Preds counting on Subban to be ‘big-time player’ in playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The adjustment period is over for P.K. Subban along with the regular season, and now expectations for the All-Star defenseman could not be higher.

The Nashville Predators swapped their captain and own All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal last June , believing that Subban could provide both a boost to the offense and help a franchise that has never gotten out of the second round finally win its first Stanley Cup.

Well, the playoffs start Thursday night with the eighth-seeded Predators in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

Watch Predators vs. Blackhawks on NBC Sports

The former Norris Trophy winner, who had to get used to living in the United States for the first time in his life, understands that for all the fun of learning about Music City and his new teammates that the postseason is the biggest reason why he is here.

“Me coming into this team was about helping us win a Stanley Cup and being a part of that,” Subban said. “And now we have our opportunity, so I’m really excited about everything.”

So are the Predators and their fans. This franchise has reached the postseason 10 of the past 13 years, advancing to the second round three times.

They came closest to the Western Conference Final a year ago by pushing San Jose to seven games . The Predators start this postseason Thursday night in Game 1 against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

With Subban, the Predators are scoring more goals (238) than a year ago (224), a two-spot jump to 11th in the league. Subban ranked 22nd among defensemen with 40 points in 66 games. Weber finished with 42 points over 78 games.

The Predators’ biggest improvement came after Subban returned from an upper-body injury that kept him out 16 games . After the All-Star break, the Predators were the NHL’s seventh-best scoring team with 102 goals.

Subban wasn’t the only injury Nashville dealt with in its defensive group. Roman Josi missed 10, while Ryan Ellis was out 11. Playing with new defensive partners also slowed the process.

“He’s been a great addition,” Josi said of Subban. “I mean we know he’s a big-time player, so we’re looking forward to him to be a big player for us in the playoffs.”

That’s where Subban is expected to make the biggest impact. He has 38 points in 55 playoff games – 10 more than Weber in 59 postseason games – and was nearly a point a game player for Montreal in 2014, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games.

Nashville captain Mike Fisher said the Predators are excited to see that part of Subban.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and offensive ability to our team, and he’s had a great year,” Fisher said Monday. “I think he’s poised for an even better playoff.”

Nashville doesn’t see Subban only as an offensive threat. Coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed by Subban’s defensive skills too so much that the Predators regularly pit Subban and Mattias Ekholm against an opponent’s heaviest players.

“He’s delivered for us from an offensive standpoint, and our defensemen scoring is still in a good place and he’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said. “I think he and Eky have done a great job defensively handling the other team’s biggest customers.”

Now that the postseason is here, general manager David Poile and Laviolette want to make clear that this isn’t a one-man show.

“It’s not just hinging on him,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said Chicago has got a good team. We’re going to have to play good hockey. P.K.’s going to have to play well. All of our guys are going to have to play well.”

 

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.

Sens keep Condon with three-year, $7.2 million extension

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Ottawa was thrilled with the way Mike Condon played last year.

And so, they’ve rewarded him.

Condon has signed a three-year, $7.2 million extension, the club announced on Monday. It carries a $2.4 million average annual cap hit, and makes him the only Sens goalie under contract beyond next season. Both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are UFAs in 2018.

Condon, 27, found stability in Ottawa after a whirlwind start to the year. He was waived by Montreal out of training camp and picked up by Pittsburgh, but only saw 20 minutes of action before the Sens acquired him.

His acquisition was necessary after news broke that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. And as Anderson took leaves from the team to be with his wife, Condon got plenty of opportunities to play, and found his groove.

His first season in Ottawa featured several team records, including playing in a franchise-best 27 consecutive games between Dec. 1, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2017. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to record five shutouts, when he did so in his 32nd game on Feb. 16 versus the New Jersey Devils.

That performance led some to speculate Condon would test the market this summer, possibly for a No. 1 gig somewhere — or, the opportunity to compete for one.

That said, he and the Sens had started extension talks all the way back in February, suggesting both parties wanted to continue working together.

This means that another potential UFA goalie is now off the market. With reports that Ryan Miller is on his way to Anaheim, the pool of available guys is now led by Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec.

Rangers reportedly on verge of re-signing Brendan Smith

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The New York Rangers are “close to finalizing” a contract extension with defenseman Brendan Smith, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal is expected to be four years long with a cap hit of $4.35 million.

Smith, 28, was traded from Detroit on Feb. 28, and the Rangers clearly liked what they saw.

In the playoffs, Smith played all 12 games, averaging 19:41 of ice time while adding four assists and finishing a team-high plus-8.

It remains to be seen if signing Smith makes it less likely that the Rangers pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts got Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade, and DeAngelo’s game is quite similar to Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

Related: Smith, Rangers still talking

Report: Kings land Sabres goalie prospect Petersen

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Sounds like Cal Petersen is headed to Los Angeles.

Per LA Kings Insider, Petersen — the star Notre Dame goalie taken by Buffalo at the 2013 draft — has decided to sign with the Kings when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

The decision comes just days after Petersen told the Sabres he wouldn’t be signing with them.

“I’ve spoken to Cal. At this time I think he’s going to probably move to free agency and we’ll go from there,” GM Jason Botterill said, per the Buffalo News. “Disappointed, but we’ll move on.”

Petersen, 22, is coming off a great junior year for the Fighting Irish. He went 23-12-5 with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 GAA, helping the club advance to the Frozen Four. Petersen was also named a finalist for this year’s Mike Richter Award, given annually to college hockey’s top goalie.

In April, he was named to the U.S. team at the World Hockey Championships in France and Germany. He was one of three goalies on the squad — along with Connor Hellebuyck and Jimmy Howard — but didn’t appear in any games.

In late May, Petersen announced he was forgoing his senior year at Notre Dame to turn pro, but declined to say which club he would be signing with. Buffalo’s rights to Petersen expire on Aug. 15.

With the Kings, Petersen finds himself in a good situation. Jonathan Quick is entrenched as the No. 1, but turns 32 next season and missed most of last year with a groin injury. The backup battle will be between 30-year-old Jeff Zatkoff and 25-year-old Jack Campbell.

Organizationally, the club doesn’t have a ton of depth. L.A. cut ties with Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak following his assault charges in a domestic violence case in 2015. Jack Flinn, 21, saw a bit of time with AHL Ontario last year, and the club has used draft picks on the likes of Alec Dillon and Matthew Villalta.