Around the rink – Saturday, December 18th

A busy day and night lies ahead in the NHL with one matinee game kicking things off in style in Philadelphia as the Flyers play their first game without Chris Pronger. Getting the gutsy Rangers first should make for an interesting test. As for the rest of the night, our eyes are peeled in Boston as the Capitals come calling again and in Nashville where the red hot Predators deal with the Kings. Oh yeah, and Ilya Kovalchuk makes his less-than-triumphant return to Atlanta. Does he get booed or laughed at? All times are Eastern.

1:00 pm

NY Rangers @ Philadelphia

No Pronger for Philly and Oskars Bartulis gets to replace him. No pressure there we’re sure. Meanwhile, the Flyers are on a four game win streak while the Rangers come in winners of three straight. It’s got all the makings of a rivalry classic in Philly. The Rangers are winning the tough close games while the Flyers have found the offense to put teams away more effectively.

7:00 pm

Washington @ Boston

Something’s got to give here. Two teams that are trending in bad ways. The Caps are losers of seven in a row while the Bruins have dropped their last three. Boston’s played tough in their last two but have come out on the short end of things while the Caps have been temperamental alternating between poor efforts with worse results to playing great and getting no breaks. This is the fourth and final time these two teams meet up this season and the Bruins own a 2-1-0 edge on the Caps. Washington will be without Alexander Semin who didn’t travel with the team to Boston because of a lower body injury. The flu bug that’s gone through the entire Caps locker room is bothering defensemen Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan. There’s one great eight the Caps don’t want to see by the end of the night and that’s an eighth straight loss. Captain Ovechkin will have shoulder the load against the tough Bruins.

New Jersey @ Atlanta

How’s this for a turn of events? Ilya Kovalchuk gets dealt to New Jersey after years of playing for losing teams in Atlanta. Now he returns to Atlanta for the first time this season and the Thrashers are in the thick of the playoff hunt while the Devils are mired in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. We know that Kovalchuk will hear boos but we can’t help but wonder if a chorus of “Ha-Ha’s” a la Nelson Muntz from “The Simpsons” might be more fitting. The Devils are coming off another bad loss last night, this time to Nashville, meanwhile Atlanta has dropped two in a row in the shootout.

Phoenix @ NY Islanders

Well hey look, the Islanders are on fire. All right, so one win doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on fire but it’s close enough for the woeful Isles. Getting to match up with a Coyotes team that isn’t fairing too well on the east coast trip could help keep themselves motivated. Phoenix has dropped two in a row and are coming off a shootout loss to the Rangers that stung worse because they blew a 3-1 lead in that one.

Anaheim @ Carolina

A grumpy Ducks team rolls into Raleigh after suffering the ignominy of losing to the Islanders. Carolina, on the other hand, have won three straight including two in the shootout. The Hurricanes are getting some great play from Brandon Sutter of late and having him pick things up helps keep the pressure off of rookie Jeff Skinner. The Ducks, meanwhile, need to get some production from lines aside from the first one. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry can’t do the heavy lifting every night.

Dallas @ Columbus

Columbus sure seemed to miss Kristian Huselius. Without Huselius’ hat trick against Edmonton on Thursday night the Blue Jackets 6-3 loss would’ve looked even uglier than it actually was. As it is, the Jackets would kill to get some efficiency out of goalie Steve Mason. Mason over the last four weeks has been nothing short of miserable and now that backup goalie Mathieu Garon has returned to earth after a hot start of his own, the defensive deficiencies of Columbus are really starting to show through. Going up against a Dallas team that’s got Brad Richards and James Neal playing great won’t help matters there very much. After going on a five game win streak, the Blue Jackets have won just two of their next 11 games. The Stars would like to just regain some consistency as they’ve alternated between wins and losses over their last four games.

Toronto @ Vancouver

An odd early start out on the west coast for this one, but for Leafs fans across Canada, they get to see their team in prime time on Hockey Night in Canada. The Leafs will be without Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he’s out indefinitely with another groin injury.  If the Leafs continue to play defense the way they did in a 5-2 loss to Calgary it won’t matter who’s in goal for them because they will lose. Vancouver has won three of their last four games and appear to be snapping out of their mental funk that’s kept them playing inconsistent this year winning seven of their last nine games.

7:30 pm

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay

After laying an egg last night against Florida, the Sabres hope to find their stride again. After they got a big win over Boston earlier this week, that could’ve been the turnaround they were looking for. A 6-2 loss to Florida says they’re back to square one. Tampa Bay meanwhile has Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup and they’re winners of two in a row. If they can get their goaltending right, they’ll be able to start scaring some teams.

8:00 pm

San Jose @ St. Louis

The Blues will be hoping to continue their assault against California teams. They’re coming off a big win over Los Angeles and now dealing with a Sharks team that’s playing like they’re on a roller coaster, catching them on the right night means getting a win. With the Sharks you just never know what you’re going to get. One night it’s the offensive juggernaut, on others it’s a fight with bad goaltending, and on others it’s the team decked out in v-neck sweaters singing fractured Christmas carols.

Los Angeles @ Nashville

Life is good for Nashville of late. They’re missing a bunch of guys up front and their starting goalie and it just doesn’t matter. They keep winning. They’ve won eight of their last nine games and have trimmed the distance between themselves and the Red Wings in the Central. Now they face off with a Kings team eager to put their failure in St. Louis behind them. For the Kings it’s the first of two brutal back-to-back games as they’ll head to Chicago for a game on Sunday following this tough one with the Predators. If the Kings are going to show what they’re made of, getting a win in Nashville would be huge.

10:00 pm

Minnesota @ Calgary

Hockey Night in Canada’s nightcap game doesn’t really give us the warm fuzzies, but when these two get together you’re either guaranteed a huge game from Jarome Iginla or the Wild opening up the floodgates on the Flames. This time around, we’re praying for both things to happen to keep us going into the late night hours. The Wild come in losers of two in a row while the Flames have won two straight.

You can probably add Craig Anderson’s name to the available goalie market

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After jettisoning Mike Hoffman earlier this week the Ottawa Senators may have a few more significant trades coming their way this offseason.

The big names at the top of that list include defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Zack Smith.

Another name that could be on the way out of town: Starting goalie Craig Anderson, a potential move that only adds to a suddenly increasing goalie market.

Earlier on Friday there were multiple reports that the Senators were working with Anderson to facilitate a trade. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported the team was working with Anderson’s agent to find the veteran goalie a new home, while The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson reported that Anderson had expressed a desire to move on. Meanwhile, Anderson’s agent told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that “Ottawa has never asked for me help. They’re going to do whatever they can to improve their team. If that means they’ll trade Craig Anderson, they’ll trade Craig Anderson.”

So there is all of that.

While the unrestricted free agent market for potential starting goalies looked thin at the start of the season the goalie market has improved quite a bit over the past few days.

First, it seems quite likely that the Washington Capitals are going to trade Philipp Grubauer as he attempts to get out of Braden Holtby‘s shadow and become a starter. The Capitals are expecting to get a late first or early second round draft pick. He might be the most intriguing option available given his age and the fact he has played exceptionally well when given an opportunity with the Capitals.

Robin Lehner is also going to be available after the Buffalo Sabres confirmed that they will not be giving him a restricted free agent qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Lehner is coming off of a down year for the Sabres in 2017-18 but was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with a .922 save percentage in 80 appearances. He turns 27 later this summer and would not cost any assets to acquire in a trade.

[Related: Time for the Sabres to upgrade in goal]

And then there is Anderson. For most of his career Anderson has been one of the more productive starting goalies in the league and has pretty consistently posted strong numbers. But like most of the Senators he is coming off of a brutal 2017-18 performance and will be 37 years old at the start of the season, making him the third oldest goalie in the league behind only Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller. He also is signed for two more years at more than $4 million per season. Along with the assets a team would have to give up in a trade (probably not a lot) that is a big price to commit to a goalie that has probably already played his best hockey.

Still, there are some options. And there are a lot of teams that will be in the market for a goalie — probably more than we are used to seeing at this time of year.

The New York Islanders should be desperate to fix their goalie situation and have a connection to Grubauer with Trotz taking over as their new head coach.

The Sabres, by letting Lehner hit the open market, will also be in need of a new starter unless they really trust Linus Ullmark, which doesn’t seem likely.

The Senators, assuming they trade Anderson, would also need a new goaltender and you can’t count out the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, or Detroit Red Wings. The Chicago Blackhawks could also be in play for one of these guys if Corey Crawford — a player we still have no official update on —  isn’t ready to return for the start of the season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rasmus Dahlin addition can be a franchise changer for Sabres

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DALLAS — The moment NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly flipped over the card to reveal the Buffalo Sabres logo, it was a done deal where Rasmus Dahlin would begin his professional hockey career.

But maybe out of superstition or not wanting to get ahead of things, the 18-year-old Dahlin isn’t assuming that the Sabres will call his name Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas during the NHL Draft (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). He’s still in a wait-and-see mode until it’s time to announce the first overall selection.

“It feels crazy to me, actually,” Dahlin said on Thursday. “I can’t believe it. Sometime in the future I’ll be able to stop and think, ‘What am I going through?’ and all that kind of stuff. I’m just trying to enjoy this time as much as I can.”

For the past year, the YouTube videos and GIFs of Dahlin’s smooth skating and elite hockey skills have been on display for the world. His talents quickly had fans of downtrodden teams adopting the “Falling for Dahlin” mindset, hoping they could somehow manage to add this generational player to their roster.

The Sabres were the lucky ones to win the lottery and are hoping Dahlin’s presence is another building block — to go along with Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt — that will lead to a turnaround of the franchise’s fortunes. It may take some time before that happens, but watching the Trollhättan, Sweden native sure sounds like it’s going to be fun.

“Between his puck skills and his skating speed and agility, he cuts through opposing defenses when he carries the puck up the ice like they were not even there,” writes McKeen’s Hockey in their NHL draft issue. “Once he has gained the zone, he can and will generate magic with almost every touch. He needs only the tiniest of gaps in coverage and he can skate deep into the zone or hit a teammate with a killer pass.”

“Impressive agility makes him a good one-on-one defender. He has fine passing ability, and although not a big-time bomber, he has an accurate shot from the point,” according to Erik Piri of Elite Prospects. “Not one to shy away from the physical game, Dahlin is an accomplished open-ice hitter.”

Just watch.

“You watch him on the ice and you’re very impressed with his hockey sense, his speed, his puck skills,” said Sabres general manager Jason Botterill. “But a very humble man off the ice. I was very impressed with his self-assessment and what he has to improve on and just the focus he has.”

After two years with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, Dahlin’s jump to the NHL next fall will require some improvements, even as his flashy YouTube highlight reels garner thousands of views. He said that this past year he felt more comfortable playing at a higher level and that his defensive zone coverage was better..

“I have to get better in my overall game. To play in a higher level you have to be stronger also. Pretty much everything. I’m excited,” he said.

Dahlin has already gotten to know Buffalo as a city a little bit having spent time up there earlier this month for the NHL Draft Combine. He sees many similarities with his hometown of Trollhättan, which should make the move even more comfortable.

Once he arrives in Buffalo, the expectations that he can help a franchise turnaround will increase. The city is a hockey-mad market eagerly awaiting the day they get to watch a winning team on a regular basis again. But despite that incoming pressure, Dahlin won’t allow it to affect him.

“You can’t think that way,” he said. “You just have to try and play your game and to be the best that you can.”

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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.

NHL draft action likely to begin with Montreal at No. 3

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DALLAS (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens could make the first real move in the NHL draft with the third overall pick.

If everything goes as expected in Big D on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, play-making Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will be the first overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres. Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov will then go to Carolina.

”Obviously Rasmus and Andrei deserve it, they’re unbelievable players,” American prospect Brady Tkachuk said Thursday. ”From the third (pick) on, it’s just whatever the team wants, so we’ll see what happens. But it’s going to be pretty exciting to be a part of.”

So the real draft action should begin when Montreal goes on the clock.

The Canadiens will have their choice of the other top prospects like right wing Filip Zadina, who’s playing in the Quebec league, and Tkachuk, the left wing from Boston University who is looking to follow father Keith and brother Mathew into the NHL. Maybe Finnish center Jesper Kotkaniemi.

Plenty of other top defensemen will also be on the board, including Adam Boqvist, Quintin Hughes, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard.

”The most important is going to be tomorrow when Montreal goes on the stage, and they will say my name or not,” Zadina said. ”I’m just glad I can be there in the top five, top six players. It’s unbelievable.”

Or maybe the Canadiens, who have 10 picks in the seven-round draft over two days, make a deal and let another team move into that slot.

Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s assistant general manager, expects GM Marc Bergevin’s to be ringing.

”We’re ready to go,” Timmins said Thursday. ”The list is never set in stone until we go head to the draft from the hotel here, but we’re confident of the prospects that we like … right from that third overall pick to the last pick we make on Saturday.”

Timmins said centers, offensive defensemen and scoring wingers have the highest asset value on the Canadiens draft board, and that all are needs in their organization.

Ottawa has the fourth pick, and No. 22, and team officials were going through scenarios again Thursday.

”It was one of the best meetings I’ve had with scouts in 20 years talking about what we plan on doing at (No.) 4, what possibilities are at 22, how these players will impact our organization moving forward,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said. ”We’re just excited. We suffered this year. There’s no doubt we suffered as a team with the number of losses. But the one good thing is we know we’re getting a really good player here.”

Arizona, Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago, the New York Rangers and Edmonton hold the final picks in the top 10. The New York Islanders, who on Thursday hired Stanley Cup champion coach Barry Trotz, then have consecutive picks before the draft-hosting Dallas Stars select 13th.

The draft at the American Airlines Center comes 25 years after the former Minnesota North Stars moved to bring NHL hockey to Dallas.

Coyotes GM John Chayka said he has five players who would fit his team in the fifth spot.

”We understand that there’s a variety of outcomes that could exist and then we’re going to have a plan in place that accounts for any of the iterations of what could occur,” Chayka said. ”It’ll be an interesting draft. I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to move up and opportunities to move down and opportunities to stay and take the pick.”

While general managers and team officials did their final prep for the draft, several of the top prospects took part in other activities in the Dallas area.

The prospects first were at a youth hockey clinic with several players from the Dallas Stars. There was then a media availability at Reunion Tower, more than 500 feet above the ground. That vantage point overlooks the city and next to the open lot where once stood Reunion Arena, the home of the Stars when the won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

Dahlin said he wasn’t feeling nervous about the likelihood of having his name called first Friday night.

”I haven’t actually thought about it so much yet,” Dahlin said. ”It’s crazy to be here actually, I can’t believe it. … Sometime in the near future I will stop and think what I am going through. I’m just trying to enjoy this time as much as I can.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Sharks are buying out final year of Paul Martin’s contract

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The San Jose Sharks are clearing more salary cap space for what could be a big summer.

On Friday the team announced that it is placing veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract.

The 36-year-old Martin was limited to just 14 games this past season. He was set to enter the final year of a four-year, $19.4 million contract that he signed in free agency prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. During his time with the Sharks he played a key role on their blue line — playing more than 20 minutes per night in his first two years with the team — and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with the team.

“Paul Martin has been the upmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.”

The big thing here for the Sharks is the salary cap savings for this season that a buyout brings.

According to the Sharks they will save more than $3 million against the salary cap this season.

That savings, combined with the recent trade of veteran forward Mikkel Boedker, has already trimmed more than $7 million in salary off of the team’s salary cap number for the 2018-19 season. That will leave them with more than $18 million in salary cap space under the new $79.5 million ceiling, making them players for just about any unrestricted free agent (or potential trade target) that they could want.

They already considered one of the top contenders to land Ilya Kovalchuk in his return from the KHL.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.