Play NBC Sports’ Hockey Day in America MVP Challenge

Over at the NHL on NBC Sports Facebook page, there’s a new pick’em game available for play — the Hockey Day in America MVP Challenge.

The game rules are as follows:

1) Use the Hockey Day in America Challenge Facebook App.

2) Pick who you think will win the following five games: Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), San Jose Sharks at Detroit Red Wings (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks (NBC, 12:30 PM ET), Boston Bruins at Minnesota Wild (NBC, 3:30 PM ET), New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens (NBC Sports Network, 6:00 PM ET).

3) Choose the number of total goals you think will be scored in all five Hockey Day in America games.

4) Make sure to fill out your picks by Sunday, 12:00 PM ET.

The entrant that correctly predicts each winner and total number of goals scored will be named the MVP and featured on the NHL on NBC Sports Facebook page.

In case you need help making your picks, here are some from PHT’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough:

Pittsburgh at Buffalo

Halford: The Sabres were embarrassed 8-3 the last time they faced the Penguins, so there’s a revenge factor at play. There’s also the fatigue issue — Pittsburgh plays Philly on Saturday — so I’m going with Buffalo.

Brough: Don’t look now, but the Sabres are playing…not terrible. Buffalo wins in a squeaker.

San Jose at Detroit

Halford: I see no reason to pick against a team that’s won 21 straight at home. Detroit.

Brough: The Wings have been unbeatable at the Joe, but I’m going with the Sharks because there’s a small chance I could look like a genius and I’m used to looking dumb.

St. Louis at Chicago

Halford: These two have split the season series (1-1), but both games were at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. This one will be at the United Center, where the ‘Hawks are 19-6-4 this year. I’ll take Chicago.

Brough: Here’s my theory — the ‘Hawks will be so happy to get home after nine straight games away from the United Center that they’ll come out with a ton of positive energy. And if that doesn’t work, the Blues aren’t a great road team anyway. Chicago still wins.

Boston at Minnesota

Halford:The Wild were tops in the NHL on Dec. 10. Today, they’re in 21st. That has a lot to do with the fact they’ve gone 5-16-5 over the last 26 games. As such, I’m rolling with Boston.

Brough: How bad are the Wild? The Wild are so bad they lost at home to Columbus last week. Easy win for the B’s here.

New Jersey at Montreal

Halford: Have to like what Ilya Kovalchuk’s doing for the Devils right now. He’s ninth in league scoring (56 points) while playing almost 25 minutes a night, most among all NHL forwards. Riding the hot hand here, taking New Jersey.

Brough: This one’s a coin toss. So I’m going to toss a coin. And the coin has come up…Habs.

As for total goals scored, both Halford and Brough went with 25.

Hey, it’s a 3-2 league. Just ask Darryl Sutter.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey:

Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

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For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

Here are the top five teams for most miles:

1. Avalanche – 48,639
2. Flames – 47,931
3. Blackhawks – 47,926
4. Coyotes – 46,856
5. Oilers – 46,815

Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

31: Penguins – 34,041
30: Devils – 34,052
29. Sabres – 34,175
28. Red Wings – 34,759
27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
3. Hurricanes – 18
4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

While these teams face the fewest.

1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
2. Canucks – 10
3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

***

As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

(Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

* – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?

Report: Panthers want Jagr back (just for less money)

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Jaromir Jagr made $4 million with the Florida Panthers last season. The team wants him back in 2017-18, but at least a mild discount, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.

Ultimately, the Panthers may remain the best fit for the 45-year-old, although it would be awfully interesting to see what kind of interest Jagr would draw if he truly put “feelers” out there.

Jagr saw a reduction in production last season, generating 16 goals and 46 points after a spellbinding 27-goal, 66-point campaign in 2015-16.

(He actually seemed to rotate such years, as he had 47 points in 2014-15 after generating 67 in 2013-14).

Of course, beyond the production, Jagr brings name recognition. He also continues to chase history; Jagr currently ranks third all-time in goals (765), with at least an outside chance to be the third NHL player to cross the 800-goal mark. Jagr may also want to boost his second all-time points mark of 1,914 to 2,000.

For a team struggling for relevance (not to mention a clear direction), having a box office draw isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Sorting out Jagr’s situation isn’t the only key decision for (reinstated?) Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who gets to assert his viewpoint on a team with about $20 million in cap space. Then again, for the Panthers, there’s always the battle between cap space and their actual budget.

Will Jagr be worth the money? Could he leave for greener pastures? It likely won’t be long before we get some answers.