Ryan Dadoun

Minnesota Wild left wing Thomas Vanek controls the puck during NHL hockey training camp in St. Paul, Minn., Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
AP Photo

Wild GM Fletcher undecided on Vanek buyout, but notes ‘our cap situation is much better this year’

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Thomas Vanek hopes he’s not bought out, but his rough 2015-16 campaign has made that a possibility.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher certainly isn’t ruling it out, but at the same time he also presented an assessment for Vanek that was in a way more of a mixed than negative review.

“I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team,” Fletcher said, per the StarTribune. “He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year.”

That last point is particularly relevant given that a buyout essentially boils down to missing out on the chance of Vanek bouncing back in exchange for some short-term cap relief. To put figures on it, buying out Vanek would save Minnesota $5 million in cap space for the 2016-17 campaign, but then it will cost Minnesota $2.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.

With Vanek in the books, the Wild are projected to consume $63.8 million in cap space next season and that figure doesn’t including pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Matt Dumba, or Darcy Kuemper. If the 2016-17 ceiling is $74 million, as has been previously suggested, then it seems reasonable to believe that Minnesota can lock up its RFAs, keep Vanek, and still have some flexibility left over to engage in other changes over the summer. Although obviously gaining an extra $5 million would make it easier for them to make more sizable moves.

“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options,” Fletcher said.

The plan is for Fletcher to take a couple weeks before deciding on what to do with Vanek.

Related: No Chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh at Washington – Game 1

Washington Capitals' goalie Braden Holtby (70) makes a save during the first period of an NHL hockey game, against the Ottawa Senators, Tuesday, March 22, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario.  (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The Canadian Press via AP
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The series between Pittsburgh and Washington will kick off tonight and while it’s obviously highlighted by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, that’s far from the only interesting storyline in this series.

For example, for all the offensive might that these two squads feature, this series has the potential to be a terrific goaltending duel. Braden Holtby is a Vezina Trophy finalist who posted a 0.84 GAA against Philadelphia in the first round. Matt Murray is just 21 years old and naturally far less established as a result, but so far he has looked like a star in the making. After dominating in the minors, Murray had a 2.00 GAA and .930 save percentage in 13 regular season games this season. In the playoffs he’s managed to improve to a 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage in three starts.

This series will be a big test for both goaltenders, but while we might be talking about a player that had a hat trick at the end of the night, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the final score is 2-1 or 1-0 thanks to some stellar work between the pipes.

If you want to see what happens, the game is scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m. ET and will air on NBCSN. You can also stream it online via the link below:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

NHL_2016_StanleyCupPlayoffs

This will be an unusual night for the NHL. The second round will begin tonight, but we’ll also see the conclusion of the first round. You’ll be able to watch both of those contests on TV and by using the NBC Sports Live Extra app though and they’re nicely spread out too.

Here’s where you can see the action:

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (7:00 p.m. ET)

Game 1 of this series will be covered by NBCSN. If you want to stream the game, you can do so by clicking here.

Nashville at Anaheim (10:00 p.m. ET)

The Game 7 finale will also air on NBCSN. You also have the option of watching it online by clicking here.

Here’s some reading material to prepare you for tonight’s games:

Stamkos back at Bolts practice, three weeks after vascular surgery

Predators fight off extinction by forcing Game 7 vs. Ducks

Bolts hoping Stralman ‘will make an appearance’ in second round

John Tavares’ double OT goal gives Isles first series win since ’93

Umberger expects Flyers to buy him out

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That Scott Hartnell trade certainly didn’t work out like the Philadelphia Flyers wanted and R.J. Umberger is well aware of that.

Just two years after the Flyers acquired Umberger and a fourth round pick (Austin Wagner) from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exhange for Hartnell, Umberger now believes Philadelphia will buy him out.

“I expect one,” he told CSN Philly. “Who wouldn’t after my season? That’s something up to them, their decision. Business side of it, you can’t control that.”

Umberger was limited to just 15 points in 67 contests in 2014-15, but injuries were a factor. He was very optimistic coming into this season, asserting that he felt “like a different person”, but in the end he scored just two goals and 11 points in 39 contests. He was frequently listed as a healthy scratch and wasn’t used at all in the playoffs.

Umberger comes with a $4.6 million annual cap hit, but the 2016-17 campaign is the last season of his contract. Buying him out would save the Flyers $3 million in cap space next season, but cost them $1.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.

This is the 33-year-old forward’s second stint with the Flyers as they were also the team he debuted with back in 2005. Philadelphia originally dealt him to Columbus in 2008 along with a 2008 fourth round pick (Drew Olson) in order to get a 2008 first round pick (Luca Sbisa) and third rounder (Marc-Andre Bourdon). From there Umberger reached the 20-goal milestone in four straight campaigns, but he hasn’t managed to hit that mark since 2011-12.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL 17 cover vote is underway

San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski, left, and Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, chase the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo
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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.

Who do you think should be on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 17? The voting for Round 1 is now open. (NHL.com)

The teams have taken to campaigning for their players on Twitter too. Though it means not giving equal time to each candidate, here is nevertheless a sampling:

Washington has a lengthy playoff history with Pittsburgh and much of it has been bad for the Capitals. Thom Loverro believes that beating the Penguins now would “go a long way to changing the culture of the expectation of loss.” (Washington Times).

Though the Florida Panthers weren’t able to make it past the first round, they are optimistic about their future. (Panthers’ Official Website)

The Islanders have gotten exactly what they were hoping for when they drafted John Tavares in 2009. (Washington Times)

Speaking of the 2009 draft, Victor Hedman was taken with the second overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now the two are on opposite sides of the upcoming second round series. (Newsday)

Here are some interesting numbers from the Chicago Blackhawks’ brief, but eventful, 2016 playoff run. (CSN Chicago)