NBC to air ‘Hawks-Pens outdoor game nationally, in primetime

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One of this season’s most tantalizing matchups is going to the big stage.

The 2014 NHL Stadium Series matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins — to be played at Soldier Field on Saturday, Mar. 1 — will air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET, the NBC Sports Group announced on Thursday.

Here’s more:

This marks the first time since NBC re-acquired NHL rights in 2006 that a regular-season game has been scheduled for primetime on NBC. The 2011 NHL Winter Classic aired in primetime because weather prevented the game from being played at its regularly-scheduled time in the afternoon.

Penguins-Blackhawks will be the fourth and final game in the 2014 NHL Stadium Series, and the second time Chicago has hosted a regular-season outdoor NHL game (2009 NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field). The Penguins will be participating in their third regular-season outdoor NHL game since 2008 (2008 NHL Winter Classic and 2011 NHL Winter Classic).

The ‘Hawks-Pens game was originally slated to be aired on NBCSN, which will still air the Ducks-Kings game at Dodger Stadium (Jan. 25) and the Rangers-Islanders game from Yankee Stadium (Jan. 29).

The Rangers-Devils Stadium Series contest will be on NBC (Jan. 26), as will the 2014 Winter Classic from the Big House in Michigan, featuring the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs (Jan. 1).

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”

Slumping Wild bring Eriksson Ek over from Sweden

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Well, this sure is interesting.

Joel Eriksson Ek, one of Minnesota’s most prized prospects, has been brought back to North America after spending the majority of this season playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Hockey League.

And according to the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo, he might soon join the Wild.

More:

[Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau] said he didn’t know if the plan was to yet start him with Iowa or Minnesota, but I can’t imagine the Wild would recall him if the plan wasn’t to eventually have him in its lineup here.

In fact, he could be on the ice for Wednesday’s practice.

Sources close to Eriksson Ek say he’s flying from Karlstad to Germany to Chicago to here. Can’t imagine he lands and is put in a car to Des Moines, but we’ll see if they do want to give him a few games there.

Eriksson Ek, 20, appeared in nine games for the Wild earlier this season, and acquitted himself well offensively — two goals and five points. But by the end of his stint, he was reduced to fourth-line minutes and sat as a healthy scratch before the club decided to return him to Sweden.

Interestingly, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher suggested Eriksson Ek’s strongest attributes translated well to the NHL level.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player. If anything, going back and playing on the bigger ice and handling the puck and making plays would enhance his long-term development.”

It’ll be curious to see if Eriksson Ek — the 20th overall pick in ’15 — developed the way the Wild hoped. He had 16 points in 26 games for Farjestads, and could certainly provide an injection of energy, something the club needs desperately.

Minnesota is 3-10-1 in March, and has fallen way back of Chicago for first place in the Central Division. What’s more, the Nashville Predators have surged to within six points of the Wild for second place, which is a stunning turn of events (on Feb. 28, the Wild were 15 points clear of the Preds.)

The Wild have two home games this week: Tonight against the Caps, then Thursday against the Sens.

With Lehtonen’s strong finish, is Niemi done in Dallas?

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The Stars have spent the last two years working with their oft-criticized two goalie setup.

Could the experiment soon be over?

Over the last month, the club has played Kari Lehtonen almost exclusively — he’s been the goalie of record in 10 of 12 games, including six straight — and has performed well. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and has a .926 save percentage in March.

According to the Morning-News’ Mike Heika, this might be foreshadowing Antti Niemi‘s departure.

I think they have lost all faith in Antti Niemi and they want to see if Lehtonen is worth keeping next year.

I’m still not sure if this is proving they should keep him, but it makes the decision to get two new goalies more difficult.

A lot will depend on whether or not they acquire a goalie in trade before the NHL buyout window (which opens June 15) closes June 30. If they make a trade or two, that will possibly push them to buy out Lehtonen and Niemi.

I think it would be tough to buy out both and have no goalies in house on July 1.

The guess here is Niemi will be bought out for sure.

Niemi is in the second of a three-year, $13.5 million deal, one that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. Per CapFriendly, a buyout would cost Dallas $1.5 million against the cap through 2019.

This season has been a struggle for the 33-year-old. He’s posted an 11-11-4 record with a 3.35 GAA and .892 save percentage, and that came after a fairly mediocre first year in Dallas. Though he won 25 games and appeared in five playoff contests, Niemi never posted a save percentage above .905.

If the plan is to keep Lehtonen and move on from Niemi, it’s fairly safe to assume GM Jim Nill will acquire a goalie to work in tandem with the former.

And this is where things could get interesting.

This summer’s UFA goalie market will be flush. Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, Scott Darling and Chad Johnson are all currently without contracts for next season, and the prospect of joining the Stars has to be enticing. There is playing time to be had, and Lehtonen — who turns 34 next season — only has a year left on his deal.