NHL on NBCSN: Battered, but hot Wild face falling Stars

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

The Wild and Stars are teams heading in opposite directions. Minnesota has been playing without its two top forwards in Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and now backup goaltender Niklas Backstrom has joined starting netminder Josh Harding on the sidelines.

That’s a recipe for disaster and yet the Wild have been finding ways to win. Third-string goaltender Darcy Kuemper has risen to the occasion with a 1.37 GAA and .954 save percentage in his last five starts. Meanwhile 21-year-old forwards Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle have heated up when their team has needed them the most.

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Combine that with Ryan Suter being Ryan Suter, which is to say phenomenal, and the Wild have managed to win seven of their last nine games against all odds.

Meanwhile, Dallas suffered a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday, dropping its January record to 1-8-1. They have fallen nine points behind Minnesota, which currently holds the second Wild Card spot.

“There’s no doubt that we’re at red alert,” coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “We know that.”

A defeat tonight would be a major blow to a team whose playoff chances are already on life support. This is also the Stars’ last chance to try and prevent Minnesota from securing a win in the season series. The Wild have won the first two of four contests between these squads, although Dallas held its own in its 3-2 overtime loss to the Wild on Saturday.

“It’s hard to find a lot of bad stuff — possession-wise, zone-wise, everything was good,” Ruff said, referring to the Saturday match. “You can’t run around and pick on those one or two mistakes. We’re not going to play a perfect game.”

A lot of this game will rely on Dallas’ defense and goaltending. The Stars have allowed at least three goals in eight of their last 10 contests. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who got off to a fantastic start this season, has an ugly 3.47 GAA and .888 save percentage this month. His understudy, Dan Ellis, hasn’t fared any better.

Perhaps Lehtonen or Ellis will be the hero tonight. They need someone to be, because while several Wild players have made up for the team’s injuries, no one has been able to cure Dallas’ recent pain.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Report: Markov wants $12 million over two years from Montreal

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At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.

Now he knows the cost of filling one.

Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.

Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.

His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.

(Unless he’s traded.)

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.

Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.

Alzner wants long-term deal, says he’s interested in Habs

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You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.

Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.

He wants some security, too.

“I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”

Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.

Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency