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Breaking down the race for East’s final spot after Winnipeg’s win

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It’s looking more and more like every piece of the Eastern Conference will come down to an end-of-the-season battle.

The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and maybe even Philadelphia Flyers have a chance to take the Atlantic/top spot in the East. The Northeast Division looks like a big jump ball between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.

While the Florida Panthers seem to be pulling away ever-so-slightly for the Southeast lead, tonight’s games only intensified the race for the conference’s final spot. The Washington Capitals had a chance to keep the heat on Florida and push the Winnipeg Jets deeper into playoff purgatory, but sticking to their season’s script, of course that didn’t happen as Winnipeg won instead.

Sure, it was an electrifying contest in the as-always charged-up MTS Centre, but the Jets’ 3-2 regulation triumph only muddies the picture. That’s great news for Winnipeg, Buffalo and maybe a couple teams with less realistic hopes and also fantastic news for fans of down-to-the-wire playoff races.

Here’s an updated look at the East’s race for No. 8:

8. Washington: 78 points, 11 games remaining (34 regulation/OT wins)

9. Winnipeg: 76 points, 11 games remaining (30 regulation/OT wins)
10. Buffalo: 75 points, 11 games remaining (26 regulation/OT wins)

(The East’s lower class is actually quite muddled and not that far off from a pure points perspective, but I’ll be honest; I don’t see anyone but maybe Tampa Bay posing a threat. Consult the full standings at your leisure if you disagree, though.)

If you’re interested in odds, Sports Club Stats breaks it down as such:

Washington: 66.3 percent chance to make the playoffs (down a whopping 11.3 percent with tonight’s loss)
Winnipeg: 28.9 percent chance (up 8.6 with win)
Buffalo: 9.3 percent chance
Tampa Bay: 2.8 percent chance

Schedule outlook

The Capitals have one game left against the Jets and one against the Sabres (both at home). The Capitals have six road games left this season versus five at home.

Meanwhile, the Jets have that road game against the Capitals but no contests remaining against Buffalo. They do have a rather unfriendly schedule, however, with a three-game road trip and four-game road trip remaining. Overall, just four of their last 11 contests are at home – which is an enormous factor for both the Caps and Jets (two teams with almost ridiculous home/road disparities).

Gut reaction

As excited and full-of-hope as Jets fans must be tonight, the Capitals have a significant set of advantages going their way at the end of this stretch run. It looks to be an exciting race for that eighth spot, though.

Veteran d-man Foster retires, moves into coaching

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Kurtis Foster #26 of the Minnesota Wild looks on during their NHL game against the New York Islanders on December 13, 2005 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  The Wild defeated the Islanders 4-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Kurtis Foster, who appeared in over 400 games during a 10-year NHL career, is hanging up his skates to enter the next phase of his hockey life — coaching.

Foster, 34, has rejoined his former junior team in OHL Peterborough as an assistant coach, per the Examiner. The decision comes after Foster spent the last three years playing overseas in the KHL and, most recently, in the German League.

The 40th overall pick in 2000, Foster is often remembered for a horrific leg break while playing for Minnesota during the 2007-08 campaign, in which his femur was shattered by Torrey Mitchell after Mitchell tried to prevent an icing call.

The severity of the collision and Foster’s injury — he underwent emergency surgery, nearly bled out and almost lost his leg — prompted an immediate rule tweak from the NHL, and has since been viewed as a catalyst for the league’s adoption of no-touch icing.

Impressively, Foster recovered from the broken femur to post a career-high 42 points in 74 games with the Lightning in ’09-10.

In addition to the Wild and Bolts, Foster spent time with the Thrashers, Oilers, Ducks, Devils and Flyers.

University of Denver standout Moore goes pro, signs with Leafs

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Trevor Moore, an undrafted junior out of the University of Denver, has opted to bypass his senior campaign by signing a three-year, entry-level deal with the Leafs, the club announced on Tuesday.

Here’s what Moore, 21, has accomplished over the last three years:

[Moore] skated in 40 games with the University of Denver (NCHC) this past season, collecting 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) and eight penalty minutes. He finished tied for sixth in the conference scoring race with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) in 31 games.

In 121 career games at Denver, the Thousand Oaks, California native registered 120 points (47 goals, 73 assists). Moore was named to the NCHC First All-Star Team and was the conference’s forward of the year during the 2014-15 season. In 2013-14, Moore was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Moore scored his ELC after performing well at Toronto’s prospects camp earlier this month, and looks to be on his way to the Marlies for next season.

If you’re wondering why Moore was passed over at the draft, do consider the Pioneers website lists him — perhaps generously — at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds.

Of course, Toronto does have a similarly diminutive player right near the top of the organizational prospect pool in Mitch Marner,  currently listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. It’s probably worth noting that Moore and Marner skated together at prospects camp.

Preds avoid arbitration with Granberg — two years, $1.225 million

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - MARCH 28:  Petter Granberg #8 of the Nashville Predators lines up for a faceoff against the Colorado Avalanche during the third  period at Bridgestone Arena on March 28, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Nashville has retained the services of depth defenseman Petter Granberg, inking him to a two-year, two-way, $1.225 million extension ahead of his Aug. 3 arbitration hearing, per CBC.

The contract will pay $575,000 at the NHL level in year one, and $650,000 in year two.

Claimed off waivers from Toronto in November, Granberg appeared in 27 games for the Preds last season, scoring two points while racking up 13 PIM.

He was a healthy scratch for all of Nashville’s playoff run.

Looking ahead, Granberg could be in line for a bigger role with the Preds next season. He only turns 24 in August, and the team did buy out the remainder of veteran Barret Jackman’s contract in late June.

That should open up some minutes on the back end, though Granberg will likely compete with free agent signings Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin for those depth spots.

 

With DeKeyser locked up, Holland still has work to do in Detroit

Ken Holland
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There’s nothing too flashy about Danny DeKeyser‘s game.

“Basically,” he told reporters today, “my game, I just try to move the puck well, play solid defensively, chip in some points or goals here or there when I can, and just try to be a good team player and do things that help the team win.”

For that, the Red Wings gave the steady defenseman a six-year, $30 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing in the process. Yes, it’s a significant amount of money for a d-man that doesn’t contribute a ton of offense, but as we’ve already seen this offseason, players like DeKeyser have significant value. The Edmonton Oilers gave up Taylor Hall to get one.

Re-signing DeKeyser is not expected to stop GM Ken Holland from trying to add to his blue line. The Wings have a surplus of forwards, and Holland has said he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” prior to the start of next season.

If Holland can’t swing a deal, Detroit’s pairings could look something like this:

DeKeyser — Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall
Brendan SmithAlexey Marchenko
Xavier Ouellet

It’s not a particularly young group. Kronwall is 35, Ericsson is 32, and Green is 30. The Red Wings chose not to re-sign veteran Kyle Quincey, and so far he has not been replaced. In June, they drafted a defenseman in the first round, but Dennis Cholowski is a ways away from playing in the NHL; he’s off St. Cloud State in the fall. There are a few other young blue-liners in the system, like Joe Hicketts, Ryan Sproul and Robbie Russo, but they all still have some developing to do.

At the very least, Holland now has some cost certainty with DeKeyser. The next step will be getting Petr Mrazek‘s deal done, possibly with the aid of tomorrow’s arbitration hearing. After that, it’ll be working to get that defenseman he covets.

Related: Blues GM says he might just keep Kevin Shattenkirk