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There’s always next year: Top restricted free agents for 2012

Earlier today, we took a look at the best players who might become available via unrestricted free agency in 2012. From a dreaded lockout to re-signings and retirement, there are a lot of things that can happen between today and July 1, 2012. That being said, it’s still fun to forecast free agency next year. If nothing else, it gives us an interesting sneak preview for some of the storylines that could shape much of the talk during the 2011-12 season.

To complete the picture, we thought it would be wise to take a look at the best restricted free agents as well. Naturally, these players are even less likely to become available to other NHL teams, but crazier things have happened.

We’ll go position-by-position with the potential RFAs. A player’s expiring cap hit is in parentheses.

source: APTop potential RFA forwards for 2012 (complete list)

David Krejci ($3.75 million)
John Tavares ($3.75M)
Matt Duchene ($3.75M)
Logan Couture ($1.24M)
Chris Stewart ($2.88M)
Kris Versteeg ($3.08M)
T.J. Oshie ($2.35M)
James Van Riemsdyk ($1.65)
James Neal ($2.88M)
Mason Raymond ($2.55M)
Evander Kane ($3.1M)
David Perron ($2.15M)
Steve Downie ($1.85M)
Sergei Kostitsyn ($2.5M)

Other notables: Wojtek Wolski, Peter Mueller and Eric Fehr.

source: APTop potential RFA defensemen for 2012 (complete list)

Mike Green ($5.25M)
Tyler Myers ($1.3M)
Victor Hedman ($3.5M)
Erik Johnson ($2.6M)
P.K. Subban ($875K)
Kyle Quincey ($3.13M)
Erik Karlsson ($1.3M)
Alex Goligoski ($1.83M)
Dmitri Kulikov ($1.33M)
Mike Del Zotto ($1.1M)

Other notables: Cam Barker, Matt Niskanen and Thomas Hickey.

Top potential RFA goalies for 2012 (complete list)

Carey Price ($2.75M)
Tuukka Rask ($1.25M)
Ondrej Pavelec ($1.15M)
Corey Schneider ($900K)
Anders Lindback ($875K)

Other notables: Jussi Rynnas, Mikko Koskinen, Devan Dubnyk, Ben Bishop and Leland Irving.

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However their teams handle these situations, there are a quite a few interesting potential storylines to be found in this group.

There are a few players who should receive some hearty raises. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Myers and P.K. Subban might not be bargains much longer, especially if they follow their career trajectories and rank as crucial members of their respective teams. That could be an especially big problem for the Sabres and Flyers since it appears both franchises are going to test the salary cap ceiling’s limits.

The goalies could make things interesting as well. Price justified Montreal’s gamble to part ways with Jaroslav Halak last season; if he matches those efforts in 2011-12 he should be in line for a hearty check. Pavelec needs to prove he’s the goalie of the future in Winnipeg (the jury’s out on that one). Meanwhile, Rask and Schneider are two backups who could be seen as future starters while Lindback might be a few seasons away from getting a legit shot.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.