Penguins’ schedule indicates that they could finish strong

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With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Pittsburgh Penguins schedule analysis

Total mileage: 33,439 (fourth lowest in the NHL, third highest in the Atlantic Division)

Back-to-back games: 15

Toughest stretches

The Penguins schedule starts off in remarkably balanced way. They play three games on the road, then three at home, followed by two away games and two games in Pittsburgh and then they alternate solo games. That seems fitting, since there aren’t a lot of marathon runs at home or away.

Generally speaking, though, the Penguins’ tougher part of the schedule comes in the first half.

Starting with a home-and-home with the Islanders in late October (Oct. 25 at the Islanders, Oct. 27 at home) the Penguins play seven of 10 games on the road. Late November is tough as well, as they play six of seven (including four in a row) away from Pittsburgh, with their sole home game coming against the defending champion Bruins on Dec. 5.

Again, the second half of the year should be more promising for Pittsburgh, but a late January/early February stretch could present one more hurdle. They’ll play five of six on the road, including four consecutive away games to begin February.

Easiest periods

The first strong run of games begins with a Dec. 13 home game against the Red Wings. The Penguins will play eight of 11 games at the Consol Energy Center during a run that bridges into 2012.

Pittsburgh could really being a lovely run in February, though. Beginning with a Feb. 21 game in which they host the Rangers, the Penguins will play three games at home, two on the road and then four more at home.

Don’t be surprised if they make a mad rush in the end of the season, either. The Penguins’ final 11 games look like this:

March 20: home vs. Winnipeg
March 22: home vs. Nashville
March 24: away vs. Ottawa
March 25: home vs. New Jersey
March 27: home vs. NY Islanders
March 29: away vs. NY Islanders
March 30: away vs. Buffalo
April 1: home vs. Philadelphia
April 3: away vs. Boston
April 5: home vs. NY Rangers
April 7: home vs. Philadelphia

Playing eight of their last 11 games at home is nice, but the context makes that closing set even better. They’ll play against division opponents six times, with just one of those contests being a road game. All but one of the 11 contests are against Eastern Conference teams, too, so they can gain ground with that end schedule.

Overall outlook

The Penguins’ schedule seems pretty balanced and manageable. Again, it seems like they’ll probably make their biggest gains in the last couple months of the season, especially in their final 11 games.

Like their Atlantic Division rivals, their travel schedule is relatively light and their back-to-back games total is reasonable. Ultimately, the Penguins have a lot of things up in the air, but their schedule shouldn’t be a reason to bet against them.

Blackhawks on ‘huge loss’ of Hossa, lingering salary cap questions

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If any team could seamlessly move on from Marian Hossa, it would be the Chicago Blackhawks.

That’s not to say that GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville lack appreciation for perhaps the best two-way winger of this era. Quenneville likely said it best to NHL.com: “I don’t think you replace [Hossa], because he’s a special player.”

MORE: Skin condition will sideline Hossa for 2017-18

Instead, it’s a testament to how the Blackhawks continue to contend, year after year: a willingness to make the tough choices that allow your team to compete. So, Chicago can merely “rebuild and reload” by taking that $5.275 million cap hit from Hossa’s seemingly inevitable trip to the LTIR, right?

Not exactly. At least not yet, as CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers discusses:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

Myers notes that Bowman said he wishes it was as simple as merely replacing Hossa’s cap hit – if not his impact – during the summer. Instead, things could be a bit more complicated.

Things could get even messier if the NHL decides to impede Chicago’s progress.

If the Blackhawks get to send Hossa to the LTIR, it won’t be the easiest situation. Before you get too gloomy about it, there still could be some creative options.

Brainstorming a few ideas

For one thing, what if the Vegas Golden Knights decide to keep James Neal around for a little while?

Now, Neal and Hossa are very different players, yet both are wingers that can help your team win. Neal’s $5 million cap hit matches up remarkably well with that Hossa $5.275 million hit once it would go to LTIR, and the former Predators winger is in the last year of his contract.

As Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee is wont to do, Neal would cost more than just money. Still, that’s just one example, and it’s plausible that other teams might want to sell off a piece but find summer offerings undesirable.

In other words, a rental could be a good way to make lemonade from all of this.

There’s also the possibility that the Blackhawks could look into players who didn’t get signed during the summer, including guys who just missed on PTOs.

This isn’t to say that these are ideal scenarios, but the point is that the Blackhawks could still navigate this difficult situation, particularly if they show the flexibility and creativity they’ve displayed in avoiding salary cap challenges before.

Even if it doesn’t mean another Hossa’s walking through that door.

As a reminder, the Blackhawks may still have some moves in mind even before getting that delayed cap relief. We still need to find out if they are ridding themselves of Marcus Kruger‘s cap hit, something that Bowman wouldn’t address.

None of this is necessarily easy, yet this franchise frequently aces tests like these.

For Oilers, trading Eberle was about ‘long-term thinking’

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CHICAGO —  Peter Chiarelli was there to talk about one thing, and one thing only.

That was today’s big trade that sent Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in return for Ryan Strome.

Not surprisingly, the Oilers’ general manager liked a lot of things about the deal — starting with Strome.

“He’s got some things to his game that we feel can help us in our division,” Chiarelli said Thursday. “He’s got good size, a terrific wrist shot. Very, very cerebral player. He can play center or the wing. Very good on the half wall.”

Not that Eberle doesn’t offer a few good things himself. Like scoring goals. That’s pretty important, right? Eberle’s scored 165 goals in his NHL career.

But with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl requiring extensions soon, the Oilers needed to be wary of their cap situation. In Chiarelli’s estimation, Eberle’s $6 million hit had to go.

“This is about cap management, and this is about replacing good players with good players, and this is about long-term thinking,” said Chiarelli.

When he’d finished selling the trade, reporters naturally took the opportunity to inquire about the rest of his team.

Does he want to get Kris Russell re-signed?

Yes, he does. Still hoping to get that one done.

How would he characterize negotiations with McDavid and Draisaitl?

“Not going to characterize.”

What about Patrick Maroon? Could he get an extension this summer?

“This isn’t the state of affairs for who I’m signing, who I’m not signing.”

Fair enough. Onto the draft then.

Friday at United Center, the Oilers will have the 22nd overall pick. It’ll be the first time since 2008 that they don’t make a top-10 selection.

“Certainly not as high a pick,” said Chiarelli. “We’ve got a cluster of four players and we think we’re going to get one of them.”

That pick in 2008, by the way?

Jordan Eberle, 22nd overall.

Related: Strome pumped for opportunity to play with McDavid and Draisaitl

Ryan Strome pumped at prospect of playing with McDavid, Draisaitl

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Ryan Strome seemed to feel he took a positive step with the Islanders when Doug Weight took over behind the bench in January.

He had a five-game point streak (seven points in that time) and a pair of three-point performances for the Islanders before a broken wrist ended his regular season. On Thursday, he was dealt to a new team, as the Oilers and Islanders made a trade. Going the other way to New York is Jordan Eberle.

“He was great for me,” said Strome of Weight following today’s trade. “Little disappointed I got hurt but I was starting to feel really good and that’s the best I’ve felt in a couple of years.”

Selected fifth overall in 2011, Strome is two years removed from a 17-goal, 50-point sophomore season in the NHL. But he’s never reached more than 30 points in each of the past two years, and the frustrating times continued when he was made a healthy scratch earlier this season with Jack Capuano behind the bench.

Eberle called this trade a fresh start for himself. The same can be applied to Strome.

From an Oilers perspective, the motive for today’s deal, based on the comments of Edmonton’s general manager Pete Chiarelli, was to free up cap space. Strome has one more year left on a two-year, $5 million deal that has an annual cap hit of $2.5 million. The priority is to get pending restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl, as well as the organization’s phenom and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, a pending RFA at the end of next season, under contract.

A fresh start for Strome could mean an opportunity to play alongside McDavid or Draisaitl.

A number of times during his media availability, Strome mentioned how excited he was to go to Edmonton. Playing on a line with one of — or both — McDavid or Draisaitl is a valid reason why.

“I remember sitting in my basement a couple of months ago watching the playoffs. I was like, ‘Holy, these guys are good players,'” said Strome.

“I played with (John Tavares) a little bit, so I kind of know how those great players are. John’s a very one-on-one type player, but Connor and Leon, just the way they distribute the puck and how they can skate, their skill is just exceptional.”

Habs ‘have holes in many positions,’ and Bergevin’s busy trying to fill them

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Consider, for a moment, what’s currently on the plate of Montreal GM Marc Bergevin.

Last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov, is an unrestricted free agent that might go to market. Trade calls are coming in on Alex Galchenyuk, who also needs a new contract. The Habs would like to keep Andrei Markov, but he’s a UFA as well. There’s still no clear answer as to who the team’s No. 1 center will be next year, or what the defense will look like.

Needless to say, Bergevin has lots of balls in the air.

“We have holes at many positions,” he said Thursday. “I don’t think many teams could walk in and say, ‘We’re all set, we’re not taking calls.’

“We’ll try to address those needs. But it’s not easy. People who have good assets, they usually keep them. It has to be a match, put it this way.”

The center position, one that’s long been an issue in Montreal, remains in flux. Bergevin said he was unsure if Jonathan Drouin could play the middle, which has been an ongoing debate with Galchenyuk over the last few years. Tomas Plekanec and Philip Danault remain on the roster, but neither are No. 1 caliber.

Given that pressing need down the middle, Bergevin might need to allocate some cap space for a solution. And if that’s the case, it could hamper his ability to re-sign Radulov, who’s rumored to be angling for a big payday.

“We have limits, we have price,” Bergevin said of Radulov. “He’s got the right to test the market, if that’s what he decides.”

In addressing Radulov, Bergevin added he’d like to retain the services of Markov, who’s 38 and coming off a deal that paid $5.75 million annually. The Habs GM said there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiations with the veteran Russian rearguard, though.

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

But before that happens, Bergevin needs to upgrade the players in front of Price.

“I need help everywhere,,” he said. “It’s not that easy.”