Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? Here are PHT’s picks…

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Following are PHT’s staff picks to win the Stanley Cup. Feel free to make your own picks in the comments section. Or, failing that, mercilessly rip other people’s picks, as if those people had never watched a hockey game in their entire lives.

Jason Brough: Boston Bruins

No Tim Thomas, no problem. Well, unless Tuukka Rask’s groin acts up, in which case there’s a serious problem. But Tyler Seguin is the main reason I like the B’s this year. He was a bit player in 2011 when they won it all; now he’s a legitimate star that keeps getting better. It’s just really hard to find a weakness on this team. Solid down the middle. Zdeno Chara on defense. Tough. Experienced. Deep. Could maybe use an offensive defenseman to feed Chara on the power-play, but that’s about it. (Dougie Hamilton?)

And if it’s not the Bruins, it’ll be the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Halford: St. Louis Blues

The last time the NHL had a shortened season, the Devils clawed and trapped their way to a Stanley Cup. This time? It’ll be the Blues, who earned praise from GM Doug Armstrong last season for making the neutral zone “like seaweed.” But it’s not just the checking. The Blues have scoring depth (nine double-digit goalscorers last year), veteran experience (Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy McDonald have both won Cups), solid goaltending, a Norris-caliber defenseman (Alex Pietrangelo) and the reigning coach of the year in Ken Hitchcock, who’s also a former Cup winner.

And if it’s not the Blues, it’ll be the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If you’d like to see Mike and Jason discuss their picks in more depth, you can do so in the PHT Extra below:

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James O’Brien: New York Rangers

Combine the league’s easiest travel schedule with the best Rangers team that’s ever been assembled in front of Henrik Lundqvist and you have a compelling pick for a championship on Broadway. John Tortorella’s shot-blocking bunch has overachieved for years, but now that it has the Brad Richards-Rick Nash-Marian Gaborik trio, New York gets my vote.

And if it’s not the Rangers, it’ll be the Los Angeles Kings.

Ryan Dadoun: New York Rangers

This team has everything I look for in a Stanley Cup champion. The Rangers have almost unmatched top-end talent, young up-and-coming players in complimentary roles, a couple of forwards that are both tough and moderate offensive threats, and a varied defensive cast that ranges from the offensively gifted to all-around contributors. And then there’s their greatest asset: Henrik Lundqvist.

And if it’s not the Rangers, it’ll be the St. Louis Blues.

Joe Yerdon: New York Rangers

With Rick Nash to go along with Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, and Ryan Callahan – plus a stout top-four on defense and the other-worldly Henrik Lundqvist – this almost feels like a no-brainer pick. This time around, King Henrik gets a bigger crown to wear than just the Vezina Trophy.

And if it’s not the Rangers, it’ll be the Boston Bruins.

Related: Stanley Cup odds: Penguins 8/1 favorites, Blue Jackets 100/1 dogs

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.