NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks, Wild fight for first place in Central

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The game of the night in the NHL on Sunday is in Chicago where divisional foes the Blackhawks and Wild meet for the first time this season.

It just so happens to be for the top spot in the Central.

For the Wild, they come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NHL thanks to their current run dating back to the start of December that has seen then go 16-1-2 in their past 19 games. When the month of December started the Wild were in third place in the division and eight points back of Chicago. Since then they have completely eliminated that gap and raced to the top of the standings even though they enter Sunday’s game having played four fewer games than the Blackhawks on the season.

They are doing it with a balanced scoring attack that has been led by an offensive resurgence from Eric Staal, who has turned out to be one of the best offseason pickups in the entire league this year, and the continued dominance of Devan Dubnyk in net as he plays his way to the front of the pack in the Vezina Trophy discussion.

It has also been a tremendous debut season for first-year coach Bruce Boudreau who has his eyes set on yet another division title.

Say what you want about his postseason record, especially when it comes to Game 7’s, but no matter where Boudreau goes you can pretty much guarantee that his team is going to be in the running for a division crown after winning one in eight of his first nine seasons as an NHL head coach with two different teams (Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks). The only year he did not win a division was the 2011-12 season that he split with the Capitals and Ducks. Given where the Wild are in the standings at this point, thanks in large part to this 19 game run where they have collected 34 out of a possible 39 points, they are in the driver’s seat to give him another one with a third team.

That is part of what makes games like Sunday’s game so big for both teams. If they remain on their current point paces the rest of the season, the Wild would finish the season with 117 points, while the Blackhawks would only get to 107. The x-factor in that is that they have all four of their head-to-head meetings in the second half. What happens in those games could play a big role in determining who ends up on top.

From the Blackhawks side, it is going to be interesting to see how they respond on Sunday after what was perhaps their worst game of the season on Friday night in Washington where they were blown out, 6-0, by a Capitals team that is running over everybody at the moment.

After the game Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was, in the words of Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times, “fuming” after the game. Even though the Blackhawks have continued to win this season it has been a tough year for Toews after missing some time due to injury and having what is currently the worst offensive season of his career. With 21 points in 36 games he is currently on pace for 43 points in 72 games this season.

But while his scoring has experienced a drop, other forwards on the team are picking up the slack, especially when it comes to Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. Both players enter play on Sunday among the top-10 in the league in scoring, while both have been on a roll over the past few weeks. Panarin has 19 points in his past 16 games, while Kane has 18 over the same stretch.

Video: Crosby to Dan Patrick – Subban fight ‘wasn’t as bad as it looked’

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Listerine, the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and a growing rivalry. Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban battled it out at the highest level not so long ago, but some of that action looked worse than it actually was.

At least, that’s the message Crosby sent on “The Dan Patrick Show,” as you can enjoy in the clip above.

As a bonus, Crosby also discussed his favorite Stanley Cup traditions – hey, there can be traditions when something happens three times – and how Mario Lemieux inspires some especially creative ideas:

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey: