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Marcus Johansson ready for ‘underdog’ role after Caps trade him to Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) After winning Presidents’ Trophy and losing in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs two years in a row, Marcus Johansson knew the Washington Capitals were going to make changes.

Coming off a career-best season, the 26-year-old Swede just didn’t think he would be one the guys leaving Washington.

After being surprised Sunday by a deal that sent him to the New Jersey Devils for two 2018 draft picks, Johansson said Friday he’s looking forward to the chance to play for a rebuilding franchise that finished last in the conference this past season.

Johansson was asleep when the trade was made, admitting it took him time to come to grips with it.

“I was still half asleep when I saw it. At first you are in shock, and you have to try to figure out what is going on,” he said in a conference call from Sweden. “You try to go through all the texts and everything to see what is happening.”

Devils general manager Ray Shero picked up Johansson because the Capitals faced a salary cap crisis after signing center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a $62.4 million, eight-year deal.

That made Johansson expendable and the deal was made.

Washington also re-signed right wings T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

“I didn’t get the sense that I would be moved. But you never know what is going to happen and there were a lot of guys that had to be- re-signed,” Johansson said.

Once the shock wore off, Johansson got down to basics. He started thinking about selling his home and moving his family.

“As soon as it sunk in, you see all the positives, all the chances and opportunities to go somewhere else and create new memories for the family and new hockey memories as well, and be a part of something that I think is moving in the right direction,” he said.

The Devils are not the Capitals. Washington has made the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons, missing only in 2014. New Jersey has missed the playoffs the past five seasons, and they are coming off a 28-40-14 record, their worst in nearly three decades.

“I don’t mind sort of being an underdog,” Johansson said. “I think we have a great team and if we can put all the pieces together, I think we should surprise a lot of people. I am looking forward to that.”

Johansson had 24 goals and 34 assists last season, with his goal total and 58 points career highs. His up-tempo game fits into the style coach John Hynes is trying to establish.

Johansson can play any of the forward positions. He was a left side last season.

Johansson doesn’t know his new teammates, other than seeing them on the ice. New Jersey will have first overall draft pick Nico Hischier and it has three top forwards in Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.

The Devils also signed veteran center Brian Boyle.

Looking back on his time with the Capitals, Johansson said the team’s biggest problem was not winning the big games. They were beaten 2-0 at home in Game 7 of the conference semifinals by the now two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We didn’t play very well in it and didn’t give ourselves a chance in it, where Pittsburgh maybe played their best game,” Johansson said. “That’s what it comes down to, you have to play your best game when it is needed the most, and we didn’t.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.