We’re not at the point where a bad night will be the final straw for most of the top bubble teams in the East, but Tuesday did give the impression that the field is narrowing down.
As painful as tonight might be for the Boston Bruins, they likely feel a lot better than some squads who were hoping to make gains for the final wild card berth. Let’s go through some of the upsets for teams who couldn’t really afford to stumble.
Coyotes 5, Lightning 3
With the Maple Leafs and Islanders idle, the Bolts had a chance to make up ground against a team that might be best served losing. Instead, Arizona played the spoiler role on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay headed into the third period with a 3-2 lead, yet the Coyotes managed three unanswered goals to upset the Lightning.
Jets 3, Flyers 2
Winnipeg technically isn’t out of it altogether in the West … but their situation really wasn’t that different from the long odds Philly faces. Especially not now.
Hurricanes 4, Panthers 3
Really, Carolina’s chances aren’t that different from those of the Lightning after tonight.
Again, opinions about how many teams actually have a chance to make a run will very with about 10-or-so games remaining in the regular season. Here’s how the final wild card race looks, with the Bruins included just to be thorough.
Third in Atlantic: Bruins – 82 points in 73 games played (lost to Ottawa)
Final wild card spot: Maple Leafs – 81 points in 71 GP
Islanders – 78 points in 71 GP
Lightning – 77 points in 72 GP
Hurricanes – 75 points in 71 GP
Flyers – 74 points in 72 GP
Panthers – 73 points in 72 GP
Sabres – 72 points in 74 GP
Red Wings – 69 points in 72 GP
Devils – 66 points in 72 GP
Yep, tonight’s losses could indeed be costly for the Lightning, Flyers and Panthers.
After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.
Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.
Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.
It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.
This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.
So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.
Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.
Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.
Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.
On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.
On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.
LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.
Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.
What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.
Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.
At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.
Now he knows the cost of filling one.
Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.
Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.
His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.
Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.
(Unless he’s traded.)
On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.
Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.
Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.
You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.
Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.
Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.
He wants some security, too.
“I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”
Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.
Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency