On that Kessel contract

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have given Phil Kessel an eight-year, $64 million extension, tying the 25-year-old to the club through the 2021-22 season. Since we just wrote a post about the difficulty making predictions, we won’t say for sure whether this will turn out well, or horribly, for the Leafs. Instead, let’s do this:

Two reasons this was a good move by the Leafs

1. Kessel is one of the premier snipers in the NHL. There are not many players still in their 20s with four 30-goal seasons on their resumes. When a team has one of those players, it really doesn’t want to let him walk away in free agency, or even as a trade-deadline rental. An $8 million cap hit is high, but it’s not insane. No question he would’ve received that if he’d hit the market this summer. Not to mention, the cap is expected to go up, some think dramatically, in the next few years.

2. There aren’t many top unrestricted free agents hitting the open market anymore. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf didn’t, and the Ducks are hardly a big-money team like the Leafs. Not only can pending UFAs sign eight-year extensions with their current teams, as opposed to just seven years with all others, a lot of the time players are married and have started families at that point in their careers. Moving to a whole new city isn’t easy, even for a whole whack of money. So in the Leafs’ case, if they’d lost Kessel, what would they have done to replace his scoring? Maybe they’d have been able to sign a guy like Thomas Vanek, but they wouldn’t have been the only suitors. And besides, Vanek’s four years older than Kessel.

Two reasons this was a bad move by the Leafs

1. Kessel is a winger, and the evidence says that Cup champs are built with goalies, defensemen, and centers. The more money a team spends on its wingers, the less it has for those three key areas. Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk — all centers, all have won rings. Alex Ovechkin — winger, no ring.

2. Kessel’s far from old, but some research suggests that 25 is the peak age for NHL scorers. For a player that relies on his speed so much to get into position to shoot, this may be particularly concerning for the Leafs. Not to keep picking on Ovechkin (a.k.a. the reigning Hart Trophy recipient), but there are a lot of similarities between the two players, and Ovechkin’s best goal-scoring seasons came before he turned 25.

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?

WATCH LIVE: Game 1 for Penguins – Capitals, Rangers – Senators

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It’s really happening.

For all the griping about having the Penguins and Capitals meet in the second round (again), it’s easy to forget the bright side: upsets didn’t dislodge this juicy matchup from taking place.

The West’s duo of Game 1 matchups kicked into gear last night, and now the East provides that battle between Sidney Crosby‘s squad and Alex Ovechkin‘s loaded team. Don’t sleep on Rangers – Senators, either, though; there should be plenty of intrigue in seeing superhuman Swedes Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson try to one-up each other.

Here’s what you need to know to follow the action:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)