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Carolina has the ‘open for business sign out there’

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Ron Francis is ready to make more deals.

Heading into the offseason, Francis had 11 draft picks at this June’s draft, and already used one — a third-rounder — to acquire Scott Darling from Chicago.

Now, the Hurricanes GM is prepared to use more in the hopes of adding to the roster.

“We’ve got the open for business sign out there,” Francis said Wednesday, per the News & Observer. “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting.

“Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

It’s pretty obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters is to get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

It sounds like more than just picks could be in play.

The News & Observer said the ‘Canes “aren’t agonizing” over the expansion draft, as the team has a pretty good idea of who’ll be exposed. So it could be a case of identifying the players that will remain, and seeing what assets they may fetch in return.

There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin. Though it might seem strange to dangle a gifted 20-year-old d-man with loads of potential, Carolina has good depth on the blueline with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. It’s expected that prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury will push for NHL jobs next year, and there’s still ’16 first-rounder Jake Bean on the horizon.

Francis also has another asset at his disposal — cap space.

It’s what allowed the ‘Canes to snag Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for the price of taking on Bryan Bickell‘s contract. Another similar move could very well be in the cards, especially when the NHL releases next year’s cap ceiling figure.

Modern-day Senators have never won Game 7

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Thursday in Pittsburgh, the Ottawa Senators will not only be playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, they’ll also be looking for their first Game 7 triumph in franchise history.

The Sens, in their modern form, have been around since 1992. Five times they’ve gone to Game 7. All five times they’ve lost.

Their most recent Game 7 loss came in 2012, when they fell to the Rangers in the first round.

But arguably their most painful loss came in 2003, when they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final — right where they are now — and fell to the eventual champs from New Jersey.

That 2003 Game 7 was played at home, too. And the Sens back then featured the likes of Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Wade Redden, and Zdeno Chara. They had won the Presidents’ Trophy with 113 points in the regular season.

But after cruising fairly comfortably through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Sens were finally beaten by a Jeff Friesen goal with just over two minutes remaining in Game 7. The Devils took the game, 3-2, then went on to beat the Ducks in seven.

Now, obviously, the 2017 Senators didn’t have anything to do with that game, or the other four Game 7 defeats.

That said, they’ll be big underdogs in their sixth try tomorrow in Pittsburgh. If they can somehow find a way to knock off the Penguins, it’ll be some kind of special victory.

Penguins redefining defense by committee

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Russia, World Hockey Championship semifinal

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The World Hockey Championship features two classic rivalry matchups for its semifinal round on Saturday.

Later on, Sweden takes on Finland, because of course. The juiciest battle may just be coming up, however, as many in the hockey world still – justifiably – get excited for Canada vs. Russia.

To little surprise, both countries boast a heavy presence on the tournament’s points leaders listArtemi Panarin and Nikita Kucherov have carried over strong 2016-17 success to the tourney, while Nathan MacKinnon and Mitch Marner are leading the way for a typically loaded Canadian group.

The action is slated to begin at 9:15 a.m. ET. CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.

Could the ‘Hawks be forced to move Anisimov?

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The question has become an annual tradition in Chicago:

Who are we going to lose this summer?

Seemingly every offseason, GM Stan Bowman is tasked with getting his team cap compliant, which usually means jettisoning a significant player (or two). Last year, it was Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen. The summer prior to that, it was Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad.

This year Scott Darling has already been sent to Carolina, and Bowman still has work to do. Could that include shipping out Artem Anisimov, one of the key pieces acquired in the Saad trade?

More, from the Chicago Tribune:

Anisimov has been rumored to be on the block given his reasonable contract and good production the last few years.

And the Hawks may believe they have potential second-line centers in Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero to play between Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.

Anisimov, who turns 29 this month, just wrapped the first of a five-year, $22.75 million deal with a $4.55M average annual cap hit. That’s pretty good value for a guy that’s thrived offensively next to Kane and Panarin — this year, Anisimov scored a career-best 45 points, despite only playing in 64 games.

Had he stayed healthy and played all 82, he’s looking at close to 60 points.

Anisimov has a no-movement clause and, beginning in ’18-19, a modified no-trade (in which he can list up to 10 teams he can be traded to).

There have been other options floated in Chicago, of course. Many have pointed to Marcus Kruger — who makes $3.08M annually — as a candidate to be moved, and there’s been talk about trying to offload the remainder of Marian Hossa‘s contract (which runs through 2021).

The catch is that Anisimov would likely net a much higher return than Kruger or Hossa. Centers of his caliber, and with his cap hit, have pretty good value across the league. Getting something quality in return could be a necessity for Bowman, who vowed to make the team better after a disappointing playoff exit.