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.

Canucks avoid arbitration with Boucher, Horvat remains RFA

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The Vancouver Canucks still have some work to do this summer, but at least none of their players will take part in salary arbitration hearings.

After coming to an agreement with Michael Chaput, the Canucks reached a one-year, $687,500 deal with forward Reid Boucher on Monday.

Boucher, 23, has 112 regular-season games under his belt. He spent most of his career (82 of 112 games) with the New Jersey Devils before bouncing to the Nashville Predators (3 games) and then the Canucks (27 games) last season. He averaged a little more than 12 minutes per night with the Canucks, much like with the Devils in 2016-17.

While the arbitration hearings are covered, the Canucks face two lingering RFA situations: Brendan Gaunce, and most importantly, Bo Horvat.

Coyotes sign Langhamer, so only Duclair needs a deal

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The Arizona Coyotes handed a one-year, two-way contract to goalie Marek Langhamer on Monday.

Langhamer would be paid $660K at the NHL level and $67,500 in the AHL, according to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.

Langhamer turned 23 on Saturday. He got about the smallest cup of coffee you could ask for with the Coyotes last season: he appeared in one game for 16 minutes, allowing a goal on eight shots.

It was quite the year for the Czech-born goalie, who played seven games in the ECHL and 25 in the AHL along with that brief NHL appearance. He also played in the AHL and ECHL during the 2015-16 season, so he’s been bouncing around.

As a seventh-rounder (184th overall in 2012), Langhamer likely doesn’t take opportunities for granted.

The netminding situation is interestingly fluid in Arizona. Both Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue stand ahead of Langhamer – at minimum – but those two only have one year remaining on their current deals. If nothing else, there’s likely a “prove it” vibe at multiple levels now that Mike Smith is in Calgary.

With Langhamer settled, the Coyotes only have one RFA left to sign, but it’s a tricky one with forward Anthony Duclair. When it came to Duclair, GM John Chayka kept it pretty vague with the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan.

“We’re still trying to determine the best value for the player and the team moving forward,” Chayka said.

Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Ponuts Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

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Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.

Okposo to fans: ‘Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye’

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In a lengthy and heartfelt letter, Kyle Okposo thanked the hockey community – especially but not only Buffalo Sabres fans and teammates – for their support after his hospitalization.

Okposo also shared some personal details about how a seemingly innocent hit affected his sleep and caused alarming weight loss, dropping him below 200 lbs. for the first time since he was 17. He said he checked into a hospital expecting to get help sleeping, only to go to ICU after a negative reaction to medication.

As scary as that experience was, it helped him put his career and life in perspective. Okposo also realized just how much fans, teammates, and people associated with the sport can help each other in times of need.

It’s a really great letter and worth reading in full (especially considering his praise for new Sabres management), but here’s one of the more inspiring excerpts:

When I turned my phone on, I had 500 messages waiting for me. Current players, former players, former coaches – everyone reached out. Even now, fans see me in Minnesota or Buffalo and say, ‘I’m just really glad you’re doing OK.’ It’s overwhelming, and it makes me proud to be a part of the hockey community. We’re a tight-knit group and we stick together. Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye.

The messages from my Sabres teammates meant a lot in particular. I’ve only played with those guys for one year, with Matt Moulson being the exception, and we didn’t have the type of season that we wanted. The fact that all of them were so supportive through this shows that the bond between teammates really does transcend what happens on the ice.

Okposo noted that he appreciated playing in “Da Beauty League” last week, even though his team got “whacked.”

Read more about him being involved in that here, and how happy Zach Parise and others were to see him play in this article. Okposo also reaffirms the belief that he’ll be ready to go for Sabres training camp in that letter.