Pre-game reading: On the sky-high price of top-4 defensemen

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks about Charlie McAvoy, Colin White, and Clayton Keller — three American players who really impressed him at the World Juniors.

— Sportsnet’s Mark Spector writes about the sky-high price of defensemen in the wake of the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade between the Oilers and Devils. It’s required reading for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an up-and-coming team that could really use another top-4 blue-liner to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner. Would the Leafs be willing to put William Nylander on the market? Because they’re not trading Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, and James van Riemsdyk may not get them what they need. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin surpassed the 1,000-point mark last night. It was a fantastic accomplishment, one that only 83 players had done before him. But we all know the big knock on Ovechkin. He’s never won a Stanley Cup. Heck, he’s never even been past the second round of the playoffs. Hence, this piece by SI’s Alex Prewitt: “Those close to Ovechkin will swear that individual marks occupy increasingly less of his attention these days. He’s 31 years old now, averaging the least time on ice (18:21) of his career by more than one full minute, because coach Barry Trotz wants him fresh for when it matters.” (Sports Illustrated)

— As the Dallas Stars continue to scuffle along, GM Jim Nill can’t help but think it would be nice to have Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup. “With all the injuries, it would have been great to have him here. He would have played a lot of minutes. Big, strong – it would have been great to have him. But he made a decision to go back (to the KHL) and I can’t control that.” (Star-Telegram)

— A list of players who did not deserve to be named to the All-Star Game, starting with Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban. Writes list-maker Michael Traikos: “He’s not the best player on the Predators this year. He might not even be their best defenseman. With seven goals, 17 points and a minus-11 rating, he’s certainly not having an all-star season.” Traikos then takes out the carving knife for John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Frans Nielsen, and five others. (National Post)

— Pierre LeBrun’s series on the expansion draft continues with a look at the Nashville Predators. “While the vast majority of clubs will opt for the 7-3-1 format (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie), I think there’s a strong likelihood that the Predators will go with the 8-1 format (eight skaters and a goalie) despite the fact that it allows for two fewer players to be protected. It’s worth it for a team like Nashville that’s so deep on defense. And, in this case, it would allow the Predators to protect defensemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.

Dreading the work week? Watch this dog get ‘ice time’ with puck

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Life is difficult, complex and confusing. Good thing we have dog videos.

Forgive this video being one night late, but for those of us who watch cute animal clips, time is a furry circle. Or something like that.

Anyway, this golden retriever got a little “ice time” before the Washington Capitals’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday in what would end up being a 4-1 win for the Caps. It’s an excellent video featuring a top-notch, hilarious pooch.

Alternate joke: Now that is some puck retrieval.

Patrik Laine’s out sick for Jets on Sunday

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Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are locked with identical goals (34), assists (27) and points (61) on Sunday, which is remarkable since Laine has played in 67 games versus 75 for Matthews. He won’t get a chance to beef up his numbers on Sunday, either.

It looks like the high-scoring rookie is missing the Winnipeg Jets’ contest against the Vancouver Canucks because of an illness, according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky.

The Jets are almost assured to miss the playoffs, so seeing Laine lose a chance to bolster his Calder argument adds a little extra sadness to the night.

NHL schedules hearing for Micheal Haley’s sucker-punch on Calle Jarnkrok

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a Monday hearing for San Jose Sharks tough guy Micheal Haley for his “roughing/sucker punch” on Calle Jarnkrok of the Nashville Predators.

The league didn’t specify if Haley will face a telephone or in-person hearing on Monday afternoon. They did, interestingly, use the phrase “sucker punch” in that official announcement.

Haley received a match penalty during the game. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was highly upset about the hit that inspired Haley’s actions.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” DeBoer told reporters.

In other bad news for the Sharks, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz reports that Logan Couture‘s situation isn’t looking promising after he was hurt on Sunday.