Alex Steen

NHL on NBCSN: Hot Wild, Blues fight for edge in Central Division

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

In some ways, the Blues and Wild are similar stories. Both franchises are on the upswing and hungry for more after disappointing first round exits in 2013.

Neither team is one of the most popular picks to win the Stanley Cup, but both have a lot of promise. They have young forwards stepping up like Nino Niederreiter in Minnesota or Jaden Schwartz in St. Louis along with elite defensemen capable of leading a playoff team like the Wild’s Ryan Suter and Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Most importantly though, lately they have been able to do no wrong. Of the combined 23 games these two squads have participated in this month, they have only lost three in regulation. It’s no wonder that St. Louis and Minnesota have two of the best records in the league at 16-3-3 and 15-5-4 respectively.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between these two squads too.

In addition to playing a solid defensive game, the Blues have managed to crush their competition by overwhelming them offensively. That’s due in no small part to Alexander Steen’s remarkable start with 17 goals and 27 points in 22 games, but even as he starts shows signs of slowing down, St. Louis is far from vulnerable.

The Blues have six players that have recorded at least 16 points this season and 11 with a minimum of 10 points. Forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie are enjoying the best campaign of their careers and they’re still hot going into tonight’s contest.

They’ll run up against one of the best defenses in the league though. Minnesota has limited its competition to an NHL-best 25.3 shots per game. That’s helped them maintain a team 2.17 GAA, although that statistic comes with an asterisk tonight.

Goaltender Josh Harding has been a big part of the Minnesota Wild’s success, but he suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday. Harding has since gotten good news from an MRI, but the best case is that he serves as the backup tonight, according to NHL.com.

That puts the Wild’s fate in the hands of Niklas Backstrom, who was great in his recent contest against Winnipeg, but has struggled overall this season.

Combine that with the Blues’ home ice advantage and the fact that they’ve won their last five games against Minnesota and it seems fair to give them the edge. But given how good these teams have been, anything is possible.

Bovada gives Canada best odds at 2016 World Cup of Hockey

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  (l-R) Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban #76 of Canada pose with the gold medals won during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s no secret that Canada’s been on a strong run at the international level, and it’s no surprise that they’re considered the favorites heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Seriously, just look at the B Team put together by The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy; even with the strange hook of having to go around the under-23 North American team, that group would be one of the top contenders if it existed.

The real fun is judging how Bovada’s odds fall with the other leading nations. Is Russia given too great a chance considering some recent struggles when facing the best of the best? Did that odd little under-23 team not get enough love?

Here are the odds Bovada released on Monday:

World Cup of Hockey 2016 Champion

Canada                         10/11

Russia                          9/2

Sweden                        5/1

USA                             13/2

Finland                         14/1

North America U23        16/1

Czech Republic             22/1

Team Europe                33/1

Interesting stuff.

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.