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The Capitals would like to see Tom Wilson score a few more goals this season

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Tom Wilson is the classic “love him or hate him” type of player depending on which team he happens to be playing for.

If he is playing on your team, you probably like him. If he is not … you probably hate him.

Wilson has spent the first four years of his career playing in the Washington Capitals’ bottom-six, playing an extremely physical brand of hockey that can sometimes come close to crossing the line. He is also a very good defensive player and penalty killer, a fact that can sometimes get overlooked due to his style of play and the punishing hits.

With the Capitals roster getting ripped apart around the edges this summer due to salary cap restrictions there are a couple of openings in the team’s top-six forward group thanks to the departures of veteran forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.

Wilson would like to take one of those spots, but he knows he needs to add more consistent offense to do it.

The Capitals would like to see that from him as well.

Here is coach Barry Trotz talking about what he wants to see from Wilson this season, via Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post.

“Like all our young players, we’ve been trying to continually have growth with Tom,” Trotz said. “The next step in his evolution — he has that physical element, he’s reliable, he can kill penalties, he can play late-game situations, he’s developed that — now he’s got to find that offensive side. We’ve got to get more production out of Tom Wilson. We’re going to need some more goals out of him. He’s got to get into double digits this year.

He went on to say little improvements like that from players like Wilson are how the team can chip away and deal with the players they lost over the summer, just getting a few extra goals from players that are still on the roster.

Wilson’s production has been incredibly consistent during his career and has averaged about seven goals and about 18 total points per 82 games. He has never scored more than seven goals in a season, the mark he has reached in each of the past two seasons. He did add three goals in the first-round of the Capitals’ series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a two-goal effort in their Game 4 win in Toronto.

The Capitals are going to look like a very different team this season after losing Williams, Johansson, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk over the summer and only bringing in Devante Smith-Pelly and Alex Chiasson on a tryout deal. Still, with a core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen and what is probably one of the top-three goalies on the planet they should still be a fierce contender in the Eastern Conference.

They may not bring home a third consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, but they are not going away just yet, either.

Canucks don’t trade Erik Gudbranson, instead hand him 3-year extension

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The wondering can now stop as the Vancouver Canucks have extended defenseman Erik Gudbranson for three more years.

The extension is worth $12 million and Gudbranson’s deal will carry a $4 million cap hit through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement. “His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup. He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward.”

It was two years ago that Benning, who inked an extension with the Canucks last week, traded Jared McCann and a pair of 2016 draft picks to the Florida Panthers for the defenseman. With the direction that the team is currently moving, and with the Boston Bruins coughing up a third-round pick for Nick Holden of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t Benning have flipped Gudbranson for something similar before moving on to a Thomas Vanek trade before Monday’s trade deadline?

The Canucks are currently a weird mix of youth and veterans with big contracts, especially at forward — contracts that last beyond next season. They have all but one of their picks in the next three drafts at the moment, and should at least recoup one with a Vanek trade.

This extension is Benning digging his feet in and standing by a bad deal from two years ago. As Dimitri Filipovic of Sportsnet pointed out last week, flipping Gudbranson, whose minutes and possession numbers have dipped in Year 2 in Vancouver, would be the GM waiving the white towel and saying he lost the trade. Now he gets to stand by it and throw platitudes at the defenseman to convince himself that this was the correct way to go.

The one beneficial part of the Gudbranson deal for the Canucks? The lack of a no-trade clause, as per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. NHL GMs love themselves big defensemen and at 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., the 26-year-old checks that box. So there is a chance to pass this contract onto another team looking to add size to their blue line. But for now, that’s clearly not the plan for the Canucks.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Rangers trade Nick Holden to Bruins

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The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins have been rumored to be possible trade partners for a defenseman, and on Tuesday afternoon it happened.

It just wasn’t the defenseman — Ryan McDonagh — that people were talking about.

Instead it is Nick Holden heading to Boston.

The Trade: The New York Rangers send Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins for defenseman Rob O'Gara and a 2018 third-round draft pick.

Why the Rangers make this trade: They told their fans changes were coming. The team is falling out of the playoff race, it needs to hit the reset button, and Holden is an unrestricted free agent after this season that probably did not fit in with the new direction of the team.

At 24 and with only 11 games of NHL experience under his belt O’Gara probably isn’t much in the way of a prospect, while the third-round pick is probably the key to the deal for the Rangers.

Why the Bruins make this trade: They get a veteran defenseman to add some depth to their blue line for a potential Stanley Cup run. It’s not the blockbuster move that acquiring a player like McDonagh would have been, but given the low cost it could prove to be a pretty solid depth move.

Holden, 30, has been with the Rangers since the start of the 2016-17 season and has 14 goals and 32 assists in 135 games with the team over the past two years. He had a really strong year offensively a season ago (setting career highs across the board) but has seen a bit of a regression this season. He won’t need to play the 20 minutes a night he was playing in New York and could fit in nicely as a depth defenseman in Boston.

Who won the trade: Both teams get what they’re looking for. The Bruins get a depth defender for a Stanley Cup and don’t have to pay a steep price, while the Rangers cash in an asset that probably wasn’t going to re-sign with them after the season.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Red Wings ‘open for business’ as GM Ken Holland eyes the future

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This is unique ground for the Detroit Red Wings. They are on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, something they haven’t experienced since 1983. It’s a new experience for general manager Ken Holland, who is looking toward the future and selling assets, as opposed to bolstering his lineup for the postseason.

Monday’s trade of Petr Mrazek for draft picks isn’t the start of Holland’s overhaul of the roster — he said he doesn’t believe in “massive rebuilds” — it’s just the continuation of a process that he hopes will make the Red Wings contenders again.

Mrazek’s the first to go, and next will likely be Mike Green, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, before Monday’s NHL trade deadline. The Red Wings have a number of players set to become restricted free agents this summer like Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, among others, so there could also be some salary shedding in the next six days (Hi, Luke Glendening!)

“I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup,” Holland said as he met the media on Tuesday morning. “I want us to be a better team. We’re competitive. We’re not quite where we need to be. In order to be where we want to be, I’ve got to acquire draft picks, and we need to hit on those draft picks. The more draft picks that I can acquire or young players through trades is a better chance that we’re going to wake up three, four, five years from now, two years from now, and start to see the young players coming onto the team and having an impact on the team.”

The Red Wings currently have seven picks in the first four rounds of June’s entry draft and four in the opening three rounds of the 2019 draft. There will likely be more added before Monday, which will help Holland’s plan.

Hitting on draft picks was a huge reason why the Red Wings became a model franchise beginning in the late 1990s. Scout Hakan Andersson is credited with finding franchise pillars like Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, all of whom played big roles in their Cup victories over the last 20 years.

Hitting on draft picks is also very difficult, which is why the Red Wings were so fortunate that many of their draftees turned into backbones of those Cup winning teams. That’s why Holland says he’s open for business and wants more and more draft choices in his possession so his scouting staff can uncover those gems to lead future teams.

“It’s going to happen at the draft table,” he said.

While there’s an eye on the future, Holland says he’s not looking to tear it all down. He also isn’t putting all of his eggs in the draft lottery basket, noting that just because your odds are high doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have one of the first few choices; and even then, no team is guaranteed a homerun.

If the Red Wings are to be back to the level they once were, fans can expect what Mike Babcock said when he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs’ job: “pain.” Holland noted that, and while he’s trying to accumulate futures, he still wants to have veterans around to guide those young players. And if you look at their salary cap picture and some of the long-term deals he’s handed out, he won’t have to worry about older guys not being around. Some will be there for quite a while still.

But the one thing hanging over all of this is whether Holland is going to be the guy to see this retooling through. His contract reportedly expires after this season and there are those Seattle rumors, plus the Illitch family may decide it’s finally time to have someone else in the GM’s chair.

Maybe Holland gets kicked upstairs after the season and bides his time before connecting with Seattle whenever they enter the league. But for now his focus is the tough job ahead of turning the Red Wings back into a consistent winner.

“We’re not good enough quite right now,” he said. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation.

“That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Awards: 5 under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidates

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Nikita Kucherov has received most of the mainstream buzz when it comes to the 2017-18 Hart Trophy discussion and rightfully so. The Lightning forward has led the league in points for most of the season and he’s currently third in goals behind fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who are also obvious candidates to be named league MVP.

Kucherov’s teammate, Steven Stamkos, was in the conversation for a while too, but that talk seems to have died down a little bit. Everyone seemed to be jumping on the Nathan MacKinnon bandwagon before he got injured, but missing eight games has put a damper on the hype train.

Even last year’s winner, Connor McDavid, has put together a solid season, but with the Oilers out of the playoffs there isn’t really much hope for him to take home the award for a second year in a row.

But there are still some quality candidates that haven’t received as much press this season. It’s important to remember that the Hart Trophy isn’t necessarily given to the best player. It’s “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team”.

Here are some under-the-radar candidates that aren’t getting enough buzz:

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils

The Hall-for-MVP talk started building over the weekend after the Devils forward picked up a point in his 18th consecutive game. No one picked the Devils to make the playoffs this season, so the fact that they’re currently in a Wild Card spot in pretty impressive. Hall isn’t the only reason they’re in a playoff position, but there’s no way they’re in this position without him. The 26-year-old has 24 goals and 62 points in 54 games this season. New Jersey has a 1-3-1 record with Hall out of the lineup this season.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Despite losing Mark Scheifele for over six weeks, the Jets managed to stay afloat for a few reasons. One of them is the way their captain played while Scheifele was on the shelf. Wheeler was forced to move to center for a little while and he definitely didn’t look out of place. In the 16 games that Scheifele missed, the Jets went 11-2-3 and Wheeler accumulated 16 points during that stretch. The 31-year-old is up to 67 points in 59 games this season.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Let’s be totally clear, if the Kings don’t make the playoffs Kopitar can’t be considered a serious candidate. As of right now, Los Angeles is two points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West. Regardless of whether or not they make the postseason, no one can deny that Kopitar’s been a two-way beast for them in 2017-18. After posting just 52 points in 76 games last season, the Kings captain already has 63 points in 59 games, which puts him on pace to pick up 88. It’s clear that playing under new head coach John Stevens has done the 30-year-old a lot of good.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Many people have already counted the Panthers out of the playoff race because they’re six points back of the final Wild Card spot, but what people fail to realize is that Florida (sort of) controls their own destiny. They have four games in hand on the last playoff team, Carolina. The major reason why they’re still in striking distance is because of Barkov, who has really emerged as an NHL superstar. He’s often compared to Kopitar, and it’s easy to see why. They’re both big centers that can contribute offensively while playing sound hockey in their own end. Barkov has amassed 54 points in 55 games so far. If the Panthers get in, he needs to be a major part of the Hart Trophy discussion. In the one game he missed this season, Florida got obliterated 7-3 by Colorado.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Yes, you could easily put Patrice Bergeron in this slot, but he’s been getting a lot of love throughout the NHL. Rask, who got off to a rocky start, has been lights out for the Bruins. Since Nov. 29, he’s lost just two games in regulation. Sure, the Bruins are clearly more than a one-man team, but we have to give Rask some love. He overcame adversity at the start of the year, and he’s arguably been the best goalie in the league for the last three months.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.