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He’s not going to the All-Star Game, but Pacioretty has been ‘phenomenal’ for Habs

MONTREAL (AP) Max Pacioretty will have to wait at least another year to get his time in the All-Star spotlight.

The Montreal Canadiens’ captain was left off this year’s All-Star roster despite being one of the league’s most consistent scoring threats.

He built a strong case for this month’s event in Los Angeles, right there among the league leaders with 19 goals and he’s been on a roll since the middle of November.

The 28-year-old’s star power still needs a boost, falling well short of his production on the ice.

Only three players have scored more goals (173) than the American winger since 2011: Alex Ovechkin (243), Steven Stamkos (202) and Joe Pavelski (178).

His 129 even-strength goals are bettered only by superstars Ovechkin (139) and Stamkos (139).

“I don’t know about (the media), but we don’t (take him for granted),” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently. “We appreciate what he’s capable (of doing). The last two months he’s been phenomenal with us.”

After a slow start — just two goals in the first 14 games — Pacioretty has been on a roll.

He’s tied with Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter for the NHL lead in goals since Nov. 12 with 17. He scored four in three games last week, including back-to-back overtime winners, the second one giving him the franchise lead in OT goals.

His 38 winning goals over the past five-plus seasons trail only Ovechkin’s 42.

Therrien raved about his play, pointing to his “passion” in particular, and positive influence on the dressing room of the first-place Canadiens.

“He wants to make a difference every game,” Therrien said of Pacioretty, on pace to hit 38 goals and establish a career best with 68 points. “And he’s doing a hell of a job for us.”

Teammate Mark Barberio thought Pacioretty’s consistency as a scorer – in an era when goals continue to trend downward and goalies get bigger and better – was underrated.

In fact, Pacioretty has been one of the league’s most consistent scoring threats, one of only four players to hit 30 goals in each of the previous four full seasons – the others being Ovechkin, Pavelski and the Ducks’ Corey Perry.

Yet, he’s rarely in the conversation of the league’s top players.

He has probably been overshadowed by star teammates Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Alex Radulov. He’s also never been the best or even second-best player on his team and his game lacks the sizzle of Ovechkin or Stamkos.

While he may not be flashy, Pacioretty is plenty effective.

Formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Barberio joined the Habs last year and was struck by the quickness of his new teammate’s release, describing his shot as “world-class”.

“He’s deceptive,” Barberio said. “And when he brings it to the net he brings it with a lot of force and I think that’s what surprises goalies the most.”

“Not everybody has a shot like that,” he added. “There’s (only) a few guys in the league that can just beat a goalie clean one-on-one and he’s definitely one of them. We’re lucky to have him.”

Pacioretty’s wrist shot, in particular, has been the NHL’s most potent over the past six seasons. He tops all players with 111 goals on his wrist shot in that span, trailing only the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Jets’ Mark Scheifele with 12 this season.

Pacioretty doesn’t just score either. Underlying stats that suggest he’s one of the more effective penalty-killing forwards in the NHL, albeit in a secondary role. He’s also one of Montreal’s top puck possession players (53.8 percent), a long 6-foot-2, 215-pound winger who’s spent the season with a variety of linemates because of injuries for the Habs.

Only one Atlantic Division forward, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, has more goals than Pacioretty so far and, heading into Tuesday’s games, only three had more than his 34 points (Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand and Matthews).

But it was not enough to earn him a first-time All-Star nod with Price and Weber both garnering spots for Montreal.

“Maybe he flies under the radar but not in this room,” Barberio said. “We know what he brings.”

Report: Predators avoid arbitration … with Marek Mazanec

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The Nashville Predators avoided salary arbitration in at least one case on Thursday, but it wasn’t the biggest name they were worried about.

FanRag’s Craig Morgan reports that Marek Mazanec settled for a one-year deal worth $650K at the NHL level and $100K in the AHL.

That two-way split is quite relevant, as Mazanec probably comes in fourth on the Predators’ goalie depth chart behind Pekka Rinne, Jusse Saros, and Anders Lindback. Actually, with Matt O’Connor in mind, Mazanec may even come in at fifth.

One interesting wrinkle is that Lindback gets the same $650K at both levels while Saros and Mazenec see different salaries depending upon where they are, according to Cap Friendly’s listings. From a sheer financial standpoint, that might give Lindback some fuel to push as Rinne’s backup, though Saros is already pushing for starts after strong showings in 2016-17.

It’s not the easiest situation for Mazanec, but credit Predators GM David Poile for giving his team plenty of options in net. Both Mazanec and Lindback saw elevated action when Rinne was hurt in 2013-14, so these situations can change quickly at times.

Mazanec was the least crucial of the Predators’ three salary arbitration situations, as Viktor Arvidsson‘s hearing is scheduled for Saturday (July 22) while Austin Watson is set for Monday (July 24). Arvidsson emerged as a legitimate first-line winger last season, so that will be a significantly trickier situation for the Predators.

For more on Arvidsson’s situation, click here.

Penguins GM confident they can find third-line center with Bonino gone

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August is nearing, and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made a trade or signing to replace Nick Bonino, their outstanding (but former) third-line center.

On the bright side, the Penguins have remarkable breathing room considering their status as repeat Stanley Cup champions. Cap Friendly places their 2017-18 room at about $10.38 million.

That robust space likely explains why GM Jim Rutherford seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“I do feel confident that, by the start of the season, we’re going to have a third-line center that we’re comfortable with,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s one of those guys on the list or one of the guys that I could go and get right today.”

Rutherford (jokingly?) said that he had a list of “hundreds of names” as options, although it’s difficult to top Mackey’s suggestion of Phil Kessel‘s buddy, Tyler Bozak. After all, Bozak is a competent player who carries a $4.2 million cap hit that Pittsburgh could comfortably absorb (and the Toronto Maple Leafs might need to shed). It doesn’t hurt that Bozak’s contract expires after 2017-18, so the Penguins wouldn’t be on the hook if things don’t work out.

Of course, Matt Duchene is another name worth considering. It almost feels a little strange to ponder that speedy Avalanche forward being a “third-line center,” especially if Pittsburgh would want to get the most out of him.

MORE: Duchene might begin next season with the Colorado Avalanche

After that, though … the pickings could be much slimmer than Rutherford indicated to Mackey.

Shallow pool

Take a look at this current list of forwards who are unrestricted free agents.

There are some potential bargains here (P.A. Parenteau, Jiri Hudler, anyone?), but the situation gets significantly shakier if you’re picky enough to look only at centers. The likes of Daniel Winnik and Ryan White are reasonable roster additions, but the drop-off from Bonino could be pretty drastic.

What about other trade possibilities?

That’s a shaky group, too, especially if you apply Bozak-like terms as far as guys who only have one year left on their current contracts.

Honestly, the Penguins’ best bet in looking at that list would probably come down to an in-season move with a team that realizes it’s not a contender or simply understands that a player won’t be back.

Maybe the Calgary Flames would want to cut bait on Matt Stajan or (less realistically) Mikael Backlund? Would the Ducks move speedy, versatile sometimes-center Andrew Cogliano? There are other remote possibilities, such as the Leafs instead trading Leo Komarov (or especially unlikely moves in Paul Stastny or Tomas Plekanec).

Even if the above list seems enticing, how many of those teams would really want to move those players now, especially the bigger difference-makers?

If you’re the Penguins, you’re probably hoping that a Bozak deal could take place. And maybe you’re sweating this situation more than you let on.

(Note: There’s also the slight possibility that the Penguins might identify a replacement from within, though a contending team like Pittsburgh might not be so comfortable with that approach.)

Blues have ‘wiggle room’ after locking up Parayko

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The St. Louis Blues didn’t break the bank to keep Colton Parayko for five more years, and that’s important since they don’t believe the NHL’s salary cap will rise significantly in the next little while.

Parayko’s cap hit came in at a manageable $5.5 million, as the two sides narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for today.

“You like to have as much wiggle room as possible,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now we view the cap will stay flat for the foreseeable future. We’re content with the space we have. We’ll move forward and get ready for training camp.”

The Blues now have a number of key players locked up long term, including Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen.

For Armstrong, the next big decision could involve Paul Stastny, the 31-year-old center who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But a decision on Stastny doesn’t need to be made now, or even before the season starts. It’s the trade deadline that could be the real pressure point, akin to the Kevin Shattenkirk situation this past year.

Per CapFriendly, the Blues have just over $3 million in cap space, with one roster spot left to fill.

‘Highly unlikely’ Suns will pursue shared arena with Coyotes

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The Arizona Coyotes appear to be on their own in pursuit of a new arena in the Phoenix area.

That’s because Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, says it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll pursue a shared arena with the Coyotes.

Instead, Sarver is focused on upgrading the Suns’ current home (and Coyotes’ old home) in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena.

From the Arizona Republic:

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena, formerly called America West Arena when the Coyotes played there, was designed for basketball and isn’t ideal for hockey. In that way, it’s a lot like Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which hasn’t been a great fit for the Islanders.

The Coyotes recently hired a new president and CEO, Steve Patterson, whose top priority is finding the team a new home in the Phoenix area.