Kris Letang

Now is the time to explore trading Letang

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This isn’t to say the Pittsburgh Penguins should trade Kris Letang. Let’s get that clear right off the bat. It all depends on the return. Letang may not be the best defensive defenseman in the game, and of course he’s had some serious health issues that may make potential trade partners wary. But he still logs almost 25 minutes a night, and since 2010-11, only Erik Karlsson has averaged more points per game among regular NHL blue-liners.

Which is to say, if the Pens do trade Letang, they better have a plan to replace him, both in the short- and long-term. We imagine re-signing Matt Niskanen would be part of that plan, and extending Paul Martin for a few more years might be a good idea as well. Oh, and they’d probably have to get a decent d-man back in the trade.

So if all that has to happen and it’s such a big risk, why explore dealing him in the first place? Well, for starters, as we wrote just last week, there’s a real demand around the NHL for right-handed d-men who can play regular minutes and help a team’s power play. Would Detroit be interested? You can bet Ken Holland would at least answer Ray Shero’s call.

Letang, 27, is also about to start an eight-year, $58 million contract, which comes with a cap hit of $7.25 million. Only Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have higher hits among NHL d-men. And remember, the Penguins already have two of the three highest cap hits in the league, with Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) and Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million) also on the books. Bottom line: having three of the league’s top 16 cap hits presents a challenge when it comes to improving the rest of the team, and teams that lack depth don’t win Stanley Cups.

Finally, let’s not forget Olli Maatta, 19, and Derrick Pouliot, 20, a pair of blue-chip youngsters from the 2012 draft. The former is already with the Pens; the latter was recently named the WHL’s top defenseman. If all goes well, both will be excellent NHLers. Again, if all goes well. No guarantees.

WATCH LIVE: Canada-USA (IIHF World Hockey Championship)

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A huge tilt on day one of the World Hockey Championships, as Canada and the USA clash in Russia. You can watch the game online using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Canada came away with a gold medal in last year’s tournament while the United States took home the bronze. Of course, each team’s roster changes significantly every year.

The USA’s next game is tomorrow against Belarus. Canada will play Sunday against Hungary.

PHT Morning Skate: Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Here’s a feel-good story. Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom. (Sportsnet)

–NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire does a lot of traveling during the playoffs. (Sports Illustrated)

–It sounds like ESPN’s Mike Wilbon isn’t a fan of the Coyotes’ latest front office hire. (ESPN)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–Former referee Kerry Fraser wants the old charging rule to make a return. (TSN)

–Hockey is becoming more common in the North Carolina Sports Hall-of-Fame. (Charlotte Observer)

–Leafs prospect Mitch Marner’s family home caught fire prior to Game 1 of the OHL final. (Sportsnet)

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”