NHL on NBCSN: Division rivals Wild, Preds seek early edge in playoff spot race

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It’s still October, but with the new four division system, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild end up competing for the same playoff spot in the final weeks of the season. Should that come to pass, the two points they’re fighting for tonight might end up being a key difference.

Even if we ignore that though, this is an important contest for the Wild. They’re coming off of a rough road trip where they only picked up one point over three games.

Their offense has been anemic lately with them averaging just 2.11 goals per contest. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise have left something to be desired, but most of their young forwards haven’t been living up to the team’s hopes either. To put it another way, it’s a troubling sign when enforcer Matt Cooke is tied for the team lead with six points in nine games.

Related: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $3,000 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Tuesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $600. Starts at 7pm ET. Here’s the link.

Not that the Nashville Predators have been any better when it comes to finding the back of the net. Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist is the only Predators player with more than two goals so far this season and he has scored just three times.

Minnesota and Nashville both have respectable records despite that, so there is an opportunity for the squads to have a strong campaigns if their offenses heat up. The Wild have enough significant scoring threats to make that possible and while the Predators don’t have a forward of Parise’s caliber, they might be able to surprise people with a balanced attack.

For now, the fact that Minnesota is returning the the Xcel Energy Center gives them an edge. They had a 14-8-2 record in Minnesota last season and have gotten at least a point in each of their first four games at home in 2013-14. By contrast, Nashville won just five road contests in the shortened campaign, although they have split their first four away matches this season.

Perhaps that will be enough for the Wild to snap their losing streak and get revenge after the Predators earned a 3-2 victory over them on Oct. 8.

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.

3 KHL players suspended after testing positive for banned substances

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The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced that three KHL players have been suspended after testing positive for banned substances.

Here’s an excerpt from the KHL’s website:

The IIHF has informed the KHL that three players – forward Danis Zaripov (then with Metallurg Magnitogorsk), defenseman Andrei Konev (Admiral Vladivostok) and defenseman Derek Smith (Medvescak Zagreb) – have tested positive for banned substances.

Derek Smith tested positive for a category S6.а stimulant.

Andrei Konev tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant.

Danis Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents.

Zapirov, who was part of Team Russia at the 2010 Olympic Games, has been banned from suiting up in “competitive hockey” until May 22, 2019. Konev will be unable to play until Nov. 19, 2017, while Smith, who is Canadian, will be suspended until Sep. 2, 2018.

Smith, 32, played in 94 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Report: John MacLean could join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

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The Arizona Coyotes have a new head coach, but Rick Tocchet still has to fill out the rest of his staff.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the ‘Yotes might be looking to add John MacLean to their coaching staff.

MacLean, 52, spent six years as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils (2002-2009) before becoming the head coach of their AHL affiliate. After one year of coaching in the minors, MacLean was promoted to head coach of the Devils. His tenure didn’t last very long, as he was fired after just 33 games (they were 9-22-2 under his watch).

He spent the following three seasons as an assistant in Carolina, but he was let go after the 2014 season.

MacLean hasn’t been back behind an NHL bench since being let go by the ‘Canes. Instead, he’s served as a hockey analyst on various television networks.

Related:

Tocchet wants Coyotes’ young players to be ‘creative’ and ‘calculated’

Tocchet brings lessons from past mistakes (and successes) to Coyotes

Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.