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Justin Williams: It’s a ‘fun time’ to join Hurricanes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t bring back Justin Williams to be “Mr. Game 7.”

Not yet, anyway.

The 35-year-old with the reputation for scoring big postseason goals has returned to Raleigh, tasked with bringing veteran leadership and a voice of experience to a young Carolina team.

But there’s a fine line between filling that type of role for the Hurricanes, and commanding control of the dressing room. He brushed aside questions about whether he should wear the “C” for a team that has gone without a captain since February 2016.

“I think the worst thing you can do when you come into a new – even though it’s a team I’ve been on, it’s a new team for me – is trying to be someone you’re not,” Williams said Monday. “That’s a big mistake, trying to be `the guy.’ You just want to be yourself, and that’s what I’ve done throughout my career.”

Williams returned to Carolina earlier this month, opening free agency by agreeing to a two-year deal worth $9 million to bring his deft offensive touch and knack for coming through in key situations to a team that has made the playoffs only once (2009) since Williams hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time here in 2006.

The 2014 playoff MVP with Los Angeles had 100 points combined the past two years with Washington, and won the Cup twice with the Kings while earning his “Mr. Game 7” nickname for his 7-1 career record in those decisive postseason games.

The only player remaining from Williams’ first stint with Carolina is presumptive backup goalie Cam Ward. The captain of those Hurricanes teams, Rod Brind’Amour, is now an assistant coach.

“I don’t think the load’s on me to do anything,” Williams said. “I’m here … to be me. And I think (general manager Ron Francis) and his group have done an excellent job of gathering this team. Listen, a lot of these kids or teammates weren’t here six, seven years ago. They’re fresh, too, and they’ve had a lot of success at different levels. … You just want to help guide as best you can, because you know what it takes, and you know what works and what doesn’t, a lot of the time.”

Williams had a lengthy list of reasons to come back to Carolina, from the quality of life away from the rink – he and his wife bought a house in nearby Cary in May, two months before the start of free agency – to what he says is a team “on the rise.” He says the Hurricanes kicked “my team’s butts a couple of times.”

“When you tell people outside the hockey world that you’re going to Carolina, they might be like, `Oh, man, why?”‘ he said. “But I think when you look and you talk to people within the hockey circles – you talk to NHL players – they know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a fun time, I think, to be a Carolina Hurricane, and I want to be part of something good. I’ve been on some successful teams, so I’m going to try to do the same, do my best to make sure that happens.”

More AP NHL: apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

New addition Thompson thinks Senators are ‘ready to win’

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Even after reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17 there is still probably some skepticism as to how good the Ottawa Senators will be this upcoming season and whether or not they can repeat that success.

They didn’t do much to add to that roster over the summer outside of the addition of gritty forward Nate Thompson on a two-year contract from the Anaheim Ducks.

Thompson is excited about the opportunity to join the Senators and believes the success of the team last season was not a fluke.

“This team now is ready to win,” he told Ken Warren of the Ottawa Sun this past week. “I don’t think this was a Cinderella team, it was the real deal. They have a pretty good window to win games and hopefully do something even more special.”

It’s going to probably be a little more difficult this season given some of the improvements that have been made by teams around them (Tampa Bay and Toronto should be better than they were a year ago; Montreal and Boston will still be fierce contenders as well) and the fact the Senators themselves might see a bit of a regression in the standings if their overall play doesn’t change much. Keep in mind, for all of the success they had in the playoffs this was still a team that gave up more goals than it scored during the regular season. That is not typically a recipe for long-term success.

Thompson, who will turn 33 at the start of the season, will be relied on primarily to fill a bottom-six role and perhaps help in the faceoff circle. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season in Anaheim that saw him be limited to just 30 games, scoring one goal and adding one assist before recording six points (two goals, four assists) in the playoffs for the Ducks on their run to the Western Conference Finals. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Ducks and also has experience playing for Senators coach Guy Boucher during their time together in Tampa Bay.

Preds GM Poile still has work to do, with Johansen in need of a deal

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David Poile got some work done Saturday.

The Nashville Predators re-signed Viktor Arvidsson on the day the two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled. The new deal? Seven years at a total of $29.75 million — an annual average value of $4.25 million for a player that just scored 31 goals while playing on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.

The Predators made a run at the Stanley Cup last month, doing so with great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a top-four group of defensemen that you can argue sets the standard around the league and a talented group of forwards — a number of them with age on their side.

They didn’t win it all, but Poile was recognized for his work by claiming General Manager of the Year.

This is likely among the reasons why.

Roman Josi still has three years left on his deal, while Mattias Ekholm, who was a valuable and reliable top-four d-man playing alongside P.K. Subban, has five years remaining on his deal.

With the Arvidsson contract completed, the priority is now to get Johansen — a restricted free agent — signed. At age 24, he’s Nashville’s No. 1 center coming off a 61-point season, which completed his three-year, $12 million deal.

He was also in the midst of a terrific playoff performance before he suffered a thigh injury and postseason-ending surgery. He’s in line for a significant raise from the $4 million AAV he made on his last contract.

The Predators have about $14.5 million remaining in cap space, per CapFriendly.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.