Cody Franson

Will Toronto be forced to trade Franson?

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On Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger took time away from his summer vacation to suggest the Toronto Maple Leafs may be forced to deal defenseman Cody Franson.

Franson, 25, was one of the NHL’s better bargains last year. He led the Leafs in defenseman scoring (29 points) and tied for sixth-most in the league — only Keith Yandle, Andrei Markov, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Norris winner P.K. Subban scored more.

But Franson did it on a one-year, $1.2 million deal.

As such, he’s expected to get a significant raise — Dreger suggests Franson could net $4 million-plus annually — which could be problematic for Toronto.

Leafs GM Dave Nonis has spent aggressively this summer, shelling out $36.75 million to acquire David Clarkson and another $21 million to retain Tyler Bozak (also, nearly $10 million to keep Carl Gunnarson).

While he did get cap relief by buying out Mikhail Grabovski, Nonis doesn’t have much wiggle room for the immediate future.

Namely, the 2013-14 season.

At the time of writing, the Leafs have roughly $6 million in cap space with 20 players on the roster. The biggest x-factor is the new deal needed for Nazem Kadri, the restricted free agent forward that finished second on the team in scoring last season, with 44 points.

There’s also useful defenseman Mark Fraser, who played in 45 games last year and averaged close to 17 minutes a night. He played on a one-year, $600,000 deal last year, and will likely be in line for a small pay bump.

There’s also the question if Toronto can replace Franson internally.

Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot. He’s too young to play for the AHL Marlies and probably won’t benefit from another year with WHL Moose Jaw, where he was nearly a point-a-game player last year.

Stuart Percy, the club’s first-round pick in 2011 (25th overall), might also push to be with the Leafs. He’s only had a brief taste of AHL experience, but looked solid with the Marlies last season, scoring three points in four games.

But all those decisions are in the future, and Nonis said he has plenty of time to make them.

“It’s July,” Nonis said on Sportsnet 590 on Thursday. “I’m not surprised that [Franson, Kadri and Fraser] are not signed, and we have a lot of time before we have to start worrying about it.”

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.