Let’s look at the many, many key injuries heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs

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Over the next few months, you’ll be subjected to a litany of stories — some written by PHT! — about players getting hurt during the exhausting, physical Stanley Cup playoff grind.

So why not get out in front, and look at all the injuries heading into the postseason?

Because there are a lot of them.

• We begin in Pittsburgh, where the defending champs have lost No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang (neck) for the year. It’s an absolutely massive void to fill. Letang played arguably the best hockey of his career in helping the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games while averaging a team-high 28:53 of ice time.

Pittsburgh probably has better overall defensive depth than last year — the trade deadline acquisitions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit certainly helped — so the hope is the collective can mitigate the loss. But there’s no sugarcoating Letang’s absence. It’s huge.

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As for the other limping Penguins, there’s no definitive word on the returns of Evgeni Malkin (missed last 13 games with an upper-body injury) and Carl Hagelin (missed last 16 games with a lower-body injury). Malkin appears close to returning, having practiced last week. Hagelin is back skating, but might not be ready for Game 1 against Columbus on Wednesday.

Finally, Chris Kunitz is out long-term with a lower-body ailment.

• Boston could be without Torey Krug (lower body) for its entire opening-round series against Ottawa, and rookie Brandon Carlo (upper body) is definitely out for Game 1. Krug was injured in the Bruins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, and then Carlo was forced to leave their final game.

The Bruins did address those losses by signing prized prospect Charlie McAvoy to his entry-level deal, and McAvoy immediately began practicing on a d-pair with John-Michael Liles. But McAvoy is only 19 years old, and has never played in the NHL. The Bruins are already asking a lot of McAvoy just by putting him in, so it’s safe to suggest he won’t be getting the usual ice times of Krug (21:36 per night) or Carlo (20:49). As such, look for Liles, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to get a bump, and for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to shoulder an even heavier load.

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• Yet another key blueliner is expected to miss the entire first round — Anaheim’s Cam Fowler. Fowler suffered a knee injury on a hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano near the end of the regular season, and will miss the next 2-6 weeks as a result.

The Ducks have a very deep defense, and are better equipped than most to deal with the loss. And while it is a sizable loss — Fowler averages nearly 25 minutes a night, and leads all Anaheim d-men in scoring — head coach Randy Carlyle can still ice a top-six of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Kevin Bieksa, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore, with a veteran like Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

• St. Louis has been without top center Paul Stastny for nearly three weeks, as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury. Blues head coach Mike Yeo played coy when asked if Stastny would be ready for the opener against the Wild, saying “we’ll see” while grinning.

Earlier, Yeo was much more vocal in explaining how big a role Stastny plays.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”‘

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• Physical Habs d-man Alexei Emelin is definitely out for Game 1 of the Rangers series, and possibly more. Emelin missed the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body ailment.

• Caps blueliner John Carlson (lower body) missed the last four games of the season, but that was precautionary as Washington didn’t have much to play for. He is expected to play Game 1 against Toronto.

• Ottawa d-man Marc Methot hasn’t suited up since getting his finger mangled on a Sidney Crosby slash in late March, but could be back in time for Game 1 against Boston. In fact, all the banged-up Sens might be in the opener — Erik Karlson (foot) is expected to play, as is forward Zack Smith.

• There was some thought Columbus d-man Ryan Murray would return from his broken hand in time for the playoffs… but it’s not shaping up that way. Zach Werenski, meanwhile, is expected to be ready for Game 1 against Pittsburgh, after sitting down the stretch with a shoulder ailment.

• Finally, we get to the Sharks, who lost both Logan Couture (face/mouth) and Joe Thronton (knee) to injuries over the final week of the season. Thornton said there was “no doubt” he’d be in for the opener in Edmonton, but has infrequently skated or participated in practice since then. Couture has also skated and practiced occasionally, but missed the final seven games of the season and was decidedly less committal about his playoff availability.

It is worth noting, though, that both Thornton and Couture practiced with the Sharks on Monday.

John Carlson gets $64M payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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The Washington Capitals cleared salary cap space for a big reason and it paid off on Sunday as they’ve agreed to a long-term deal with defenseman John Carlson.

It’s a $64 million extension over eight years for the 28-year-old. According to Pierre LeBrun, within the details of the contract are $2 million signing bonuses that land on July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022, a.k.a. Possible Lockout Seasons.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime. As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams. We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

Carlson, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1, picked the right time to have a career season and lead all NHL defensemen in scoring. In playing all 82 games during the regular season, he posted career highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68), ice time (24:47) and power play assists (28). The production continued in the playoffs with five goals and 20 points as the Capitals claimed the 2018 Stanley Cup. He would finish fifth in the Norris Trophy voting.

The Capitals and Carlson’s camp had not come to an agreement as of Sunday morning, so his agent began taking calls from other interested teams as the free agent interview period opened. MacLellan did a good job of clearing cap space for an extension, shipping Brooks Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit to the Colorado Avalanche along with restricted free agent goaltender Philipp Grubauer on Friday.

Carlson’s priority was to remain in Washington.

“This has been my home. I’ve lived here every summer since I’ve been here,” Carlson said during locker clean out day. “This is my home base and obviously the guys that I’ve been around, the experiences we’ve had. I love the area and this is all I know.”

In other Capitals defenseman news, the team has an offer out to Carlson’s defense partner Michal Kempny, who was acquired in February from Chicago and turned into a valuable piece en route to the Cup. And then there’s Orpik, who was waived after being acquired by the Avalanche. Once his buyout from Colorado becomes official, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, setting up the possibility of a return to Washington.

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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.

Could Capitals be on verge of losing John Carlson?

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(UPDATE: No, he’s staying. Eight-year, $64 million extension for Carlson.)

While the sweet aroma of winning the Stanley Cup isn’t likely to fade any time soon, the brief stench of the business side of hockey could once again crop up in Washington.

Already having lost Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz last week, the Capitals could be on the verge of losing top-scoring defenseman John Carlson from the 2017-18 season as well.

Maybe.

With no deal in place to extend the skilled rearguard, Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, said while they’re still trying to hash out a deal with the Capitals, his client, who led all NHL d-men with 68 points this past season, is going to listen to other teams after the interview period commenced at 12:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.

On Friday, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said a deal with Carlson was “close” to being achieved.

“Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close,” he said.

But as of Sunday morning, there’s still no deal in place for the man who set a Caps franchise record for most points by a defenseman in the playoffs with 20.

MacLellan has made room for Carlson. Needing the necessary cap space to give him his raise, MacLellan dealt backup netminder Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche — the later of which had a $5.5 million cap hit attached to him.

For now, the savings account hasn’t been touched.

For Carlson, he has earned the right to test the free agent waters, and Washington obviously hasn’t met whatever demands 28-year-old has for his new deal.

It’s important to point out, as the Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno did Sunday, that Washington is the only team that can give Carlson eight years of term in a new deal. As Whyno said, this shouldn’t be overlooked.

Losing Carlson would be a big blow, so it’s kind of surprising it’s gotten to this point from the Capitals side, although Carlson could be doing what he’s earned — looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side — and using this time as leverage in talks with Washington.

A simple formula: Player wants the team to meet demands, the team isn’t there yet, forcing the player to play hardball, in turn forcing the team’s hand, or something like that, roughly speaking.

Caps beat writer for the Washington Post Isabelle Khurshudyan wrote Sunday that despite the noise surrounding Carlson, she still expects the d-man to re-sign in the nation’s capital.

#CarlsonWatch continues for now.

Have your say here:


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

Hurricanes have much to do, but headed in right direction after blockbuster deal

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There’s a long way to go to rebuild the Carolina Hurricanes into a contending hockey team, but they took a nice step in the right direction on Saturday.

The hockey world has had 24 hours to digest that five-player blockbuster trade on the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft — one that included defenseman Dougie Hamilton heading to the east coast once again and defenseman Noah Hanifin heading to Cow Town.

The verdict? That we won’t know for some time yet (as with any trade in its immediate infancy), but for a Hurricanes team desperate for a sheet of ice in the playoffs, the move certainly turned their aim in that direction.

Calgary got younger with 21-year-old Hanifin and 23-year-old Elias Lindholmbut the move broke up one of the league’s premier defense pairings in the process. Carolina added one-half of that pairing, and it seems more clear that the Hurricanes — who also used their second overall selection on Andrei Svechnikov earlier in the day — got better.

Worlds like “elite defenseman,” “career-year” and “highly-touted” were all uttered to help explain the three players — Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox, respectively — that Carolina snatched up in Saturday’s wheeling and dealing.

Not too shabby, right? The Hurricanes got immediate help on defense and forward with a quality prospect on the backend developing (if he eventually signs).

Winning trades has been something of a foreign concept when attached to Don Waddell during his tenure as an NHL general manager. His exploits as the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers meant years of needed repair after the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011, for instance.

So Saturday’s deal was a win-win for Carolina fans, who had to fear what Waddell might do to their team after being handed the reigns earlier this year.

“We’ve gone nine years missing the playoffs… we’re going to try to change up the culture a little bit,” Waddell said from the draft. “We feel that all three pieces are going to make our hockey club better not just today but going into the future.”

The Canes received a beefy, skilled defenseman in Hamilton who’s good for 40 points a year and can play big minutes. He’s also still just 25 and comes in at a nice price point at $5.75 AAV with three years left on that deal.

With Jaccob Slavin, captain Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk also in that rearguard, it became all the more formidable with the arrival of Hamilton.

Hamilton seems to carry around an aura of split opinion on his ability (and personality, apparently). But his underlying numbers suggest he’s among the best defenseman in the game. Elite, even.

Carolina also acquired fellow d-man Adam Fox in the deal, a promising 20-year-old prospect who’s been showing great signs playing at Harvard in the NCAA.

And they got Micheal Ferland, a physical terror on the ice who found his scoring punch this past season with 21 goals.

(It should be noted that Bill Peters — now the coach in Calgary — coached Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in Carolina. He knows the duo like the back of his hand.)

What’s next?

This bit is critical now.

With one issue squared away, the Hurricanes can now turn to other areas that need addressing.

The futures of the aforementioned Faulk (UFA ’20) and Jeff Skinner (UFA ’19) need attention, of course. Both have been churning in the rumor mill and would likely command a nice haul in return. Keeping Faulk in that now-formidable backend might seem like a no-brainer. Or maybe not…

If Faulk is expendable, then he’d be best used in a deal that shores up Carolina’s most pressing issue — its goaltending.

Scott Darling hasn’t worked out and Cam Ward isn’t coming back.

With Philipp Grubauer going to Colorado (perhaps, in part, by design), the list of unrestricted free agent goaltenders capable of being starters is slim at best.

Carter Hutton has shown flashes, as has Anton Khudonbin (who already had one stint in Carolina). With Grubauer out of the picture, those are the two best options with UFA status

Skinner and/or Faulk could be the carrot dangled in a potential move that would see a goalie in return and Waddell told reporters in Dallas on Saturday that he intends on landing a netminder.

A trade involving either could also be used to help Carolina find a left-handed defenseman. They have a glut of right-hand shots now with the arrival Hamilton and the departure of Hanifin on the backend, so perhaps something that turns Faulk into another top LHD helps Waddell pull the trigger.

For the moment, Hurricanes fans can rest on the fact that their team got better over the weekend. And they can hope that the direction from this weekend will filter down into next when the free agency window opens up on July 1.


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

Liam Kirk 1st born-and-trained Brit selected in NHL draft

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DALLAS (AP) Liam Kirk has become the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL draft.

The Arizona Coyotes picked the 18-year-old left wing 189th overall on Saturday with their seventh-round pick.

Kirk was home, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean about 4,600 miles away from Dallas, when he was drafted.

The 6-foot, 161-pound Kirk played this season for Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest level of competition in the United Kingdom. He had nine goals and seven assists in 52 games for the Steelers in his second season with the team.

When Kirk attended this year’s NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, he became the first player born and trained in Britain to attend that annual pre-draft event.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey