Bylsma on Crosby’s playing time: “Shooting for around the 15-minute mark”

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Dan Bylsma is ready to proceed with Sidney Crosby’s comeback, but he’s going to proceed with caution.

That was the message Thursday as the Penguins head coach explained how he’ll handle the allotment of No. 87’s ice time.

Watch Penguins-Rangers on Thursday on NBCSN (7:30 p.m ET)

“I think this time, shooting for around the 15-minute mark in the game is more likely,” Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Given the fact we’re playing three [games] in four [nights] and getting him back in the lineup again for the first time in a while.”

Crosby’s ice-time — or, how to manage it — was an issue during his initial comeback. While Crosby was limited to just 15:54 in his first game against the Islanders, he quickly regained his usual heavy workload, culminating with a season-high 21:03 of ice time against the Bruins on Dec. 5.

That, of course, was the last game he played.

To his credit, Bylsma has developed a pretty clever plan to limit Crosby’s minutes this time around — he’ll skate No. 87 on the third line with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, who average 14:43 and 15:43 respectively.

Here’s Bylsma’s full explanation (from the Penguins website):

If there was another combination or if it was [Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis], it would be a lot tougher to keep him at 15 minutes. Last time, when he hopped back in there, he was right back with 14 and 9 and he was right at 19, 20, 21 minutes right in his first couple of games.

Again, wanting to get him back in the mix, but also a little bit more – well, you don’t pace Sidney Crosby – but keeping his minutes a little bit closer to 15 is what we’re looking at. That’s one of the reasons for putting him with 24 and 48.

I’ve always told him he could be a Selke winner. He’s going to have his chance here with Cooke and Kennedy.

In a related story, I enjoy how Bylsma constantly refers to his players by number. Wonder if he does that away from the rink? “Hey 71, I think 45 fell asleep at the back of the plane. Go get 29 to wake him up.”

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.