Tonight on NBCSN: Red Wings and Blues war atop the Central rages on

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We’ve seen plenty from the Red Wings and Blues this season, but when they get together tonight in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) it’s about as big of a game between the two teams as we’ve seen in a long time.

Bragging rights just aren’t on the line tonight but the Wings have a chance to put the Blues down a bit in the race for the Central Division as well. Detroit heads into tonight’s game with a one point lead on St. Louis and Chicago and if the Red Wings could score a regulation win, putting the Blues three points back in their rear view mirror would be a lot of breathing room for how things have gone this season.

The Blues, Wings, and Blackhawks have all taken turns atop the division (and the conference too) thanks to trading off wins against the rest of the competition. Getting wins against each other is also huge thanks to the tiebreakers that could come into play at the end of the season. For coaches Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock getting playoff-like games this early in the season makes for great preparation for the postseason.

The Blues will have to contend with how well the Red Wings play at home. Detroit hasn’t lost at home in 16 games, their last loss coming on November 3 to Calgary. More than two months at home without losing? That’s taking care of business. St. Louis has already lost twice to Detroit at Joe Louis Arena during this 16-game streak.

On the upside for the Blues, they’re coming into tonight’s game on a four-game win streak. Also working to their advantage is that three of the four these two teams have played already were one-goal games. With how Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have played in goal this season, that helps them a lot.

It’s not going to be easy for St. Louis, but if they want to keep things nice and tight atop the Central they’ll need to come away with two points somehow.

Surprising offense: Two guys to look out for tonight are Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi and St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Bertuzzi has looked like a swift, young skater with velvety hands both in-game and in the shootout. Pietrangelo, meanwhile, is providing the blue line offense that makes him look more like a forward. For a Blues team that doesn’t score a ton of goals, his contributions are huge.

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

 

 

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”