Kevin Bieksa

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Devils, Ducks fill needs with Henrique-Vatanen swap

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The Anaheim Ducks need some help offensively and the New Jersey Devils were looking to boost their blue line, so it makes sense that the two consummated a deal Thursday morning, especially considering the trade history between Ray Shero and Bob Murray.

Heading to Anaheim is Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick, while the Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick in 2019 or 2020. Here are those conditions:

“In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” said Devils general manager Ray Shero. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years. When acquiring a defenseman like Vatanen, you have to give back quality assets or players in return. That is the case in this situation with Adam and Joe. Adam has been a key member of our organization for nearly ten years since he was drafted. His contributions both on and off the ice will always be appreciated by our organization and fans. For Joe, this is a great opportunity with a quality organization like Anaheim and I am happy for him.”

Vatanen, who is signed for two more seasons and is averaging 21:06 per game, is a great pickup to a fill a need in New Jersey’s top-four. After missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, Shero gets his highly-touted, puck-moving right shot defenseman. The 26-year-old’s possession numbers are down this season, but I think we can attribute a big part of that due to his pairing with Kevin Bieksa on the back end.

Look at the New Jersey blue line now and it’s one that can get the puck up ice fast and contribute offensively. The emergence up front of Nico Hischier, Brian Gibbons, Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood made Henrique expendable and allowed Shero to deal from an area of strength.

Given their injury woes, the Ducks have been sending Chris Wagner and Derek Grant over the boards to be their top two centers. A change was needed. Henrique’s addition is certainly an upgrade when you look at his 50 goals and 90 points over the last two season. If and when Anaheim gets back to full health, head coach Randy Caryle will have some decent depth to work with and this trade could help keep them afloat as they struggle to get back into playoff contention in the Western Conference.

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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.

Contenders should jump on Sabres’ offer to trade Evander Kane

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During Tuesday’s edition of TSN’s Insider Trading, Pierre LeBrun mentioned that the Buffalo Sabres would be willing to get creative in moving Evander Kane. Specifically, LeBrun reports that the Sabres are OK with retaining a portion of Kane’s $5.25 million salary to make something happen and maximize their takeaway.

In that same segment, LeBrun notes that there might be a gestation period here, suggesting that it might take six or seven weeks for something to happen. Even so, while expanding upon that issue for The Athletic, LeBrun described a Kane trade as “inevitable.”

So, here’s an opinion: both the Sabres and a potential contender should make this happen. Like, now.

Speeding up the process

If the Sabres are willing to absorb part of Kane’s salary to make something work, perhaps they’d also be willing to take on a pricey expiring deal to expedite the process?

Just looking around the league, it’s conceivable that a team might give up a pretty penny to land Kane. Imagine how much of a difference the power forward could make for, say, the injury-addled Ducks; imagine the kind of return Buffalo might net if they absorbed Kevin Bieksa‘s $4M cap hit in such a move? (Assuming Anaheim can part ways with the other master of the “Superman Punch.”)

Honestly, Sabres management might even be wise to take on a slighter longer problem contract. What if Buffalo absorbed all of Brooks Orpik‘s $5.5M (expiring after 2018-19) if it meant a futures-heavy package deal?

The possibilities are fascinating for Buffalo, at least if they don’t think that Kane is a part of their longer-term plans.

The thing is, I’d argue that contenders should jump on this opportunity, rather than waiting too long. Allow me to share my rationale in handy bullet-point form:

  • Kane might need a little time to adjust.

If I were to grade Kane’s time in Buffalo, I’d probably lean toward an “Incomplete.”

From personal issues to injuries and other concerns, it’s often felt like Kane, 26, never was going to take off with the Sabres. Honestly, this is the first season where he’s made the sort of top-line impact (at worst, top-six impact) many envisioned when the one-time 30-goal scorer was fast-track-pantsed out of Winnipeg.

The sooner you land Kane, the sooner you get him into your lineup, and if there were work visa concerns, you’d already be losing a game or two once the transaction is made.

  • Get ahead of the trade market

Look, this trade being leaked probably ups some pressure on GMs of struggling contenders to get something done.

Still, maybe the early bird will get the worm here? Perhaps being proactive would lower the price, while waiting more than a month might encourage a greater bidding war?

  • More value, more time to determine rental vs. keeper

Kane doesn’t turn 27 until August. Even if he’s seeking a riskier, long-term deal, his next contract would include a few peak years and then some near-peak time.

The question, then, is “How good is Kane, really?”

You can break down tape all you want, but with injuries limiting some of the sample size over the years and zero career playoff games to judge Kane by, there’s at least a bit of mystery as to how much he’s truly worth.

With that in mind, and the potential for the Sabres to get a greater conditional return in a hypothetical trade if Kane re-signs, why not buy a few extra weeks or even months to gauge Kane’s value? The winger with the boxer-inspired name might be worth keeping around, but a team could really benefit from seeing where he fits in, both on the ice and in the locker room.

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Now, there are a lot of factors that go into a situation like this.

We don’t know how many teams are calling up the Sabres about Kane. If a deal would be anywhere near as complicated as the three-team Matt Duchene/Kyle Turris swap was, then it might take some haggling.

That said, a contender should look at the boost the Predators got from Turris, feel jealous, and then try to land a difference-maker like Kane sooner rather than later. LeBrun’s reports certainly indicate that the Sabres are willing to get creative to make a big move happen.

So why wait?

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.

Ducks facing tough road trip as injuries continue to pile up

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The Anaheim Ducks begin a five-game road trip tonight that could end with a big increase in the separation between where they currently reside in the Western Conference standings and a playoff spot.

Currently two points out of a wild card spot and three points behind the Calgary Flames for the third seed in the Pacific Division, the Ducks will face the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights before returning home to Honda Center next Wednesday. They’ll do so with a lineup that’s battered and missing Patrick Eaves, Ryan Getzlaf, Ondrej Kase, Ryan Kesler and now Rickard Rakell, who combined for over 80 goals last season.

How dinged up have the Ducks been? They’re by far the NHL leaders in the man-games lost category, as ManGamesLost.com shows:

ManGamesLost.com

The already offensively-challenged Ducks will see Derek Grant and Chris Wagner as their top two centermen as the roster heals.  The pair have 17 career goals. That will put some added pressure on a blue line that’s provided 15 of their 62 goals this season.

“We know we’ve stressed our lineup to our bare bones here,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said over the weekend via the LA Times. “The compete level and the structure and our work ethic and our track, our forecheck, all those were positives for our hockey club. And now we have to find a way to maintain that as we play more games on this road trip.”

Carlyle isn’t using injuries as an excuse for his team’s sluggish start — all teams miss key players at points during an 82-game schedule. But certainly the specific personnel missing from the Ducks’ lineup explains how the first 23 games have gone. John Gibson (.936 even strength save percentage in November) and Ryan Miller (.953 ESSV in November) have done their part in helping Anaheim take points from 7 of their 12 games this month and they’ll need to continue to be backbones for this team to survive a road trip against teams currently sitting in playoff spots.

Points collected now will be huge once the Ducks return to full health.

“It’s tight right now, as you can see, really tight,” said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “You keep dropping, you’re right at the very bottom. A few points and a win or two and you’re right at the top. So you want to be in the thick of things. You don’t want to be swaying too far down. It’s important to get points.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Shutouts, a hat trick and Vegas keeps rolling

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Players of the Night

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: In his first start since Nov. 2 Price stopped all 36 shots he faced from the Buffalo Sabres during a 3-0 victory. The shutout was the 40th of his career and first this season to help the Habs end a five-game losing skid. Price is now the fourth goalie in Canadiens history to record 40 shutouts.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones recorded his second shutout of the season and 17th of his career as the Sharks blanked the Winnipeg Jets 4-0. Logan Couture scored twice and Jones made 38 saves, including 29 over the final 40 minutes, in the victory.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Ovechkin had a special night and created one for a fan as his hat trick, which tied Pavel Bure for most in NHL history by a Russian-born player, powered the Capitals by the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2. Before the game, Ovechkin met Alex Luey, a 13-year-old bone cancer survivor, and the Washington captain delivered on a promise to score and created a memory for a lifetime.

Highlight of the NightNot going to beat what Ovi did, so here’s runner-up Brendan Perlini providing a highlight for the Coyotes:

MISC:

Brian Gibbonstremendous season continued as he potted his 11th of the season 2:32 into overtime to give the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves and Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle provided the goals as the New York Islanders edged the Ottawa Senators 2-1 for their sixth win in seven games. Matt Duchene scored his first goal with the Senators in the loss.

Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel each scored twice to power the Pittsburgh Penguins by the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2. Kessel also added two assists for a four-point night, while the Penguins captain had a helper of his own to finish with three points on the evening.

Chris Kunitz returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since signing with the Lightning and received his 2017 Stanley Cup before the game:

Corey Crawford’s great season continued as his 37 saves and three points from captain Jonathan Toews helped the Chicago Blackhawks down the Florida Panthers 4-1.

• Oh, look, another night, and some more goals from Jaden Schwartz, whose pair helped the St. Louis Blues double up the Minnesota Wild 6-3. The Blues lead the NHL in points with 35 through 24 games and are tied for third in scoring with 84 goals.

William Karlsson potted his 13th of the season as the Vegas Golden Knights won their fifth in a row by defeating the Arizona Coyotes 4-2. Jonathan Marchessault ended the night with a goal and two assists.

David Rittich recorded his first NHL win with 24 stops during a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Micheal Ferland and Mikael Backlund scored 22 seconds apart in the final minute of the second period to snap a 1-1 deadlock.

Trevor Lewis‘ goal in the fourth round of the shootout was the difference as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1. Anaheim was 1:32 from clinching a 1-0 win when Dustin Brown scored his ninth of the season to send the game to overtime. Jonathan Quick made 25 saves in overtime and regulation.

Kevin Bieksa brought out the Superman punch again, as Andy Andreoff found out:

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Capitals 4, Maple Leafs 2
Canadiens 3, Sabres 0
Islanders 2, Senators 1
Devils 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)
Blackhawks 4, Panthers 1
Penguins 5, Lightning 2
Golden Knights 4, Coyotes 2
Blues 6, Wild 3
Flames 3, Avalanche 2
Sharks 4, Jets 0
Kings 2, Ducks 1 (SO)

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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.