PHT Morning Skate: Four Game 1s start it up tonight

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Last night saw three series get things going on the opening night of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, each with wild levels of action and plenty of offense to go around.

Tonight, four more playoff series get under way in New York, St. Louis, Colorado, and San Jose. If you thought last night was a fun ride, wait til you get a load of this.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Thursday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Thursday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 1: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)

These two teams split the season series against each other with each team winning twice. The difference between them as this series kicks off is a bit stark as Philly’s Steve Mason will miss Game 1 after suffering an injury in the final game of the season.

Going up against Henrik Lundqvist makes the night a bit tougher for the Flyers and their potent offense, but if last night is an indication of how the first round of the playoffs might go, coming out firing might be in Claude Giroux’s best interest. Giroux’s MVP-like effort this season keyed the Flyers into getting into the postseason and guys like Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek have followed suit.

How Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis respond will be important and with Ray Emery in goal for the Flyers to start the series off, time is ripe for the Rangers to get off to a good start.

Game 1: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

All season long the Blues were the runaway favorites to win the West. Then the last few weeks happened where numerous key players got hurt and Ryan Miller struggled stopping the puck. Now, everyone can’t help but pick against the Blues to lose out to their arch-rivals, the Blackhawks.

The Blues will get everyone back to start the series, but so will the ‘Hawks who made do without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the final few weeks. The Blues swear up and down that things will be fine now that the playoffs have started, but it’s a lot easier to say these things when you don’t have Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp coming at you.

It’s never easy in the playoffs, but the Blues have a handful to deal with this time.

Game 1: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

If there’s a series in the West that’s not getting a lot of notice in these playoffs, it’s this one and that’s a shame. Avs-Wild may not have the high-flying offense of the Ducks-Stars series or the rivalry qualities of either Blues-‘Hawks or Sharks-Kings, but that doesn’t mean there’s no heat here.

While things have changed a lot since they last met in the postseason in 2003, the Avalanche play the high-flying kind of hockey that’s found ways to frustrate teams. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon takes injured star Matt Duchene’s spot on the top line and Colorado has some aches on the blue line to manage. That gives the Wild openings to attack them with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville leading the way.

If Ilya Bryzgalov stays hot into the postseason, he could provide a good counterpart to Semyon Varlamov in the Avs net. This could be a lot of fun.

Game 1: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) 

What’s definitely going to be fun is this series. The Sharks and Kings are no strangers to each other in the playoffs by now and each of the past two times they’ve faced off it’s been outstanding hockey.

When you’ve got Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton on one side up against Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown on the other you’re in for some fun. What’s worth watching is how Marian Gaborik adds to the Kings attack and what Tomas Hertl can do for the Sharks after missing a good part of the season.

One thing the Sharks are hoping they can do is rattle Jonathan Quick in goal. Quick was a big reason why the Kings knocked off the Sharks in the playoffs last season, but San Jose will need Antti Niemi to be his equal if they’re going to move on. Staying up late on the East Coast is worth it for this series.

Fisher also contacted by Canada for Olympics along with Doan, Iginla

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Add Mike Fisher to the list of veteran free agents who’ve at least been contacted to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hockey Canada VP of hockey operations Scott Salmond revealed as much to TSN 1040 on Thursday while also noting their interest in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

“As Hockey Canada we have tremendous respect for all of those players,” Salmond said. “There’s no question that their leadership and their experience could be invaluable to our team.”

(Read more about Canada contacting Doan and Iginla specifically in this post.)

Fisher, 37, shares certain similarities with Doan and Iginla. All three players have captained NHL teams, each brings a mixture of scoring ability and grit to the table, and they all obviously have plenty of experience.

Pending talks with Nashville

On the other hand, there are a few potential differences that make Fisher’s case interesting.

For one thing, Fisher hasn’t decided – or hasn’t shared his decision – regarding a return to the Nashville Predators just yet. That choice is expected to come sometime next week.

The thing is, Fisher at least has some say in that matter, as he might make the choice not to come back. In the cases of Doan and Iginla, they might struggle to find suitors in free agency (or at least find suitors willing to give them the specific deals they seek).

A first for Fisher?

While that might hurt Canada’s chances, there’s another wrinkle: Fisher hasn’t really gotten “the call” quite like Doan or Iginla have. Fisher hasn’t ever suited up for Canada in the Olympics and, according to Hockey Reference, hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2009 World Championships.

Perhaps that rare opportunity might trump playing another season in the NHL? A few weeks of international hockey wouldn’t represent the same wear-and-tear as playing through an 82-game season.

(There’s also at least the concept of playing in the Olympics and then trying to find a deal with the Predators, however unlikely that might be.)

While Doan and especially Iginla stand as bigger names, you could make a very reasonable argument that Fisher actually has more left in the tank. He’s also a center, which Canada might deem a lacking position heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For all we know, none of these three forwards will bite at the opportunity. This seems like one of those creative ideas that might not work out.

It’s easy to see why Canada’s reps would at least get the conversation going, and Fisher might just be the best target to aim for.

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.