James O'Brien

New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash (61) defends Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81), of Slovakia, during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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‘Roster chaos’ – Let’s ponder some possible expansion draft scenarios

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In the event that the NHL decides to expand by one team for the 2017-18 season, fans would be treated to more than just the potential of a franchise in Las Vegas. They’d also soak up unknown hours in armchair general managing while discussing an expansion draft.

PHT provides an expansive breakdown of what an expansion draft might entail in this post, noting that nothing is set in stone – including expansion actually taking place – at this time.

The full details get a little fuzzy, as the New York Post’s Larry Brooks (angrily) discussed in a fiery column claiming that the expansion draft would give good teams “the shaft.”

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun succinctly summarizes what might be on the line in a way that’s a little easier to digest, at least at this speculative stage in which certain key details (LTIR considerations, no-movement clauses) must be hashed out:

OK, so now that we have some of the baseline considerations out the way, there have been some really interesting takes on what this might mean for NHL teams.

Here are a few examples from some great hockey journalists.

Rangers

Let’s start with Brooks first.

He believes the “25 percent rule” – forcing teams to expose a significant amount of cap space so they can’t just leave depth players unprotected – could generate some funky moves:

It will become a matter of acrobatics, cutting-and-pasting, and personnel decisions over the summer of 2016 predicated upon having enough aggregate salary to expose for claim by Las Vegas in June 2017. So the Rangers essentially would be obliged to keep Rick Nash next season, regardless whether dealing No. 61 might make sense from a hockey perspective, so that his $7.8M cap hit would count toward the necessary $18M.

Earlier in that column, Brooks wonders if the Rangers would be forced to risk losing the likes of Derick Brassard or Derek Stepan.

Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks

No surprise that multiple outlets discussed what this might mean for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle provides some fascinating scenarios and analysis:

Take the Stanley Cup defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. If the expansion draft is held in the summer of 2017, they would likely want to protect Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and maybe prospect Trevor van Riemsdyk.

But that would mean they could safeguard only four forwards, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen the possible options.

Everyone else – including Marian Hossa, Andrew Ladd (if he’s re-signed), Andrew Shaw and Artem Anisimov – would be available to Vegas.

Mirtle wonders if the Capitals would be at risk of losing T.J. Oshie or Marcus Johansson while the Penguins might deal with the tough choice of goalie of the present (Marc-Andre Fleury) vs. possible goalie of the future (Matt Murray).

“Roster chaos” is a phrase Mirtle uses in imagining hypothetical choices and proactive moves.

Wild questions

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo details some potential headaches for the Wild:

On defense, things get hairy. With [Ryan] Suter protected, the Wild would have to protect two among Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Gustav Olofsson, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. This assumes none is traded by then and that Mike Reilly is exempt because he’ll be completing his second-year as pro.

It would seem an almost certainty that the Wild loses a good defenseman unless the Wild exposed [Jason] Zucker and a new Las Vegas franchise wanted to select the only Las Vegas-raised NHLer in history.

***

This post touches on just a handful of prominent teams, yet some interesting names like Marian Hossa, Rick Nash and Andrew Ladd come to the surface.

A wave of trades prior to the expansion draft could potentially provide just as much fodder.

In other words, if this comes about … you better get the popcorn (and maybe a calculator).

Metropolitan Division second-place battle: Rangers vs. Pens vs. Isles

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) skates in on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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There’s zero drama involving the Metropolitan Division title – the Washington Capitals have that one locked up, folks – but things get juicier from second place and on.

That wasn’t always the case, yet recent trends for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders really ratchet up the drama. Potentially, at least.

2. Rangers – 40-24-8, 88 points, 37 ROW in 72 games played
3. Penguins – 39-24-8, 86 points, 36 ROW in 71 GP

WC1. Islanders – 38-23-9, 85 points, 34 ROW in 70 GP
WC2. Red Wings – 36-25-11, 83 points, 34 ROW in 72 GP

Out right now: Flyers – 34-24-12, 80 points, 32 ROW in 70 GP

(Obviously, the Red Wings aren’t in the Metro, but wild card standings may matter to the runt of the order.)

As you can see from the standings, these teams are close, especially when you ponder the fact that each squad faces a different number of remaining games. So how does each road ahead look? Glad you totally asked.

(For the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep the Flyers out of this post, but they could easily get back in the mix. Cool?)

Rangers’ road

The Rangers may only have 10 games remaining, but to some degree, it’s a pretty cushy situation.

Starting Monday, three of their next four games are at Madison Square Garden. More broadly speaking, they have seven home games and just three away dates remaining.

They face the Penguins and Islanders in one home game apiece, as well, their only head-to-head meetings with those teams.

(None against the Flyers, in case you’re silently guessing at Philly’s chances, too.)

Ahead for the Penguins

You can basically use your calendar to split the Penguins’ remaining 11 games. The rest of March is theoretically beneficial: four of six contests at home.

April stands as a challenge, on the other hand. Four of five games are on the road. They face Philly at home and on the road (so even that home game could be intense) while they open April at the Islanders.

The Capitals might just snap out of cruise control to try to thwart them during an April 7 date in DC, too.

Isles in a decent spot

After a road-heavy schedule, the Islanders now have a chance to mop up points: six of their next eight games are in Brooklyn. Actually, it’s Isles-friendly overall, with eight of 12 at home.

They get to “control their destiny” a good bit, with two games against the FLyers, one against the Penguins and one against the Rangers.

***

These races could go any number of ways, so it should be interesting to watch the ebb and flow of each team. Buckle up for a fun final push.

Royal rebound: Kings clinch playoff spot

Los Angeles Kings left wing Tanner Pearson, second left, celebrates his goal with teammates, from left to right, Dustin Brown, Vincent Lecavalier, and Luke Schenn against the Boston Bruins during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
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Talk about a turnaround: a year after surprisingly fail to make the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings are the first team in the West to guarantee their place in the postseason.

(As you likely know, the Washington Capitals were the first team to do so in the NHL.)

The Kings clinched their berth in part thanks to beating the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Saturday. The NHL congratulated Los Angeles on that feat:

As much as this is a relief for the Kings after that tough 2014-15 season, let’s of course not forget that the Kings aren’t that far removed from winning a Stanley Cup, as they won it all in 2013-14.

This isn’t to say that the Kings are done working.

The Dallas Stars are ahead of the pack as the first team in the West. The Pacific Division title also is by no means in the bag, as the San Jose Sharks and especially the Anaheim Ducks are legitimate threats to grab that banner from Los Angeles.

So, yes, maybe the Kings can take a moment to pat themselves on the back … but just a moment. The next month could have an impact on how the postseason goes, after all.

(From the Bruins’ perspective, Saturday was a setback, as their loss and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s win firmly places Boston in third place in the Atlantic.)

Stars bolster Central lead by blanking Islanders

Dallas Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin, left, and New York Islanders forward Nikolay Kulemin (86) battle for the puck during the first period of an NHL Hockey game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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DALLAS (AP) Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves in Dallas’ first shutout since December, and the Stars beat the New York Islanders 3-0 on Saturday night to maintain their hold on sole possession of first place in the Western Conference.

Lehtonen earned his second shutout of the season and the 34th of his career. Cody Eakin, Patrick Eaves and Ales Hemsky scored for a depleted Dallas offense.

Tyler Seguin, the Stars’ 33-goal scorer, is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after having surgery on Friday to repair a partially torn right Achilles tendon. Eakin stepped up with his 15th goal in the second period and Eaves with his eighth on a third-period breakaway. Hemsky scored his 12th into an empty net with 2:54 remaining.

Dallas has 95 points – four ahead of both Los Angeles and St. Louis, who each played later Saturday – with nine games left.

Thomas Greiss made 33 saves for New York, which dropped to fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders are still in position for the Eastern Conference’s first wild card with 85 points and 12 games remaining.

The Stars outshot the Islanders 11-10 in a scoreless first period, and Dallas had better scoring chances.

Greiss stopped Antoine Roussel‘s in-close backhand shot four minutes into the game and gloved John Klingberg‘s wrist shot on the first power play. With about 11 minutes elapsed, Stephen Jones sent a shot from the right point off the left goalpost.

Near the middle of the second period, each team had good chances.

Hemsky faked a defenseman out of the say but then Hemsky’s short shot went wide right. For the Islanders, Anders Lee deflected a shot by Ryan Strome with his stick. The puck went behind Lehtonen but rolled off to the left of the net.

Eakin scored at 13:07 on a 2-on-1 break with Jamie Benn. Instead of passing to Benn on the left, Eakin lifted a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle over Greiss’ right shoulder.

In the third period, Eaves took away the puck at Dallas’ blue line and skated in alone on Greiss. Eaves’ first shot went into the goalie’s pads, but he knocked in the rebound.

Hemsky scored from the neutral zone with 2:54 left in the game to make it 3-0.

NOTES: Eakin has four goals and four assists in the last six games. … Klingberg returned after missing six games because of a lower-body injury. … In their first five games against Dallas with Lindy Ruff as the Stars’ coach, the Islanders scored 26 goals and were 4-0-1. … New York has had only seven power plays in the last six games.

Spaced out: Red Wings rally from two-goal deficit to beat Panthers

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, March 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Hopefully Kevin Spacey isn’t a frontrunner like a character in “House of Cards.”

The famous actor was given a strange-yet-warm greeting by the Florida Panthers on Saturday, drawing a record crowd to their building.

Unfortunately, the “Usual Suspects” star* saw the Panthers unravel after generating a 3-1 lead, dropping a 5-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Apparently this is at least a small (but troubling) trend for the Panthers:

MORE: All about Spacey embracing “Spacey in Space.”

Still, it’s tough to totally dissolve the good feelings of such an unlikely night. As of this moment, the Panthers aren’t just in playoff position; they’re still atop the Atlantic Division. (Late games for the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning will influence the size of that buffer.)

* – PHT resisted the urge to sarcastically list some weird/bad Spacey flicks, but feel free to cherry pick from his IMDB page if you’re bored.