Top 10 NHL stories to watch…once the All-Star break is over


The NHL All-Star break, which begins Thursday, is the last deep breath everyone gets to take before the playoff stretch drive. So with that in mind, here are 10 stories we’ll be covering closely in the coming months, once everyone’s filled up their lungs this weekend.

Will Sidney Crosby be back this season?

We’ve covered Crosby’s battle with concussions from time to time on PHT (and by “time to time,” we mean “obsessively”), and don’t expect that to change. He’s the best player in the world, and at just 24 years old, it’s not being overly dramatic to say his career is in jeopardy. Not to mention, if he can return in time for the playoffs, the Penguins go from probable Stanley Cup contenders to definite contenders.

The Feb. 27 trade deadline

This one has the potential to be epic, and we’re not just saying that because the trade deadline is great for the blogging business (though it is). Combine a ton of cap space for a number of Cup contenders (Chicago and Detroit leap to mind) with an unusually high supply of big names that have come up in trade speculation – from Bobby Ryan to Jeff Carter to Ryan Suter – and we could be in store for some blockbuster deals.

Teams that were expected to make the playoffs, but might not

The Washington Capitals, for example. Just imagine for a minute if they don’t make it. Would GM George McPhee have any hope of keeping his job? Would a new GM come in and blow things up? How would Alex Ovechkin handle it? Would Penguins fans ever stop laughing? Another team to watch is Los Angeles. The Kings still have the worst offense in the NHL, though things have gotten slightly better under new coach Darryl Sutter.

Teams that were expected to miss the playoffs, but might not

Ottawa, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, Calgary – all remain in the mix. To address just one of those teams, nobody expected the Senators (27-19-6) to be where they are right now, and that includes their owner. But while the Sens head into the break with a five-point lead over eighth-place New Jersey, we’ve seen already how quickly surprise teams can fall in the standings. (Ahem: Wild.)

The pursuit of a top seed

A quick glance at the standings and some fairly unexceptional teams occupy the seventh and eighth spots in each conference. Unexceptional compared to last year at least, when Vancouver won the Presidents’ Trophy and was rewarded with a first-round matchup against defending champion Chicago. The Blackhawks, who were treading water for most of the regular season, kicked it into gear once they got their hate on and took the Canucks to overtime of Game 7. While still possible, a scenario like that seems less likely this time around, meaning a first or second seed could be a significant advantage. Third and fourth? Not so much.

Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?

The richest team in the league in the capital of the hockey world (self-anointed, but probably true) hasn’t played a postseason game since 2004. Miss the playoffs again and it would make seven straight seasons. Which when you think about it, is pretty pathetic. GM Brian Burke’s job is likely safe regardless, but coach Ron Wilson, contract extension and all, would have to be out the door. (Right?) Expect Toronto to be active prior to the trade deadline to boost the top six forwards. The Leafs are one of the rare clubs with a surplus of defensemen, a commodity that’s always in heavy demand heading into the playoffs.

A new CBA needs to be negotiated

The current agreement expires in September, with talks between the league and players’ union expected to start after the All-Star break. For certain, the NHL is in better shape financially compared to the 2004-05 lockout that cost an entire season. However, if the owners try to cut the players’ share as we saw recently in the NBA, things could get…tense. New union leader Donald Fehr is no pushover, and by blocking realignment he’s already sent a message to Gary Bettman that the players won’t be bullied.

The race for the Hart Trophy

The league’s leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, is the current top candidate, having put the Penguins on his back minus Crosby and a host of other key Pittsburgh players that have suffered long-term injuries. But remember what Corey Perry did down the stretch last year. Anything can happen (including an injury to Malkin.) Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews are all in the MVP conversation. Shea Weber should be too, but the Hart rarely goes to defensemen.

Supplemental discipline as the games become more important

OK, let’s say the Capitals have five games left, they’re neck and neck with two other teams for the final playoff spot and, uh-oh, Ovechkin leaves his feet again to hit a guy. What does Brendan Shanahan do? Throw the book at Ovi? Go easy on him? Hide under some jackets? Not saying it’ll involve Ovechkin, but something like this is bound to happen in some shape or form.

The final days of the Phoenix Coyotes?

When the deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg was announced in May, the playoffs were still underway. And chances are, that deal didn’t come together overnight. So that gives you an idea of how much time is left for the league to find an owner that will keep the Coyotes at Arena. That is, assuming the NHL isn’t willing to give status quo another season in Arizona, which would likely necessitate the city of Glendale covering millions and millions more of the team’s losses. This really does seem like the last stand for the franchise in its current location. Granted, it’s felt like that before. Many times actually. But this really, really feels like it.

Derick Brassard trying to fit in, not be ‘savior’ with Penguins

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When Derick Brassard hits the ice for his first shift Tuesday night against the New York Islanders, he’ll be involved in his 10th game as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since coming over from the Ottawa Senators in that wild three-team deal just before the NHL trade deadline last month, the 30-year-old center has a goal and four points.

Any player who goes from a lottery team to a contender around the trade deadline has pressure on them. Their new team gave up assets in hopes that they were either the last piece of a championship puzzle or someone who can fill a role and strengthen an area. In Brassard’s case, he was brought over to take over third-line center duties behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins had options, like Riley Sheahan, but were looking for an upgrade in order to bolster their bottom six.

Luckily for Brassard, he joined a team that’s won the last two Stanley Cups and has a locker room full of stars who have mantles full of various accomplishments. The Penguins are lined up for another Cup run, and these last few weeks have given him an opportunity to blend into a lineup that’s looking for a three-peat.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

“I know it’s going to take a little time. I feel like I have a lot more to give. It’s a process,” Brassard said last week after a morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “I’m going to take some time here and try and make sure I’m going into the playoffs with my ‘A’ game.”

Brassard admitted he’s still not at a full comfort level since the trade, but that will take time. He’s been playing mostly with Phil Kessel on one of his wings as Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan and Conor Sheary have seen time on the other side at even strength. That’s the good fortune that head coach Mike Sullivan has — he has that option to mix and match players given the lineup he’s working with.

Brassard knows his role behind Crosby and Malkin, and that’s alleviated any pressure of trying to do too much when it’s time to hop over the boards.

“For me, playing behind those two guys I don’t try to put any pressure on myself,” he said. “I just try to be myself. This group proved that the last two years. I’m not here to be a savior. I’m just going to try and play my game and be myself.”

While on the ice he’s still finding his way, in the dressing room it’s been a smooth transition with plenty of familiarity.

• He was teammates with Carl Hagelin and Matt Hunwick with the New York Rangers, who also employed Sullivan as an assistant while Brassard was there.

• He played against Sidney Crosby in junior hockey.

• In each of the last four postseasons, his previous two teams — the Rangers and Senators — have met the Penguins and gone 2-2 against them .

Having been eliminated by the eventual champions the last two seasons, Brassard is hoping for a different ending this time around.

“It’s nice to be on this side,” he said. “It’s a really good team and I have a chance to do something special.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

GMs want goalie interference reviews centralized; no change coming for offside rule

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The NHL’s replay system for goaltender interference could be on the verge of getting a little bit of an overhaul.

The league’s general managers discussed the process this week at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Florida and recommended that the final decision for goalie interference challenges be handled by the hockey operations department in Toronto’s situation room, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

Currently, those review decisions are made by the on-ice officials at the game.

Goalie interference has been one of the biggest hot button topics in the NHL this season and pretty much nobody seems to be happy with how it has gone because there does not seem to be any consistent standard on how it is enforced, what interference is, and whether or not goals will be allowed to stand once they are challenged.

[Related: NHL GMs are at least trying to fix goalie interference reviews]

There have been no shortage of complaints from players (particularly goalies) and coaches over the past few months.

By having the final decision handled by the folks in Toronto it would at least seem to bring some level of consistency to the calls because it would be the same people making the decisions every time.

On the other hand, it could also lead to even more confusion because an entirely new set of people are now making the decision just as the playoffs are set to begin.

Before that change can be made it has to be approved by the NHLPA, the officials union, and the NHL’s board of governors. That process is currently underway.

While the wheels are in motion for the goalie interference review process to change, the NHL’s general managers voted down a potential change to the offside rule.

It had been proposed that the NHL change the wording of the offside rule to allow players to have their skate off the ice when entering the zone, essentially turning the blue line into a vertical plane. The thinking there is that it would cut down on the number of offside calls and allow more goals to stand if a player’s skate is still behind the blue line but a couple of inches off the ice. As the rule is written now, the skate must remain on the ice for the play to be onside.

Colin Campbell said on Tuesday that there was not much of a push from the GMs to change that rule because “players know the rule,” via Seravalli.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Playoff Push: Stars, Panthers need wins; Jackets go for 9 in a row

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The NHL season is quickly wrapping up which means time is running out for the teams that are still trying to make up ground in the playoff races.

With 11 games on the schedule on Tuesday night there is plenty at stake, both for teams that are still scrambling to get in and teams that are trying to get the possible seed.

Let’s take a look at what is on the line for Tuesday starting with the Wester Conference.

In the Western Conference the Dallas Stars, losers of eight of their past 10 games, are desperate for a win in an effort to stop the recent bleeding. They have been fading fast in recent weeks, are without starting goalie Ben Bishop, and have to go on the road (where they have struggled all season) to play a first-place Capitals team.

They enter the day two points back of the second Wild Card spot which is currently occupied by the Anaheim Ducks. A win would bring the Stars back even for the time being, though Anaheim would still have a game in hand. It could also bring them even with the Colorado Avalanche if they fail to gain a point against the Chicago Blackhawks. And speaking of the Blackhawks, a loss on Tuesday would officially mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention this season and end their run of nine consecutive postseason appearances.

It is a significantly busier night in the Eastern Conference race, though most of that comes down to seeding and potential first-round matchups.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Blue Jackets are looking to run their current winning streak to nine consecutive games when they visit the New York Rangers, and depending on what happens with the Penguins and Flyers they could find themselves tied for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets enter the day tied with the Flyers with 85 points (the Flyers have the tiebreaker at the moment) and just two points back of the Penguins.

The Penguins are in New York to play the Islanders, while the Flyers take on a Detroit Red Wings team that has lost 10 games in a row.

You can catch the Flyers-Red Wings game on NBCSN.

Tampa Bay can extend its lead for the top spot in the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference) with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Lightning are currently three points ahead of the Boston Bruins, but the Bruins will have two games in hand after Tuesday.

When it comes to competing for an actual playoff spot, the Florida Panthers continue their current road trip in Ottawa. The Panthers were 2-0 winners on Monday night in Montreal and have a quick turnaround for this one. A week ago the Senators handed the Panthers a tough loss on home ice, part of a stretch that saw the Panthers drop games to two teams well out of the playoff race.

The Panthers can not afford to let that happen tonight. A Panthers loss, combine with a Devils win in San Jose would put them in a five-point hole. Or, on the other hand, a Panthers win and a Devils loss could narrow that gap down to a single point. The Panthers are catching  a break in this one, too, because an already bad Senators team will be without All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Needless to say, there is plenty on the line for both teams.

If the playoffs started today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Tuesday’s Key Games

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
Dallas Stars vs. Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers vs. Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
New Jersey Devils vs. San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers’ Mrazek returns to Detroit for important clash vs. Red Wings


NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the Detroit Red Wings host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

Since dropping seven of eight games at the start of the month, the Flyers have won back-to-back games over the Hurricanes and Capitals. The good news for them, is that they’ll finish the week with a pair of contests against non-playoff teams like the Wings and Rangers.

Tonight’s clash against the Red Wings will be the first time that Petr Mrazek plays against his former team.

“It’s gonna be nice to be back in the town where I spent my first five or six years in the NHL, but now it’s the opposite [side],” Mrazek said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s gonna be fun.

“We are going there to get some good results, and we have to build from there.”

And the Flyers certainly need a good result. They’re currently sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but the Blue Jackets, who are in the first Wild Card spot, are tied with them for 85 points. The Devils, who own the second Wild Card spot, are just three points back of Philadelphia.

As for the Red Wings, this season got away from them in a hurry. They’re in a battle of their own, but it’s not for a playoff spot, it’s for lottery positioning.

“This isn’t supposed to be easy, this is the National Hockey League,” Jeff Blashill said, per Detroit News. “Sports aren’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it feels so good when you win. So we have to find a way to keep fighting here.

“Our guys have done an excellent job of staying with it. Our competitiveness has been great. We have to make sure we’re fighting through that frustration at the end of the game. We can’t have that.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.