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.

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: