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Pluses and minuses of tonight’s preseason action

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Four games and just six teams taking part in action today as the NHL preseason began including a split-squad doubleheader between Nashville and Florida. What do they think this is, spring training for baseball? Here’s some stuff we’re taking away from today’s games. Don’t worry, we’ll officially fire up the hype machine on any of the rookies that shine next week.

Game 1: Nashville 5 – Florida 3

Game 2: Florida 4 – Nashville 3

Pluses: 2011 first round pick Jonathan Huberdeau shined in Game 2 scoring a goal and adding an assist. The Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov is already calling out for Huberdeau to make life hard on the Panthers should they want to send him back to juniors.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has the team working with a lot more jump and aggressiveness in camp. If he can liven things up with the Panthers, they could be entertaining to watch for the first time in a while.

The Predators defense competition got it’s first salvo fired with Teemu Laakso scoring for the Preds.

Minuses: Relying on tweets and recaps for a preseason game is a bit of an inconvenience so we’ll hold off on being too critical of anyone just yet.

Buffalo 3 – Carolina 1

Pluses: Seeing Nathan Gerbe do his thing once again to start off the preseason is great for Buffalo. Being a pest, tipping shots, and buzzing the net are what makes him so good for the Sabres.

Paul Gaustad doing some work offensively is nice to see for Buffalo as well. Should Tyler Ennis or Ville Leino not work out well at center on the Sabres second line, Gaustad could get slotted in there to stabilize things. He’s not offensive in nature, but doing dirty work around the net is his thing. Getting  a goal and an assist helps show off a little something extra.

Brandon Sutter scoring for Carolina is what they’ll hope to see a lot more of in the regular season from him as he should set up as the Hurricanes’ second line center.

Minuses: It’s not a minus so much as it’s a sign of it being a preseason game. Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta’s scoring line on the night: A goal and  two assists. If this were a regular season game, we’d have to set off some alarms.

Toronto 4 – Ottawa 2

Pluses: Leafs center Tyler Bozak scoring two goals is great to see for the Leafs. It’s a bit unsure what Bozak will be doing this year or what line he could end up on, but a couple of goals helps make a good starting argument that he should get more time on a scoring line. To do that, however, he’d likely have to switch to wing and really impress coach Ron Wilson. Bozak’s work with Colby Armstrong and Nazem Kadri has the Leafs faithful impressed.

Senators rookie defenseman Jared Cowen looked more like a man than a kid tonight. Cowen scored both Sens goals, played a physical game, and even fought Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Not a bad way to show the team you can hang at the NHL level.

Leafs rookie Jake Gardiner played a strong game and looked fast. He could make things uncomfortable for Wilson in making choices on the blue line.

Guy who secretly played really well for Ottawa in the loss? Former Blue Jackets first round pick Nikita Filatov. We’ll see if he keeps it up all camp and into the season.

Minuses: Judging by one preseason game that didn’t feature many of the regulars is bad to do, but boy is Ottawa going to be bad this year. Their top line tonight with Peter Regin centering Filatov and Bobby Butler could be their starting second line this year. Yikes.

Milan Michalek went down after appearing to be hit by a puck. He left the ice holding his knee however. After all the time he’s missed with a myriad of injuries, another one would be a miserable and foreboding start to the Sens season.

Cowen played solid tonight for Ottawa, but him jumping Dion Phaneuf after Phaneuf laid a clean hit on Sens player Tim Conboy was just dumb. No need for a fight there and Cowen was rightfully assessed an instigator penalty for doing so. Hopefully the handing out of the instigator in situations like that will happen every time fights like these break out.

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues are going back to the guy who got them this far.

Brian Elliott will start in goal tomorrow in San Jose.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock made the announcement Tuesday, the day after Jake Allen allowed four goals on just 25 shots in a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination.

Allen also started Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues won that contest, 6-3, with Allen stopping 31 of 34 shots.

But those were the only two games that Allen has started this postseason. That’s because Elliott had been mostly excellent before getting yanked in Game 3. His save percentage in these playoffs is .925, compared to Allen’s .897.

Hitchcock said he hopes the break has allowed Elliott to “reset” after the “mental drain” of starting the first 17 games of the playoff.

“We needed the jolt from Jake, we got it to get back into the series,” Hitchcock told reporters, per the Post-Dispatch. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win yesterday but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”

Related: A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

“I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

“There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

But others might not be all that shocked.

Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

Oilers ‘owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time’: Chiarelli

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The more Peter Chiarelli talks, the more anticipation grows for a big trade.

The Oilers’ general manager spoke to Sportsnet yesterday at the Memorial Cup, where he was asked once again about the possibility of dealing the fourth overall draft pick for some NHL-ready help.

“Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options,” said Chiarelli. “There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal. We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

The number one area that the Oilers need to upgrade is the defense. So if, for example, a player like Tyson Barrie were made available by the Colorado Avalanche, Chiarelli would no doubt be interested. Ditto for Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or whoever else could be in play this offseason.

It won’t be easy, but if Chiarelli can add a capable, young top-4 defenseman (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL) and perhaps a veteran too, all of a sudden things look a lot more promising on the back end. Remember that Darnell Nurse is still only 21, Oscar Klefbom just 22. And even if the Oilers move down in the draft, they could still add another d-man to a mix that also includes youngsters Brandon Davidson, Adam Clendening, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle.

If, on the other hand, Chiarelli fails to upgrade the defense, then the Oilers may struggle once again next season.

Hence, the urgency to get something done now, for a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff excitement in a decade.

After so much losing, there’s no selling patience anymore in Edmonton.

Related‘There’s a real legitimate chance’ that Oilers trade fourth overall pick

People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.