Yes, this could be a ‘franchise-defining game’ for the Penguins

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“Dan, there’s been talk about this game being a franchise-defining game. Do you think about that at all?”

That was one of the questions Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma got this morning ahead of his Penguins’ Game 7 versus the New York Rangers.

Predictably, Bylsma said he doesn’t think about it — “Not really, no I don’t” — and that he’s not looking at a “bigger picture” than simply a game to advance to the conference finals.

And that may be true for him, since it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand, not the possible ramifications, which Bylsma can’t control anyway.

But make no mistake, this could be a franchise-defining game for the Penguins, because Game 7’s have a way of being exactly that.

Consider: What if the Bruins had lost Game 7 to the Canadiens in 2011. Instead of winning in overtime and going on to hoist their first Stanley Cup since 1972, it’s likely coach Claude Julien would’ve been fired. Remember, the B’s were only a year removed from choking on a 3-0 lead versus the Flyers.

And what if Washington had won Game 7 versus Montreal in 2010? Instead of a devastating first-round exit that made the Capitals rethink the run-and-gun style that made them the most exciting team in the NHL, maybe they’d have runned and gunned their way to a championship that year. We’ll never know, will we. But that was a good team. Not so much anymore.

Now imagine if the Maple Leafs hadn’t blown Game 7 versus the Bruins last year. And if the Canucks had won Game 7 versus the Bruins in 2011. Talk about franchise-defining games for Toronto and Vancouver, the latter of which is still dealing with the ramifications three years later.

Granted, it’s possible the Penguins win tonight and flame out in the conference finals, just like they did last year. In that case, tonight’s game will be a footnote.

But if they win and go on to the Cup Final?

Defining game.

Or a loss followed by the firing of Bylsma, which surely wouldn’t be the only big change?

Definitely a defining game.

“You’ve got to enjoy this moment,” said Bylsma. “This is what we all play for.

“You’ve got to get excited about it. It’s not just the overbearing, overriding sense that a bounce here, or a missed play here, or whatever, is going to decide this game. You’ve got to enjoy it, got to get ready for this. Again, this is what you all play for.

“You don’t remember Game 51. We’re going to all remember this Game 7.”

Predators spend big on Ryan Johansen: eight years, $64M

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Much was made about Ryan Johansen really establishing himself as a No. 1 center who could compete with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews during the Nashville Predators’ 2017 Stanley Cup Final run.

The Predators will pay him as such, as they announced a whopping eight-year, $64 million contract on Friday. That’s $8M per season for Johansen, who turns 25 on July 31.

It’s the largest deal signed in franchise history, although that can feel a touch misleading in how it really functions. After all, P.K. Subban‘s cap hit is higher at $9M and they once matched that massive Shea Weber offer sheet. The bottom line is that Johansen joins Subban and Pekka Rinne ($7M) as Nashville’s most expensive players.

The trio of Johansen, Filip Forsberg ($6M), and Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M) carries a combined cap hit of $18.25 million.

News of Johansen signing a new deal first came from The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan.

Check out this post about how impressive the Predators’ salary structure looked before Johansen’s deal came down. Cap Friendly estimates that Nashville’s cap space goes down to $5.44 million after the signing, which adds some risk to this group but still looks wisely constructed overall.

Oilers coach on Draisaitl negotiations, cap crunch and more

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As NHL.com reports, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan doesn’t seem too worried about Leon Draisaitl‘s contract negotiations.

“I’m confident we’re going to see Leon in an [Oilers] uniform,” McLellan said at a charity golf tournament. “We want him to be there, he wants to be there, and it’s just a matter of getting a few things done over the summer.”

Granted, as confident as McLellan is, he also admits that he doesn’t really get involved in that side of the hockey business, preferring to leave that to GM Peter Chiarelli.

On that note, McLellan said he’s aware that locking down Drasaitl, Connor McDavid, and other key members will likely leave the Oilers with a “tight wallet … and that’s not going to change for many years.”

(For an in-depth look at the Oilers’ salary structure, check out this deep dive.)

McLellan faces the challenge of aligning those big-ticket items with bargain signings, something that’s likely only to become a more common situation as time goes along. He also must deal with an obstacle that isn’t new to him considering his Sharks days, but will be unusual for many Oilers: no longer slipping under the radar.

“Expectations make it a little harder on a hockey club, mentally and physically, and we haven’t experienced that as a group yet and that’s why I still consider our team a growth team,” McLellan said. “We’ve got to go through that now. Teams will be ready for the Oilers. They’ll be prepared to play against us night in and night out, and people expect us, our fans in particular, to win on a more regular basis than we have in the past. Our task just gets tougher.”

If they fail, McLellan will shoulder much of the blame, even if management makes some poor decisions with that “tight wallet.”

Blues re-sign goalie Binnington

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Jordan Binnington, the netminder taken 88th overall by the Blues in 2011, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced on Friday.

Binnington, 24, has played almost exclusively with St. Louis’ AHL affiliate since turning pro four years ago, though he did spend some time in the ECHL.

Last year he worked alongside Ville Husso and Pheonix Copley in the Wolves’ goal, and will likely do so again with Husso moving forward (Copley was traded to Washington as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.)

Binnington’s NHL body of work is brief — one 13-minute relief appearance during the ’15-16 campaign. Right now he’s jockeying with Husso to be the organization’s No. 3 netminder, a potential call-up should either Jake Allen or Carter Hutton get hurt.

Chris Neil wants a one-way deal, and says he’s received offers

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Here’s what we know about veteran tough guy Chris Neil.

He won’t be back in Ottawa, the city where he’s spent his entire 15-year career. But he does want to keep playing. What’s more, he’s not ready to accept a two-way deal or training camp PTO, because offers for a one-way deal have already come in.

“The offers I’ve had so far haven’t been [two way or PTO]. They’ve been a one-way deal,” the 37-year-old forward said, per the Ottawa Sun. “For me, that’s what I’d be looking for.

“It’s up in the air right now. There’s some interest. There’s some teams you’d prefer over others.”

Neil was informed by the Sens last month that he wouldn’t be brought back next season, which marked the end of an era. Ottawa took Neil in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, and he made his NHL debut three years later. He went on to become one of the club’s most recognizable players, in large part to his pugilistic ways — during the 2003-04 campaign, he fought a remarkable 24 times.

That trademark toughness could be something teams are interested in bringing aboard. There were rumblings St. Louis was eyeing him after trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, with Fox Sports Midwest reporting that Neil had three offers on the table.

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that Neil believes he can still play. After learning that he wouldn’t be brought back to the Canadian capital, he had some choice words for Sens head coach Guy Boucher and the perceived lack of opportunity Boucher afforded him.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy [Lee, Sens assistant GM] and Pierre [Dorion, GM] … I think, if it was up to them, I’d be back,” Neil explained, per the Citizen. “But they kind of put it in the coach’s hands and that had a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, Guy [Boucher] never really gave me the chance to show I can play.

“Even before I got hurt, I was a healthy scratch for a couple of games and I saw the writing on the wall.”