago Hilton. “It just doesn’t work that way in the sport of hockey — or in other sports, for that matter. We try to identify the guys that are instrumental in being here in the short term and the long term. We’ve done that. We’ve locked those players up and that’s kind of the nature of sports.”

Chicago has about $51 million committed to 16 players going into 2012-13, according to Cap Geek. That means that the Blackhawks would have a bit more than $13 million in cap space to lock down 4-7 roster spots (if the ceiling remains around $64.3 million). Those numbers indicate that the Blackhawks should be in fine shape to retain Sharp if they decide he is in that core group. Another strong campaign during the 2011-12 season could go a long way in answering that question.

What is wrong with the Kings?

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, front, of Slovenia, picks up a loose puck as Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, of Sweden, pursues in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The first year of Anze Kopitar‘s $80 million contract extension may end up being the worst year of his NHL career.

In a full 82-game season, the 29-year-old center has never put up fewer than 61 points. But with just six goals and 27 assists in 54 games, Kopitar, the reigning Selke Trophy recipient, is on pace for only 46 points in 2016-17.

Last night, Kopitar was held pointless for a fourth straight game as the Kings fell, 4-1, to the Bruins at Staples Center.

“Can’t chase the lead,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “Early goal, just a constant theme. Chase the lead. Need some production out of the top end of your lineup to overcome that.”

With the loss, the Kings found themselves four points back of the second wild-card spot with only one game in hand on Calgary.

Sutter was asked if there was one thing that concerned him above anything else.

“Yep,” he said. “Production from the top end. Absolutely, 100 percent.”

Given Jeff Carter has scored more than his share of goals (29), the coach was clearly talking mostly about Kopitar.

That being said, Marian Gaborik only has six goals himself, and that’s a problem for Kopitar because the Kings, after losing Justin Williams and Milan Lucic in the last two years, aren’t exactly swimming in high-scoring wingers.

Gaborik, who turned 35 just a few days ago, is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $4.875 million. Combine that with Dustin Brown, 32, being signed through 2021-22 for a cap hit of $5.875 million and the Kings have over $10 million in cap space tied up in two aging wingers who aren’t providing many goals.

So, that’ll be the challenge for GM Dean Lombardi going forward. It just remains to be seen if there’s a solution.

The Kings host Anaheim tomorrow.

Report: Berglund, St. Louis talking contract extension

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues in action in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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These are busy times for Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

In addition to dealing with the Kevin Shattenkirk situation, Armstrong has to address the future of Patrik Berglund, the 28-year-old center that, like Shattenkirk, is a pending UFA.

Here’s the latest, from the Post-Dispatch:

The club is believed to be in talks with the center and Berglund told the Post-Dispatch that there is is mutual interest from both sides on an extension. His agent, Peter Wallen, did not return a message and Armstrong was unavailable.

“I would like to still be a Blue,” Berglund said Monday, before the Blues broke for their five-day bye. “I think everybody in here and upstairs knows that I want to be a Blue, too.”

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, emerging as versatile forward that can play the middle or wing. He’s also found the back of the net 17 times this season, and is flirting with matching or surpassing the career-high 22 he scored back in ’10-11.

As mentioned above, Berglund’s in the last of a three-year, $11.1 million contract that pays $3.7 million annually. With signals of a Shattenkirk trade getting stronger, it’s reasonable to think Berglund will be kept around.

Simply put, the Blues might be unable to handle more significant roster turnover. The club has moved on from the likes of Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in recent years, and lost some of its identity in the process.

Welcome Drew Stafford to the trade rumor mill

Anaheim Ducks v Winnipeg Jets - Game Three
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Another name to add to the pile as we gear up for next Wednesday’s trade deadline:

Drew Stafford.

Stafford, the 31-year-old winger that’s spent the two-and-a-half seasons in Winnipeg, has reportedly been the subject of trade calls, per ESPN.

Stafford’s had an injury-plagued campaign, limited to just 39 games due to upper- and lower-body injuries, yet still managed to rack up 12 points while averaging just over 13 minutes per night.

It’s easy to see why teams are making calls.

Stafford has history as a productive goalscoring winger, finding the back of the net 21 times last season (with a career-high of 31 back in ’10-11). He’s got enough ability to play up and down the lineup and, what’s more, he’s about as pure a rental as they come — Stafford’s a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $4.35 million annually.

What’s more, the Jets are one of those “are they buyers or are they sellers?” teams.

Winnipeg is only four points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but would need to leap two teams — the Flames and the Kings — to get there.

The Jets have also played 63 games, to Calgary’s 61 and Los Angeles’ 60.

In the end, Stafford’s contractual situation and the team’s glut of forwards could see him move along. In addition to all the youngsters Winnipeg already has up front, the likes of ’15 first-rounders Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic are still looking to make the leap.

Preds’ Forsberg becomes first player since 2010 to score back-to-back hat tricks

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Remember when Predators forward Filip Forsberg couldn’t buy a goal at the beginning of the season? Yea, neither do we.

It may be hard to believe, but Forsberg didn’t find the back of the net until the 14th game of the 2016-17 season. He didn’t score his second until game no. 19. But the 22-year-old has really put it together.

On Tuesday night, he scored three goals in a 6-5 OT loss to the Calgary Flames and he netted a second hat trick in two games in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche (you can watch his latest hat trick by clicking the video at the top of the page).

It’s the first time in Predators history that a player has back-to-back three-goal games and he’s the first player in the league to do it since Canucks forward Alex Burrows in 2010.

Despite his slow start, the two hat tricks now put him on pace to hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive year, which is really impressive.

“It’s tough to explain,” Forsberg said, per NHL.com. “Sometimes it feels great but you don’t score, and sometimes you feel bad but you still score. Tonight was a lot of fun.

“I think I always felt a responsibility, and I think that goes for every player in this locker room. Everyone wants to contribute and help the team win. Obviously I can’t expect myself to score a hat trick every game, but I just try to work hard and if I can score goals, I’ll take that as well.”

Not only has he been better, but the whole team is showing that the slow start they endured in the first few weeks of the season was just a fluke.

The Predators are comfortably sitting in a playoff spot (if that even exists in today’s NHL) with 67 points in 60 games, which puts them in the first Wild Card position. They’re one point ahead of Calgary with a game in hand and five points ahead of Los Angeles, who’s on the outside looking in.

Nashville is also neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division. Both teams have the same number of games played and points, but the Blues have three more regulation/overtime victories.