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

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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.

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.