PRO HOCKEY TALKPHT Select Team
Rick Dudley

Who will LaFontaine hire as Buffalo’s next GM?

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During his introductory presser as Buffalo’s new president of hockey operations, Pat LaFontaine said he has a shortlist of candidates for the club’s vacant GM gig.

So, who might be on the list?

Names have been bandied about and there’s no early word on who might be the leading candidate. To streamline things, we’ve compiled a list of who we think might be on that list.

Rick Dudley

Hiring Dudley would fit the theme of bringing ex-Sabres back into the fold. Dudley coached in Buffalo from 1989-92 and has extensive GM experience, having served in that role for Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida and Atlanta.

He’s currently working as Marc Bergevin’s assistant in Montreal.

Mike Peca

Another guy with serious ties to the Buffalo organization, the former captain is currently the head coach and GM of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, an Ontario Junior A team owned by the NHL club.

Peca, along with Dudley, was pegged as a potential candidate for the vacant GM gig by ex-Sabre goalie and current TSN analyst Martin Biron.

Neil Smith

The architect of the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup winning-team, Smith has a relationship with LaFontaine from their (brief) time together on Long Island. Smith was given the Isles GM gig in June 2006, only to be fired months later by owner Charles Wang.

LaFontaine, who had been hired as a senior adviser, quit his position in reaction to the Smith firing.

Mark Seidel, former assistant GM with OHL Erie and scout with the Minnesota Wild, said he “keeps hearing” Smith’s name come up regarding the Sabres’ gig.

Paul Fenton

David Poile’s right-hand man in Nashville has long been considered the next quality GM in waiting. The Poile managerial tree has already produced current Pens GM Ray Shero — winner of the 2013 NHL General Manger of the Year Award — and Fenton is largely credited with leading Nashville’s drafts from 2003-08, during which time they selected Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, Kevin Klein and Patric Hornqvist.

Jason Botterill

Botterill currently serves as Shero’s assistant in Pittsburgh and — surprise! — has ties to the Sabres organization, having played there from 2002-04. He’s known as the Pens’ cap specialist and has been instrumental in designing deals to keep a number of Pittsburgh’s high-priced players in place.

Others

— Tom Fitzgerald, assistant to the general manager (Shero) in Pittsburgh.

— Julien BriseBois, Steve Yzerman’s assistant in Tampa Bay.

— Joe Will, Doug Wilson’s assistant in San Jose.

— Matthew Barnaby. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers open ‘make it or break it’ portion of schedule against Capitals

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers checks Karl Alzner #27 of the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Washington Capitals at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Last year, the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy and although they aren’t light years ahead of everyone this time around, they remain the top team in the NHL heading into tonight’s game.

But as hot as they’ve been, the Caps are finding out that coming back from the bye week is no easy task. Before their six-day break, Washington had rattled off six consecutive victories over Boston, Montreal, Los Angeles, Carolina, Detroit and Anaheim. Since the end of their break, they’ve dropped back-to-back games to the Red Wings and Rangers.

It’s the first time since Dec. 27-29 that the Capitals dropped two in row. Not to make excuses for them, but the condensed schedule and extended breaks have done wacky things to some good teams.

“We were just moving too slow, moving the puck too slow and not moving our legs quick enough,” Matt Niskanen said after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers, per the Washington Post. “It showed. . . . We’re shaking off the rust a bit, but the second two periods is a step in the right direction.”As Niskanen mentioned, the Caps looked better as the game wore on, but in both losses, sluggish starts have been an issue. We’ll see if they can fix that tonight.Unlike Washington, Philadelphia’s spot in the playoffs is far from secure.The Flyers enter tonight’s game three points back of the Florida Panthers for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference (they’ve played one more game than Florida).This will be Philadelphia’s first game back home after their Western Canadian swing. The first two games of that trip didn’t go very well, as they were outscored 9-4 in a pair of losses to Calgary and Edmonton, but they salvaged the trip with a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Sunday.Starting tonight, the Flyers will begin a tough stretch of games. They’ll close out the month with a road tilt against Pittsburgh before returning home to face the last-place Avs. Things will get even tougher for them in March, as they’ll play 15 games in 30 days. Of those 15 contests, 13 will come against Eastern Conference opponents.

“It is make it or break it. That’s it,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said, per Philly.com. “You are either in the playoffs or no, and you are going to play against the hardest teams and it is going to be a little bit of a dogfight for us.”

PHT Morning Skate: A spirited fight between Sam Bennett and Ryan Johansen

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–Making trades in the cap era isn’t easy, but almost every team that went on to win the Stanley Cup pulled off a key move or two before the trade deadline. Sportsnet’s Steve Dangle breaks down some of the key trades that helped teams lift the cup. From Carolina’s acquisition of Mark Recchi and Doug Weight in 2006 to Los Angeles getting Jeff Carter in 2012, every one of these moves helped in some way. (Sportsnet)

–As part of their centennial celebration, the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled the green and white St. Pats jerseys they’ll be wearing against the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 18. The Toronto St. Patricks existed between 1919 and 1927. The jerseys are fairly plain, but they represent a special part of the organization’s history. It’ll still be weird to see the Leafs wear green. (sportslogos.net)

Joe Thornton has always been known as an elite playmaker and he’s now just two assists away from becoming the 13th player to hit the 1000-assist mark. The things Thornton has and continues to do with the puck on his stick are impressive. When his career is over, he’ll surely go down as one of the best set-up men in league history. (The Hockey News)

–Last night’s game between the ‘Hawks and Wild turned into the Jonathan Toews show, as Chicago’s captain scored three goals and two assists in his team’s 5-3 victory. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore has a bright future ahead of him, but he still hasn’t established himself as a regular NHLer. That much is obvious when you consider the number of miles he’s put on his truck by driving between Anaheim and San Diego (AHL affiliate). The season isn’t even over yet and he’s already officially been up and down 13 times in 2016-17. “When he leaves, you wouldn’t know if it’s for five minutes or if he’s gone for a month,” says teammate Jaycob Megna. “I’ll be out getting groceries and I’ll come back and he’ll be gone or packing up again. You never know when you’re going to see him.” (Sports Illustrated)

–The Fourth Period is the latest website to break down the top 25 players that could get moved before the March 1st deadline. Kevin Shattenkirk is at the top of the list, while Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are fourth and fifth respectively. Two Arizona Coyotes cracked the top six. (The Fourth Period)

–Flames forward Sam Bennett and Preds forward Ryan Johansen don’t drop the gloves very often, but they definitely let their fists fly during last night’s game. The whole thing started because Johansen went after Matt Stajan. Bennett didn’t appreciate that. Here’s the video:

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

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