NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 8: Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators faces off against Mikko Koivu #9 of the Minnesota Wild at Bridgestone Arena on October 8, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

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.

Vegas confirms trademarks for Desert Knights, Golden Knights, Silver Knights

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  A general view of the Fabulous Las Vegas sign on Las Vegas Boulevard on March 24, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On Monday, a spokesman for the Las Vegas expansion team confirmed to NHL.com the group has trademarked a trio of potential nicknames — the Desert Knights, the Golden Knights and the Silver Knights.

The news comes on the heels of owner Bill Foley telling Yahoo “we’re kind of getting to the point where we’re almost there,” adding that he was “close” to naming the team.

More, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

Earlier this summer, Foley — a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy — said Vegas can’t use a straight-up ‘Knights’ nickname in Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

There was some thought to use the Black Knights moniker, which is what the teams at West Point use. But Foley said the name wasn’t popular among the fans.

He also added that the “Nighthawks” moniker is still reserved, and could be used.

Poll: Is Kucherov’s contract situation anything to be worried about?

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (32), of the Czech Republic, falls down on the puck in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…

“We continue to communicate with his representation, and we expect to have him under contract to start the season.”

That was what Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman told the Times back on July 27, in discussing the future of RFA forward Nikita Kucherov.

That was 33 days ago.

Since then, most — if not all — has gone silent on the Kucherov front. The 23-year-old, coming off career highs in goals (30) and points (66), remains unsigned with a bunch of key dates on the horizon.

The first few are mostly to do with the World Cup of Hockey. Kucherov will represent Russia in the tourney, with the Russians set to begin training camp on Sept. 5 — one week from now.

Their first exhibition game takes place on Sept. 8, against the Czechs, and they open tournament play on Sept. 18.

There are insurance policies in place to so unsigned RFAs can play in the World Cup, meaning Kucherov should be a go for the Russians. Other RFAs look as though they’re in a similar boat — Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba with Team North America, specifically — so it doesn’t feel like Tampa Bay needs to get Kucherov locked in ASAP.

But when?

That’s the big question.

Yzerman’s earned a reputation as a tough, unflinching negotiator. He stood firm during the Jonathan Drouin trade request saga, and remained steadfast with his contract offer to Steve Stamkos. In both instances, Yzerman “won” — Drouin rescinded his request and is now fully back in Tampa’s mix, while Stamkos eschewed going to free agency to ink a long-term deal with the Bolts.

Hence the intrigue around Kucherov.

Pundits have pointed to a pair of contracts — Filip Forsberg‘s six-year, $36 million extension and Nathan MacKinnon‘s seven-year, $44.1 million deal — as potential benchmarks for Kucherov. What we don’t know is where Yzerman is at.

We do know that Tampa Bay is in a cap crunch. Yzerman could alleviate some of the pressure by putting Ryan Callahan (hip) on LTIR to start the year, but that’s a temporary solution. Yzerman also has to be wary of the future, especially since the likes of Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will all need new deals next season.

So, we turn it over to you — is the Kucherov situation a concern? Or will it all get sorted out, as it so often does with Yzerman?

Jackets hire ‘smart, energetic’ Madden to coach AHL club

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 16: Assistant coach John Madden talks to Brad Boyes #24 of the Florida Panthers during third period action against the San Jose Sharks at the BB&T Center on January 16, 2014 in Sunrise, Florida. The Sharks defeated the Panthers 3-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Didn’t take John Madden long to find work.

Madden, fired from his post as Florida’s assistant coach earlier this summer, scored one of the premier AHL gigs on Monday, as Columbus announced Madden would be the new head coach of their minor league affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters.

“John Madden has a winning pedigree, having been a part of three Stanley Cup championships and a collegiate national championship as a player and being a part of the coaching staff that helped the Florida Panthers become one of the NHL’s most improved clubs over the past three seasons,” Columbus assistant GM Bill Zito said in a release. “He is a smart, energetic young coach who we believe to be the best person to lead our prospects in Cleveland.”

Madden, 43, quickly transitioned to coaching after a successful playing career which included three Stanley Cups and a Selke Trophy. He hung up his skates as a member of the Panthers in 2012 and, one year later, was behind the bench for the club, serving as an assistant under Kevin Dineen, Peter Horachek and, eventually, current head coach Gerard Gallant.

Madden landing the Monsters job was the result of a domino effect.

It began in early August, when Patrick Roy stunningly resigned as Colorado’s head coach. That sent the Avs into a hiring push, which ended last week as Jared Bednar — who led the Monsters to the Calder Cup last season — was announced as the new bench boss.

That left a void in Cleveland, which the Jackets quickly filled with Madden.

On Ben Bishop, and his uncertain future in Tampa Bay

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning attends the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…

On the surface, the whole thing just doesn’t seem fair.

In this corner we have Ben Bishop — at 6-foot-7, the tallest netminder in NHL history — coming off a banner campaign in which he cemented himself as one of the game’s elite.

Those covering Bolts almost unanimously agreed Bishop was the team’s MVP during the regular season, especially over a lethargic first three months in which Tampa Bay hovered around the playoff line.

Bishop’s campaign concluded with the appropriate accolades: A second-place finish in Vezina voting, second team All-NHL, and a spot on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey.

At 29, Bishop is smack in the prime of his career as a clear-cut, No. 1, workhorse netminder.

Yet his time in Tampa Bay is ticking away.

Bishop’s heading into the last year of his contract — one that pays $5.9 million annually — and the writing on the wall suggests it’ll be his last pact with the Lightning.

The club’s goalie of the future, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is ready to be the goalie of the present, something GM Steve Yzerman confirmed this summer by inking Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5 million extension.

The deal doesn’t start until 2017-18, meaning Vasilevskiy 1) will only cost $925,000 this season, 2) will start making $3.5M annually the year after Bishop’s off the books, and 2) will be Tampa Bay property through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy went 11-10-0 with a .910 save percentage last season. Not the greatest numbers, but he’s been touted as the Lightning’s goalie of the future since they drafted him 19th overall in 2012. And for the record, he was solid in this year’s playoffs (.925 SV% in eight appearances) when Bishop got hurt.

Which brings us back to Bishop.

Navigating his future is difficult. There were major rumblings this past summer about him being dealt, with Calgary (see here) and Dallas (see here) mentioned as interested suitors.

But nothing materialized, possibly because all parties involved realize letting Bishop’s contract play out could be the preferred move.

Consider:

— Tampa Bay’s a legit Stanley Cup contender, and Yzerman has shown he’s unafraid to hold onto pending UFAs past the trade deadline in order to make a playoff run (see: Stamkos, Steve). If Yzerman thinks Bishop gives the Bolts a better chance of winning, he’ll keep him.

— The idea of signing Bishop in free agency, rather than trading an asset to acquire him, would have to be tantalizing for interested teams. Do remember that while Calgary solved its goaltending issue by acquiring Brian Elliott, it’s only a stopgap solution. Elliott is also heading into the last year of his contract, and there hasn’t been much from GM Brad Treliving about an extension.

— Dallas, meanwhile, could play the waiting game and give the maligned Kari LehtonenAntti Niemi duo another kick at the can. If Lehtonen and Niemi disappoint again, it would make sense for GM Jim Nill to re-address the position, and he could afford Bishop with a buyout and some freed up money (remember, Patrick Sharp‘s $5.9 million hit comes off the books at the end of this year).

In the end, only one thing is clear. Bishop’s been terrific for the Lightning, and simply got caught up in a numbers game.

Where he ends up is decidedly less clear.