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For better or worse, Canucks extend Benning, want to bring back Sedins

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

If you’re the type of person who expects life to be a “meritocracy,” the NHL has probably upset you quite a bit in the last week.

Not long after the hockey train wreck known as the Ottawa Senators rewarded one of the architects of their mess, GM Pierre Dorion, with a contract extension while embracing a rebuild, the Canucks basically did the same thing with GM Jim Benning.

The team announced a multi-year extension on Wednesday, leaving fans in dismay and onlookers flustered. They also put out a “Yep, we’re rebuilding” press release this week, following the lead of the Rangers and Senators.

The thing is, this is probably the toughest of the moves to defend. While the Senators dealt with budgetary limitations and leftover mistakes from before Dorion’s days, Ottawa enjoyed some recent successes. After all, they were within a goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and Dorion was nominated for GM of the Year, with the hiring of coach Guy Boucher proving instrumental in that run.

Under Benning’s watch, the biggest wins have … basically been when the Canucks play against type and actually rebuild a bit or draft well (on paper). There have been serious gaffes in trying to avoid the reality that this team was past its prime, with Loui Eriksson‘s contract (that $6 million cap hit still runs through 2021-22, somehow) being the most glaring example.

By no means is Benning solely responsible for the Canucks’ downfall, but it sends a strange message that he’s getting an extension.

On the bright side, Benning’s performed reasonably well, at least when everyone’s on the same page about rebuilding.

The not-so-bright side is that there still seems to be a tone of denial in Vancouver. From reports of management wanting to bring back polarizing defenseman Erik Gudbranson – who could bring back a nice return – to not moving on from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, there are some signs that the Canucks might parallel the Detroit Red Wings in trying to have their cake and eat it too.

(That approach has really just clogged their arteries, honestly.)

Ultimately, it’s tough to ignore that the NHL is a tight-knit community, and sometimes that means that people who are part of the “inner circle” tend to get more chances than those with fresher voices.

Maybe the Canucks will turn things around, maybe they won’t. More progressive teams might be licking their chops at moves like these, though.

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.

Jets chase Dubnyk, eliminate Wild in Game 5

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Tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets is do-or-die for the Minnesota Wild. It looks like someone may have forgotten to tell the Wild.

Despite not having Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Toby Enstrom, Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers in Game 5, the Jets are off to roaring start. Through 20 minutes, Winnipeg has a 4-0 lead. They already managed to chase Devan Dubnyk from the Wild’s net, and although the game isn’t over yet, it sure looks like the Jets are heading to the second round.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Dubnyk lasted just 11:59, as he allowed four goals on 10 shots. Alex Stalock entered the game in relief of Minnesota’s starter. He stopped all three shots he faced.

Jacob Trouba opened the scoring just 31 seconds into Game 5:

Bryan Little, Brandon Tanev and Joel Armia also found the back of the net for the Jets. Mark Scheifele added a power-play tally early in the third frame to extend their lead to 5-0.

The Wild were better in the second period, but they still couldn’t figure out Connor Hellebuyck.

This is the third year in a row that Minnesota has been bounced in the opening round of the postseason. In 2016, they were eliminated in six games by the Dallas Stars and last year, they watched as St. Louis took them down in five.

Even though they finished the year with over a 100 points, it’s another disappointing year for them. It’s tough to envision them making major changes to the roster because Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for six more years. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do to shake up this roster or their staff.

As for the Jets, they’ll face either the Nashville Predators or the Colorado Avalanche (the Preds are up 3-1 in their best-of-seven series). Winnipeg definitely looked explosive in Game 5, and they’ll need to keep rolling if they want to reach the Western Conference Final.

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.

Michal Neuvirth gets Game 5 start for Flyers; Couturier returns to lineup

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With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.

Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When healthy Neuvirth had the best numbers out of the group during the regular season, but health has been a constant battle for him the past few years.

The other big lineup news for the Flyers on Friday will be the fact that center Sean Couturier will be returning after sitting out Game 4 with a lower body injury. He may not be 100 percent, however, given that he took pregame line rushes on the team’s third line between Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds. Valtteri Filppula was skating on the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Among the other changes for the Flyers: Robert Hagg will replace Travis Sanheim on defense, while Dale Weise will play on the fourth-line instead of Oskar Lindblom.

Related: Penguins will not have Patric Hornqvist in Game 5

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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.

Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins, Jets, Predators look to advance

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Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-1)
NBCSN
Call: John Forslund, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Jets lead 3-1)
USA
Call: Dave Randorf, Louis Debrusk
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-1)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]