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Tough road ahead for Red Wings: October schedules in Atlantic Division

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On Friday, PHT pondered the opening schedules for the Pacific Division teams.

Let’s continue with the Atlantic Division, since they boast cities with alphabet-friendly names. (Very scientific way of deciding these, agreed.)

Don’t be surprised if these schedules prompt follow-ups as the season goes along. In some markets, a tough draw might be ignored while people wonder “What’s wrong with Team X?”

If the Red Wings can navigate their specific challenges, then “Detroit might not be so bad” stories might actually end up being justifiable.

Check out an in-depth preview for the Atlantic Division here.

Bruins (opened with win against Predators)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 vs Colorado
Wed, Oct 11 @ Colorado
Sat, Oct 14 @ Arizona
Sun, Oct 15 @ Vegas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 21 vs Buffalo
Thu, Oct 26 vs San Jose
Sat, Oct 28 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Oct 30 @ Columbus

Odd start for the Bruins, eh?

It’s strange to see a team skip the opening weekend, but that’s what is happening here, as the Bruins see an early-season break between Thursday’s opener and their second game on Monday. Considering their injury woes, perhaps it will serve as a serious benefit, particularly for guys who might just be day-to-day.

Even with a back-to-back coming next weekend, this is light overall, with another substantial gap in games between Oct. 21 and Oct. 26.

This opens the door for the Bruins to ease the likes of Patrice Bergeron in and out of the lineup, if needed. Heck, it might not be such a bad idea to spell Zdeno Chara here and there, either (if he’d allow it). November gets tougher for the B’s, however.

Sabres (lost in shootout to Habs)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ NY Islanders
Mon, Oct 9 vs New Jersey
Thu, Oct 12 @ San Jose
Sat, Oct 14 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Oct 15 @ Anaheim
Tue, Oct 17 @ Vegas
Fri, Oct 20 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 21 @ Boston
Tue, Oct 24 vs Detroit
Wed, Oct 25 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 28 vs San Jose

Looking at Buffalo’s wider schedule, there could be some tough times, with February standing out as maybe their friendliest month.

Some rough waters loom up ahead, including in October. Their first back-to-back is part of the California tour (maybe amend that to Cali-Vegas run going forward?). They face four road games in that Oct. 12-17 stretch, including a back-to-back and three games in four nights.

The Sabres then follow that up with two back-to-back sets.

For a team trying to cement itself as a contender, they’ll be tested early.

Red Wings (opened new arena by beating Wild)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Ottawa
Tue, Oct 10 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 12 @ Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 @ Vegas
Mon, Oct 16 vs Tampa Bay
Wed, Oct 18 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 20 vs Washington
Sun, Oct 22 vs Vancouver
Tue, Oct 24 @ Buffalo
Thu, Oct 26 @ Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 28 @ Florida
Tue, Oct 31 vs Arizona

Ouch. Hopefully the Red Wings enjoyed that home-opener, because they will see the road more than home for a while. Tonight begins a four-game road trip and stretch of five of six away from Detroit. That trip includes a back-to-back, but at least that veteran-heavy team only faces one such set in October.

An end of October/beginning of November stretch could do a number on this team’s dim hopes.

From Oct. 24-28, they play three road games, then they get that Coyotes home match, and then begin November with a four-game trek through Western Canada. So that’s seven of eight games on the road, with a back-to-back nestled (against Oilers and Canucks) in that four-game trip.

With that opener in the books, only four of the Red Wings’ next 16 contests take place in Hockeytown.

Panthers (lost opener against Lightning)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 12 vs St. Louis
Sat, Oct 14 @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 17 @ Philadelphia
Fri, Oct 20 vs Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 21 @ Washington
Tue, Oct 24 @ Montreal
Thu, Oct 26 vs Anaheim
Sat, Oct 28 vs Detroit
Mon, Oct 30 vs Tampa Bay

Emotionally, the Panthers have to really want to get back at the Bolts to close out this home-and-home. If not, they’ll need to wait until Thursday to try to win their first game of the season.

After that, Florida faces what could be a harrowing five-game stretch. Four of the contests are on the road, two games against the Penguins (making that one home game potentially feel like a road one), and a back-to-back against the Penguins and Capitals.

The Panthers have an opportunity if they can weather the early storm. That Oct. 26 date against the Ducks begins a five-game homestand.

Canadiens (won opener vs. Sabres)

Sat, Oct 7 @ Washington
Sun, Oct 8 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 10 vs Chicago
Sat, Oct 14 vs Toronto
Tue, Oct 17 @ San Jose
Wed, Oct 18 @ Los Angeles
Fri, Oct 20 @ Anaheim
Tue, Oct 24 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 26 vs Los Angeles
Sat, Oct 28 vs NY Rangers
Mon, Oct 30 @ Ottawa

Counting Thursday’s season-opening win, the Canadiens start 2017-18 with a three-game road trip and play six of their first eight on the road. They play their first back-to-back set this weekend against the Capitals and Rangers, providing intriguing barometers for all three teams.

That Oct. 30 visit to the Senators also kicks off a four-game road trip, so Montreal faces some early challenges.

They’ll be rewarded in November, though. After that late October/early November trip, they play six straight and nine of 11 at home. So the Habs just need to grind through this early bump in the road. At least they have fresh legs to start, right?

Senators (lost opener to Capitals)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Detroit
Tue, Oct 10 @ Vancouver
Fri, Oct 13 @ Calgary
Sat, Oct 14 @ Edmonton
Tue, Oct 17 vs Vancouver
Thu, Oct 19 vs New Jersey
Sat, Oct 21 vs Toronto
Tue, Oct 24 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 26 vs Philadelphia
Fri, Oct 27 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 vs Montreal

The Senators need to brush off injuries and early stumbles soon, because their early schedule opens up with a lot of home games once they get through that Western Canada kick in mid-October.

As you can see, there’s that five-game homestand starting on Oct. 17. It goes deeper than that; the Senators play 11 of 13 games in Ottawa from Oct. 17 – Nov. 18.

That’s about a quarter of their home games for the regular season. Botching that could really make life difficult for a team some expect to regress.

Lightning (beat Panthers in opener)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Florida
Mon, Oct 9 vs Washington
Thu, Oct 12 vs Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 14 vs St. Louis
Mon, Oct 16 @ Detroit
Tue, Oct 17 @ New Jersey
Thu, Oct 19 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 21 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 24 @ Carolina
Thu, Oct 26 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 28 vs Anaheim
Mon, Oct 30 @ Florida

The Lightning will take care of their in-state rivalry, as they’ll end October having played three games against the Panthers, continuing with tonight’s road contest.

Tampa Bay gets to avoid some of the extremes that many in the Atlantic seem to endure early on. Only facing one back-to-back set is nice. That’s not to say it’s a cakewalk, as that early three-game homestand comes against three potentially potent opponent in the Capitals, Penguins, and Blues.

Still, it seems pretty manageable early on.

Maple Leafs (dominated Jets in opener)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs NY Rangers
Mon, Oct 9 vs Chicago
Wed, Oct 11 vs New Jersey
Sat, Oct 14 @ Montreal
Tue, Oct 17 @ Washington
Wed, Oct 18 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 21 @ Ottawa
Mon, Oct 23 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 26 vs Carolina
Sat, Oct 28 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Oct 30 @ San Jose

After quieting the crowd in Winnipeg, the Maple Leafs play three consecutive games in Toronto in front of what is certain to be an exhilarated fan base.

There’s another three-game home run late in October, so the month now stands as friendly: seven home vs. four road games. That Oct. 30 game against the Sharks does begin a four-game road trip, however.

Scanning the full season, things seem balanced early. The big challenges (road-heavy) come in December, but then comparable opportunities come with a robust home slate to begin 2018 in January.

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular 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.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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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.