On Patrick Sharp’s future in Chicago

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The Blackhawks know all about being in salary cap hell.

Following their Stanley Cup win in 2010, the club was forced to trade away a number of key contributors — Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg — as there just wasn’t enough money to go around.

Now it seems a similar situation — albeit less hellish — could be unfolding. The ‘Hawks currently sit $2.2 million over the salary cap for next season and, even after they get that number down prior to the season starting in October, they’ll face additional money concerns moving forward.

Why? The ‘Hawks made history last month by making Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane the first $10 million hits in the cap era. The financial breakdown, per CapGeek:

source:

As you can see, it’s a substantial financial commitment. And Chicago has more than a few of those.

Hefty deals are already in place for Corey Crawford ($6 million annually), Brent Seabrook ($5.8), Duncan Keith ($5.5), Marian Hossa ($5.275) and, of course, Patrick Sharp, who’ll pull in $5.9 million until 2017. The problem for Chicago GM Stan Bowman, though, is what’s on the horizon — the club will have just 15 players under contract for $65 million in 2015-16, and there are some big negotiations down the road. Brandon Saad, a budding star in his own right, will need a new deal after next season; same goes for versatile center Marcus Kruger and offensive defenseman Nick Leddy — all of whom are currently 24 or younger and represent a good part of the club’s future.

So, back to Sharp.

His name first surfaced as a potential trade target prior to the July 1 free agent frenzy, and we discussed the possibility of him moving to the offensively-challenged Panthers (as part of the popular Chicago-to-Florida pipeline). Florida aside, it stands to reason a number of teams would be interested in his services — at 32, he’s coming off arguably his finest individual campaign, notching a career-best 78 points while helping Canada win gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Sharp’s also a goalscorer, and that alone makes him a prized commodity. He’s cracked 30 in each of his last three full seasons with Chicago and has been a pretty solid playoff contributor, leading the team with 10 goals en route to the ’13 Stanley Cup. Natural scorers are hard to come by; there were only 21 guys in the NHL last year to score 30 goals or more.

That, really, is why Sharp’s name came up in discussions. Of the “expendable” assets Chicago has, he’s probably more alluring than Hossa because 1) he’s three years younger, and 2) doesn’t have Hossa’s back-diving contract structure, which could be huge in terms of cap recapture penalties. And that’s going on the assumption Hossa would even be available, which he doesn’t appear to be.

While it’s true Sharp has a modified no-trade clause, it might not be enough to keep him from moving on.

But… would Chicago actually deal him?

Make no mistake, losing Sharp would hurt. He’s been with the organization for nine years (has a local radio show and everything), serves as an alternate captain and it would be remarkably difficult to acquire equal value in any sort of trade. Like we’ve seen in the past, however, the ‘Hawks may be forced to make the hard move now for an easier financial future.

As for the man himself, Sharp was on hand for the purge of four years ago and understands how things work.

“There’s going to be talk, discussion, rumors — it’s part of the business,” he said in mid-July, per the Chicago Tribune. “But I think what my agent (Rick Curran) said was pretty self-explanatory. I’ve been able to get away from hockey and kind of relax a little bit.

“If you start worrying about it and start paying attention to all the speculation and rumors, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. It’s my job to play hockey, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

NHL On NBC: Flyers Look to stay hot against Capitals

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Before the city of Philadelphia loses its collective minds on Sunday evening for the NFC Championship game, the local hockey team — which is playing extremely well again! — will be back on the ice when it visits the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon for a 12:30 p.m. ET puck drop. You can watch it live on NBC or on our NBC Sports Live Stream

The Flyers have been one of the most maddeningly inconsistent teams in the league this season going back and forth between extended winning streaks and lengthy cold streaks. At the moment, they are back on one of the hot streaks.

After defeating the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon the Flyers have now won six of their past seven and seven of their past nine and enter Sunday’s game just one point behind the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while having games in hand on both teams (one on the Rangers entering Sunday; still three on the Penguins). A win against the Capitals could jump them over both teams and put them just one point back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers are led by the trio of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, all of whom are among the NHL’s top-2o scorers this season. Giroux is currently fourth in the league in total points, while Voracek has four most assists than any other player in the league. Couturier, going through a massive breakout season offensively, has been one of the best two-way centers in the league and has to be one of the front-runners for the Selke Trophy at the halfway point of the season.

The Capitals, meanwhile, are not quite as dominant as they were the past two seasons when they won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, but they are still among the top teams in the league. They have lost two in a row and three out of their past four heading into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Flyers, but are coming in with a couple of days rest while they get a Flyers team that just played 24 hours ago. So they are catching a little bit of a break from the schedule.

Alex Ovechkin is once again the driving force behind the Capitals’ offense and enters Sunday as the league’s leading goal-scorer with 28. He is flirting with what could be another 50-goal season.

There is going to be plenty of star power on the ice on Sunday afternoon with five of the league’s top-35 scorers (Giroux, Voracek, Ovechkin, Couturier, Evgeny Kuznetsov), the top goal-scorer (Ovechkin), and two of the top-five scoring defensemen (John Carlson, Shayne Gostisbehere).

Do not miss it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Pulock opens it up; Price is wronged

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Players of the Night:

  • Whoa, Ryan Pulock. The Islanders rookie collected one goal and four assists for an unexpected five-point night. He came into Saturday with nine points in 33 games so far in 2017-18, but maybe this will open things up for the young blueliner. Pulock played a big role in the Islanders pasting the Blackhawks 7-3.
  • John Klingberg collected three assists as the Dallas Stars dominated the Buffalo Sabres 7-1. For more on the Norris Trophy argument Klingberg is making, click here.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the third period down 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators. Jake Gardiner collected two of his three assists during their rally back, helping Toronto erase that deficit and win 4-3 in regulation. Gardiner had to pick up some of the slack for Toronto with Morgan Rielly sidelined.
  • There were some other strong nights, such as Nick Bonino chipping in three points to help the Predators stay hot.

Lowlight of the Night:

You won’t see Carey Price allow many goals as bad as this one. At least, the Habs have to hope not in his later years, as his $10.5 million cap hit won’t kick in until 2018-19.

More than a few wonder if the Canadiens’ playoff hopes died with a poor showing in three recent games against the Bruins.

Highlights:

Patrick Marleau: not too old to essentially shrug off a hit. Nice.

Nice glove stops from Jimmy Howard

And Mike Smith:

Meanwhile, this is comes down to cool editing as much as it was a nice goal:

Fantastic stuff from the Sharks.

Factoids

The Bruins are red-hot, and might start putting the heat on the Lightning:

While the Avalanche might be even hotter?

(More on those rising Avs here.)

An additional Pulock fact for ya …

Scores

Stars 7, Sabres 1
Flyers 3, Devils 1
Avalanche 3, Rangers 1
Jets 2, Flames 1 (SO)
Bruins 4, Canadiens 1
Maple Leafs 4, Senators 3
Hurricanes 3, Red Wings 1
Sharks 2, Penguins 1
Coyotes 5, Blues 2
Predators 4, Panthers 3
Islanders 7, Blackhawks 3
Wild 5, Lightning 2
Oilers 5, Canucks 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins may give Lightning a fight for Atlantic title

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For a while there, the Boston Bruins’ excitement was at least a bit muted by lowered expectations. Yes, it would be great to get a round of home-ice advantage, but that’s not as sexy as going for a division title or more.

Now, it’s important to point out that the Bruins have some work to do, but if you look at the standings after their 4-1 win against the Canadiens and the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Wild, it’s not outrageous. The Bruins trail the Lightning by three standings points, and they hold a game in hand on Tampa Bay.

Lightning: 33-12-3, 65 points in 46 games
Bruins: 27-10-8, 62 points in 45 games

The Bruins can also close the gap in more direct ways by getting the best of the Lightning in head-to-head games. The two teams meet three more times this season, with two of those contests coming in Tampa Bay.

At a quick glance, the Bruins are certainly the hotter team, as they’re among the hottest teams in the NHL. Their point streak now extends back to an OT loss to the Rangers on Dec. 16 (12-0-4), including a three-game winning streak. The Lightning have been stumbling by their standards, with three straight losses and two wins in their last seven games.

The road ahead is bumpy for the Lightning, too.

Star defenseman Victor Hedman‘s window of recovery was placed at three-to-six weeks as of Jan. 12. A bye week softens the blow, but the Bolts have to cross their fingers that he falls closer to three weeks than six, as their upcoming schedule puts them in a vulnerable place.

Mon, Jan 22 @ Chicago
Tue, Jan 23 @ Nashville
Thu, Jan 25 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Jan 30 @ Winnipeg
Thu, Feb 1 @ Calgary
Sat, Feb 3 @ Vancouver
Mon, Feb 5 @ Edmonton
Thu, Feb 8 vs Vancouver
Sat, Feb 10 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Feb 12 @ Toronto
Tue, Feb 13 @ Buffalo
Thu, Feb 15 vs Detroit
Sat, Feb 17 vs New Jersey
Tue, Feb 20 @ Washington
Thu, Feb 22 @ Ottawa
Sat, Feb 24 @ Montreal

Tonight’s loss to the Wild began what could be a harrowing eight-game road trip for the Lightning. Overall, they play 12 of their next 16 games on the road. The Bruins face their own challenges as the season goes along, but for the near future, it’s a pretty moderate run. It’s also true that the Lightning will enjoy a stretch of home games too, with March holding the ripest opportunities.

Still, some damage might be done by then considering that tough month and Hedman’s at-least-partial absence, possibly enough for the Bruins to draw even (or close to even). It could be a tough haul even if Hedman can get back soon, honestly.

The smart money would still be on the Lightning winning the Atlantic, not to mention possibly getting the East’s top seed and maybe the Presidents’ Trophy as well. Either way, this is another reminder of how remarkable this surge has been for a Bruins team that was once 6-7-4 this season.

The B’s are justified in setting their sights higher than merely securing a playoff spot. For all we know, this could end up being one of the most captivating races down the stretch.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stars’ Klingberg is building serious Norris argument

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From Nicklas Lidstrom to Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman, NHL fans are used to Swedish defensemen being involved in Norris Trophy talks, and often winning the award outright. It’s about time that we add another name to the conversation: John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.

Some might roll their eyes when points come up in the Norris discussion, but how could they not, especially in Klingberg’s case?

After collecting three assists in the Stars’ 7-1 Saturday squash of the Sabres, Klingberg now has a whopping 46 points in just 48 games. As of this writing, Klingberg leads all defensemen by 10 points. If he maintains that margin for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, it will be tough to deny Klingberg the first Norris Trophy in Stars history.

Klingberg’s 46 points tie him with Jamie Benn for the team points lead, and place him in a multi-player tie for 18th overall in the NHL.

About two weeks ago, Jamie Benn told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika that Klingberg deserves consideration.

“One hundred percent,” Benn said. “He’s such a dynamic player, and a leader on this team. And I think this year he’s taking his game to another level, and it’s showing out there on the ice.”

It’s not just about the scoring. Klingberg is getting the ice time you’d expect from a Norris hopeful, with an average of 23:33 per game. While that isn’t in the Drew Doughty range, it shows that the slick Swede is a go-to guy for the Stars (he easily leads Dallas in ice time).

His all-around game is impressive. You can see strong possession stats at a glance at Hockey Reference, and with just 14 penalty minutes so far, he’s not hurting his team with bad discipline. While he’s not a primary penalty killer for Dallas, there’s some trust in that area, as he’s averaging 1:18 PK time per contest.

Maybe you’d lean more toward Doughty, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban, or Karlsson – it’s a dynamic and deep field this year – but Klingberg deserves consideration, and he’s already drawing favorable comparisons to beloved Stars blueliner Sergei Zubov (without the in-game smoking breaks, one would assume).

You could argue that Klingberg has been one of the greatest beneficiaries to Ken Hitchcock’s return to Dallas.

Not that long ago, Klingberg was suffering through healthy scratches as the Stars experienced a wildly disappointing 2016-17 season. Now he’s easily on pace to surpass his career-high of 58 points, and Klingberg might just collect some hardware in the process.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.