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Goalie nods: Ward to make 17th straight start for ‘Canes

The last time someone other than Cam Ward started for Carolina was on Dec. 3. Michael Leighton got the call that night, a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in New York.

Since then, Leighton’s played a grand total of 34 minutes.

Eddie Lack, Ward’s usual backup, hasn’t played at all as he’s currently sidelined with a concussion.

Jorge Alves, the club’s 37-year-old equipment manager and occasional practice goalie, received eight seconds of relief time in late December.

So yeah, Ward’s been a busy guy.

Fourth among all NHL netminders in games played and third in minutes, Ward will make his 17th consecutive start this evening when the ‘Canes host the Blue Jackets in Carolina.

It’s a heavy workload, no doubt, though ‘Canes head coach Bill Peters doesn’t seem too concerned about burning Ward out. At least not concerned outwardly.

“Our schedule has been fairly favorable,” Peters said prior to Sunday’s OT win over the Bruins, per Fox Sports. “There has been a couple of back-to-backs, but nothing ridiculous.”

Ward has been solid, if unspectacular, while carrying the load. He’s posted a 15-12-6 record with a .915 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, and is on pace for his most starts since getting 68 back in the ’11-12 campaign.

For the Blue Jackets, Anton Forsberg will get the start in his first game as the club’s new backup. Curtis McElhinney, the veteran who’s served as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s No. 2 for most of the year, was waived yesterday and claimed by Toronto today.

Elsewhere…

Steve Mason will look to snap a personal six-game losing streak as he gets the nod for Philly in Buffalo. The Sabres will counter with Anders Nilsson, who gets the start with Robin Lehner out with the flu.

Tuukka Rask will get a shot at following up Saturday’s shutout win over Florida, as the B’s head to St. Louis. The Blues are going with Jake Allen, who became a first-time father over the weekend.

Ryan Miller, coming off a 44-save win over Calgary on Friday, goes back in for Vancouver after Jacob Markstrom faced the Flames in the second of a back-to-back on Saturday. Miller will take on Pekka Rinne, who starts for the host Preds.

Corey Crawford will look to extend his winning streak to three, as Chicago hosts Detroit. Petr Mrazek is expected to start for the Wings, as he manned the No. 1’s crease at the morning skate.

— Two of the Western Conference’s busiest netminders go head-to-head in Edmonton, as Martin Jones and the Sharks take on Cam Talbot and the Oilers.

— After coming on in relief of Kari Lehtonen in last night’s win over L.A. Antti Niemi starts for Dallas. The host Ducks will go with John Gibson.

 

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins