Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets’ win sets Eastern Conference first-round matchups

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While home-ice advantage between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens needs to be determined (this post will be updated accordingly), we know all four first-round matchups for the Eastern Conference in the 2014 playoffs.

Here they are, with a quick note or two (home-ice listed first, if already determined).

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Bruins won the 2014 Presidents’ Trophy, yet the Red Wings could present serious competition, and not just because of their name recognition. Detroit took three of the two teams’ four games in the season series and overcame serious injury issues to get this far. They also tend to satisfy fans of “fancy stats” with their competitive possession numbers.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

With the Blue Jackets victorious on Saturday, they clinch this series. The NHL had to hope something like this would happen, as the Penguins present at least the potential for a solid regional rivalry with the Blue Jackets (relatively speaking). Of course, the Penguins’ three Stanley Cups tower over the Blue Jackets franchise’s zero playoff wins, but all that matters is who wins the best-of-seven series …

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Seeding to be determined, as the Montreal Canadiens’ overtime win against the New York Rangers keeps seeding open here. The Lightning won three of the teams’ four games in the season series, for whatever that’s worth.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Will the New York Rangers’ recent dominance at Madison Square Garden tilt things in their favor? Who will prevail in a goalie match between the established (Henrik Lundqvist) and the openly questioned (Steve Mason)? Can Martin St. Louis get it together? There are almost endless storylines in this one.

Feel free to weigh in regarding the series you expect to be most exciting, the host teams most vulnerable to upsets and all sorts of other fun factors.

Conditional trades ‘in vogue’ in the NHL

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL trade deadline can make for some conflicting interests come playoff time.

No one outside Minnesota is cheering harder for the Wild than the Arizona Coyotes because they get a second-round pick if Martin Hanzal helps Minnesota reach the third round. The Tampa Bay Lightning would love nothing more than Ben Bishop leading the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final.

Conditional trades based on a team’s playoff success, and a player’s part in it, are all the rage right now in the NHL.

Already, four pre-deadline deals include draft picks contingent on how far a team goes in the playoffs. There were 13 such trades combined at the past four deadlines.

“It’s in vogue,” Florida Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon said. “It’s a creative way of doing things. If you have success, you don’t mind paying more. If you’re successful and go deeper, you don’t mind giving up an extra asset or more of an asset.”

Trades conditional on playoff success sometimes happen in the NFL, like when the Minnesota Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but they’re virtually nonexistent in other North American professional sports leagues outside of protected picks in the NBA. They’ve become commonplace in the NHL, in part because they’ve worked out swimmingly a few times.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won it all in 2015, they didn’t mind sending an extra second-round pick to the Flyers for Kimmo Timonen for reaching the Cup Final and the defenseman playing in at least half their games. A year earlier, the Kings gave the Columbus Blue Jackets an extra third-round pick to complete a trade for Marian Gaborik after the winger helped them win their second title in three seasons.

The Kings could give up as high as a second-round pick if Bishop wins them the Cup this season but wouldn’t surrender much of anything if they miss the playoffs. GM Dean Lombardi, who also made the 2014 Gaborik trade, called it a “common sense” way of getting a deal done.

“If I was making a deal here or something and (someone) says, `I’m giving five first-rounders and you’ll win the Cup,’ you’ll do it,” Lombardi said. “You don’t mind paying if your team has success.”

The same is true of the Anaheim Ducks, who would give the Dallas Stars a first-round pick instead of a second for Patrick Eaves if they reach the Western Conference final and the winger plays 50 percent or more of their games. After some haggling, Dallas GM Jim Nill said that was the final piece of getting the trade done.

The idea of contenders gambling on themselves makes all the sense in the world. But trade deadline sellers also like the concept.

The Coyotes were looking to get the best deal for Hanzal , so they bet on him contributing to the Wild’s success.

“We believe strongly that with Martin, Minnesota has a chance to do some things that could be pretty special, and we want to share in some of that upside,” Arizona GM John Chayka said. “We share in the risk, we share in the upside. It’s just a creative way to try and bridge the gap and get a deal done.”

Lombardi would love to make salaries and salary-cap hits contingent on playoff success because if a team goes further it’s also making more money along the way. But the league doesn’t allow that.

Maybe that’s for the best because these kinds of trades make things complicated. Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee, who sent a conditional pick to Florida in 1998 for Esa Tikkanen the year his Washington Capitals made the Cup Final, pointed out that those trades freeze a lot of potential draft picks that could be pieces of other trades.

“The difficulty in doing that is it ties up a lot of picks,” McPhee said. “If they’re encumbered you can’t use them.”

That hasn’t stopped the trend, though, with teams hedging their bets and playing it safe.

“You give yourself a little bit of a protection, too, if you don’t quite go as far as you think you will,” Tallon said.

 

Wild prospect suspended after hallway fight on Saturday

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The AHL announced today that Iowa Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel has been suspended six games as “a consequence of his actions in a game at Chicago on Feb. 25.”

As you can see in the video, Gabriel had an on-ice and off-ice fight with Wolves defenseman Vince Dunn on Saturday.

The video shows that it was Gabriel who approached Dunn in the hallway, and it was Gabriel who initiated the altercation.

In the end, it was also Gabriel who got the worst of the skirmish, with a six-game suspension to boot.

From the press release:

Gabriel was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 28.1 (supplementary discipline). He has already served one game of the suspension; he will also miss Iowa’s games Saturday (Mar. 4) at Rockford; Mar.10 and Mar. 11 at Texas; Mar. 17 at Milwaukee; and Mar. 18 vs. Milwaukee.

Habs acquire Jordie Benn from Stars

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 04:  Jordie Benn #24 of the Dallas Stars during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 4, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadians have acquired defenseman Jordie Benn from the Dallas Stars in return for d-man Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

The Habs had been shopping the 26-year-old Pateryn. He has one goal and five assists in 24 games this season. He’s signed through next season for a cap hit of $800,000.

In Benn, the Canadiens get a 29-year-old defensive defenseman who’s signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $1.1 million.

Benn, of course, is also the brother of Stars captain Jamie Benn.

Trade: Sens acquire Burrows from Canucks

Alex Burrows
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Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said he wanted GM Pierre Dorion to be aggressive in the club’s pursuit of a playoff spot.

So on Monday, Ottawa started making moves, acquiring veteran forward Alex Burrows in a trade with the Canucks.

Vancouver’s News1130 reports that Burrows agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the move and, what’s more, has agreed to a two-year extension. (TSN has also reported the extension).

In exchange, prospect Jonathan Dahlen is on his way to Vancouver. Dahlen was Ottawa’s second-round pick (42nd overall) at last year’s draft, and is currently playing with Timra of the Swedish League. He sits sixth in Allsvenskan (Swedish second division) scoring this year, with 42 points in 44 games.

“Jonathan is a very skilled player with natural goal-scoring instincts,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He’s had a terrific season playing in Sweden and was a big part of Sweden’s offense at the World Juniors. His offensive upside combined with his willingness to go to difficult areas of the ice will make him a valuable player for our organization moving forward.”

Burrows, 35, is in the last of a four-year, $18 million deal with a $4.5M average annual cap hit. He’s enjoyed a decent bounce-back campaign in Vancouver, with nine goals and 20 points through 55 games. That nearly matches his totals from a disappointing ’15-16 season, when he went 9G-13A-22PTS over 79 contests.

A four-time 20-goal scorer, Burrows is no longer the effective, grating presence he once was, but can still provide energy and has enough versatility to play up and down the Ottawa lineup. What’s more, he has a truckload of postseason experience, notching 34 points in 70 career contests.

Burrows was also one of Vancouver’s top producers during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run, with nine goals and 17 points in 25 games.

The move signals the end of an era for the Canucks — Burrows, an undrafted free agent that worked his way up from the ECHL, has spent his entire 12-year NHL career in Vancouver, appearing in over 800 regular-season contests.

He was also responsible for scoring one of the most memorable goals in franchise history.