Devils may start season with just 20 players thanks to salary cap crunch

NewJerseyDevils_logo.gifWe all know that the Devils have some cap issues to deal with by now. They’ve also got some injury problems as well and both fortunately and unfortunately for them, they can use those two issues to help themselves out of a bit of a mess.

Defensemen Bryce Salvador and Anssi Salmela are expected to begin the season on the LTIR which gives the Devils room to go over the cap by the amount of their combined salaries. Even though that hasn’t happened yet, that solution is being counted on to happen and would only allow the Devils to start the year with the minimum 20 players needed to ice a team each night. Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice examines the possibility.

Nothing is certain yet, but as the signs pointed today to the Devils going with only 20 players on their roster to meet Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline to be under the salary cap, there was a definite feeling of relief among the players that were possible candidates to be moved.

Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner admited he felt “a little bit” of relief that it appears he will still be with the team when it opens the regular season Friday night at Prudential Center against Dallas..

“It looks like this is what it’s going to be going forward for a while,” Langenbrunner said. “Everyone will have to fend for their health, but for now the focus is on Friday. All of us in this business know that there’s never going to be relief any time, so I don’t think it’s that’s big of a deal for us. (But) we knew something was going to happen or we thought something would, so there’s a little bit of relief.”

The trick with going with just the minimum of 20 players is that you can’t afford minor injuries to anyone. If an injury isn’t serious enough to put a guy on LTIR (which means a minimum of 24 days lost or 10 games missed) the team can’t do much to replace that player on the roster. As it is, by putting Salmela and Salvador on LTIR, it gives the Devils about $85,000 in cap space.

What that means is if the team wants to bring in Adam Mair, who’s been in camp on a professional tryout, they’ll need to move someone out to free up the cap space, even to sign him to a NHL minimum contract. It makes life difficult for Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, but it’s a situation he was more than well aware of.

As it is, hearing the team will only go with a 20-man roster is a huge relief to players like Dainius Zubrus, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, and Colin White who have had their names bandied about in trade rumors and waiver speculation. Their jobs are safe for now, but once it’s time for Salmela and Salvador to return, things will change.

For now, the Devils just have to keep their heads about them and make sure they don’t get dinged up. With six games in the season’s first nine days, that could be a tall order for the Devils.

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    Maurice wants Jets to stay loose ahead of elimination game

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    WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice wants the Jets to focus on fun, not the magnitude of Sunday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    The expansion Golden Knights are up 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference final and could eliminate the Jets and reach the Stanley Cup Final with a victory.

    ”These are the best games, always are, when everything is on the line,” Maurice said Saturday. ”Everybody will be at their most excited. You have to find a way, and it shouldn’t be very difficult, to love every minute of it. … This has to be your finest hour. Before the puck drops, I’m not talking about the play, be able to get your mind that this is the most fun game of the year now.”

    The Jets have accomplished more in the playoffs than the Atlanta Thrashers franchise did before relocating to Manitoba in 2011. They’ve also surpassed the achievements of the original NHL Jets franchise that moved to Arizona in 1996.

    As the current Winnipeg team eliminated the Minnesota Wild in the first round in five games and then bounced the Predators in a Game 7 in Nashville, fans from across the country have cheered on the only Canadian team left in the championship run.

    Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot and his teammates have seen the adoration, particularly in Winnipeg with their white-clad crowd inside Bell MTS Place and thousands more outside at ”whiteout” street parties around the rink.

    Now, though, isn’t the time to let the hopes of hockey fans weigh them down, he said.

    ”I don’t think you can think about that, how many people we have watching us,” Chiarot said.

    ”It’s a little daunting when you think of a whole province, or even the whole country, watching us play. So you just focus on what you do and the guys in the room and that’s all we focus on.”

    Winnipeg won the first game against the Golden Knights at home.

    The Jets had an NHL-best home record of 32-7-2 in the regular season and finished with nine straight victories at home. They added four more in the playoffs, but have lost three of their last four games at home.

    In the last two losses to Vegas, the Jets gave up the first goal. When they did tie it up in both matches, the Golden Knights responded with goals in under a minute to regain their lead.

    ”It’s going to be really important, not only just to score the first, but just to have a good start,” Jets forward Andrew Copp said. ”We felt like we actually started OK last game, just kind of got in penalty trouble early. That can determine how it looks like you start.”

    If the Jets can pull out a victory Sunday, Game 6 is Tuesday night in Las Vegas. A Game 7 would be Thursday night in Winnipeg.

    Maurice wants his players to approach the do-or-die game like their Game 7 victory in Nashville.

    ”I want them to take their experience from Game 6 and 7 and create the environment they created there where they came out with an excitement and smile on their face,” he said. ”Going into Game 7, there’s as much pressure in that game as there was here, right? It’s the exact same game. This one is at home. We’ll need that crowd. They’ve been great for us.

    ”Both teams, all four teams now (left in the playoffs), there’s not quite as much in the tank as there was before. You’re looking to draw on that and go out with an excited smile.”

    PHT’s Three Stars: Vasilevskiy, Callahan lead Lightning in Game 5

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    1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Vasilevskiy’s great play continued in Game 5 after a bit of a stumble to start the series. In making 28 saves, he helped the Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. He’s now stopped 100 of the last 106 shots he’s faced. Tampa can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final with a win Monday night in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

    2nd Star: Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Callahan had his biggest game of the playofs with a goal and an assist in the Tampa win. He first assisted on Cedric Paquette‘s opening goal 19 seconds into the game and followed that up with an early tally himself in the second period. His goal, which would end up standing as the game-winner, came just 33 seconds into the middle period.

    3rd Star: Dan Girardi, Tampa Bay Lightning

    The blue liner logged 19:34 during Game 5 and blocked a game high four shots, including one in the final minute on Alex Ovechkin to help preserve the lead.

    [Quick-striking Lightning on verge of Stanley Cup Final berth]

    Highlight of the Night:

    John Carlson might have nightmares about this save by Vasilevskiy with seconds to go:

    Factoid of the Night:

    Sunday’s schedule: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream (Vegas leads series 3-1)

    MORE:
    Conference Finals schedule, TV info
    NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Quick-striking Lightning on verge of Stanley Cup Final berth

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    You can’t spot a team a 3-0 lead and expect to win in the playoffs.

    And while the Washington Capitals tried desperately to not fall victim to their own undoing earlier in the game, they simply ran out of time in a 3-2 loss on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The Lightning now lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 as the series shifts back to D.C. for Game 6 on Monday. Tampa is 7-0 all-time in Washington in the playoffs and has now won three straight in the series after falling behind 0-2.

    In the first period and into the second, the Capitals appeared to be the same old disappointing playoff team — they just delayed their arrival this season for an extra round.

    [PHT’s Three Stars: Vasilevskiy, Callahan lead Lightning in Game 5]

    This does look like vintage Capitals collapse, no?

    Giving their opponents a 3-0 lead in just over 20 minutes, including allowing goals at 19 seconds of the first period (Cedric Paquette) and 33 seconds of the second period (Ryan Callahan), isn’t a winning formula.

    Nor is your superstar getting exactly zero shots on goal for the first 58 minutes of the game.

    Sure, Alex Ovechkin hit the bar earlier in the third period, and once he did get shooting, he found twine on his second shot of the game with 1:36 left and the net empty, but it was all too late in the end.

    Tampa is now a team on the verge of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final and the Capitals on the brink of their yearly disappointing exit from the postseason.

    A silver lining: Evgeny Kuznetsov keeps producing. But you’re not winning a conference final riding on the back of one player, as Washington is figuring out.

    The urgency displayed in the third period from the Caps would be better used spread out over all three periods.

    But perhaps most concerning for the Capitals is how Tampa found their stride 5-on-5.

    They didn’t manage to win the puck possession battle (as per usual in this series) but they did have a nearly 3-to-1 edge on high-danger scoring chances for at 15-6.

    All three of their goals came at 5-on-5 and they didn’t have to rely on their power play to get their offense rolling.

    That will be interesting to watch in Game 6. Giving the Lightning a man-advantage was a death sentence. But if they’re scoring 5-on-5 as well, Washington is going to be in a world of hurt.

    This isn’t helping either:

    MORE:
    Conference Finals schedule, TV info
    NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    NHL Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals TV Schedule

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    The conference finals are now set with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals meeting in the East and the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets facing off in the West. The round to determine who will play for the 2018 Stanley Cup will begin Friday.

    Here’s the full Round 3 schedule:

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals (Lightning lead series 3-2)

    Friday, May 11, 8pm: Capitals 4, Lightning 2
    Sunday, May 13, 8pm: Capitals 6, Lightning 2
    Tuesday, May 15, 8pm: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
    Thursday, May 17, 8pm: Lightning 4, Capitals 2
    Saturday, May 19, 7:15pm: Lightning 3, Capitals 2
    Monday, May 21, 8pm: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN
    *Wednesday, May 23, 8pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN

    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets (Golden Knights lead series 3-1)

    Saturday, May 12, 7pm: Jets 4, Golden Knights 2
    Monday, May 14, 8pm: Golden Knights 3, Jets 1
    Wednesday, May 16, 9pm: Golden Knights 4, Jets 2
    Friday, May 18, 8pm: Golden Knights 3, Jets 2
    Sunday, May 20, 3pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC
    *Tuesday, May 22, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN
    *Thursday, May 24, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN

    MORE:
    PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
    PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
    NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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    Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.