New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Three

Expect another year of heavy contract talks in New York

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Entering the 2013-14 season, the New York Rangers boasted some huge names who were entering the last seasons of their contracts. The franchise resolved many of those issues (or, in the case of Ryan Callahan, traded those deals away) on their way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final… yet still finds itself in a similar spot as next season approaches.

Granted, nothing will really top the drama of last season — re-signing Henrik Lundqvist, opting against the same for Callahan, buying out Brad Richards — but a lot of money will still be at stake this year.

Naturally, a contract extension or two could happen in the early stages, but let’s look at the most prominent players (sorry, Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick) entering contract years with current cap hits in parenthesis:

Martin St. Louis ($5.625 million, UFA)
Marc Staal ($3.975 million, UFA)
Mats Zuccarello ($3.5 million, UFA)
Derek Stepan ($3.075 million, RFA)
Carl Hagelin ($2.25 million, RFA)
Cam Talbot ($562K, UFA)

That’s quite the list of prominent players. St. Louis has been (relatively) underpaid for years and may very well want to “cash-in” on what be his last NHL contract (or at least close to his last one).

The rest of the list features players in their primes who are probably all being paid below market value. Staal’s had his troubles, yet defensemen are so hard to come by that a nice season could mean a huge contract. Zuccarello topped all Rangers regular season scorers, Hagelin’s a speedy gem who could easily enjoy a big jump in production and Talbot was quietly brilliant backing Lundqvist up last season.

Stepan might be the most interesting, though. He’s been a steady performer (never missed one game since hitting the league in 2010-11) with two 50-point seasons and no less than 44 points in any campaign. He’s already pretty accomplished for a guy who’s only 24. With Brad Richards gone, Stepan’s status as the team’s No. 1 center seems as secure as ever, and the American-born forward is likely to play with St. Louis and/or Rick Nash next season. Could we see a 20+ goal season in which Stepan flirts with 70 points? It’s not outrageous to ponder, and such a leap would cost the Blueshirts some serious cash, even considering the fact that Stepan will be an RFA.

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This talk might leave Rangers fans a little nervous, but sometimes a little added motivation can be a good thing. Even with the likes of Lundqvist and Dan Girardi re-signed, New York benefited greatly from best-of-their-career moments from pending free agents during an impressive playoff run in 2013-14.

In other words, greed can be good … at least in the short term.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…

Parise rehabbing back injury without surgery, ‘no question’ he’ll play in World Cup

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 17:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 17, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Wild 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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EDINA, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise has been rehabilitating his back injury without surgery, putting him on track to be at full strength by September.

Parise said Thursday he’s “happy with the way everything’s going.” He said he’s been able to work out as he normally does during the summer, despite missing the playoffs because of the injury.

Parise said there’s “no question” he’ll be ready to play for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

Parise joined teammates Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker at an autograph signing to raise money for people affected by the wildfires in Alberta. The parents of Spurgeon’s wife, Danielle, lost their home to a fire in the Edmonton area.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Penguins, Game 7

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Alex Killorn #17 of the Tampa Bay Lightning falls to the ice at the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Not much more to say than this:

GAME 7.

Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, but you can also catch the game online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

It’s been a ‘roller coaster’ — Pens, Bolts ready for Game 7

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay