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.

Video: On Hockey Day in America, Auston Matthews did this . . .

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11:  Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Born in Scottsdale, AZ., Auston Matthews has taken the NHL by storm in his rookie season as an elite talent headlining an impressive freshman class.

Taken first overall last June, Matthews made history with four goals in his debut, surely a dizzying experience for Maple Leafs fans accustomed to heartbreak and frustration. And he really hasn’t slowed down since.

On Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes — and on Hockey Day in America — the 19-year-old Matthews once again put on a show, scoring his 28th goal of the season. That gave Toronto a two-goal lead.

As he’s often done in his brief time in the NHL, this goal was of the spectacular variety, as he broke in off the left wing and, as he was getting hauled down to the ice, slid the puck five-hole on Cam Ward.

Related: Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

Video: After a slow start, Evander Kane is on a roll for the Sabres

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For about a month now, Evander Kane has enjoyed a particularly productive stretch for the Buffalo Sabres.

Kane scored with 5.6 seconds remaining in the first period of Sunday’s game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, converting on a nifty pass from Jack Eichel and going top shelf on Scott Darling.

He now has goals in three straight games, and 15 points in 14 games as the Sabres have fought their way back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, this latest run comes just before the trade deadline, and Kane’s name has consistently been in speculation about a possible move — in addition to off-ice issues. While GM Tim Murray has said earlier this month that he’s not actively shopping Kane, he also didn’t absolutely rule out trading the 25-year-old left winger, now into his second season in Buffalo.

(Murray: “Is there a crazy deal that somebody could throw at me that would force me to do it? I guess there is.”)

Most impressive about Kane’s numbers — remember he missed time earlier this season with a rib injury and then had a slow start, which drew the ire of the coach — is that he’s done the vast majority of his scoring, 20 of 21 goals, at five-on-five.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Sharks

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Dominic Moore #28 of the Boston Bruins defends Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks during the first period at TD Garden on February 9, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins are back from their bye week, looking to continue a three-game winning streak since Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach from Claude Julien.

The Bruins can extend their streak Sunday, when they visit the San Jose Sharks (8:30 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

Pre-game reading: Are the Bruins and Avalanche on verge of trade?

Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

Video: Trouba called for a hit to the head on Stone

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Jacob Trouba could be getting a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit to the head of Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone.

The incident occurred during the third period of Sunday’s game, as Stone was passing the puck after he entered the zone. Trouba stepped up and delivered a high hit, resulting in only a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Stone, who dealt with a concussion that was reported in September, remained down on the ice before eventually going to the dressing room.

As you can see from the video, Senators coach Guy Boucher was furious officials on the ice decided this was only worth a minor for Trouba.