Hurricanes now in competition with Predators to recruit abandoned Thrashers fans

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With the Atlanta Thrashers now gone from the deep south of the United States and making their home in Winnipeg, there are a host of fans in Atlanta and around Georgia that are now left without a local team to root for. Go ahead, make jokes about how Thrashers fans are just a figment of Gary Bettman’s imagination, but they’re real and now they’re hockey fans without a pro hockey team, a problem the Nashville Predators have already started to try and cash in on by offering enticing ticket packages for former Thrashers fans.

Now the Predators are going to potentially have some serious competition from another southern team to try and keep Thrashers fans in the mix in the NHL.

Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer shares news that the Carolina Hurricanes are thinking about making their move into the Atlanta market by showing up there next preseason to play a game and win over fans of their former division rivals. The one guy that knows all about how that works is current Hurricanes forward and now former Thrashers forward Anthony Stewart as he’s seen how great some of the Atlanta fans were up close and personal.

“There’s some passionate fans there,” said new Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart, who played for the Thrashers last season. “I’m on Twitter pretty much every day, and they seem passionate about that. I’ve heard some fans say that their next team is going to be Tampa or Nashville or Carolina. It’s definitely worth it.”

Making the competition a bit stiffer to win those fans over, as DeCock mentions, the Predators and Hurricanes each getting about 40 games on Atlanta cable TV outlet SportSouth. While the Atlanta Spirit Group didn’t do much of anything to help Thrashers fans fall in love with the team by treating it like a poorly run bodega rather than a sports franchise capable of making money, both the Predators and Hurricanes are more than happy to court those jilted by the loss of their team.

Sure it might seem like vultures swarming over a carcass in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a good move to keep those fans that did love hockey entertained and winning over more fans in the deep south is never a bad thing. The one catch here in this competition between the two teams is proximity. Nashville is about a four hour drive from Atlanta whereas Raleigh is about a six to seven hour drive if you can fight off Atlanta traffic without a problem. Having the games on TV is a great thing because, let’s face it, hockey fans no matter where they are want to see it. Getting those fans to come out to a game at some point might be a bit tougher thanks to those tough commutes.

Still, it’s nice to see at least two other teams do something for Thrashers fans that their own team never felt compelled to do in the first place: Care.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Penguins – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry presents quite the treat: the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams are at 103 standings points and each squad already punched a ticket to the playoffs. Even so, they’re dealing with mini-slumps that they’d like to work out tonight.

For all we know, this could be a preview of what would be one extremely fun, high-profile 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Either way, it’s a showcase of two premiere franchises brimming with star power.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

Yes, NHL will share protected, available player lists for expansion draft

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We can debate all day how much the NHL, Vegas Golden Knights and others involved really want to do this, but they’re making the right choice with the expansion draft nonetheless. The league will make protected and available players lists available at the same time they’re shared with teams, according to NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

(The NHL tweeted out as much, too.)

Could this lead to feelings being hurt or perhaps even certain sneaky deals being scuttled? Perhaps, but those are headaches that management should be expected to absorb.

The bottom line is that an expansion draft is a dream come true for armchair GMs, rumor enthusiasts, fantasy sports fans and … really, just about anyone interested in hockey. It would be a bewildering decision to try to keep all of this information locked down, even for a league that frequently garners a reputation for choosing comfort over entertainment value.

Cotsonika reports that such lists will probably be made available on June 18, though that isn’t set in stone.

(If you’re the type to take off work if a trade deadline was exciting, you might want to start drumming up excuses/putting aside vacation time/practicing your best “I’m sick” voice just in case …)

Cap Friendly provides a handy timeline for the expansion draft process:

Goalie nods: Blues give Hutton first start in two weeks

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Even though Jake Allen has played extremely well of late, Carter Hutton will get the call when the Blues take on the Coyotes in Arizona tonight.

Some of this could have to do with the opponent. The Coyotes are playing out the string on a forgettable campaign, and have lost six of their last seven. That includes a 4-1 defeat in St. Louis on Monday (in which Allen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win).

As mentioned above, Allen has been great in March and deserves huge praise for turning his season around. He’s gone 8-1-1 this month with a remarkable .951 save percentage, allowing a mere 14 goals over his 10 appearances.

Hutton, though, has played equally well when called upon. He’s gone 4-1-0 over his last five starts, posting a .962 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In his last outing, on Mar. 16, he allowed just one goal in a victory in San Jose.

For the Coyotes, Louis Domingue is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— A good matchup in Pittsburgh tonight, as the two defending Stanley Cup champions go head-to-head. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins, while Corey Crawford goes for the Blackhawks.

— Calgary can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight so, unsurprisingly, it’ll go with No. 1 Brian Elliott. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, though it could be Ben Bishop after Jonathan Quick lost last night in Edmonton.

Philipp Grubauer gets the call for Washington, after Braden Holtby led the Caps to victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. Grubauer will take on Calvin Pickard, who starts for the Avs.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.