Minnesota’s first two lines will actually be impressive this season

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After the busy offseason the Minnesota Wild have had there’s something interesting happening in the state of hockey. Fans are reinvigorated and excited for the new year now that the team has more than one offensive weapon to play with. The additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi give the Wild a pair of guys whose job is to score lots of goals. The Wild haven’t had that sort of thing since Marian Gaborik’s healthy days.

Now with training camp rolling around in just a couple weeks, the anticipation is building and Wild fans are curious as to how new coach Mike Yeo is going to arrange things on his scoring lines. With Heatley and Setoguchi joining guys like Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, and Guillaume Latendresse things could get interesting for the Wild.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune had a chance to sit down with Yeo and talk about how he’s going to run things (video) and we’re actually excited ourselves to see how his plans work out. Yeo tells Russo that he’s got his top two lines set to go to start training camp and they shake out very interestingly.

Yeo’s top two lines will be:

  1. Devin Setoguchi – Mikko Koivu – Dany Heatley
  2. Guillaume Latendresse – Matt Cullen – Pierre-Marc Bouchard

That top line gives team captain and top centerman Koivu a pair of linemates who already know each other well from San Jose. Having Koivu get to work with them will be the real test for his abilities. Let’s face facts, going from working with guys like Bouchard and Latendresse to the likes of Heatley is a massive change. Heatley has 40 to 50-goal ability and Setoguchi will get big time minutes to see if he can be a 30-goal guy. Koivu will need to be the set-up man on this line and he’s got great talent, but whether or not he can keep the other two guys moving and motivated remains to be seen.

For the Wild’s second line, they’re still keeping guys together from last year’s squad and they’ll be hoping that Latendresse can stay healthy and go back to playing how he did when he arrived in a trade with Montreal. If he can do that, the Wild have a potential 30-goal guy on the second line. Cullen is a solid center and a guy that will play hard but he has never really been asked to be an offensive styled player before in his career. Bouchard is the wild card here as he’s shown he’s got playmaking ability in the past and can score 20+ goals too. His bugaboo has always been his health and everyone is hoping he can steer clear of any further concussions.

The potential here for Minnesota is sky high with these two lines and with how badly Wild fans are looking for excitement from their team, we’re hoping it works out. We know they can get great goaltending from Niklas Backstrom but the offense has always been a sore point. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has made the moves to help them be better offensively, now they have to show it.

Trade: Stars land Zuccarello; Rangers get what could be great picks

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The New York Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars in a fascinating trade on Saturday, and the conditions of that deal will mean that Rangers fans will have incentive to cheer Zuccarello on — even beyond simply liking the guy.

Conditional draft picks are becoming more and more in vogue heading into the 2019 trade deadline, but this one is especially interesting.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that trade details work out this way. (Note: please keep in mind that the exact specifics haven’t been confirmed by the teams, although McKenzie’s TSN colleague Darren Dreger confirmed that Zuccarello is indeed Dallas- bound.)

Stars receive: Mats Zuccarello.

Rangers’ rather complicated but interesting side: For one thing, the Rangers retain 30-percent of Zuccarello’s salary.

Conditional pick 1: Begins as a 2019 second-round pick.

That 2019 second-rounder gets bumped up to a first-rounder if the Stars win at least two playoff rounds during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Conditional pick 2: Begins as a 2020 third-round pick.

That 2020 third-rounder turns into a 2020 first-rounder if the Stars re-sign Zuccarello.

So, at worst, the Rangers receive second and third-rounders for Zuccarello, but could end up with one or even two first-rounders depending upon how this works out. Wow.

More to come.

Trade: Blue Jackets load up with Dzingel; Senators load up on picks

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are eliminating any doubts that they’re going all-in this season. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators are going all-out … as in, trading everyone out.

One day after the Blue Jackets sent a bunch of assets to Ottawa for Matt Duchene, the two teams made another significant swap on Saturday. The Blue Jackets landed another Senators center in Ryan Dzingel, while picks are the biggest takeaways for the Senators.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman are among those who report these full trade terms:

Blue Jackets receive: Ryan Dzingel, Calgary Flames’ 2019 seventh-round pick.

Senators get: Anthony Duclair, 2020 second-rounder, 2021 second-rounder.

This post will be updated with more analysis soon.

Carolina, Columbus wins highlight Stadium Series’ importance for Pens

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Saturday night won’t feel like any other night for the Penguins and Flyers. It’s just human nature.

How can you not be distracted by the pageantry of an outdoor game and all of the hoopla that comes with it? From dealing with those unique environs to wondering if such an environment will even allow for competitive hockey (thanks a lot, rain), there’s just a lot going on.

That’s something to consider for any such contest, yet when it happens this late into February, the teams involved really need to find a way to focus. With the Flyers virtually out of the race, the onus is then on the Penguins to make sure they win Saturday’s game. After all, if the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs began at this very moment, the Penguins would be out of the mix.

[Penguins say the right things]

As you can see in the post linked above, the Penguins were already emphasizing that they’re focused on getting this win coming into the weekend, but recent events really cement that this isn’t just a fun event for the Pens.

Blue Jackets move up, and make a big move

Earlier this week, the Penguins moved ahead of the Blue Jackets, but that margin was smaller than it seemed because Columbus had two games in hand.

The Blue Jackets won both of those games, impressively beating the Senators on Friday and Sharks on Saturday by a combined score of 7-0. This leaves the Penguins two full points behind Columbus heading into the 2019 Stadium Series that’s moments away.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

Blue Jackets (third place in Metro): 35-23-3, 73 points, 35 regulation/overtime wins, 61 games played
Penguins (ninth place in East): 32-22-7, 71 points, 31 ROW, 61 GP

The good news for the Penguins is that they have quite a bit of control of their own fate against Columbus. They place against the Blue Jackets three more times this season, with those head-to-head matches all coming by March 9.

The bad news is that they’ll be facing a more loaded version of this Blue Jackets team, if Columbus decides to keep Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky for the rest of the season, as trading for Matt Duchene makes a good team far scarier to face.

So … finishing ahead of the Blue Jackets won’t be easy.

Hurricanes storm past Pittsburgh, too

The Hurricanes also shut out their opponents on Saturday, as Carolina beat the Dallas Stars 3-0. That win gives the Hurricanes a small lead for the East’s second wild-card spot, at least for now:

Hurricanes (second WC): 33-23-6, 72 points, 32 ROW, 62 GP
Penguins (ninth place): 32-22-7, 71 points, 31 ROW, 61 GP

While Columbus has a decent (though far from insurmountable) edge on Pittsburgh, the gap between the Hurricanes and Penguins is tiny. Carolina and Pittsburgh also face each other two more times in 2018-19, so far all we know, the East’s bubble races could come down to those games.

(The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes meet one more time in the regular season: a March 15 contest in Carolina.)

***

The last 24 hours or so haven’t been kind to the Penguins’ playoff hopes, yet the fierce challenges from Columbus and Carolina should at least keep Pittsburgh alert. Of course, if any team would love to spoil things for the Penguins, wouldn’t it be the Flyers?

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.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 Stadium Series – Flyers vs. Penguins

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The last meeting between the Penguins and Flyers saw some fireworks, as Evgeni Malkin was given a match penalty after he intentionally swung his stick at Michael Raffl’s head after Raffl had punched him in the back of the head. Malkin was suspended one game for the incident, but will likely have a target on his back heading into Saturday’s game.

After winning four of five games and looking once again like a playoff team, Pittsburgh was throttled by the Sharks on Thursday night to the tune of 4-0. Frustration boiled over with 4:36 to play in the third period, when Sidney Crosby was throwing fists with San Jose’s Brenden Dillon and Micheal Haley, while Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was ejected.

Once left for dead in last place in the NHL, the Flyers had a remarkable turnaround in the New Year to climb back into the playoff picture during February, but are running low on time after back-to- back clunkers against Tampa Bay (lost 5-2) and Montreal (lost 5-1). With the Trade Deadline approaching on Monday, the Flyers might be forced to sell.

This is Philly’s final game before Monday’s trade deadline. One name that has been thrown around for weeks is Wayne Simmonds, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Now 30, Simmonds has spent the last 8 seasons with the Flyers since being traded to Philadelphia from the Kings. He’s appeared in 613 games for the Flyers (including the playoffs), and Saturday could very well be his last in the orange and black.

Radko Gudas is not eligible to play in this game due to his two-game suspension for high-sticking Nikita Kucherov on Tuesday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
When: Saturday, Feb. 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Jared McCannNick BjugstadBryan Rust
Tanner PearsonMatt CullenDominik Simon

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

FLYERS
Claude GirouxNolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Michael Raffl – Scott Laughton – Wayne Simmonds
James van RiemsdykPhilip VaroneJustin Bailey

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere – Phil Myers

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.