Ducks lock up West’s top spot, will open playoffs vs. Stars

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While the only thing unsettled in the East is home-ice advantage between Montreal and Tampa Bay, the Western Conference will still see its fair share of intrigue on Sunday. At least in the Central Division.

The Anaheim Ducks cemented their first-round opponent tonight, on the other hand. By beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout, they clinched the top seed in the Western Conference; only the Boston Bruins would begin a series with home-ice advantage against Anaheim and that would be in a hypothetical 2014 Stanley Cup Final series.

Let’s look at the two Western series we’re certain of as of Saturday night (with the team featuring home-ice advantage listed first).

Anaheim vs. Dallas

The Ducks did impressive work in locking up the top seed, but more than a few people still wonder about the team’s legitimacy. The Stars could provide an interesting test, as Dallas seems to weigh in higher according to various “fancy stats” metrics while the Ducks come out looking lucky.

That’s not nearly as fun as trotting out the boxing-style storylines, though. Feel free to add exclamation points to various feuds: Tyler Seguin vs. Ryan Getzlaf; Corey Perry vs. Jamie Benn; uncertain-yet-talented goalies vs. a guy with zero career playoff wins playing in front of a two-time Vezina winner.

Yes, there is a lot of drama going on and there could very well be some excellent, high-flying hockey to go with it.

San Jose vs. Los Angeles

On paper, the Ducks and Stars seem primed to display styles that are dynamic and wide-open. The Sharks and Kings may play it much tighter to the vest, although the two cross-state rivals often bring the fireworks out of each other. On one hand, you have a franchise that’s been strong for what seems like a decade and holds home-ice advantage; on the other, you have the Kings: a team with a shorter span of recent success but a Stanley Cup victory as a trump card.

Ultimately, we get two fascinating playoff series, with the Central Division-dwelling Stars playing against the division they were a part of just last season.

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The Central Division teams have plenty of motivation to scrap for the crown. With all due respect to the improving Minnesota Wild, the loser of the jousting between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues must face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

(Colorado has more regulation/OT wins, so St. Louis must win while the Blackhawks must lose in some fashion to wrestle the Central Division title away.)

Long story short, even with all 16 playoff spots determined, Sunday still has ample room for intrigue and excitement.

Blue Jackets sign Boston University product Somerby to entry-level deal

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The Columbus Blue Jackets made a deal Monday, signing defenseman Doyle Somerby.

Originally selected by the New York Islanders, 125th overall in 2012, Somerby played his last four seasons with Boston University. Now 23 years old, Somerby decided to keep his options open following his senior year and test the free agent market last week, prior to inking a two-year entry-level contract with Columbus.

“It almost doesn’t make sense not to talk to everybody,” Somerby’s agent Brett Peterson told the Boston Globe.

“You’re drafted when you’re 17½ with no say who picks you. If you choose to complete your college career, you have that right. That’s just the way the market is. They have a lot of defensive prospects in New York. So that’s how we landed at this.”

And now he’s landed with the Blue Jackets organization, which had a franchise record 2016-17 season and boasts a crop of good, young players, the most notable on the blue line being Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

Somerby scored five goals and 13 points as a junior at Boston University, marking his most productive collegiate campaign. At 6-foot-5 tall and 223 pounds, he brings size on the blue line but has been regarded as more of a stay-at-home defenseman, and reliable in his own end.

“He’s so difficult to get around,” Boston University associate head coach Steve Greeley told The Daily Free Press. “Below the dots, he’s always pushing … He plays physical, he plays hard and he’s a kid that’s really tough to play against.”

Looking to make the leap: Josh Ho-Sang

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders made something of a gamble when they selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now that bet could start to pay off handsomely.

Even before Ho-Sang was drafted he was attracting quite a bit of attention. He had the tools to be a big offensive threat, but there were concerns about his attitude.

“I don’t think it’s from unfair labels, it’s from stuff that I’ve done,” he told the Windsor Star back in June 2014. He later added, “I’ve just not done certain things the proper way. That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up.”

Those statements of acknowledgment can be seen as encouraging, but the warning signs continued as he showed up late for the first day of training camp in 2015 and the Islanders addressed it by immediately returning him to the OHL. Fortunately since then there has been more encouraging news about Ho-Sang.

He went pro in 2016-17 and had an strong season in both the AHL and NHL. With the Islanders he scored four goals and 10 points in 21 contests while getting a solid 16:27 minutes per game. That left an impression on Islanders coach Doug Weight.

“Josh was great,” Weight said. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.”

Ho-Sang’s spot on the Islanders still isn’t guaranteed, but he’s put himself in a position where it’s very plausible that he’ll be part of the team’s opening game roster. If he plays well he could end up being a significant presence on the club throughout the season.

All the while he might be making the case that the Islanders’ gamble has turned into a steal.

Beauchemin signs on for third stint with Ducks (Updated)

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Francois Beauchemin will once again be playing for the Anaheim Ducks, according to TVA Sports and Renaud Lavoie.

Updated: The Ducks have since confirmed a one-year deal for Beauchemin.

The contract reportedly comes with a base salary of $1 million and the potential to earn roughly $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

This would be Beauchemin’s third stint with the team. He played with Anaheim for parts of four campaigns from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Along the way he averaged a staggering 30:33 minutes per game in the playoffs during the Ducks’ 2007 championship run. His second stint with the club spanned parts of five seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. As was the case during his previous run, Beauchemin was a workhorse and in the 2013 lockout shortened season he also finished fourth in the Norris Trophy vote.

Beauchemin spent the last two seasons with Colorado. Although he’s 37-years-old now, Beauchemin has only missed one game over the last two seasons and still averaged 21:31 minutes in 2016-17.

Despite that, Colorado decided to buy him out this summer, which freed up a protected list spot for the expansion draft and created an opening for the club’s younger defensemen as the Avalanche focus on rebuilding.

Given that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen might start the season on the sidelines, adding another blueliner capable of serving in a top-four role like Beauchemin has the potential to be a big boost for the Ducks.

Gaborik unlikely to be ready for start of training camp

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Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from a non-surgical procedure to address his “chronic” knee issue will likely bleed into training camp.

“He’s progressing pretty well from the summer,” Kings GM Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider. “He still has some difficulty with some of the lifts and the strength. We’re probably not sure if we’ll see him in training camp right away, but again, he’s a guy that trains at a very high level and he’s made a commitment to stay in L.A. after he got married, get the rehab back on course. We’re hopeful he can get back to the level that he started last season and the World Cup at.”

Gaborik has been an elite scorer at times during his career, but injuries have been a recurring issue for him. Over the past four seasons he’s played in 220 of a possible 328 contests and he’s been limited to 43 points in 110 games over the last two campaigns.

That’s particularly worrying given that the 35-year-old forward still has four seasons left on his seven-year contract worth roughly $34 million. At the same time a bounce back campaign out of Gaborik would go a long way towards addressing the offensive woes Los Angeles endured in 2016-17.