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Let’s pick the 2018 NHL All-Star Game captains

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The NHL opened up voting for the 2018 All-Star Game on Saturday. The event will take place the weekend of Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. As usual, Saturday night will be all about the Skills Competition, while Sunday will mark the third straight year the league goes with the 3-on-3 divisional tournament format.

Voting, you’ll remember, is only for the four captains representing each division and runs through Jan. 1. The remaining All-Stars will be named some time next month.

So with the All-Star Game on the mind, we decided to take it upon ourselves and help the NHL come up with their four captains. There won’t be any John Scott-type fun this year, unless the NHL agrees to change the Metropolitan Division jerseys to feature Ryan Reavesawesome Phil Kessel shirt.

In the meantime, here’s what we’re going with…

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Sean Leahy: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: This one is pretty automatic. The event is in Tampa. The Lightning are ridiculous. Stamkos is the local captain. He’s going to get the loudest cheers of the weekend with Nikita Kucherov coming in a close second.

Joey Alfieri: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s hard not to root for Stamkos after all the injuries and health scares he’s gone through over the last couple of years. The Bolts captain has had an impressive season so far with 37 points in 26 games, but what’s even more remarkable is that he’s gone from sniper to set-up guy. He might not have a ton of personality, but he’s a feel-good story. Also, the All-Star game is being held in Tampa.

Adam Gretz: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov has more goals and more points, but Stamkos has been the face of the Lightning organization for a decade, the game is in Tampa, and now that Stamkos is finally back healthy again we are being reminded as to just how great of a player he is. A huge portion of his prime years have been taken away. He is back.

James O’Brien: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Kucherov is way too important to the Lightning’s top pairing alongside Stamkos to be the Robin to Stamkos’ Batman, but he’s certainly paid that way. Hardcore fans know (or hopefully, are starting to truly realize) how great Kucherov is. Mainstream fans might not, so maybe this could be a beacon for them, at least before Kucherov starts collecting hardware at the NHL Awards?

This honor pretty much has to go to a Lightning player since the event is in Tampa, but it’s nice that it’s also warranted.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

Leahy: Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: Remember, this is a weekend about fun, not super serious hockey. Tavares, Crosby, Kessel, Ovechkin, Bobrovsky… There sure are a handful of solid choices in the Metro, but Boyle’s a great choice here because of how he worked his way back after an early season battle with leukemia and how he’s performed since returning to the ice (4 goals, 6 points in 16 games). Plus, he has personality, which is something that is supposed to shine during All-Star Weekend.

Alfieri: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: I know Kessel isn’t a fan of interviews and being in the spotlight, but hear me out on this one. Kessel plays in the game, while teammate (and resident prankster) Reaves is running around in Kessel-inspired t-shirts playing jokes on him. I seriously believe that would add another layer of entertainment to the weekend’s festivities. If you want Reaves to play in the game, I’m not opposed to it.

Gretz: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: He has been the best player on a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion, plus everybody seems to love him. Seems like a perfect fit for what the All-Star game is supposed to be about: A deserving player that is a fan favorite.

O’Brien: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: As of this writing, Kessel is the division’s most prolific point producer. This honor serves to right the wrong (the hilarious wrong, but a wrong nonetheless) of Kessel being selected last in the 2011 All-Star fantasy draft. And, really, it must be emphasized over and over that he’s a great player, full-stop. It’s OK if his captain’s ‘C’ is actually one of those hot dogs that curls, turned to the side.

(Honorable mention: Taylor Hall, who deserves to be thought of as more than just a lucky rabbit’s foot for the draft lottery.)

CENTRAL DIVISION

Leahy: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: The St. Louis trio of Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are certainly deserving, but Wheeler’s been a beast so far with 35 points in 27 games. He’s been a consistent producer since his first full season in Winnipeg, so this would be a great chance for him to get some more (deserving) love.

Alfieri: Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars: I fully realize I’m going off the board with this pick, but let me explain. I got to cover Radulov a little bit while he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens last season. The guy is funny (he kept referring to Carey Price as “Corey” without even realizing it), he has personality and he’s having a pretty good season in 2017-18. He might not get the national coverage that some of the other players in the division get, but he’d add some life to All-Star weekend.

Gretz: Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are finally, for the first time in their existence, a really good hockey team that has a promising core of impact players to build around. Scheifele has become one of the focal points of that group and has quietly been one of the best offensive players in the league for three years now. Give him his due.

O’Brien: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Yes, Schwartz and Schenn have the sexier totals so far this season, but Tarasenko is the guy I’m most confident about when it comes to sustained star play. “The Tank” really isn’t far behind Alex Ovechkin as far as sniping goes, and this honor stands as a testament to that notion.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Leahy: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid will definitely be in Tampa, regardless. They’re having strong seasons. While the NHL tries to get one player from each team involved, who’s to say they don’t go with Drew Doughty for LA? Kopitar is back to being the dominant force we remember and has bounced back with 14 goals and 31 points in 28 games. As an added bonus, he might even bring his awesome pup Gustl to the festivities.

Alfieri: Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights: How can you not go with a Golden Knight here? Marchessault has had a terrific season for the expansion side. He somehow put up a point-per-game in the first quarter of the season, and giving Vegas some more exposure would definitely be a good thing for the team and league. Maybe the team’s Twitter account has rubbed off on him a bit (not too much though).

Gretz: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers for the most part stink. Mismanagement from up top has put a lousy team around the franchise player and they are by far the biggest disappointment in the league this season. That does not mean that Connor McDavid isn’t still the best player in the league.

O’Brien: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Don’t let his hapless team fool you; McDavid is still the best player in the world. Plus he’s been willing to be at least funny-adjacent lately.

Panthers ready to welcome Mike Hoffman, fiancee with ‘clean slate’

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When Dale Tallon was contacted by Pierre Dorion last week about potential interest in Mike Hoffman, the Florida Panthers general manager thought the asking price from the Ottawa Senators GM was a bit high. He put that conversation to the side until he was contacted Monday night by Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks. Then a deal was made.

It was a wild Tuesday morning that saw Hoffman traded twice in the span of a few hours. He first went from Ottawa to the Sharks and then was later flipped to the Panthers.

“We felt this would be a perfect fit for our team,” Tallon said on a conference call Tuesday morning. “He’s 28, he can score, he can skate, he’s got a cannon for a shot.”

Hoffman, who played with Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau for one year with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, has scored 104 goals over the last four seasons and was the type of player Tallon was looking to add to his lineup to potentially play alongside Vincent Trocheck.

“Our power play will be better, too. He’s got a great one-timer, great shot,” Tallon said.

[Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers]

Dorion was seeking players in a return, presumably so the team could stay above the salary cap floor for next season with more trades likely on the way (Karlsson, Bobby Ryan?). Wilson, however, was merely looking for draft picks for Hoffman as he’s been clearing cap space with many believing he’ll go strong after Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares.

By acquiring Hoffman, that comes with the questions about last week’s allegations about his fiancee cyberbullying Erik and Melinda Karlsson. 

Tallon said he spoke with some of his players and staff and “had no pushback at all” when it came to bringing Hoffman and his fiancee, Monika Caryk, into the Panthers family. “I trust my guys. I trust my staff,” he said.

He also spoke with Hoffman directly and Tallon noted he has a good relationship with the player’s agent, former NHLer Mike Liut. He feels confident that Hoffman and Caryk will be embraced by the team and by the Panthers’ wives and girlfriends.

“Together, we discussed that what happened there is in the past and we’re moving forward with a clean slate,” Tallon said.

————

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.

Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers; Clearing space for Kovalchuk, Tavares?

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Mike Hoffman has been traded.

Hours after going from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Hoffman found himself on the move, again, as the Sharks flipped him to the Florida Panthers along with a seventh-round pick in 2018. In return, the Panthers gave up second-rounder in 2019, a fourth and fifth-round pick in 2018.

“Mike is a skilled, consistent and hard-working player who has proven himself to be a talented goal scorer in the NHL,” said Panthers general manager Tallon. “His speed, experience and offensive abilities will bolster our top-six group.”

Obviously, we know what the Panthers are getting in Hoffman. He’s scored at least 22 goals in each of his last four seasons, but he comes with some baggage. Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, had an order of protection filed against her by Erik Karlsson‘s wife, Melinda, last month.The Hoffmans have since denied those allegations, but it made for a messy situation in Ottawa.

The Sens were motivated to unload Hoffman as soon as possible, but they obviously took an inferior deal to make sure he didn’t stay in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for the Senators, the Sharks seemed to have pulled a fast one on them.

You’re probably wondering why San Jose would acquire the 28-year-old from Ottawa just to ship him away hours later. Well, they managed to dump underachieving forward Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to Ottawa in the first trade and now they’ve sent Hoffman’s $5.187 million salary to Florida for draft picks.

“This series of trades has allowed us to accomplish several organizational goals,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “We have witnessed some tremendous growth in our younger forwards over the past season and we feel that we have another group of players that are ready to challenge for additional ice time, including Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Max Letunov, Rudolphs Balcers, Antti Suomela, Vincent Praplan and Lukas Radil. These transactions have also allowed us to add to our pool of draft selections, as well as free up a substantial amount of cap space for internal and external player options in the coming months.”

The Sharks have been linked to both John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk, so you’d have to imagine that this extra cap space they’ve created will go towards trying to sign one or both of those players.

The salary cap is expected to jump to anywhere between $78 million and $82 million. If we split the difference and project ahead to a cap of $80 million, that would leave the Sharks with $16.5 million. They still have to re-sign RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney, so it’s more realistic to assume that they would only be able to afford one of Kovalchuk or Tavares. But if today’s trades have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible when it comes to hockey transactions.

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.

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

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Thanks, Vegas.

That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the success of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson and a strong group of free agents available soon, the ceiling for player spending will rise to between $78 and $82 million from $75 million.

“The higher the better,” Washington Capitals Stanley Cup-winning GM Brian MacLellan said. “It makes it a lot more fun.”

Gentlemen, open your wallets – players like Tavares, Carlson and forwards James van Riemsdyk and Paul Stastny won’t come cheap. They’re just a few of the big-name players who could be on the move this offseason.

With GMs meeting Thursday in Dallas and around each other this weekend at the draft, trade talk is percolating before free agency opens in July. Ottawa forward Mike Hoffman, Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly, Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty and Washington backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer could all be on the move in the next several days.

Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson is the star who will go to the highest bidder if the Senators are willing to trade the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with one year remaining on his contract. GM Pierre Dorion is in a tough spot, potentially having to deal either Karlsson or Hoffman after it was revealed last week that Karlsson’s wife Melinda has filed an order of protection against Hoffman’s girlfriend, Monika Caryk, alleging harassment and bullying.

Decisions are far more immediate for the Islanders and Capitals. New York should probably make a move to re-sign Tavares before its face of the franchise can begin speaking with other teams June 25, and recently hired president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello has to hire a new coach.

The Islanders might’ve gotten a fortunate bounce there when Barry Trotz resigned from his job with Washington less than two weeks after lifting the Cup. Re-signing Tavares and hiring a replacement for fired coach Doug Weight go hand-in-hand.

If it doesn’t work out and Tavares hits the open market, a contract with a salary approaching Connor McDavid‘s $12.5 million isn’t out of the question. Nashville GM David Poile said cap situations put five or six teams in position for top-end free agents and knock about half the league out of the running.

“We all have different commitments already of contracts,” Poile said. “Some teams have a lot of room. Some teams don’t have very much room.”

Big-revenue teams with money to spend include the retooling New York Rangers and the rising Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers are among several teams linked to Russian Olympic MVP Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s looking to return to the NHL after five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who won an Olympic gold medal with Kovalchuk, is back in the U.S. and could also be on the way to returning. Voynov was convicted of domestic abuse and is suspended indefinitely by the NHL, which makes it unclear how a team will pave the way for him to play.

Even excepting Voynov, hundreds of current free agents don’t know where they’ll be playing next season. Beyond Tavares, Carlson is the most in-demand pending free agent after leading all defensemen in regular-season and playoff points.

Carlson plans to have his day with the Stanley Cup in Washington, but because of the uncertainty of the offseason, there’s no guarantee he’ll be there this fall.

“We’ll see what happens,” Carlson said. “We’ll talk and go from there. I don’t really know what else to say other than that. I love it here and all that, I want to stay here, but there’s more to it than that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Morning Skate: Bob McKenzie’s final prospect rankings; Pens need to make moves

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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.

• TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie came out with his final prospect rankings for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. These are always must-see for every hockey fan. Yes, Brady Tkachuk is in the top three and Jesperi Kotkaniemi makes an appearance in the top five. (TSN.ca)

• Now that the Capitals won the Stanley Cup after many thought their championship window had closed, Sean McIndoe looks at eight teams who enter next season in a similar position. (Sportsnet)

• Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of the best seasons between the pipes in franchise history, but is it enough for him to come away with the Vezina Trophy? Bryan Burns makes a case for Vasilevskiy. (NHL.com/Lightning)

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli looks at the three biggest priorities for every Canadian team in the NHL this summer. The Sens have already accomplished one of their three goals, so that’s pretty good! (TSN.ca)

• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty made an appearance at the Open Door homeless shelter in Montreal. Pacioretty and his wife donated sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres to the shelter. (Montreal Gazette)

• Sportsnet breaks down all the latest news and rumors regarding the top 12 potential free agents. Yes, John Tavares is at the top of the list, but there’s also some other quality free-agent options. (Sportsnet)

• The best way to improve the Penguins roster is for GM Jim Rutherford to make a splash or two at this week’s NHL Draft. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Hall-of-fame defenseman Denis Potvin has some advice for Rasmus Dahlin: “I know the great career Phil (Housley) had as a player, the fantastic skating abilty he had and the way he was able to put up points so consistently. I just sure hope his focus is to make sure the young man plays defense first. And that will take teaching, I don’t care where he comes from.” (Buffalo News)

• Former NHL defenseman Sheldon Souray opened up about his battle with pain medication. “At the beginning, it was embarrassing. I never felt really like telling my story. All my friends know, obviously, and I’m very proud of it now. (Montreal Gazette)

• Adidas has created a custom Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Champion shoe. It looks exactly how you’d expect it to look. (BarDown)

• How would signing John Tavares affect the Vegas Golden Knights’ forward lines? Let’s just call that a classy problem. (SinBin.Vegas)

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.