Mike Babcock still sees William Nylander as a center


According to Mike Babcock, the plan is still for William Nylander to be a center.

“I see Willie as a center for sure,” the Maple Leafs’ head coach said this morning, per the Toronto Sun.

But if that’s the case, the big question in Toronto remains — When?

Tonight in St. Louis, Nylander is expected to be on the wing, the position he’s played the most as an NHLer.

That’s no major indictment, as Nylander is still only 20. There’s a lot of responsibilities that go with playing center, especially defensively.

Besides, the Leafs already have two established NHL centers in Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, plus a rookie center by the name of Auston Matthews. If Babcock wants Nylander in the top nine, then wing is the only real option when Matthews, Kadri, and Bozak are all healthy.

Still, Babcock did say back in December that Nylander has to get “way better defensively, way more competitive” if he wants to play the middle, and it remains to be seen if the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft will ever develop the type of two-way game that the coach demands of his centers.

If not, the Leafs will still be in pretty good shape down the middle, with Matthews and Kadri under club control for years to come. But GM Lou Lamoriello may have to think twice about trading a guy like Bozak, who’s only signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Or, if Bozak isn’t part of the future, Lamoriello may have to come up with a new third-line center, either via trade or free agency. While it’s true that Frederik Gauthier is still only 21, the former first-round draft pick has not yet proven he’s an NHLer, let alone a future 3C.

Nylander himself has been the subject of trade speculation this season. After all, Toronto’s blue line could use another top-4 defenseman, and James van Riemsdyk may not possess the value to garner one.

But it would have to be an excellent defenseman for the Leafs to trade a guy as young and skilled as Nylander. Even if he’s never a center, he’s already a pretty productive winger, and that’s not nothing.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons


When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: