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Christmas Q&A: Why is it going to be a great finish to the regular season?

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Gretz: The new generation of young talent that is hitting the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been at the top of the league for a decade, and now we are starting to see the next wave coming through, and it is an impressive bunch. Will Connor McDavid be able to hold off Crosby in the Art Ross race? Then you get to the rookie class. Last year’s group with McDavid, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere, Max Domi, and Dylan Larkin was amazing, but this one almost seems to be even deeper and more impressive. Will Patrik Laine make a serious run at 50 goals as a rookie? Even 40 would be amazing. Seeing Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and that group develop in Toronto. Zach Werenski becoming a cornerstone piece for the Blue Jackets. The young talent entering the league right now is simply incredible and they are making an immediate impact.

Brough: Here’s why — let’s say all five Metropolitan juggernauts keep rolling and make the playoffs. That only leaves three spots for the Atlantic Division, right? Now, we’ll assume Montreal doesn’t collapse again, which leaves just two spots for Ottawa, Boston, Detroit, Florida, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Buffalo. So basically, whatever happens, some very noteworthy teams are going to miss the playoffs. Would Claude Julien survive a third straight miss with the Bruins? Probably not. If the Red Wings miss for the first time since 1990, might that franchise veer into a full-on rebuild? It’s possible. What if the Lightning or Panthers don’t make the cut? Because those teams had extremely high hopes heading into the season. So it’s going to be fascinating to watch. And, oh yeah, there could be some pretty notable playoff misses in the West as well. Looking at you, Dallas and Nashville.

Alfieri: Have you seen the parity in the league? There are still multiple teams that have a shot to win each division, and the chase for the wild-card spots in each conference are far from over. As the season goes on, we’ll find out just how serious teams like the Blue Jackets, Senators and Oilers are. You also have to believe that some of the teams that are underachieving like the Lightning, Panthers, Kings, Predators and Stars will make a run at some point. In terms of individual races, I’m excited to see if Connor McDavid, who turns 20 in January, will be able to take home the Art Ross Trophy at such a young age, and if Sidney Crosby can score 50 — or heck, even 60 — goals.

Tucker: Sidney Crosby leads the league in goals, with 23, and rookie Patrik Laine is only four goals behind. Can an 18-year-old freshman win the Rocket Richard Trophy? And oh yeah, Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin are lurking back there as dark-horse contenders for the goalscoring title as well. Can Connor McDavid take home the Art Ross in his second year? Crosby is nipping at his heels. Bigger picture, it feels like the torch-passing process is underway. And it sure is fun to watch.

O’Brien: The beauty of this season is that “parity” doesn’t mean “a lot of same-y, mediocre teams.” Instead, it feels like watching Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing H-O-R-S-E. But, beyond that, there’s one factor that makes this home stretch unpredictable and unique: the specter of the expansion draft. Will we experience a wilder trade deadline as teams adjust expectations and try to avoid losing quality players for nothing to Sin City? Hopefully!

Halford: There’s potential for the most exciting trade deadline in a while. Already there are two clear-cut sellers in Arizona and Colorado, each with key UFA chips to play (Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal). The Avs might be looking for a bigger shakeup than that, too. And look at the teams that *might* miss! What would Detroit do as a seller? What about the Isles? You know there’ll be fierce competition among buyers, especially given how tight things are in the Metro, which could make for a terrific set of circumstances. Like Brian Burke said, the NHL is more exciting when there are more trades. I’ll take anything to avoid a repeat of last year, when I spent an hour analyzing Mikkel Boedker‘s potential impact on the Avs.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 22

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Will the Nashville Predators become the first team to clinch a berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out tonight.

The Preds were able to push the Ducks to the brink of elimination after their impressive win in Game 5 on Saturday night.

Nashville was able to get the job done without centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher. We know Johansen will be out for Game 6, but maybe Fisher can give them a boost.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Wild to blow up their roster?

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–Former NHL head coach Don Cherry weighed in on Preds fans throwing ducks on the ice during games, and he’s not a fan. “I know there’s duck hunters and all that, that’s OK, duck hunters, they have an even chance. And you’re gonna say, ‘Well yeah, Cherry, you had the octopus.’ Okay, but that octopus, we got it from a fish market, it was already dead.” (Sportsnet)

Mats Zuccarello was driving around in Norway when he noticed a kid shooting pucks into a net. The Rangers forward pulled over and made sure to have a good chat with the youngster. (New York Daily News)

–Team USA may have failed to pick up a medal at the World Hockey Championship (again), but with plenty of young talent on the roster, the future appears to be bright for the program. It’s too bad the NHL is deciding not to go to the Olympics though. (New York Post)

–The Pittsburgh Penguins annihilated the Ottawa Senators, 7-0, last night. You can see each one of those goals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–To drum up interest in the Golden Knights, the team organized a “Sticks for Kids” street hockey clinic over the weekend, and over 1500 kids left there with a stick and a ball. “We want to get them started learning the game at a young age. It’s a process, from putting a stick in their hands to learning to skate to then learning to play. We want to hit all demographics. We want everyone in Las Vegas to feel involved and welcomed. We don’t want it to be an afterthought for anyone.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

–The Minnesota Wild got off to a great start this season, but they faded down the stretch and were eventually bounced in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, some people in Minnesota are wondering if it’s time for the Wild to blow things up and start from scratch. It would allow them to draft a high-end offensive talent, but is it the right approach? (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–After their Game 5 win in Anaheim, the Predators were greeted at the local airport by over 1000 fans. It was a pretty wild scene:

Former Blackhawks defenseman Bill White dies at 77

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Bill White, who played 604 career regular season games in the National Hockey League, has passed away, the Chicago Blackhawks announced Sunday.

He was 77 years old.

More from the Blackhawks:

White spent seven years in the minors before the National Hockey League grew from six to 12 teams in 1967. When the expansion Los Angeles Kings gained his rights, he immediately earned acclaim as an extraordinary stay-at-home defenseman. During the 1969-70 season, Pat Stapleton of the Blackhawks incurred an injury. With his club a serious contender, General Manager Tommy Ivan acquired White from the Kings. When Stapleton returned, he and White formed one of the NHL’s finest blue-line tandems, the former expertly generating offense and the latter adept at laying back.

He scored 50 goals and 265 points during his time in the league.

In addition to playing for the Kings and Blackhawks, White was also a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team, which defeated the Soviet Union in an epic eight-game series.

“A younger generation might not understand what we went through,” White once told the Toronto Sun. “I’m still asked about playing in the series at least twice a week.”