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NHL Roundtable: Predictions for new hockey year

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Now that we’ve said goodbye to 2017, it’s time to look ahead at what the hockey world will bring up for 2018. The PHT staff pulled out their crystal balls and have offered up three predictions each for the next 12 months. Please remember us when all of these come true.

SEAN LEAHY

George McPhee stands pat at the trade deadline: The Vegas Golden Knights are exceeding everyone’s expectations but face an uncertain summer with a number of pending unrestricted free agents like James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron. While in any other situation, McPhee might deal them away for assets as the expansion club looks to build a consistent winner, they’re going to go all-in in Year 1 to make the postseason and increase the excitement around the team even more.

Ken Holland moves upstairs: It’s almost perfectly set up for this to happen. The long-time Detroit Red Wings general manager is in the final year of his contract and his team is likely to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, which previously happened in 1982 -83. You also have Chris Ilitch taking over the reins of the organization from his late dad and looking to revamp the franchise. Holland doesn’t get fired, but gets the ceremonial “thanks for all the success, here’s your ‘senior advisor’ position.”

The U.S. women recapture gold at the Olympics: Canada has won four straight golds since the Americans won the first tournament in Nagano in 1998. The U.S. has went home with silver three times, including a heartbreaking loss in Sochi in 2014. Kelli Stack hitting the post late in regulation will serve as motivation for the unfinished business the U.S. women have this time around. Plus, you can bet last spring’s pay dispute led to even tighter knit group, which will help them win gold again.

JOEY ALFIERI

The Pittsburgh Penguins miss the playoffs: The grind of two Stanley Cup runs will finally catch up to them. GM Jim Rutherford is trying to shake up his roster because he clearly feels like his team needs it. Whatever move he makes, I predict that it won’t be enough to get them in.

Max Pacioretty will be on the move before the start of next season: The Canadiens captain is struggling, but he remains a bargain at $4.5 million per season. His contract expires after next season so to maximize his value, the Habs need to trade him soon. I’m going to go ahead and say he’ll be shipped to the St. Louis Blues in a package that involves top prospect Robert Thomas.

Erik Karlsson will be a member of the Dallas Stars before the calendar shifts to 2019: I realize that saying Karlsson won’t be a Senator isn’t exactly bold, but picking the team he’s going to is! The Stars could use a boost on defense and landing the best one in the game is as good as it gets. Marc Methot and Karlsson will be reunited in Big D!

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JAMES O’BRIEN

The Predators win the Stanley Cup: Yes, I’m doubling down. When making this choice before the season, I assumed (dangerously, but successfully) that the Preds would add a key piece. They’ve really flourished with Kyle Turris, now giving them two strong scoring lines, two good-to-strong goalies, and Ryan Ellis permitting, two strong defense pairings.

John Tavares re-signs with the Islanders: Now, I’m not saying that he’ll re-sign with the Isles during the 2017-18 season. He might even dip his toe in the UFA water, at least to test the temperature. But I expect Tavares to stick with the Isles. Now can they truly contend going forward? That’s a tougher question.

Marc Bergevin gets fired: Just in time for him to dig an enormous hole for whoever takes over! That’s the problem with GMs who continue to make mistakes: there’s a “legacy” of moves for the next person to deal with. Montreal needs to pull the Band-Aid off now, before Bergevin trades them into further disrepair.

SCOTT BILLECK

Erik Karlsson is traded: Karlsson, seeing the rubble around him as the Senators continue to crumble, and after the Eugene-Melnyk-threatens-to-move-the-team debacle, decides he’s done in Canada’s capital and wants out. With his pending unrestricted free agent status, and with no choice but to find a return, the Senators trade him.

Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup: Look, it’s a longshot, even given how good they’ve been, but why can’t the magic from the regular season spill into the postseason? They find a way to win games, they score a lot of goals and they have great goaltending (and apparent depth at the position). Perhaps it’s not that crazy of a thought after all.

The NHL adopts puck tracking technology: In a world with pinpoint accuracy when it comes to GPS, the NHL makes the move to puck tracking, which eliminates the long wait times for goal reviews. Fans and scribes alike get a chance to look at shot statistics in a new way, looking at average shot speed, hardest slapshot in a game situation, etc.

ADAM GRETZ

• The Vegas Golden Knights will go deep into the playoffs: They are already on track to be the most successful expansion team ever, and they are not going to stop at regular season success. They are going to win a round in the playoffs, and maybe two. Their success right now is no longer just about hot percentages or strong goaltending like it was early in the year. There is still an element of that in there, but they are also legitimately good. It would take a monumental collapse at this point for them to even miss the playoffs, and there just seems to be enough here that they are going to knock someone off once they get in.

• The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens will make trades they will regret: Probably for very different reasons. The Penguins are having a miserable season and are in danger of missing te playoffs entirely after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. They lost a ton of depth over the summer, did nothing to replace it, and I can not see them going away without doing something this season to try and correct it. Maybe it won’t involve Kris Letang, but there might be a panic trade coming at some point. The Canadiens are in kind of a similar position, only worse. They are having a worse season and they might actually end up trading one of their core players in Max Pacioretty. At a time when his value is at an all-time low.

• Four players will top 100 points this season: I wrote about this a week ago but the slight increase in goal scoring this season has led to the potential return of a nearly extinct player in the NHL — the 100-point scorer. Right now there are a handful of players on track to hit the century mark and I think four of them will end up getting there. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Josh Bailey. What is most notable about this, aside from the fact they all might get there in an era where almost nobody reaches it anymore, is that they are two sets of teammates. There have only been five 100-point scorers in the NHL since 2010-11. The last time a set of teammates did it was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in 2009-10. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin also did it in 2008-09. The last time two different sets of teammates did it in the same season? 1995-96 when the Pittsburgh Penguins had three (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis) and the Colorado Avalanche had Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

PHT 2017 year in review:

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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.

Avalanche vs. Sabres: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just more than a quarter of the regular season to go for Colorado, the Avalanche sit in a divisional playoff spot as they vie with St. Louis, Dallas and Vegas for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Avs have won three straight and are one of the hottest teams over the last month and half, having gone 11-3-1.

Though the defending champion Blues are on top of the West, both the Avs and Stars are right on St. Louis’ heels. For the second straight season, it appears the Central will come down to the wire (last season, the top three teams – Nashville, Winnipeg, St. Louis – finished the season separated by just one point).

Philipp Grubauer left the outdoor game at Air Force against LA on Feb. 15 with a lower-body injury and has not played since. 29-year-old Pavel Francouz, who made his first NHL start earlier this season, has started all 4 games since Grubauer has been out and allowed just 6 goals (3- 0-1 record, 1.46 GAA, .941 SV%). On the season, Francouz is 16-5-3 with a 2.27 GAA.

The Sabres enter this game having won two straight and five of their last six games. Although they sit in sixth in the Atlantic, this run has managed to close the playoff gap between them and Toronto (third in Atlantic) and Florida (fourth) over the past two weeks, with each of those clubs struggling (Buffalo eight points back of Toronto).

At the beginning of the month it seemed the Sabres would be sellers at the trade deadline and looked to be headed towards another offseason without a playoff appearance. A strong two-week stretch has shifted things a bit as Buffalo is within reach of a playoff spot and did not approach Monday’s deadline as a sell-off.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sabres-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Victor OlofssonJack EichelSam Reinhart
Jeff SkinnerMarcus JohanssonWayne Simmonds
Jimmy VeseyCurtis LazarMichael Frolik
Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonKyle Okposo

Brandon MontourRasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabeHenri Jokiharju
Rasmus DahlinColin Miller

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

AVALANCHE
Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonValeri Nichushkin
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherJoonas Donskoi
Vladislav NamestnikovPierre-Edouard Bellemare – Martin Kaut
Mark BarberioVladislav Kamenev – Logan O’Connor

Ryan GravesCale Makar
Samuel GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

New-look Penguins play first game since trade deadline on NBCSN

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Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).

Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now

Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.

Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.

Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)

In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.

“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”

Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)

Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?

This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.

Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.

Patrick MarleauEvan RodriguesDominik Simon

Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.

People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.

(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)

The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.

Sam LaffertyTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.

(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Defense and other considerations for Penguins

NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:

Jack Johnson — Kris Letang

Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz

Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.

In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.

Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.

More: Kings aim to upset Penguins

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.

My Favorite Goal: NHLers reflect on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Matt Dumba, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Matt Duchene reflect on Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal from the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

The road to gold was a tough one for Canada’s men’s team at the 2010 Olympics. Faced with the pressure of winning on home soil in Vancouver, the team finished second in their group to the U.S. and found themselves needing to stay alive in the qualification playoffs. From there they topped Germany, knocked out Russia, and edged Slovakia to set up a gold medal final against the Americans, who beat them 5-3 in the final preliminary game.

What once was a 2-0 Canada lead evaporated and overtime was needed after Zach Parise‘s tying goal with 24 seconds left in the third period. It was then in overtime that Crosby called for a pass from Jarome Iginla and beat Ryan Miller to win gold.

You check out previous “My Favorite Goal” entries here.

Jay Bouwmeester will not play again for Blues this season

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Jay Bouwmeester met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a cardiac episode during a Feb. 11 game in Anaheim.

The defenseman, who began the press conference by thanking the training staffs of the Blues and Ducks, will not play again this season, according to general manager Doug Armstrong. While a comeback this season is out of reach, Bouwmeester has not closed the door on his future.

“There’s been a lot going on,” he said. “I think that’s something I’m going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I’ve done that, I wouldn’t say fully yet. There’s decisions I’m going to have to make. That’ll come later.”

“We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it’s February,” added Armstrong. “You don’t have to make long term decisions at this point. He’s going to take time and again back in with his family and get around the team and he’ll address those things as the summer progresses.”

Bouwmeester, who will turn 37 in September, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was revived with defibrillator and quickly taken from Honda Center to a local hospital. He later had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator procedure to restore the normal rhythm of his heart.

“I’m at the point now where I feel pretty good,” Bouwmeester said. “That’s kind of the weird thing about this is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in the hospital for a couple of days and then now there’s some restrictions as to what I can do.”

The Blues-Ducks game was postponed and rescheduled for March 11.

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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.