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.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

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When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

Here’s the Wagner goal:

You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

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Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

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So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.