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Senators might be stuck with their logjam on defense

When you look at some of the trades that happened during this off-season, it’s pretty hard to fault any NHL general manager for throwing out some questionable players with even more questionable contracts in trade conversations. Sure, the Brian Campbell trade was a special situation since Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is the guy who signed Soupy to that mind-blowing deal in the first place, but it gave hope to any GM whose brain hurts when they look at the paychecks they’re handing to players who might not be earning them.

The Ottawa Senators could be looking at a considerable logjam on defense next season. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch indicates that nine defensemen might jostle for seven available spots after the team was unable to unload either of two pricey veteran blueliners (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba) during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Garrioch thinks that the team still hopes to move one of those two offensive-minded defensemen before training camp, with Gonchar’s awful 2010-11 season and heftier cap hit making him far more difficult to trade. Kuba’s $3.7 million cap hit will expire after this season, so he might be a little easier to get rid of, but there’s one other problem Garrioch points out: doing so would likely move Ottawa below the salary cap floor. Here’s a little more on the team’s head-scratching situation on defense.

That leaves Kuba as the top candidate to be moved. If the Senators do find any takers for the 34-year-old, they’ll have to take back salary to avoid going below the $48.3-million floor.

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The Senators could help solve their blue-line dilemma by dealing Brian Lee and his $900,000 contract. But he’s shown that he can be a capable replacement if somebody goes down, and the 24-year-old still has potential.

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Anybody who thinks Carkner is going to be the odd man out is out of touch. He’s the Senators’ only element of toughness on the back end. Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Kuba Gonchar, Rundblad and Lee all play the same game. Cowen and Wiercioch are both big, but need to get stronger.

Perhaps Kuba could fetch some trade value if the Senators are willing to take on a solid player who is receiving an excessive paycheck. Either way, it seems like Ottawa has plenty of options when it comes to defense but far fewer ones when it comes to narrowing them down.

Reading through all of this, the Senators might just have to struggle with their situation for a while. The fact that they’re not so far above the salary cap floor would mean that their troubles might not be over even if they found a taker for Kuba. (Cap Geek lists them at approximately $51.55 million, although Garrioch notes that Stephane De Costa’s $1.33 million might not register since he need to fight to earn a spot on the team.)

When you consider the randomness and sometimes wide swath of injuries that can hit any NHL team, maybe this abundance of options will come in handy. Ottawa may opt to go with veterans to begin the season since they’ll make the same amount of money in the NHL or AHL anyway while slowly integrating prospects into the mix.

The real bummer is that with all of these players, it’s unclear if the Senators are even going to be all that formidable on defense in 2011-12. If nothing else, they could enjoy a rare amount of flexibility, though.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

 

Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

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‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

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For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.