Christmas Q&A: Would you like to change your Stanley Cup pick?


Brough: Nope, I’ll stick with the Pittsburgh Penguins. So far, I’ve seen nothing to dissuade my opinion that they can become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. Even the 7-1 loss in Columbus didn’t hurt my faith in the Pens, since they didn’t have Kris Letang or Trevor Daley, two of their best defensemen. For me, the most encouraging player has been Matt Murray. No sophomore slump for that guy. I will, however, admit that it’s going to be a lot tougher than I expected to get out of the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins could easily face the Rangers or Flyers in the first round, then the Capitals or Blue Jackets in the second, or something along those lines. Survive that and they might have to beat Carey Price to get to the final. So it’ll be tough, but I think they’re up to the task.

Gretz: I originally went with Nashville over Tampa Bay, which is admittedly not looking great at the moment. But then I think back to last season and remember where Pittsburgh and San Jose were at Christmas. So I am going to be bold and stick with it, as crazy at that might seem at this point. There is still too much talent on the Predators for them to be this bad.

Alfieri: Definitely! I chose the Lightning to beat the Stars in the Cup final, which isn’t looking good right now. I expect both teams to turn things around in the New Year, but I’m having a hard time picturing either one playing into June. I know Steven Stamkos will be back in March, but I don’t know if the Lightning will be able to hold it together until then. If I get a fresh pick, I’ll go with the San Jose Sharks. Like Pittsburgh, they haven’t really suffered from a Stanley Cup hangover, which was a little surprising to me considering how many veterans they have on the team. I like the way their roster is put together, and if they can add a piece or two before the deadline, I think they have a legitimate chance to win it all.

Tucker: I chose the Capitals at the beginning of the season. I know advancing far in the playoffs has been a challenge, but I’m going to stick with that pick. Perhaps I’d like to change their opponent. I picked the Capitals over the Predators. Not so confident right now about those Predators making it to the Final. But, of course, plenty of time left in the season.

O’Brien: How about this: rather than changing course altogether, I’ll swap my winner and loser, having the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Dallas Stars. The Penguins have Sidney Crosby, a nice supporting cast and at least one goalie who can get the job done. The Stars are a mess, but as Gretz mentioned above, so were the Penguins around this time last year. The West isn’t the buzz saw it once was, so the Stars could conceivably figure things out and go on a run. Still, their punishment for stumbling out of the gate is being downgraded to Stanley Cup finalist rather than Stanley Cup winner. That’ll show them.

Halford: For the record, I’m totally against the notion of switching picks. This is a joke. You should be saddled with your awful preseason predictions ’til the end of time, like I was for my Columbus Blue Jackets love-in of ’15 (but look at me now! I’m a savant!) So yeah, I’m going to stick with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not overly worried about their slow start — they pretty much did the same thing last year, and finished one game shy of the Cup final — and I actually think this Ben Bishop injury could be a blessing in disguise. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s been the better of the two this year — quite significantly, in fact — and now’s the time to prove he’s the goalie of the present, not just the future.

The Buzzer: Kane net four; Preds first to clinch

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Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:



Factoids of the Night:


Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks lose Bieksa for 2-5 weeks


ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa will be out for two to five weeks after surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand.

Bieksa is having surgery Friday, the Ducks announced.

The 36-year-old Bieksa has eight assists in 59 games this season for Anaheim, which is fighting to get into playoff position with three weeks left in the regular season.

Anaheim recalled defenseman Korbinian Holzer from its AHL affiliate in San Diego before facing the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center on Friday night.

The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and made five straight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals last season. But Anaheim (35-24-12) began this weekend out of playoff position and in fourth place in the Pacific.

More AP NHL:

Canadiens need to look in mirror before moving forward


The Montreal Canadiens have been a colossal disappointment in 2017-18. Instead of building on their first-round playoff exit from last year, the Habs have bottomed out as one of the worst teams in the league from day one of the season.

The highs have been short and the lows have been long, but it sounds like current general manager Marc Bergevin will get an opportunity to improve his underwhelming roster. As owner and team president Geoff Molson reiterated at a team foundation event on Friday morning, Bergevin isn’t going anywhere.

“It has not been a satisfactory season so far,” Molson told PHT on Friday morning. “Marc and I both know that, the whole organization knows that. And I think if you asked every player, every coach and every person that’s involved, they’d all say the same thing. We have to get better. Marc knows that and I tell him that. He acknowledges that and he agrees with it, of course.

“There’s no question that I think Marc is very capable of accomplishing that, but he and I both know that this season’s been unsatisfactory.”

Don’t be mistaken, Molson also said the team will make adjustments to the way they operate before the start of next season. Someone is going to take the fall for this disaster, but it won’t be Bergevin.

When asked if the Canadiens have to make the playoffs next season, Molson hesitated before saying that he wasn’t sure how he wanted to express himself regarding next season. Those are things he wants to answer closer to next fall, but he also added that it’s important for the team to always do everything they can to be competitive every year.

Like most teams, the Habs will be in the mix for John Tavares if he becomes a free agent on July 1st. Whether or not they rebuild or retool might depend on if they can land Tavares, which has be considered a serious long shot at this point. But if he does decide to join former Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber in Montreal, the Canadiens would once again be seen as legitimate playoff hopefuls.

“Do we need a franchise player? Probably,” said Molson, without ever mentioning the Islanders forward’s name. “And that’s something I see as an opportunity for us.”

Who knows what the plan is if they can’t land Tavares in free agency. All we really know for sure, is that the owner expects everyone to be better heading into next season. Molson isn’t putting the blame on any one particular person, but he acknowledged several times that the way this season unfolded was not acceptable.

“I’m not really going to point any fingers,” said Molson.

“So you can look at players, you can look at coaching, you can look at scouting, you can look at player development, you can look at the general manager, you could look everywhere and say there are areas to improve, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes for those improvements to turn into on-ice success for a that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 25 years.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.