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NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks continue chase for Central Division crown against Habs

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Montreal Canadiens host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Don’t look now, but it looks like the Chicago Blackhawks will give the Minnesota Wild everything they can handle in the race for top spot in the Central Division. After three wins over the Wild in just over a month, Chicago has closed the gap to just one point (the Wild have a game in hand).

After dropping back-to-back games to the Ducks and Red Wings last week, the ‘Hawks managed to score a huge 4-2 win over their division rival on Sunday night.

“We knew we needed to have this one,” forward Patrick Kane told the Chicago Tribune after scoring a goal and an assist in the win over Minnesota. “If you look at our game and you ask anyone in this room, we probably feel we could play a lot better. Give the credit to Crawford. He played an unbelievable game.

“Overall, we want to be better as a team. We have 14 games left to make sure that happens (and) feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs. … (The Wild) have a game in hand on us, but we’re right there.”

Since dropping three games in a row from Jan. 24-31, they’ve rattled off 13 wins in their last 16 games.

With Minnesota stuck in a bit of a rut, the time is now for the Chicago to make their move up the standings.

For the most part, the Canadiens have looked pretty good since the hiring of Claude Julien, but there have been a few ugly performances along the way.

Montreal is 8-3-0 since Julien took over, but those three losses have been brutal. Just take last Thursday’s 5-0 loss to Calgary as a prime example. Sure, the Flames have rattled off 10 in a row, but the Habs failed to generate many quality scoring chances, and if it’s possible, they were even worse in their own end.

They responded by scoring four unanswered goals in the third period of Sunday’s 4-1 win over Edmonton (two were empty netters). So despite the embarrassing loss to the Flames, the Canadiens can say they had a successful road trip (3-1-0).

“We get to go home with three wins out of four games (including a 4-1 win over the Rangers in New York before heading West) and it was a tough road trip to start with, everything that we’ve had to face from the flu going around the team and everything else,” said Julien, per the Montreal Gazette. “We’re pretty happy with the road trip and we’re really happy with the way it ended today.”

The Canadiens come into tonight’s game with a two-point lead over the Ottawa Senators for top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Sens have two games in hand though.

Report: Hobey Baker winner Butcher won’t sign with Avs, will test free agency

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It looks like the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award winner won’t sign with the NHL team that has his rights … again.

Last year, Jimmy Vesey rejected the Nashville Predators’ offers in a very public way, ultimately signing with the New York Rangers. Defenseman Will Butcher will test free agency on Aug. 15 instead of agreeing to an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche, as his agent confirmed to BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater.

“We informed the Avalanche of that decision,” Butcher’s agent, Brian Bartlett, told BSN Denver. “We appreciate what Colorado has done, and we’re not ruling out the Avalanche as a potential destination. But we just feel there will be other opportunities that should be explored too, and therefore we’re going (to the 15th).”

Those who’ve followed Butcher’s situation probably aren’t too surprised by the news.

It became clear as early as 2016 that the Avalanche weren’t interested in signing Butcher, a high-scoring defenseman they selected in the fifth round of a disastrous 2014 draft class.

This disinterest came even as Butcher generated 32 points in 39 games for the University of Denver in 2015-16, and he topped that last season, generating 37 points in 43 contests to take home the Hobey Baker. Butcher also enjoyed team success in 2016-17, helping Denver win a national championship.

At 22, he’d sign a cheap entry-level deal, only getting more expensive bonuses if Butcher excels, which would be worth it for just about any suitor. He’s likely to draw plenty of interest, whether he takes the Avalanche’s offers seriously or not.

Pension Plan Puppets provides an argument for why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be interested, while Second City Hockey went in-depth on the pluses for the defense-challenged Chicago Blackhawks, just to name two possible destinations that could make sense for Butcher.

Sharks add assistant Barr as ‘eye in the sky’

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The San Jose Sharks added experienced assistant Dave Barr to Peter DeBoer’s coaching staff on Wednesday.

The team noted that Barr will serves as the Sharks’ “eye-in-the-sky” during the 2017-18 season.

DeBoer has experience with Barr, as he served as an assistant during the New Jersey Devils’ run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Barr was also part of that mess with the Florida Panthers last season.

Beyond that, Barr is quite experienced, as you can see from the team’s summary of his recent coaching travels:

Barr has spent the past nine seasons coaching in various capacities in the NHL, serving most recently as an associate coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2016-17 season. Prior to his time in Florida, Barr served as an NHL assistant coach for eight seasons, with stops in Buffalo (2015-16), New Jersey (2011-15), Minnesota (2009-11) and Colorado (2008-09). Barr was a member of Peter DeBoer’s coaching staff during his four-year tenure with New Jersey, helping the team reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. 

The 56-year-old Barr spent four seasons as the head coach and general manager of the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) from 2004-08, where he was named the Matt Leyden Trophy winner as the OHL’s Coach of the Year in 2005-06. In addition, he was selected to coach Canada’s National Summer Under-18 Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2007. 

Coyotes add MacLean and Allen to coaching staff

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John MacLean will, indeed, be an assistant coach on Rick Tocchet’s staff in Arizona, as reported yesterday.

So too will Scott Allen.

“We are very pleased to have John and Scott join the Coyotes organization,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka in a release. “Both individuals bring a wealth of hockey knowledge and coaching experience to our team and we are confident that they will be great additions to Head Coach Rick Tocchet’s staff.”

MacLean — who had a short, unsuccessful stint as head coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2010 — was last behind an NHL bench as an assistant on Kirk Muller’s staff in Carolina from 2011-14.

Allen spent last season as an assistant in Florida, before being let go to make way for Bob Boughner’s new staff.

The Coyotes also announced Mike Van Ryn as the new head coach of their AHL affiliate in Tucson. Van Ryn will be assisted by John Slaney and Steve Potvin.

Mark Lamb, last year’s head coach in Tucson, and Mark Hardy, Lamb’s assistant, will not be back.

Lamb was only hired a year ago; however, he got the job thanks in part to a previous working relationship with Dave Tippett. So it’s no surprise to hear Lamb won’t be back — especially after the Roadrunners missed the playoffs.

Related: John MacLean could reportedly join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

Welcome Nick Holden to the trade rumor mill

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Last summer, when Nick Holden was traded from Colorado to the Rangers, Patrick Roy called Alain Vigneault to say, “You just got one of my better defensemen.”

Now it seems that Holden may be on the trading block again.

From the New York Post, in the wake of Mika Zibanejad‘s contract extension:

The Blueshirts are projected to start the season with just $445,556 of cap space if they carry eight defensemen (including Alexei Bereglazov) and 14 forwards (including Andersson and Boo Nieves with Jesper Fast on IR). The Rangers are expected to attempt to deal defenseman Nick Holden ($1.65 million) in order to bulk up in the middle, if possible.

Holden played 80 games for the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals with 23 assists. The 30-year-old is signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

If Holden is traded, the Rangers could go into next season with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei. That would leave Marc Staal, Bereglazov, Anthony DeAngelo, and perhaps even Neal Pionk to fight for minutes on the bottom pairing.

What’s unclear is Holden’s value on the trade market. After all, the Rangers only gave up a fourth-round draft pick to get him from Colorado. Has his value risen significantly since?