Did You Know? The Viking Award is tough to win

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The “Did You Know?” series ties in the news of the day with some little-known hockey factoids and/or trivia. It’ll be fun. Trust me.

Tonight, the two most recent winners of the Viking Award — awarded annually to the best Swedish hockey player in North America — will take to the ice. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin (who won it in 2009-10) and Daniel Sedin (who won it last year) will face the Flames in Calgary, where fellow Swede Henrik Karlsson (who has never won it) will back up Miikka Kiprusoff in goal.

The Viking Award isn’t entirely unique. There are similar awards honoring different nationalities — the Kharlamov Trophy is awarded to the best Russian NHLer, the Golden Hockey Stick to the top Czech player — but the Viking Award is special. For one, it’s voted on by the players themselves.

And two, the annual competition is fierce. Mats Sundin is the only player to win it four times; Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Borje Salming have won it thrice.

What makes the award impressive, though, is the list of those that haven’t won it. Daniel Alfredsson, the third-leading Swedish scorer of all time, has never won it. Henrik Lundqvist, the winningest Swedish goalie of all time, has never won it. Michael Nylander, who scored 679 career points, has never won it. Tomas Holmstrom, Ulf Dahlen, Tommy Salo and Fredrik Olausson have never won it. It’s a tough one to get.

And this year, the Viking race is as tight as ever. The Sedins are making a strong push — they both have 13 points each through 11 games — while Nicklas Backstrom (who won in 2008-09) is lighting it up for the Capitals.

Yet there’s a new wave of Swedes making their marks. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen in points while Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog is one of the top rookie scorers. Marcus Johansson has five goals in eight games for Washington while Loui Eriksson and the surprising Alexander Steen lead all Swedes with six tallies each. Other players garnering consideration include Alex Edler, Johan Franzen, Tobias Enstrom and Jacob Markstrom.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget two-time winners Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg are also in the mix.

The Viking Award. Like I said earlier, it’s a tough one to get.

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.