Around the rink – March 19; Kaberle’s return to Toronto, Buffalo-Atlanta showdown

All times Eastern

2:00 p.m.

Columbus @ Minnesota

An early start to the day in St. Paul thanks to the WCHA college hockey championships at night and for the Wild it’s a true make it or break it game. They’re six points out of the eighth spot in the West and a loss to the Jackets pretty much ends their playoff hopes. The return of Mikko Koivu hasn’t given them the boost they were hoping for and the scoring hasn’t shown up enough for them. Hope is a good thing to have and for the Wild it’s all they’ve got right now for the postseason. The Jackets will be hoping to play spoilers and help the Wild join them in misery in waiting until the NHL Draft.

7:00 p.m.

Atlanta @ Buffalo

Buffalo hangs on to the slimmest of advantages in the East playoff race and they’ll be hoping to get a little breathing room against the desperate Thrashers. They’ve got the tiebreaker over the Hurricanes in spite of both teams being tied with 76 points. Atlanta, meanwhile, has 72 points and a win gets them more into the thick of things for the playoffs. Calling this a crucial game for both teams is quite accurate. For teams that may or may not make the playoffs, games like these are their playoff warm up.

Boston @ Toronto

Toronto is hanging on to hope for the postseason by a thread and wouldn’t it figure that they’d have to deal with the Bruins to keep it alive. Making things more awkward, it’ll mark the return of Tomas Kaberle to Toronto, only now as a member of the Bruins. If you’re thinking he’ll get booed, think again. Expect to see James Reimer in goal for Toronto to keep their hopes alive and after J.S. Giguere and the Leafs offense had a spectacular failure against Florida the other night, don’t expect Ron Wilson to make those same mistakes again. For Boston, they’re hoping to gain ground on lurking Montreal in the Northeast Division. The Habs are just two points back of the Bruins but the B’s have two games in hand, meaning a win here goes a long way to securing the division title.

Tampa Bay @ Ottawa

The Lightning are six back of Washington for the division lead in the Southeast but they’re just two behind Pittsburgh for the fourth seed and home ice in the first round. Ottawa has 61 points and the third worst record in the NHL, ahead of just Colorado and Edmonton. Clearly, two teams in very different places. A win for Tampa Bay is huge here if they hope to get home ice. While Pittsburgh doesn’t show many signs of weakening, the Lightning must beat teams like Ottawa to put the pressure on the Pens.

NY Islanders @ Florida

Not every game is going to be one that grabs your attention. Instead, these two will be doing battle over who gets a better advantage in the lottery. Florida is just one point better than the Isles and the Isles are on a two game losing skid. Florida has been typically inconsistent of late alternating wins and losses. If you’re fired up for who wins between the fourth and fifth worst teams in the NHL, you’re a stronger person than most.

8:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Nashville

It’s a huge game for the Predators at home as they’re one point behind Calgary for eighth in the West and two behind Dallas and Chicago. A win puts them back in a great place in the West while a loss falls away as a missed opportunity. A Detroit win would put a virtual lock on the Central Division crown over Chicago. The Wings have a ten point lead on Chicago right now and adding to that would make it nearly impossible for the Hawks to get back in it.

Philadelphia @ Dallas

The Flyers could stand to get a win to continue to keep their lead in the Eastern Conference. With the Capitals continuing to win behind them, getting wins (or even points) is huge. Fortunately for Philly, they have three games in hand on Washington. Dallas sits in sixth in the West with 84 points just one point behind L.A. and five behind Phoenix. The Stars would like to at least just keep up with the joneses and a win would do that. With how things go in the west, any losses at all are a huge set back. With how both teams are playing, this should be one of the more fun games to see tonight.

10:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Edmonton

The two worst teams in the NHL square off to see who wants the best shot at the first pick in the 2011 draft the most. A win by Colorado would put them seven points off of the Oilers for worst record whereas an Oilers victory makes Colorado a real threat to finish the year as the NHL’s worst team. While there’s no real front-runner for the consensus player to be taken number one in the draft, both of these teams should have a huge interest in Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson.

10:30 p.m.

Anaheim @ Los Angeles

It’s the first of three games these two will play against each other over the next few weeks before the end of the season and each one should be vital for both teams when it comes to the playoffs. L.A. is currently in fifth in the Western Conference with 85 points while the Ducks are two points back of Calgary for eighth with 81. The Kings embarrassed themselves at home against St. Louis on Thursday night and facing off against their neighborly rivals should be the potion they need to wake up. The Ducks are winners of six out of their last eight games and coming off a win over the Blues on Wednesday.  It’s got the makings of a barnburner in L.A.

St. Louis @ San Jose

The Sharks would like to keep the surging Coyotes off their heels and a win would extend their lead in the Pacific to three points. Now that Phoenix has reemerged as a threat to the top spot in the division, the Sharks will be tested to see how they handle the stress of being pursued. St. Louis would like to make their California road swing a memorable and potentially spoileriffic one by dealing the Sharks a loss. If they can defend the way they did in their 4-0 win over Los Angeles, the Sharks are in for a world of trouble.

 

PHT Morning Skate: 8 big questions heading into draft; First buyout of 2018

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Sportsnet tackles the eight biggest questions heading into tonight’s NHL Entry Draft. What will the Habs do with the third overall pick? Will anything happen with Columbus’ Artemi Panarin? (Sportsnet)

• Former NHL defenseman Nick Boynton has decided to join the NHL concussion lawsuit. He’ll also be donating his brain to science. Boynton has been battling substance abuse and depression. (TSN)

• There’s no denying that Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds could be on the move in the next hours/days, but will the team actually pull the trigger on a deal involving their talented forward? (Philly.com)

• The Canadiens will have an early selection in tonight’s draft, but will they hit a home run or swing-and-miss again? The Montreal Gazette looks at the Habs’ inability to develop their first-rounders over the last 33 years. (Montreal Gazette)

• Over the course of their history, the Sabres have done pretty well when they’ve selected defensemen in the first round. That run of success should continue on Friday night with Rasmus Dahlin. (WGR550)

• Stars GM Jim Nill confirmed that he expects to sign forward Valeri Nichushkin on July 1st. He’s been in the KHL for the last two years. (NHL.com/Stars)

• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has been one of the best bargains in the NHL over the last few years (he’s been making $4.5 million per year). Now that he’s in the final year of his contract, expect him not to leave any money on the table even if it means changing addresses. (Sportsnet)

• You can now check out each PHWA voter’s ballot from this year’s NHL Awards. There’s some head-scratchers on there. (PHWA)

• Speaking of ballots, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Matthew DeFranks explains why he voted for Sean Couturier as his Selke winner instead of Aleksander Barkov. (Sun-Sentinel)

• And we have our first buyout of 2018, as the Edmonton Oilers decided to put an end to their relationship with Eric Gryba. That means that the Oilers will be carrying almost $2 million in dead money next season. (Edmonton Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Dates of note from the 2018-19 NHL schedule

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The 2018-19 NHL schedule has arrived and the 1,271-game journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Oct. 4 and ends April 6. We’ll have banners being raised, old friends being reacquainted, outdoor games, games in Europe and nearly a full slate on the season’s final day.

Here’s a look at a dozen notable dates on this coming season’s schedule:

Oct. 3, 2018 – Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals

It’s not the Penguins like we all wished, so the Capitals will have to raise their first Stanley Cup banner against the Bruins. They’ll also be playing for a new head coach before traveling to Pittsburgh for a visit with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins the next night.

Also on Opening Night, we’ll get to see the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens, the Calgary Flames visiting the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks playing host to the Anaheim Ducks.

Oct. 4, 2018 — Philadelphia Flyers at Vegas Golden Knights

An historic inaugural season ended in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. But despite the tough defeat, there was plenty for the Golden Knights and their fans to be proud of. When fans return to T-Mobile Arena for their 2018 home opener, there will be a nice celebration with a banner or two going up in the rafters.

Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres

Sabres fans get a first glimpse of Rasmus Dahlin in action when they take on the Bruins in the home opener. The expected 2018 No. 1 overall pick brings plenty of hope to Buffalo as the fanbase prays hard that he, Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt can end their years of misery.

Oct. 6, 2018 – Nashville Predators at New York Islanders

Trotz makes his debut as Islanders head coach against one of his old teams. And no matter how free agency goes, this will be an interesting night at Barclays Center. Either John Tavares will be in the Islanders lineup, having committed to the franchise with a long-term extension and thereby garnering a huge ovation, or he’ll be wearing another jersey and the mood in Brooklyn will be quite glum.

This day will also see the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils facing off in the NHL Global Series in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Oct. 10, 2018 – Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

A rematch of the Stanley Cup Final that saw the Capitals victorious in five games. Maybe by Oct. 10 Alex Ovechkin will have been separated from the Cup.

Oct. 26, 2018 – Ottawa Senators at Colorado Avalanche

Matt Duchene has been a visiting player against the Avs, but that game actually took place in Sweden last season, so he’s yet to return to Pepsi Center as a Senator. Now, given the state of the Senators, we may get to late October and Duchene could be on a different team. But if he’s still with Ottawa, the reception he gets upon coming back to Denver should be interesting considering how his time with the franchise ended.

Dec. 1, 2018 – Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders

As the Islanders prepare to leave Barclays Center in a few years, this game will be the first of 20 this coming season at their former home of Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live. The team will play games there over the next few seasons as a new arena gets built by Belmont race track in Elmont.

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Nov. 1-2, 2018 – Florida Panthers vs. Winnipeg Jets

In the second set of Global Games, Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov head home to Finland as the Jets meet the Panthers in Helsinki.

Jan. 1, 2019 – Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins

Hey, what do you know? An outdoor game featuring the Blackhawks. After taking a year off, the Blackhawks are back outside for the Winter Classic and will take on the Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. There will be plenty of shots of Touchdown Jesus and lots and lots of stories of Vinnie Hinostroza’s time in South Bend.

Jan. 18, 2019 – New York Islanders at Washington Capitals

Trotz returns to D.C. where he’ll get some very, very long ovations from the crowd and enjoy a tribute video ending with him raising the Stanley Cup.

Jan. 25-26, 2019 – All-Star Weekend, San Jose

A bit of a change this year as the Skills Competition has been moved to Friday night of All-Star Weekend and the 3-on-3 divisional tournament taking place on Saturday.

Feb. 23, 2019 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The home-and-home Battle of Pennsylvania outdoor series concludes this February when the Penguins visit the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field for a Stadium Series game. The Penguins were 4-2 victors when the two met in 2017 at Heinz Field. Hopefully the jersey choices are a little better than what they wore in their previous meeting.

April 6, 2019 – Super Saturday

The final day of the 2018-19 regular season will see 30 teams in action, with hopefully some playoff seeds and spots still up for grabs before we get to the postseason.

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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 salary cap ceiling set at $79.5M for 2018-19 season

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As expected, the NHL and NHLPA announced on Thursday that the salary cap ceiling for the 2018-19 season will increase to $79.5 million. That’s a $4.5 million increase from this past season.

Going back to December, the NHL’s revenues told them that the ceiling would rise by at least $3 million.

“The league has never been healthier,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman said at December’s Board of Governors meeting. “The game has never been healthier. Our franchises have never been healthier.”

Important news for teams like Ottawa and Arizona, the salary cap floor for next season will be $58.8 million, which means it’s time to prepare those Marian Hossa trade proposals!

The ceiling increase is also good news for those teams that regular spend to the limit. Now they have some more breathing room to either bring back some unrestricted or restricted free agents they want to sign or allow them to add a bit more salary under their cap if they want to go shopping this summer.

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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.

A talk with Lou Lamoriello excited Barry Trotz about joining Islanders

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Barry Trotz wasn’t divulging details — such is the life of working for Lou Lamoriello. But the New York Islanders head coach did say he’d already spoken with captain John Tavares within hours of officially being hired.

We’re still to reach a resolution on that front, and as far as Trotz’s resignation after leading the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup two weeks ago, he said it was out of “principle.” The Cup victory meant a clause in his contract activated giving him a two-year extension and a $300,000 raise. He wanted a longer term and a richer deal, but the Capitals weren’t willing to go down that route.

[Islanders hire Barry Trotz as head coach]

“When it came to the business aspect, I was willing to listen,” Trotz said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “From my standpoint, I felt that it wasn’t really sincere what we did together. I decided it was better to just move on.”

Not long after he parted with the Capitals, Trotz’s agent got a call from Lamoriello expressing interest. Trotz flew in and met with the Islanders president and GM earlier this week and talked about a vision for the team. That’s when the head coach got excited about coming on board.

“If you know anything about Lou Lamoriello and his background and what he does, he’ll do what it takes to win,” Trotz said. “That got me excited right away.”

As for a staff, Trotz said Lane Lambert, his longtime assistant in Nashville and Washington, would be his “No. 1 choice” if he chooses to come to New York. Goaltending coach Mitch Korn could also be in the mix to follow Trotz.

With two straight seasons of playoffless hockey, Trotz understands that there’s work to do with the team, even beyond what happens with Tavares. But having coached against the Islanders for years, he knows there are some good pieces on the roster that could help in a turnaround.

“If we can get our structure right and we get our pace right, we’ll be able to score, we’ll be able to defend much better and we’re going to fix up some holes,” he said.

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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.