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

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We didn’t so well with these last season, with not one of us predicting the Chicago Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup. We’re going to blame the lockout for that and try again for 2013-14. No excuses this time around. Unless there are injuries. Then there are excuses. We may also think up other excuses.

Jason Brough: Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings

I look for three major things when I pick a Cup winner. First is goaltending. Second is a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman that can log big minutes. Third is at least one, preferably two, top centers. The Kings have all these things. I’m a little concerned about their ability to create offense, but if Willie Mitchell can stay healthy, that may allow Drew Doughty to get a bit more involved in that area. Picking a team out of the East was tough because there’s only one that unequivocally meets my criteria, the Bruins, and it’s really hard to put together back-to-back runs to the Stanley Cup Final. Meanwhile, I don’t like the Pens’ goaltending, and the Rangers, Caps, and Flyers don’t have that one great d-man. I ended up taking the Wings, but that back end will have to keep improving, and Stephen Weiss can’t be a free-agent bust.

Mike Halford: Los Angeles Kings over Boston Bruins

After winning it all two years ago and going back to the Western Conference finals last season, the Kings spent the summer tweaking what was already a pretty solid roster. They turned a backup goalie into another backup and arguably their fastest player (Matt Frattin); they added by subtracting Dustin Penner (who was mediocre at best last year) and, perhaps most importantly, got a clean bill of health for Willie Mitchell, the veteran defenseman that was a key cog on the Cup-winning side of ’12. The Kings are talented, deep, experienced and still bitter about getting dumped by Chicago in five games.

Ryan Dadoun: St. Louis Blues over New York Rangers

These are two teams I’ve liked for a couple of years now and it obviously didn’t pan out for me last season. Still, the Blues have what I believe to be the best group of defensemen in the NHL from top to bottom. They also have strong goaltending, especially if Jaroslav Halak can stay healthy during the playoffs. Their offense isn’t comparatively as impressive, but it’s well-rounded. While it includes some rising youngsters like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, its core has largely matured at this point.

James O’Brien: St. Louis Blues over New York Rangers

With parity reigning supreme in the NHL, depth is increasingly important, and the Blues might be the deepest of them all. Not many teams boast such a variety of scoring options (adding Derek Roy was shrewd), 2-4 top pairing-quality defensemen and 2-3 viable goalies. Each of the Blues and Rangers have the motivation (key contract years, bright coaches) and talent to get it done, but the Blues edge the Rangers. And, no, I’m not just picking them because EA Sports’ supercomputers did, either.

Joe Yerdon: Los Angeles Kings over New York Rangers

The Kings are one of a handful of teams that can hang with Chicago in the West. Their skill, toughness, and goaltending are as good as it gets. The Rangers shake out as a team that seems to have it more put together. If not having Torts in their ears makes the difference, and I think it will, they’ll be right there.

Cam Tucker: Washington Capitals over Chicago Blackhawks

Alex Ovechkin should be extra motivated considering what’s at stake for him personally. I do worry about a potential emotional letdown for No. 8 after the Sochi Olympics, but the Blackhawks didn’t have that problem in 2010 when Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook played for Canada in Vancouver. The Capitals should also enter the season fully adjusted to Adam Oates and his system. At some point, this team has to break through in the playoffs. Washington isn’t perfect, but what team is? Particularly in the East.

So there you have it. PHT has the Kings (thrice), the Blues (twice), and the Caps (once). Sorry about that, those three teams. There’s always next season.

BREAKING: Isles acquire Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way towards signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid is eligible to sign an extension this summer, as is Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those contracts are going to be expensive.

Losing Neal to Vegas was a ‘pretty big price to pay’ for Predators

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The Vegas Golden Knights named their team on Wednesday, and it was no surprise that James Neal was among their selections in the expansion draft.

Why not? Since entering the league in 2008, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons, hitting the 40-goal mark in 2011-12 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after coming up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup this spring, Neal was left unprotected by the Predators.

Predators general manager David Poile had reportedly been in talks with Vegas GM George McPhee, but a deal couldn’t be achieved.

“With how well we played in the playoffs, I’d certainly like to bring everybody back, but the prices [to make a deal with Vegas] were very high,” Poile told the Predators website.

“[McPhee] was looking for younger players or high draft picks, and at the end of the day, I just felt that we had to do what the Expansion Draft was set out to do and that was to lose a player. In this case, we lost James Neal and that’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Neal has one more year left on his six-year contract that has an annual cap hit of $5 million, before he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Nashville has about $22.7 million in cap space, per CapFriendly, but five pending restricted free agents — Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg and most notably Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — in need of contracts. In Arvidsson’s case, he’s due for a significant raise from the $640,000 he made in NHL salary last season, in which he scored 31 goals and 61 points.

“James had a much bigger contract and he only had one year left before he was an unrestricted free agent. We didn’t have any negotiations, but there was no guarantees that we would be able to keep him. It really was a business decision. It was as simple as that,” Poile the Tennessean.

Caps re-sign Christian Djoos, who could get his NHL shot next season

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The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.

It’s a two-way deal in 2017-18, and a one-way deal the following season.

Djoos, 22, is expected to push for an NHL spot next season, along with Madison Bowey and possibly Tyler Lewington.

That’s because Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected to re-sign with Washington.

On top of that, the Caps lost d-man Nate Schmidt in yesterday’s expansion draft.

Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, had 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games for AHL Hershey this past season.

It was his second full season in the AHL.

Bettman says NHL will call more slashes next season

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Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL will look to enforce slashing penalties more next season.

Following the league’s board of governors meeting, Bettman said pointless slashes to players’ hands will be called more. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were among the players to miss time last season with hand injuries from slashes.

Related PHT coverage:

Gaudreau (finger) out six weeks, Treliving says Staal slash the culprit

— Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

— Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby slash

— Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash