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Wild could really use Parise, even if he’s limited

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Look, it’s tough to imagine Zach Parise doing enough to make his contract look any less frightening for the Minnesota Wild.

(/Opens Cap Friendly profile. Shrieks at $7.54 million through 2024-25. Shrieks again.)

It’s also tough to imagine 33-year-old Parise playing like prime-age, forechecking and scoring phenom Parise once he returns from an AHL stint to shake off the rust, as has been reported by Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press.

Ultimately it will take him time to regain whatever form he’s truly capable of, something Parise acknowledges (with a smile, it must be noted).

“These guys have to get ready to play games, and when I’m not on a line, it’s tough to get reps,” Parise said. “So, I think this would probably be the best thing, to go there, practice with them, play a game, and go from there.”

As Parise says, the plan is to see how Thursday’s game with the Iowa Wild (his first AHL work since 2004-05, his lone season with the Albany Devils) and then go from there. The Athletic’s Michael Russo notes that players can opt for 14-day conditioning stints in the AHL, so the door’s open for him to shake off the rust into early 2018.

(Bruce Boudreau notes that he hopes to have Parise back sometime after New Year’s.)

Answering the question of “When?” is interesting enough, but it’s most fascinating to ponder how much of a difference Parise can really make.

Let’s consider a few factors.

Playing in pain

It’s important to remember that precedent only matters so much. Parise is 33, a tough time for snipers, and that rust factor cannot be ignored.

That said, it’s worth noting that Parise elected not to get back surgery during the 2016-17 season before ultimately opting for it in October. Maybe he could generate similar numbers through the remainder of 2017-18, with a cleaner bill of health canceling out some of that discomfort? At least eventually?

If you’re looking at Parise’s numbers as a guy making too much money, you won’t be happy. On the other hand, if you picture this type of scorer added to a Wild group that could use the extra punch and balance, it’s a sunnier picture:

Parise: 19 goals, 42 points in 69 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to about 23 goals and 50 points.

With all the (understandable) hand-wringing over his contract being discussed, it’s easy to forget that even a diminished Parise can still help a team win games.

How to use him?

While Eric Staal continues his career renaissance in Minnesota and others have been contributing, there have also been some struggles, particularly for the likes of Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. Adding a smart, 20-goal-ish player to the mix could really bring things together.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars, the Wild figured to line up Staal with Charlie Coyle and Tyler Ennis, Koivu with Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund, and Joel Eriksson Ek with Daniel Winnik and Chris Stewart.

One could picture a more balanced attack with Parise in many situations, but particularly taking the spot of either Ennis or Winnik. By Natural Stat Trick’s linemate listings, Parise’s most common linemates were Staal (by far) and then Coyle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Boudreau would go in that direction.

(It might be wise to ease Parise in, really, which could mean starting off a little lower in the lineup.)

Down, but not out

Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Wild were out of the West’s playoff picture, but in reasonable distance of the final wild card. With a home-and-home against the Nashville Predators on Friday and Saturday after tonight’s Stars skirmish, Boudreau’s early January proclamation seems most reasonable, though not set in stone.

Here’s what the next few weeks look like:

Wed, Dec 27 vs Dallas
Fri, Dec 29 vs Nashville
Sat, Dec 30 @ Nashville
Mon, Jan 2 vs Florida
Wed, Jan 4 vs Buffalo
Fri, Jan 6 @ Colorado
Mon, Jan 9 vs Calgary
Tue, Jan 10 @ Chicago

Maybe the Wild would want Parise to play one of those home-and-home games against the Predators, or perhaps they’d go a safer route and wait until January.

The broader goal might be to get him up to speed by that away date against the Blackhawks. After that, the Wild will enjoy a four-game homestand, which is the sort of opportunity that could help them strengthen their position in the West’s bubble.

***

Yes, it’s true that this is a pretty modest situation for Parise; many in the Wild organization probably expected these questions and considerations to surface closer to, say, 2020.

The reality is harsher than such daydreams, but at least he’s still in a position to help Minnesota, and the Wild can use all the help they can get.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

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.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

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.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

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.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

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