Could the Penguins steal the Atlantic Division title from the Flyers?

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It seems like a far-fetched goal considering the fact that they will try to do it without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the next few days present a solid opportunity for the Pittsburgh Penguins to steal the Atlantic Division title from the Philadelphia Flyers.

First, let’s take a look at why not (beyond the fact that the team lacks Crosby and Malkin). The Flyers currently hold a four-point lead for the division title, as well as the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They also have one more win – 45 to Pittsburgh’s 44 – and an important game in hand.

That being said, Sunday and Tuesday could provide the Penguins with an outstanding opportunity to make Philadelphia’s lead uncomfortably small. The Penguins are about to host the fading Florida Panthers at home this afternoon, which is a great opportunity for a win. Meanwhile, the Flyers host a far hungrier and more dangerous opponent in the Boston Bruins tonight.

The best part comes on Tuesday, though, when Pittsburgh faces Philadelphia in what could be a big home game for the Penguins.

If the Penguins win both games while the Flyers lose to Boston and Pittsburgh in regulation, the two teams would be tied at 100 points and the only advantage Philadelphia would have is their single game in hand. At that point, the Penguins would have five games to earn one more point than the Flyers, who would have six games left.

Pittsburgh’s last five games after their big game against the Flyers:

The closing schedule might or might not be friendly to Pittsburgh. The negative side is that four of their final five games are on the road, but the plus is that four of those opponents (the Panthers, Devils, Thrashers and Islanders) might be in “tank mode.” The toughest game is against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning in what might be a preview of a fourth vs. fifth seed match … if the Penguins can’t steal the Atlantic, that is.

Philadelphia’s final six after Tuesday:

The Flyers play three home games and three away games in their last six. You can break down those six games into three groups: tanking teams (Atlanta and maybe New Jersey), teams that should be tanking but aren’t totally committed (Ottawa and the Islanders) and teams fighting for playoff positioning (Buffalo and the Rangers).

In some ways, Philadelphia’s closing schedule is easier. In others, it might be a little bit tougher, since the Sabres and Rangers have plenty to play for while the Senators have been a tough out lately.

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Overall, Philadelphia remains the odds-on favorite to retain their Atlantic Division lead. That being said, those plucky Penguins have a legitimate chance to usurp them, although they must rely on a few “ifs.” Today’s games plus Tuesday’s match will go a long way in either giving Pittsburgh a serious chance to win the division or confirm the fact that Philly will stay on top.

Naturally, we’ll let you know which side prevails.

Carolina Hurricanes might be busy this weekend

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The Carolina Hurricanes could look a whole lot more different in the coming days than they do right now.

The ‘Canes, who own the second overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, are apparently open for business. They have a new head coach in Rod Brind’Amour, a new general manager in Don Wadell and they have a whole bunch of players they’re seemingly willing to move.

The team hasn’t made the postseason in nine years, which a lot for any kind of market but especially a non-traditional hockey one.

New owner Tom Dundon will want to get the ball rolling and the only way to do that is by making changes.

The team has two significant needs. First, they have to find a go-to guy that can shoulder the load offensively. Second, they need to find someone that can stop the puck consistently because Scott Darling‘s first year was mediocre at best.

Waddell has made it clear that winger Andrei Svechnikov will be the second pick in the draft unless they decide to ship the pick elsewhere for immediate help. The ‘Canes have some talented forwards like Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm, but, as we mentioned, they don’t have a game-breaker that can change the outcome of a game on a dime. Svechnikov can be that guy, or he can be used as a key piece in a trade for that kind of scorer.

If the Hurricanes absolutely want to keep the pick (they should), there’s other ways they can acquire a talented forward. Carolina has an abundance of quality defensemen, so there’s a deal that could be made around Justin Faulk or Noah Hanifin, too. Plenty of teams are looking for help on the back end, which means they could be interested in either player.

And of course, there’s the possibility that they could use some of their own forwards to fill their needs. Skinner’s name has come up more than once in trade circles. The 26-year-old is coming off a season that saw him score 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games. He’s also found the back of the net at least 24 times in four of his last five seasons.

The problem, is that Skinner only has one year remaining on his contract. He’ll make $5.725 million in 2018-19, but based on the numbers he’s put up over the last five years, he should get a raise. Are the Hurricanes comfortable giving him a long-term deal for that kind of cash? That’s a huge factor in the decision they have to make. The challenge is that Skinner has a full no-move clause in his current deal.

No matter what management decides to do, there’s no denying that this is a huge week for the Hurricanes. They’ve got cap space, assets to trade and some huge holes to fill. Getting that fan base excited again has to be a huge priority, and they have a good opportunity to make that happen with a couple of key transactions.

They can’t afford to whiff on this golden opportunity.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: On Sabres’ draft struggles; Chiarelli’s to-do list

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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.

• With the draft just over a day away, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek breaks down his mock draft. Where will the Habs go at number three? (Sportsnet)

• You can compare Marek’s mock draft to McKeen’s lead prospect writer Ryan Wagman’s mock draft. Both Marek and Wagman have the same top three prospects, but things change starting at number four. (Rotoworld)

• Hall of Famer Bob Gainey was named adviser of the OHL Peterborough. That’s where Gainey spent two years of his junior career back in the 1970s. (NHL.com)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Connor Carrick to a one-year extension on Wednesday. He spent most of last season in the press box. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• This reddit user lost an in-game bet, so he had to write a 25-page essay on why Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik will be a hall of famer. (RMNB)

• The Detroit Red Wings won’t be extending a qualifying offer to free-agent forward Martin Frk. (Detroit Free Press)

• One of the reasons the Sabres have been so bad for so long, is because they’ve struggled to find steals in the later rounds of drafts. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• If the Canucks keep the seventh overall pick, should they take Noah Dobson or Evan Bouchard? Canucks Army explains why they’d take Dobson. (Canucks Army)

• The Golden Knights have become the envy of the NHL because they’re one of the better teams in the league and because they have a lot of cap space. (SinBin.Vegas)

• What should Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli be looking to accomplish in the next three days? Well, he can start by drafting a solid player at 10th overall and he can try to sign Darnell Nurse to a bridge deal. (Oilers Nation)

• Up top, check out the moment when Taylor Hall found out he won the Hart Trophy.

• And if you missed it, you’re going to want to see the Humboldt Broncos reunion at the NHL Awards:

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.

All-Rookie, All-Star Teams and rest of 2018 NHL Awards

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Let’s recap the remaining winners from the 2018 NHL Awards. Before we do so, here are the other big winners and corresponding links.

Hart Trophy

Taylor Hall

GM of the Year

George McPhee

Vezina Trophy

Pekka Rinne

Selke Trophy

Anze Kopitar

Jack Adams Award

Gerard Gallant

Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman

Calder Trophy

Mathew Barzal

Bill Masterton Trophy

Brian Boyle

Ted Lindsay

Connor McDavid

Lady Byng

William Karlsson

Also:

P.K. Subban named cover star for “NHL 19.”

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late coach Darcy Haugan (Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award).

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Now, let’s jump into the remaining awards and honors.

Mark Messier Leadership Award

Deryk Engelland (see video above this post’s headline)

King Clancy

Daniel and Henrik Sedin

William Jennings

Jonathan Quick with Jack Campbell

Of course, Alex Ovechkin won the Maurice Richard Trophy and Connor McDavid took the Art Ross.

First NHL All-Star Team

Left Wing: Taylor Hall
Center: Connor McDavid
Right Wing: Nikita Kucherov
Defense: Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman
Goalie: Pekka Rinne

Second NHL All-Star Team

Left Wing: Claude Giroux
Center: Nathan MacKinnon
Right Wing: Blake Wheeler
Defense: Seth Jones and P.K. Subban
Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

All-Rookie Team

Forwards: Clayton Keller, Brock Boeser, and Mathew Barzal
Defense: Charlie McAvoy and Will Butcher
Goalie: Juuse Saros

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late head coach

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Ten members of the Humboldt Broncos reunited on Wednesday night during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. The survivors of the April 6 bus crash that killed 16 players and staff were on stage to help give out the first Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to their late head coach Darcy Haugan.

The award, presented “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” was voted on by the public after fans submitted candidates, and the field was then narrowed down to three finalists.

From the NHL:

Haugan left a lasting impact in Humboldt, Sask., as well as every other community that was fortunate enough to have him as a resident or involved in junior hockey. He changed the lives of many of his players, always being there for each one of them and never hesitating to give them a second chance. He fought for his team and had their backs – he was the coach and mentor everybody wanted. Haugan believed strongly that the game is not about making hockey players; it is about making amazing human beings. He did just that, building up young leaders who also developed strong hockey skills along the way. His presence would fill the room and his love for the game was undeniable. Haugan died doing what he loved, surrounded by the young people he dedicated his life to. Haugan left behind, in all of those he touched, his spirit and passion for the game, his love for his beautiful family, and his example of dedication to his community.

Haugan’s wife, Christina, accepted the award in his honor.

The other finalists were Debbie Bland of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League and Neal Henderson of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club.

The NHL Foundation is donating $10,000 in Haugan’s memory to the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association, a charity important to the coach.

On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson will bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt on Aug. 24 that will involve a skills competition at the Broncos’ home rink.

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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.