Author: James O'Brien

Calgary Flames v Washington Capitals

Green wants to stay with Washington until he retires … or dies?

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Norris Trophy finalists don’t really hit the free agent market very often these days, but one would think that Mike Green would be highly sought after if he did. It sounds like he’d prefer to stay with the Washington Capitals, however.

When asked by Russian Machine Never Breaks, Green said he wants to remain with the only NHL team he’s known.

“My heart is in Washington,” Green said. “It always will be until something else happens. My focus is here. My focus is winning a championship here and giving that to the fans. As an organization, that’s what we want as a team. I’m a part of that until the day I die or retire.”

Injuries are always a concern for the 29-year-old (he’s missed some time this season, too), but he’s had a standout year already. His 39 points in 61 games is his best offensive total since the 2009-10 season when, the second and last time he produced 70+ points.

Expensive proposition

Retaining Green would likely be a very costly proposition for the Caps, as one got the impression that signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen meant that Green’s days were numbered.

Washington has more than $20 million in cap space locked up in Niskanen, Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov. One would imagine thta Green would get a deal that at least equals the $6.08 million cap hit he carries this season, so that would be one expensive blueline if Green returned.

The Capitals also have some other key moves to make. Most obviously, Braden Holtby needs a new deal, and he’s earned himself a big raise from his $1.85 million cap hit (even if he’s only an RFA).

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The specifics make it hard to imagine Green remaining in Washington after this season, so perhaps he’ll need to weigh the benefits of staying in a familiar place versus possibly getting a much bigger payday.

At least there’s a hidden benefit to all of this: he has that much more motivation to help the Capitals make the playoffs (and then make noise in the postseason).

Rask sees positives in Bruins already facing playoff-like urgency

Tuukka Rask
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When it comes to the final stretch of recent seasons, the Boston Bruins usually had a playoff spot locked up, using seeding as a source of motivation. This time around, they’re fighting for a wild card berth.

Tuukka Rask doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing, actually, as he told CSNNE.com.

“We’ve got a lot of big games coming up,”Rask said. “It feels like every game is a playoff right now, so when the playoffs come we won’t have to be mentally prepared. Or be scared that we’re going to fold because we won the President’s Trophy and stuff like that. I think we can make this work for us.”

Head coach Claude Julien backed up that notion, arguing that big games can bring out the best in a team.

We’ve certainly seen more of Rask’s best lately, too.

The 28-year-old started the season on a down note – at least according to his lofty standards – especially with just a 4-4-0 record and an usually bad .899 save percentage in October. He’s been looking a lot more like a defending Vezina winner since 2015 came around, something that’s seen most obvious in March: he’s 4-1-1 with an outstanding .952 save percentage.

Maybe pushing that hard can be a little taxing – he already sat out one game this week with “general soreness” – yet it keeps the Bruins and their franchise goalie sharp. One imagines it may be refreshing to play more of an underdog role after a stretch of ranking among the East’s favorites.

All of that said, this CSNNE.com article argues that the Bruins aren’t totally out of the woods just yet:

Along with the general softness across this team’s roster and the intermittent offensive droughts, there are times when the Bruins want things to be easy. It’s a natural human trait, to be sure, but it’s also the sign of a team that doesn’t consistently set the bar high enough. The intensity, desire and compete level of the recently great B’s teams hasn’t been there on most nights.

That column is a reminder that, with all the scrappy talk, the Bruins still face considerable pressure to succeed.

On the bright side, the team and especially Rask seem to be responding to this challenge (at least so far).

Is Nail Yakupov starting to figure things out?

Los Angeles Kings v Edmonton Oilers
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Aside from being months away from grabbing yet another can’t-miss prospect, there haven’t been a lot of bright sides for the Edmonton Oilers to look on. Nail Yakupov’s last two months might be one point of optimism, though.

The team’s most wayward No. 1 overall pick has looked positively lost at times during his first three years in the NHL, inspiring at least some thoughts that maybe he was rushed to the top league. Even at 21, especially impatient observers probably were getting worried about the budding sniper.

While his possession stats argue that there’s still plenty of room for improvement, the top pick of the 2012 NHL Draft is at least starting to produce some offense lately.

Seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel?

He extended a five-game point streak last night with a goal and an assist, giving him three goals and three assists in that span. After only generating 12 points in his first 50 games this season, Yakupov now has 16 points in his last 20.

Again, it doesn’t take that long to find something to nitpick; Yakupov also has a -8 rating in his more positive last two months, giving him a -33 mark that matches last year’s troubling total. Many rightly dismiss plus/minus as a stat that often reflects the quality of one’s team (and/or linemates) more than anything else, yet more traditional-stats-minded people will use that to question how much progress the young Russian has really made.

Still, when you consider the fact that he only managed a goal in a 21-game span from November 13 – Dec. 30, generating a long stretch where he scores in almost every game is a breath of fresh air.

A feel-good story

It seems like he’s generating some positive press off of the ice, too.

There was a buzz created as word surfaced about Yakupov’s generosity toward a homeless man, but he just shrugged it off to QMI.

“I usually like to give money to homeless, guys sitting with animals, cats or dogs,” Yakupov said. “It’s a touching moment. I can’t just walk by. I always like to give them something to buy some food.”

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Yakupov and the Oilers still have a long, long way to go, but at least there are finally some signs of progress for the struggling prospect.

PHT Morning Skate: Mario Lemieux had heroes, too

Pittsburgh Penguins Unveil Mario Lemieux Statue
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

The Montreal Gazette shared a rare file photo of a young Mario Lemieux looking with admiration at Guy Lafleur. To give you an idea of him just being a face in the crowd at that point, he apparently wasn’t even listed in the caption of the photo that ran. Check that photo out in the story linked here. (Montreal Gazette)

A review of the first episode of “Hockey Wives.” (Sportsnet)

Are the Buffalo Sabres winning their way out of “McEichel?” (Hockey News)

Editor’s Note: Play one-day fantasy hockey tonight! Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $25,000 league for Thursday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first place wins $2,000. Starts Thursday at 7:30pm ET. Enter Now!

How has Winnipeg fared since Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little got injured? (Jets Nation)

Some kudos to Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. (SB Nation NHL)

Blackhawks scratch Versteeg

Florida Panthers v Chicago Blackhawks
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The Chicago Blackhawks seemed like they were on the verge of scratching Kris Versteeg on Tuesday, yet it turns out they’re doing so against the New York Rangers tonight, instead.

Michal Rozsival and Daniel Carcillo are the other Blackhawks scratches, as CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers notes. Andrew Desjardins gets into Chicago’s lineup in Versteeg’s absence while David Rundblad replaces Rozsival.

Versteeg realized earlier this week that he’s been performing poorly (in more colorful words) so this cannot be a huge surprise. Perhaps it will be the kind of push that inspires him to produce more regularly? That’s certainly the hope.