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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.

Bobby Ryan doesn’t seem too concerned about being taken in the expansion draft

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The Ottawa Senators had their final meeting with the media for the 2016-17 season on Saturday following their disappointing Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.

One of the more entertaining moments came during Bobby Ryan‘s scrum when he was asked if he has given any thought to potentially being taken in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ryan quickly responded by saying “No,” before laughing and saying “are they going to take $7 million?” He continued to laugh, saying, “I think I’m good.”

The $7 million comment is obviously in reference to his contract that still has five years remaining on it and carries a cap hit of $7.25 million the rest of the way.

The thing is, though, Vegas would almost certainly take a $7 million player if they felt they were going to get $7 million worth of production along with it. Especially since the team has an obligation to take on a certain amount of money in the expansion draft and reach the NHL’s salary floor. Ryan had a down year for the Senators, recording only 25 points in 62 games during the regular season, by far the worst offensive season of his career. He did salvage the year in the playoffs, however, by bouncing back with 15 points in the Senators’ 19 playoff games during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Three of his six goals in the playoffs were game-winners, including an overtime goal in Game 1 of the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That said, Ryan is probably correct that Vegas will not be taking him, if for no other reason than his age (he turns 31 next March) and the fact his contract has so many years remaining on it.

The expansion draft will take place on Wednesday, June 21, and every team in the league will lose one player to the NHL’s newest team.

Wild GM is hopeful prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov will join Minny for 2018-19 season

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With rumors on social media suggesting prized Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov has agreed to terms on a long-term deal in the KHL, Minnesota’s general manager Chuck Fletcher has decided to clear the air.

The Wild selected Kaprizov, a five-foot-nine-inch tall forward, in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

He had 42 points in 49 regular season games in the KHL this year — promising, if not impressive numbers for the now 20-year-old Kaprizov. He also lit up the 2017 world juniors, with nine goals and 12 points in seven games.

He was recently traded to CSKA Moscow. Despite reports of this long-term deal to stay in Russia, Fletcher, speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, seemed confident the Wild will be able to bring Kaprizov into their lineup for the 2018-19 season.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We’ve been in contact with his agent over the last couple weeks and we haven’t been made aware of anything like you’re communicating to me,” Fletcher said. “We’re operating under the assumption he’s got a year left. He’s going to play for CSKA, and then he’s interested in coming over and playing for the Wild for the 18-19 season. He’s a heckuva player. I think he’ll be ready to step in and be a good hockey player for us a year from now. That’s our expectation and our hope. We haven’t been notified of anything to the contrary.

“There was a rumor a few weeks ago of something to this effect, too, and his agent shot it down and said it wasn’t true. It’s just been communicated to us that he’s going to play for CSKA another year, and our hope he’s going to suit up for the Wild in 18-19.”

There has also been a recent report that it’s expected former Sabres general manager Tim Murray will join the Wild.

Fletcher also shot down that report for right now, saying it wasn’t “accurate,” although his full comments didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of such a scenario happening further along down the road.

“We’ll see what the future brings, but right now, that’s not true at all. There’d be a lot of hoops and hurdles there, and it’s not even a good thing to speculate on because there’s nothing true to that at all right now. That’s not true at all.”

Related: Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

AP sources: Capitals to host Maple Leafs in outdoor game at Naval Academy

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Two people with knowledge of the situation say the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs will play an outdoor game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, next season.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the NHL had not announced the event. The game is scheduled to be played March 3 at the 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that hosts Navy football games.

It will be the first NHL outdoor game at a U.S. service academy, though quite possibly not the last. The league has explored doing games at the Army’s home at West Point and at the Air Force Academy.

It’s the third outdoor game for the Capitals and Maple Leafs and the first in the Washington area since the 2015 Winter Classic downtown at Nationals Park.

Capitals-Maple Leafs at the Naval Academy will be one of at least three outdoor games next season. The Ottawa Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic on Dec. 19, and the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field in New York.

NHL Network revealed on air that the league would announce a game at Navy on Monday.

Trio of Red Wings prospects ‘making a statement’ in AHL Calder Cup playoffs

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The Detroit Red Wings saw their playoff streak come to an end earlier this spring, but their farm team in Grand Rapids continues its postseason run, qualifying for the Calder Cup final.

The Griffins clinched a spot in the championship series with a 4-2 win against the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday.

It has been during this playoff run that a trio of prospect forwards seem to have left quite an impression on Detroit’s coaching staff, led by Jeff Blashill.

Tomas Nosek, Tyler Bertuzzi and 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov have all been productive for the Griffins throughout this AHL postseason. This could help put them into the conversation for NHL roster spots in the fall, and present something of a youth movement in Detroit after years and years of chasing the playoffs.

Nosek is the oldest of the three at 24 years of age. Bertuzzi is 22 years old, and Svechnikov is only 20.

“I don’t know what all the pieces will be for us next season, but certainly Nosek made us confident he can be an effective NHL player,” said Blashill, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“Bertuzzi and Svechnikov, they are making a statement as well. They are becoming elite players in the AHL playoffs, and those are statements you want to make. We’ll look at them in camp and make our decisions based on who is going to make us better.”

The team’s general manager, Ken Holland, has in the past expressed his hesitation about a full-on rebuild, but after missing the playoffs, the Red Wings have an important few weeks ahead of them and the future of their franchise. They currently have the ninth overall pick in the NHL Draft following April’s lottery, and, after a busy trade deadline, four third-round picks, according to CapFriendly.

With six picks in the first three rounds, and 11 picks in total, Detroit should be able to help further stockpile their organization with a number of promising young prospects. It’s been suggested that the areas of concern for the Red Wings heading into the draft are up the middle and on the blue line.

Up front, all three aforementioned forwards — Nosek, Bertuzzi and Svechnikov — spent some time with the Red Wings this past regular season. Nosek and Bertuzzi each improved their overall point totals this season compared to 2015-16, and have been able to maintain a point-per-game pace in the playoffs. In Nosek’s case, he’s just over a point per game. Svechnikov had 20 goals and 51 points in 74 regular season games — his first full AHL campaign.

“Certainly part of us getting better next year is the young people on the (Red Wings) taking a step,” Holland told MLive.com. “And, hopefully, there is a player or two or three here that can push their way onto the team.”