Rangers fatten league lead, Penguins lose game and Jordan Staal

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Even the most gluttonous gulps of victory won’t satiate John Tortorella enough to cease his yelling, but deep down, he must be delighted with how the New York Rangers are playing right now.

The Rangers topped the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 thanks to hard work and opportunism, building themselves a decent lead atop the overall NHL standings and a downright comfy one in the competitive Atlantic Division:

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How many people expected the Rangers to generate a six-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and a 10-point margin of error ahead of the Penguins in early January?

Speaking of the Penguins, their misery wasn’t limited to Marc-Andre Fleury’s brain fart during the Rangers’ final goal.

Jordan Staal needed help off the ice after taking a knee-to-knee hit from former Penguins teammate Mike Rupp. It’s too early to know the severity of the injury, but it certainly didn’t look good. Tortorella disagreed with the minor penalty Rupp received, which seems like a risky endeavor considering the fine he received earlier this week, but the damage could be huge for Pittsburgh.

Whether the doom and gloom rumors regarding Sidney Crosby’s health are dubious or not, those rumblings and the Rangers’ surge make this as tough a time as ever to lose Staal. (About the only good news is that Evgeni Malkin is healthy and on top of his game, which obviously is very good news, but still …)

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the Penguins’ resilience amid star shortages approximately a million times before, but one cannot help but wonder if they’re going to wear down. One thing’s for sure: the Rangers, Flyers and rest of the NHL won’t take it easy on them.

Malkin wants to see Ovechkin win a Stanley Cup

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Evgeni Malkin‘s career is far from over, but he’s already accomplished so much.

The 30-year-old has won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Hart Trophy, two Art Ross Trophies and a Calder Trophy.

Fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin has also won a number of individual awards, but he hasn’t been as fortunate when it comes team awards and playoff success.

There always seemed to be a rivalry between the two Russian forwards, but that doesn’t mean Malkin isn’t rooting for Ovechkin to take home a championship before his career is over.

“I was a bit luckier than (Ovechkin), that’s why I won those cups,” Malkin said, per Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko. “He has everything ahead of him. I wish him to win the cup.”

How do Penguins fans feel about that?

Malkin was also one of the more controversial omissions on the NHL’s “Top 100 Players” list. The Pens forward was disappointed about being left off the list, but hoisting Lord Stanley again seems to have erased that sting.

“I was a little bit disappointed when I wasn’t included in the list of 100 greatest players,” added Malkin. “But I won the cup and am happy.”

PHT Morning Skate: 9 rookies that could win the Calder Trophy in 2017-18

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–This year’s offseason is a lot more quiet than last year’s offseason (P.K. Subban for Shea Weber and Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson were two major stories last summer). So Sean McIndoe dug up seven storylines that still need sorting out. Somehow, the Avs have failed to trade Matt Duchene, John Tavares hasn’t signed an extension with the Islanders, and the Golden Knights still have a lot of defensemen. (Sportsnet)

–Sam McCaig of The Hockey News put together his free agent All-Star team, and there were some pretty big names to chose from. Mike Fisher, Jaromir Jagr and Thomas Vanek were all on McCaig’s first line, while Andrei Markov and Fedor Tyutin were on the top pairing. (The Hockey News)

–The San Jose Sharks lost Patrick Marleau to the Maple Leafs this offseason which means that they’ll need to replace his production. Don’t be surprised if players like Mikkel Boedker, Jannik Hansen and Tomas Hertl are asked to do more in 2017-18. (NHL.com)

–Devils rookie Nico Hischier has to be considered one of the front runners to win the Calder Trophy in 2017-18, so NJ.com came up with a list of eight other players that will push him for that crown. Fellow 2017 draft pick Nolan Patrick could be a legitimate contender for top rookie too, but so can Coyote prospects Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome. (NJ.com)

–The person running the Golden Knights’ Twitter account has been incredibly funny throughout the summer, and that didn’t stop yesterday. The account took a nice little jab at some Canadian friends:

–Here are some interesting numbers from last season regarding scoring by defensemen. Obviously, Brent Burns played a big part in San Jose being at the top of list:

Penguins’ Letang gains more than just funny videos from Terrell Owens

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Off-season training is probably tedious at times … maybe even more tedious than the hockey-free months of the summer. Perhaps that explains why athletes love to mix things up, even if it means bringing in stars from other sports (and even if that calls for an embarrassing moment or two).

Kris Letang provided some background information surrounding that “ankle breaking” moment with former NFL star receive Terrell Owens during an NHL Network interview, which was transcribed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Josh Mackey. Letang also noted that others were faked out to an even greater degree.

The most important stuff, really, comes from what he looks to gain from these workouts … and also how close Letang might be to full-strength.

“I’m trying to get better all the time,” Letang said. “I think I found that I can improve my footwork.

“We have that at the gym twice a week. We have a sprinting coach. ‘TO’ has been working out with us. He’s an unbelievable guy to be around. He’s teaching us a lot of little things.”

Later on, Letang stated that ‘we’re on the path to starting training camp and being fully healthy,” according to Mackey’s transcription.

That sounds great, though that doesn’t sound like an outright guarantee that he’ll be ready by September. If nothing else, the Penguins and their star defenseman are used to this kind of thing.

Now, in case you missed it in the Morning Skate, here’s that bit of schooling from Owens:

And here’s “the proof” that Letang wasn’t alone in getting beat:

Now to solve the mystery of the other fakee

Wild GM wants long-term deals for Granlund, Niederreiter

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Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher admits that contract negotiations are “plodding along” with RFAs Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Even so, Fletcher noted to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo that salary arbitration hearings might serve as just the sort of deadlines the Wild need with the two rising offensive talents.

As a reminder, Niederreiter’s hearing is slated for Aug. 3 and Granlund is scheduled for one day later, on Aug. 4.

Fletcher told Russo that he expects something similar to what Viktor Arvidsson worked out with the Nashville Predators, at least when it comes down to figuring out a fairly long deal around the time of a hearing.

“We’re open to any angle,” Fletcher said, referring to a term of three, four or five years. “I guess anything’s possible, but somewhere in that three- to five-year range would probably work well for everybody. That’s not to preclude a longer deal, but that’s not where the focus has been on our end.”

Plenty of recent deals for comparison

It’s easy to imagine Fletcher crossing his fingers that the Granlund and Niederreiter deals echoed Arvidsson’s from a cap perspective; Arvidsson’s only getting $4.25 million (though for seven years), while Russo notes that Granlund and Niederreiter are at least asking for more than $6M per year.

Of course, when it comes to hearings and really other negotiations, the asks from players tend to be high while teams tend to go low.

A realistic number is likely to fall somewhere in between, and if nothing else, the sides have a decent array to work with. It remains to be seen if the Wild aim for something more like Arvidsson’s $4.25M, Mika Zibanejad‘s $5.3M over five seasons, or a different dollar amount + term.

Pondering their value

Naturally, both forwards bring different arguments to the table.

Niederreiter is riding three consecutive 20+ goal seasons, setting new career-highs with 25 goals and 57 points in 2016-17. Granlund, meanwhile, is a bit more like Arvidsson in that he greatly improved upon previous career bests; in Granlund’s case, he scored 26 goals and 69 points. While Niederreiter has a longer track record, some might view Granlund as a higher “ceiling” guy.

The bright side is that the Wild have some cap space to work with. Cap Friendly estimates their cap space at $15.79 million before signing Granlund, Niederreiter, and Marcus Foligno as RFAs. As a team aiming to contend, they’ll want some wiggle room to work with, but at least the situation isn’t too dire.