Thomas Vanek

Getty

The Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

11 Comments

Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

Getty
3 Comments

Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

Red Wings still have work to do with Tatar, Athanasiou; Vanek?

Getty Images
22 Comments

Much of the NHL seems to be in something like a “vacation mode,” but not the Detroit Red Wings.

GM Ken Holland still has work to do, with some tasks being more optional and others standing as more urgent.

In the most urgent category: figuring out how to handle the seemingly strained situation with Tomas Tatar. MLive.com’s Ansar Khan provides an update on the situation, which unfortunately seems like more of the same.

Tatar’s camp has rejected a five-year offer of $5 million per season, wanting six or seven years at closer to $6 million a season, a source said.

Neither side appears willing to budge, which could result in a rare hearing for the Red Wings before an arbitrator next Thursday in Toronto. If it reaches that stage, Tatar will receive a one-year contract because he is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

A one-year contract might not be so promising in the long-term, as there are rumblings that such a situation might prompt Tatar to eventually leave Detroit.

Khan provides a rosier update for Andreas Athanasiou. Without arbitration rights, the Red Wings might be able to leverage the speedy forward into a cheap deal. Khan pegs a possible deal at two years with a cap hit of $1.5 million.

While Athanasiou and Tatar are more crucial scenarios, there’s also the question of possibly bringing back Thomas Vanek.

Both Khan and the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James report that, while there’s mutual interest in Vanek returning to the Red Wings, those two younger forwards are expected to eat up too much cap space.

It’s a tight situation for Holland & Co., so it wouldn’t be surprising if that front office will have to wait until August to enjoy a day at the beach.

Who’s still left? Here are 10 notable UFAs

Getty
14 Comments

The oldest: Jaromir Jagr, 45, won’t be returning to the Florida Panthers. But he still wants to play. The future Hall of Famer had 16 goals and 30 assists in 82 games last season.

The most points last season: Thomas Vanek, 33, was reportedly talking with “several teams” on July 1, but no deal yet. Vanek split 2016-17 between Detroit and Florida. The fact he only scored two goals in 20 games for the Panthers may have hurt his value, but he did have 48 points in 68 games overall.

The most goals: Mike Fisher, 37, is apparently considering retirement. But if he decides to keep playing, it’s hard to imagine he signs with anyone but Nashville. Fisher had 18 goals in 72 games last season, then helped the Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

The most points by a defenseman: Andrei Markov had 36 points (6G, 30A) for Montreal. The Habs would like to bring the 38-year-old back, but GM Marc Bergevin says his final offer has been made. The message to Markov? Take it or leave it.

The most right-shot defenseman: We’ll give this to Cody Franson, the 29-year-old who’s spent the last two years in Buffalo. Franson is no savior, but he’s not too old, and he was pretty productive on the power play during his days with the Maple Leafs.

The most Rocket Richard Trophies: Jarome Iginla, 40, is still unsigned. The two-time leading goalscorer in the NHL scored just 14 times last season for Colorado. He wants to keep playing, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get an offer he likes.

The most to prove: That would be Shane Doan, 40, after being cut loose by the Arizona Coyotes. Doan had just six goals in 74 games, but apparently some teams are interested.

The most fast (a.k.a. the fastest): Viktor Stalberg can still fly at 31 years old, and he’s got plenty of postseason experience to boot. The Ottawa Senators would like to keep him, and he’d like to stay. But the two sides have yet to reach a deal, so he may have to look elsewhere.

The most under-30: Among regular NHLers last season, 24-year-old defenseman Nikita Nesterov is the youngest UFA. He became an unrestricted free agent after the Canadiens chose not to extend a qualifying offer.

The most points by an under-30 UFA: That honor belongs to 26-year-old forward Alex Chiasson, who was cut loose by the Calgary Flames after registering 12 goals and 12 assists in 81 games.

It won’t be pretty, but Capitals can still contend

29 Comments

Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan admitted that his team is experiencing a championship “hangover” without the benefits of a Stanley Cup, which sounds even worse than a headache without the party.

And, no doubt about it, this last swing for the fences was the mightiest they could muster.

MORE: MacLellan on the championship hangover without the championship

Still, it’s easy to linger on this letdown and forget that sports can be pretty strange. Sometimes a big run happens well after people expect it.

Who, in their right mind, expected Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks to shock LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011? Hockey has plenty of examples of surprise runs, including the Predators going from the 16th-ranked playoff team to two wins from a title.

No doubt about it, the Capitals will feel the sting in losing Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt, and maybe a little confidence in Barry Trotz.

Even so, the very Pittsburgh Penguins team that torments them can also be a beacon of hope: you don’t need a perfect regular season to win it all.

The Capitals are no longer in a position to run away with the Presidents’ Trophy each year. Instead, they just need to make the best of things like … you know, just about every salary-cap era contender.

An aging core … but not an old core

Look, the most important members of this team no longer qualify as spring chickens. Alex Ovechkin‘s gray hair stands as a reminder of our mortality, really.

via Getty Images

Rather than being a reason for panic, the ages of their most important players emphasize the notion that they need to keep hammering away:

Andre Burakovsky: 22
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 25
John Carlson: 27
Braden Holtby: 27
Nicklas Backstrom: 29
Matt Niskanen: 30
T.J. Oshie: 30
Alex Ovechkin: 31

Sure, some of those important contributors might slip, but that’s still a core group most franchises would envy. They still have an elite goalie, dangerous scorers, two strong centers, an experienced head coach, and some capable defensemen.

Promotions?

One key development might be the rise (or fall?) of Jakub Vrana.

The 21-year-old has enjoyed solid – though not spectacular – success in the AHL, and also got his feet wet at the NHL level. He didn’t go wild for Washington, but with that first-round pedigree (13th pick in 2014) and solid numbers in Hershey, there’s some reason to believe that he could at least be a meaningful contributor.

Vrana could ease the sting of losing one of those key forwards.

In defending keeping Brooks Orpik around, MacLellan points to a similar possibility among Washington’s defensive prospects:

Diving into the bargain bin

Here’s some advice for MacLellan: as painful as times are now, don’t go on vacation just yet. The Capitals should take advantage of a free agent market that is low on stars but potentially high on value.

The Capitals could go with veteran forwards such as Jaromir Jagr,* Thomas Vanek, or Jiri Hudler. All three of those guys aren’t that far removed from success.

They can also take on some interesting “reclamation projects.” Nail Yakupov and Brandon Pirri are just a couple of players who could be this year’s answer to Sam Gagner.

And, yes, the pickings are slimmer on the blueline, but Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles could provide solid depth help.

MacLellan seems aware that these options are out there, at least broadly speaking.


Is this situation perfect? No, not really.

Still, the Capitals have suffered despite seemingly boasting championship rosters on paper. Maybe they can win ugly after all these painful times losing with the prettiest roster?

* – Yes, he had a bad stay in Washington, but that was approximately a billion years ago.