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Carlson signing is first domino to fall in NHL free agency

The first big free agent re-signing with his own team is just the beginning of the frenzy that’s to come around the NHL.

Defenseman John Carlson signed a $64 million, eight-year deal with the Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals. His agent and the representatives for other pending unrestricted free agents were able to start talking to any interested teams on Sunday at the beginning of the negotiating window that precedes the opening of the market July 1.

Serious talks between New York Islanders center John Tavares and five suitors begin Monday in what should be the next step in shaking out signings and trades.

”There’s going to be a lot happening,” Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday in Dallas. ”Things have sort of been at a standstill around the league, but I think with the free agent market being opened up to be able to have discussions with the agents, that will help, as well. Once you talk, you have an idea that you’re going to be able to get a free agent or if you won’t, then it might sort of move some teams to start looking at potential trades.”

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

Only a handful of current NHL players were traded over the weekend at the draft: four in a swap between Carolina and Calgary and Washington sending two to Colorado to clear salary-cap space to re-sign Carlson. Montreal could still try to trade captain Max Pacioretty this week, and Hurricanes GM Don Waddell wants to make a move for a goaltender and said there’s a lot of interest in winger Jeff Skinner.

”We have a lot of other possibilities, pieces to move around,” Waddell said.

With Tavares headlining this free agent class, the possibilities are endless.

His decision – reportedly among the Sharks, Maple Leafs, Stars, incumbent Islanders and perhaps one other team – could set up the rest of the market. Paul Stastny is the next-best free agent center available followed by the likes of Tyler Bozak, Derek Ryan and Tomas Plekanec, and teams that don’t land one of them could turn to Buffalo’s Ryan O'Reilly, who may be a better candidate to be traded July 2 after the Sabres pay him a $7.5 million bonus.

The Sharks are worth watching this week after they shed Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to clear cap space and watched as Ilya Kovalchuk signed with Los Angeles on a three-year, $18.75 million deal. After saying San Jose will spend much of its space to re-sign players, GM Doug Wilson acknowledged there will still be plenty of room to add the difference-maker he’s looking for.

Asked if he thinks he’ll be able to land that difference-maker by the afternoon of July 1, Wilson smirked and said: ”The fifth is my birthday. Ask me then.”

By July 5, most of the hockey community will be preparing for vacation. The real fun comes over the next week.

Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Vegas’ James Neal and David Perron, Boston’s Rick Nash, Columbus’ Thomas Vanek and New Jersey’s Patrick Maroon are among the wingers available. Carlson staying with Washington leaves Detroit’s Mike Green, Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis and Columbus’ Ian Cole at the top of the list of defensemen available.

”There are some free agents out there that we like,” said Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, whose team shifted toward a rebuild this past season. ”We’re in a pretty good spot to talk to as many free agents that we can that we like and we’ll go forward that way.”

Unlike New York, which had been in win-now mode for a while, the expansion Golden Knights were supposed to be building slowly toward becoming a perennial playoff contender. After reaching the Cup final in their first season, they could use an overflowing amount of cap space this offseason – though GM George McPhee doesn’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.

”You just never know with these things and whether we’ll do anything at all or do something,” McPhee said. ”You’re sort of venturing into an area where there’s all kinds of things going on and you don’t know how it’s going to go. There’s no urgency for us to do anything. We like the team we have, we like the model we have. If we can make it better by doing something that makes sense, then we’ll do it.”

PHT Morning Skate: Gritty’s diary; Patrick Kane’s incredible season

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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’s Frank Seravalli believes that Mark Stone‘s days in Ottawa are numbered. (TSN)

• Speaking of Stone, he’d be a nice fit in Boston, but there’s other guys the Bruins could target, too. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

Ilya Kovalchuk has officially put his New Jersey home on the market for a whopping $18 million. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• Can Kovalchuk be a useful asset to a team that’s not the Los Angeles Kings? Rotoworld’s Gus Katsaros takes a deeper look at the advanced stats. (Rotoworld)

• The Lightning are blessed with a ton of depth all over their roster, but which defenseman should they sit once the playoffs begin? (Raw Charge)

• It might be a boring trade deadline for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Keeping Jeff Skinner beyond the trade deadline would be a major gamble for the Buffalo Sabres. (The Hockey News)

• Check out Gritty’s Stadium Series diary ahead of Saturday night’s outdoor game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (NHL.com)

• Buffalo’s KeyBank center has become a little outdated. That barn is now 22 years old. (Buffalo News)

Patrick Kane might just be having the best individual season in Blackhawks history. (Faxes from Uncle Dale)

• Can Blues goalie Jordan Binnington win the Calder Trophy? (St. Louis Game-Time)

Steven Stamkos believes that Nikita Kucherov should win the Hart Trophy this year. (Toronto Sun)

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.

The Buzzer: Gallagher’s hat trick powers Habs; Stars end Blues’ streak

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Three Stars

1. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. The Montreal Canadiens were dominant on Thursday night in a 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, turning in one of their best overall performances of the season. At the center of it was Brendan Gallagher who recorded his first career hat trick to continue his great season. After his performance on Thursday he is now up to a team-leading 26 goals.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. The Pittsburgh Penguins were no match for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night who looked like the Stanley Cup contender that they are. Tomas Hertl was one of the big driving forces in the win as he scored a pair of power play goals, including one in the game’s first two minutes to set the tone for what would go on to be a decisive win. This game ended up getting very heated late.

3. Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes are back in a playoff spot after their come-from-behind win over the Florida Panthers. Captain Justin Williams had a huge game by scoring a pair of goals, including one off of his face. His second goal was a bit more conventional and went in the books as the game-winner. Nino Neiderreiter and Teuvo Teravainen also had multi-point games for the Hurricanes in the win.

More Notable Performances From Thursday

  • The Dallas Stars were 5-2 winners over the St. Louis Blues, snapping what had been an 11-game winning streak. Jamie Benn eclipsed the 20-goal mark in the win for the Stars.
  • The Nashville Predators reclaimed the top spot in the Central Division with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. You can read about it and what is ahead for the Predators here.
  • Big night for New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider as he recorded his first shutout of the season in blanking what is left of the Ottawa Senators’ roster.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are not going away. Their overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday was huge and now has them just one point out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Given where they were coming from a year ago and the injury situation they have dealt with this season it is an impressive accomplishment to still be in this race.

Highlights of the Night

This sequence early in the Washington Capitals-Toronto Maple Leafs game was bonkers.

Another highlight reel goal for Aleksander Barkov!

Tomas Hertl may never score an easier goal in the NHL.

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid recorded his 25th multi-point game of the season in leading the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders. One of those points was the game-winner in overtime. His 25 multi-point games are the third-most in the NHL this season. He also had a questionable hit on Nick Leddy in the first period that could result in a review from the NHL’s DoPS. Eventful night.  [NHL PR]
  • Nikita Kucherov reached the 100-point mark faster than any other player over the past 22 years. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin scored career goal No. 650 in the Washington Capitals’ win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. [NHL PR]

Scores

Washington Capitals 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Florida Panthers 3

New Jersey Devils 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Minnesota Wild 4, New York Rangers 1

San Jose Sharks 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 0

Montreal Canadiens 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Buffalo Sabres 1 (SO)

Nashville Predators 2, Los Angeles Kings 1

Dallas Stars 5, St. Louis Blues 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, New York Islanders 3 (OT)

Arizona Coyotes 3, Vancouver Canucks 2 (OT)

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.

Predators top Kings, take over top spot in Central

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The Nashville Predators, at least for now, are back on top of the Central Division standings.

Thanks to their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night they were able to reclaim first place by temporarily jumping over the Winnipeg Jets.

Yes, it is true that the Predators probably haven’t been playing their best hockey as of late and still have a lot of room to improve before the playoffs begin. And yes, it is also true the Jets still have three games in hand on the Predators as of Thursday, so this position might prove to be short-lived.

But the recent slump of the Jets has put the division back up for grabs and the Predators look poised to try and take advantage of that situation.

Especially given what their upcoming schedule looks like.

After effectively shutting down a Kings team that is going nowhere on Thursday, the Predators continue their current home stand against a fading Colorado Avalanche team and then get to play Edmonton two nights later.

After that, they have head-to-head matchups against St. Louis and Winnipeg, which are followed by back-to-back games against a Minnesota Wild team that has gone into sellers mode ahead of the trade deadline.

They not only have some favorable matchups in front of them, but they also have an opportunity to really gain some ground and create some distance for themselves by playing the teams they are directly competing with. Nothing is a guarantee, obviously, but the opportunity is there.

You also have to assume that general manager David Poile is going to be active ahead of the NHL trade deadline as he has a rare luxury that most Stanley Cup contenders do not have — salary cap space. And a lot of it.

As for Thursday’s game, it Kyle Turris and Roman Josi that provided the offense for the Predators, while starting goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced.

Josi’s goal, which proved to be the game-winner, was an especially beautiful play that was set up by Viktor Arvidsson.

Thursday’s loss extended the Kings’ current losing streak to six games and leaves them in the bottom spot in the Western Conference.

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.

Kane’s spying sparks big Penguins, Sharks scrum

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PITTSBURGH — It turned out to be a pretty lousy Thursday night for Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

Not only was his team completely outclassed and outmatched in a decisive 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks, but he also ended up getting himself ejected late in the third period after a line brawl nearly broke out during a commercial break.

The entire ordeal started at center ice and seemed to be the result of Sharks forward Evander Kane trying to sneak a look at the Penguins’ white board as they were drawing up a play after pulling goalie Casey DeSmith for an extra attacker.

We know this is what started it because Kane admitted as much after the game.

“I was just standing there, looking at their bench, just looking at their board that they were using and one of their players, not really sure who it was, jumped over and tried to do something about it and it just kind of escalated,” said Kane when asked about what happened.

He was then asked if that is something he normally does.

“Well they were about to pull their goalie, right?” Just like to think that is little bit of a savvy veteran thing to do. If you can see it, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Touche.

The result of that was a heated scrum at center ice involving all of the players that were on the ice at that time.

Things really started to escalate when Sharks defender Brenden Dillon punched an unsuspecting Marcus Pettersson in the face, infuriating Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Crosby, Kris Letang, Dillon, and recently acquired Sharks forward Michael Haley were all involved in the altercation.

While that was happening, Kane ended up getting the better of a fight with Penguins forward Tanner Pearson.

The next thing everyone knew, Sullivan was exiting the Penguins’ bench after being seen screaming at the officials.

For the Sharks, Haley and Dillon both received 10-minute misconducts for their roles, while Kane was given a five-minute major for fighting.

On the Penguins’ side, Crosby and Pettersson were both given 10-minute misconducts,

Pearson was given a five-minute major for fighting, and Sullivan was given a game misconduct.

The Penguins’ coach had absolutely zero interest in discussing the matter after the game, highlighted by this exchange that took place during an uncharacteristically short and tense press conference.

Reporter: “Mike can you describe as best you can what happened there at the end?”

Sullivan: “No.”

Reporter: “Or what led to your ejection…”

Sullivan: “No.”

Maybe it was the events that preceded the brawl, or the ejection itself, or just his overall disappointment with the way his team played in what should have been a measuring stick game that soured his mood.

Or perhaps it was the way the Penguins’ meltdown continued after the brawl with Phil Kessel taking an offensive zone penalty right off the ensuing face-off, which was quickly followed by Kris Letang going off for cross-checking Tomas Hertl after the latter took a late swing at Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith. That sequence resulted in an extended two-man advantage for the Sharks that produced Brent Burns‘ 12th goal of the season, turning the game into a rout.

All four of the Sharks’ goals on Thursday came as a result of their special teams, scoring three power play goals and a shorthanded goal.

The Penguins still occupy the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division but are just one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes (winners on Thursday night) and only two points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture.

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.