Niklas Kronwall

Red Wings, Niklas Kronwall hope to get started on a new contract soon

While things might get a little complicated once the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2011-12 season, the general rule is that it’s better for NHL teams to re-sign players before they hit free agency. That’s especially the case with players who are at least 27 years old because they can become unrestricted free agents and take advantage of weak markets to score bloated deals.

As Joe discussed in late July, the Detroit Red Wings’ next big salary cap commitment might be to hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall. The 30-year-old blueliner’s contract is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $3.75 million with a $3 million cap hit. The Swedish defenseman is coming off the second best offensive season of his career with 37 points in 2010-11 (he had 51 in 08-09).

While fellow Swedish blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom took home the 2011 Norris Trophy, Kronwall’s role with the Red Wings is slowly expanding. Kronwall was second to Lidstrom in ice time during the regular season with 22:52 minutes per game, but he surpassed Lidstrom in playoff ice time with a team-leading 23:04 minutes per game.

With the creeping inevitability of Lidstrom’s retirement in mind, the Red Wings’ defense could be in a serious state of flux after the 2011-12 season. Brad Stuart and Mike Commodore’s contracts will also expire in July 2012, which means that Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White are the only defensemen who currently rank in the team’s top seven who already have contracts in place.

Of course, that situation becomes a lot more pleasant when you consider the possibility of adding a solid free agent or two (Ryan Suter, anyone?) or calling up one of the team’s prospects. The team will have a ton of cap space to work with with just under $35 million in cap commitments to 13 players as of this moment, so the situation isn’t dire – it’s just uncertain.

However they plan on filling some of those holes, it seems obvious that keeping Kronwall in the fold is still a smart plan for the team. That’s why the two sides are planning on hashing out the details soon, according to Ansar Khan.

“As an organization with the history and tradition of Detroit, I think anyone who is fortunate enough to have a chance to play here for many, many years would love to take that,” Kronwall said. “Hopefully, I can do the same.”

The Red Wings are likely to begin contract talks with Kronwall this month or shortly after the start of the season.

“Everyone knows I like it here a lot,” Kronwall said. “I want to stay. Hopefully, they want me to stay as well. So whenever they feel it’s the right time to start negotiating we’ll be ready for it.”

It would be pretty surprising if the Red Wings cannot come to terms with Kronwall, although there’s no guarantee that it will happen quickly. The one advantage to the situation dragging out a bit is that Kronwall would gain the natural boost of contract year inspiration, which might mean a big season. Of course, the double-edged sword to that situation is that a big season would give him a better chance at an even bigger payday.

Although Ericsson’s contract ranks as a rare exception, Red Wings GM Ken Holland is known for signing homegrown talent to enviably affordable deals. We’ll see if he can work his magic with Kronwall as well.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…