Poll: Tell us if Steven Stamkos will score 60 goals

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Steven Stamkos broke a Tampa Bay Lightning team record with his 53rd goal of the season last night, but he obviously isn’t satisfied with that. Thanks to a beauty of a wrist shot goal that caught Tim Thomas off guard, Stamkos already hit the 54 tally mark with some time left to do more damage tonight.

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Update: Stamkos made the job much easier by scoring a second goal on Tuesday, making it 55 and thus needing five for 60. There are still a few minutes left, too, so this post will be updated if he gets a hat trick.

NBC Sports Network provided a great infographic of how his goals have broken down so far this season, which I’ll update with Stamkos’ second tally.

Total Goals: 55 (first in NHL)
Even strength: 43 (first in NHL)
Overtime: 4 (first in NHL)
GWG: 10 (tied for first)
Goals in third period: 17

Fun-killing stats nerds would argue that some of that is circumstantial – when you score 55, plenty are going to be during big moments – but the part that impresses me the most is the 43 even-strength tallies. That shows that he isn’t just milking easy power play opportunities.

Those numbers also make you wonder what he’d do with a better team around him (although the counterpoint might be that he wouldn’t feel the need to do as much, at least theoretically).

Stamkos’ schedule for 60

Anyway, enough about what he’s already done. Let’s look at what lies ahead for Stamkos in his quest for 60 goals – keep in mind he’ll need to score six more in six games plus tonight’s remaining time. For fun, I’ve included a) how many goals Stamkos has scored against a given opponent in 2011-12 and b) how many goals that team has allowed going into Tuesday’s games.

Thursday: at New Jersey (two goals in three games; 200 Goals Allowed)
Saturday: vs. Winnipeg (two goals in four games; 223 GA)
April 2: vs. Washington (three goals in five games; 214 GA)
April 4: at Montreal (two goals in three games; 211 GA)
April 5: at Toronto (one goal in three games; 239 GA)
April 7: at Winnipeg (two goals in four games; 223 GA)

As you can see, Stamkos has already scored at least once against the six remaining opponents. Four of the six final contests are against non-playoff teams, which could be good (if those teams are in low spirits) or bad (if those teams make stopping Stamkos their only real goal).

Asking for (almost) a goal-per-game is a tough task even for Stamkos – the NHL’s most prolific goal scorer during the last three seasons – but it’s not implausible looking at that reasonable schedule.

So with all that in mind, share your thoughts in the poll: can Stamkos reach 60 goals this season?

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.