Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby

TGIF: In which we salivate over potential playoff matchups

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Saturday: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET)

These two fierce in-state rivals also meet Sunday on NBC, and could very well meet in the first round of the playoffs. For that to happen, the Flyers would need to finish in a wild-card spot, just not the one that matches up with Boston. Other potential first-round matchups we wouldn’t mind seeing? How ’bout Leafs-Habs. Or Bruins-Habs. Or Bruins-Leafs. Or Bruins-Flyers. Or Pens-Wings. Or Jackets-Rangers. And that’s just in the East. In the West, we could see Kings-Ducks in the battle of Los Angeles. And it seems all but certain we’ll see Avs-Hawks. After Colorado took four of five from the defending champs in the regular season? Yeah, I’d probably watch that.

Saturday: Columbus at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET)

Big game for both teams. If I’m the Wild, I want to win this one badly, because I know what’s ahead. Consider: after Saturday, Minnesota will have 15 games left, including two versus Boston, two against St. Louis, one against Pittsburgh, one against Los Angeles, and one against Chicago. On top of that, most of the rest are against desperate teams like Detroit (twice), New Jersey, Vancouver, Phoenix, and Winnipeg. The Jackets, meanwhile, have a relatively easier schedule, but they don’t have a six-point cushion like the Wild. Theirs is only three, and could easily be just one by Saturday.

Saturday: Anaheim at Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET)

I mentioned this yesterday in PHT Extra, but I’ll say it again here. If I’m a potential wild-card team in the West, I’m hoping Anaheim holds on to first in the Pacific, and then I hope I match up with the Ducks in the first round. No disrespect to Anaheim, though I guess it’s hard to take it any other way.  Yes, I think the Ducks are a good team; I just don’t think they’re in the same class as St. Louis. Or, for that matter, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Jose. In fact, if Anaheim draws Dallas in the first round, I’d probably pick the Stars to win. (Note: I reserve the right to change/chicken out of this pick.)

Sunday: Vancouver at Florida (3 p.m. ET)

Roberto Luongo versus his old Canucks. I have to say, I kind of agreed with Don Cherry’s take on Luongo’s tweeting during Vancouver’s 6-1 drubbing in Dallas. Maybe it would’ve been best if old @strombone1 sat that one out. Not that the tweets weren’t funny, because they were definitely funny. And I don’t think he meant any malice whatsoever with them; most of his tweets are of the self-deprecating kind, and that’s a big reason why Vancouver fans fell back in love with him before he was traded away. But if there’s one guy — I mean, ONE GUY — who should know that words can come back to bite, isn’t it Roberto “Easy Save For Me” Luongo?

Sunday: Detroit at Chicago (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

If the Red Wings end up making the playoffs, Mike Babcock deserves serious consideration for coach of the year. Frankly, I thought he deserved a lot more consideration last year, when he only finished 10th in the voting, but there’s no sense complaining about that now. It just can’t be understated how badly the Wings have been banged up this year. Only two players — Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey — have appeared in all 65 Detroit games. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen — all three stars have missed big chunks of the season. According to Sports Club Stats, the Wings have a 39.6 percent chance of making the playoffs for a 23rd straight time. “We talked about it after the Olympic break that we have to win two of every three,” said Babcock after Tuesday’s costly loss in Columbus. “We got off to a good start with that and then we’ve lost two in a row. We have to bounce back.”

Maple Leafs sign Marincin to two-year deal to avoid arbitration

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Martin Marincin #52 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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A scheduled arbitration hearing between the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Martin Marincin won’t be necessary.

The two sides have settled on a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.25 million, the Maple Leafs announced Friday. The arbitration hearing was scheduled for Aug. 2. This new deal represents the final restricted free agent signing left for Toronto, as per General Fanager, which also shows the Maple Leafs have about $55,916 in remaining projected cap space.

Marincin, 24, had one goal and seven points in 65 games for the Maple Leafs last season.

His new deal represents a raise from the $700,000 he made this past season on a one-year deal.

The Maple Leafs had also previously avoided arbitration with Frank Corrado and Peter Holland.

Toronto seemed pleased with the progress Marincin made this past season, in which he posted strong possession numbers in more than 900 minutes of ice time at five-on-five.

“He’s a thin guy so he’s got to work extra hard on his body,” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Globe and Mail during the season.

“He needs an NHL summer. One where you actually commit to being in the league [by putting] some meat on your bones. Then he’s in position to be a real good player in the league. But he’s really come. It’s good for him.”

NHL 17 goes deep on customization, right down to Bautista’s bat flip

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 14:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays flips his bat up in the air after he hits a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers in game five of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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More and more, it seems like EA Sports’ upcoming NHL 17 is about bolstering all the substance with some style.

While the biggest hopes for on-digital-ice changes seem to hinge on much-needed tweaks to goaltending, plenty of focus revolves around what your players will be wearing and where they’ll be playing.

Polygon provides a great breakdown for some of the tweaks:

Even more exciting is EASHL’s brand-new arena editor, which is a massive step up from last year, when the only things you could add to your team’s rink were championship banners if you won them. Your club will now make its way upward through five different arenas — a small community rink, a larger community rink, a Canadian Hockey League-size venue, an American Hockey League-size arena and an NHL arena — and you’ll be able to customize the last four venues in that progression.

Maybe most interestingly, you can relocate teams to one of 20 other hockey-friendly locales, whether it means bringing the NHL to Las Vegas a year early, rebooting the Hartford Whalers or a number of other possibilities.

(Does this mean the dream of “The KC Masterpiece” could come true?)

The increase in goal celebrations has been touched upon, yet seeing the fruits of such labor is another thing entirely. Hockey Twitter was delighted to learn that Jose Bautista’s memorable “bat flip” is included in the mix:

Nice nod to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who can use such an animation after forcing the Tampa Bay Lightning to trade Steven Stamkos “home.”

Need another trailer for the game? Why not:

Pacioretty on losing ‘friend’ in Subban trade

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02:  (R-L) P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with Max Pacioretty #67 in the second period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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P.K. Subban‘s relationship with now-former Montreal Canadiens teammates has been dissected for some time, but captain Max Pacioretty insists that he lost a “friend” in the trade.

At least, that’s what he’s saying publicly, as Sportsnet reports.

“I’d been with him for nine years, so it’s going to be very strange to come into the locker room and not see P.K. there, joking around with him all the time,” Pacioretty said.

He added that, in the Subban-for-Shea Weber trade, the Canadiens “lost a friend and hopefully gained another.”

Again, there’s been plenty of speculation that Pacioretty and other Habs viewed Subban as anything but a pal. Jacques Demers ranked among the many who believed that Montreal suffered from a “divided room,” with some believing that it came down to Subban vs. Pacioretty.

Pacioretty dismissed the claims back then:

While Subban responded in a way we’ve come to expect, wondering if he’d have to “make out” with Pacioretty to prove doubters wrong.

That Pacioretty passage might just sum it up the best: you can be friends with someone while (gasp) also occasionally being annoyed by their antics. Really, have you enjoyed a lengthy relationship – business or personal – that never had those moments of minor friction?

Chances are, such chemistry issues were really just a distraction from the more important issues, such as Montreal depending far too much upon Carey Price.

The good news for “Patches” is that he won’t field nearly as many questions about Subban now that P.K.’s plying his trade in Nashville.

The not-so-good news is that he’ll be an obvious target for blame if Montreal’s fate doesn’t change with Weber replacing Subban.

We’ll find out soon enough if Pacioretty has enough help from his friends.

Related

Owner stands behind Marc Bergevin’s moves, Subban trade included

Michel Therrien on his relationship with Subban (when they were still employed by the Habs)

Subban: This is a business

Senator says Bettman, NHL are ‘in denial’ about concussions, CTE

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks with the media during a press conference prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This isn’t the first time Gary Bettman denied or downplayed the link between concussions and CTE; it also isn’t the first time that someone has been stunned by his stance.

Even so, it’s difficult to look away from the bank-and-forth between the NHL’s commissioner and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, most recently spotlighted by Sports Illustrated.

It began with Blumenthal’s letter to Bettman and the NHL, dated June 23, which cited the NFL acknowledging a link between football and CTE. He then asked Bettman nine questions related to how the NHL handles brain injuries and how it might be different from the NHL.

The New York Times passes along a response dated July 22, Bettman described the science linking CTE to concussions as “nascent” and reasserted his previous stance:

“The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of C.T.E. remains unknown.”

Blumenthal was “appalled” by Bettman’s take, according to Sports Illustrated and the Senator himself.

Perhaps you could chalk this up to a public relations battle of sorts, although TSN reports that this latest round of comments might provide fuel for lawyers working on a concussion lawsuit against the NHL.

“We should have the chance now to walk him through some of his denials and find out why he has made his statements and ask him what makes him so sure,” Lead counsel Charles Zimmerman said. “Why is he so willing to go against conventional science which says repeated blows to the head cause damage to the brain?”

As familiar as some of this might feel for those following the way the league is handling concussions, it could mean that the NHL will follow in the NFL’s footsteps in a costly way.

At minimum, it’s been a mess for the league, and it doesn’t seem like things will get easier anytime soon.