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Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny problem

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WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have quite the conundrum on their hands.

It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s one of those problems you can file on the good-headache-to-have category, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed, one way or another.

The man central to the issue is center Paul Stastny

He’s the guy no one knew was coming to Winnipeg at the trade deadline until Kevin Cheveldayoff shipped a first rounder and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues to get, shortly after Blues general manager Doug Armstrong dangled Stastny in front of the playoff-charging Jets.

Everything clicked as soon as Stastny donned the Jets sweater in late February. The son of Hall of Famer Peter meshed immediately with superstar sniper Patrik Laine and the dancing Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers — two pillars of Winnipeg’s seemingly bright future.

Stastny slid perfectly in between the duo, providing a center that could play with the two gifted wingers. Stastny knew his role and played it well: feed the men on either side of him.

Laine and Ehlers gushed about Stastny, providing joy to the team and to fans alike.

The deal of the trade deadline was so satisfying that Jets are working hard to find a way to keep the goods for good.

And therein lies the problem.

How does a team with such a bevy of talent that needs to get paid to afford a player that’s tough to fit on the ledger?

CapFriendly will show that the Jets are currently at roughly $54.5 million when it comes to the salary cap. We know the cap will increase to $79.5 million this season, meaning the Jets have some $25 million to play with (and actually less when you consider they could have around $4 million in entry-level contract bonuses to pay out.)

To someone unaware of what the Jets are facing, it looks easy to fit Stastny in. But the Jets have 16 total restricted free agents, nine of which were on the team for most of the year and seven more in the minors.

And not all of them are low-priced restricted free agents either.

Connor Hellebuyck set several records on his way to being voted as the runner-up to Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy.

Winnipeg’s top pairing on defense in Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba need money, too. They’re one of the best shutdown duos in the league. Trouba is looking long-term and for big money, while Cheveldayoff may be able to get Morrissey to sign a bridge. Either way, the money needs to be spent.

The Jets then need to lock up third-line center Adam Lowry, wingers Joel Armia and Brandon Tanev and defenseman Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow while also figuring out what to do with Marko Dano and several aforementioned minor leaguers (who only count if they play in the Show.)

[On Paul Stastny and his impact with the Jets]

That $25 million goes quick, and the Jets will have Kyle Connor, who led all rookies with 31 goals, versatile forward Jack Roslovic and, of course, Laine to pay coming up as well.

Stastny isn’t looking to play for a pittance, of course, so there are some scenarios that must occur to make this work.

Let’s delve into them.

Trade money away

The best way to make room is to clean out some space.

As we saw this weekend with the Washington Capitals, they needed to move Brooks Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit to make way for John Carlson’s eight-year, $64 million extension.

There are some options here for the Jets. Names that immediately come to mind are Trouba’s fellow d-man Tyler Myers, who’s cap hit for the Jets is $5.5 million per year, forward Mathieu Perreault at $4.125 million a year and goalie Steve Mason at $4.1 million with one year left on his two-year $8.2 million deal.

Trading Trouba isn’t desirable. He’s far too valuable an asset, but the Jets also have a kid named Sami Niku, who captured the American Hockey League’s best defenseman award in his rookie season, looking to earn a roster spot this season. If Trouba’s demands are too high, it might become the best option, but likely not until the 2019-20 season.

Myers is getting a lot for a third-pairing defenseman, but Jets head coach loves himself some Myers. Myers will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, however, and the Jets won’t be able to afford him at his current price point then regardless. Moving Myers would be an option that makes the most sense if there’s a market for him. He’s a big man capable of playing a lot of minutes, and there are teams that need that, so it’s surely a possibility if the Jets are willing to explore it.

That said, and as already mentioned, Maurice likes Myers and uses him a lot on the penalty kill, on the second power-play unit and Maurice has already chatted with Myers, a right-hand shot, moving to the left side this season to perhaps play with Dustin Byfuglien with Toby Enstrom departing as a free agent.

It’s unlikely a team will want to risk paying Mason after his injury-plagued season. And trading Perreault, who can play anywhere in the lineup and make any linemates better, shouldn’t make sense from an organizational standpoint. He’s too valuable, even if he’s a little overpaid.

Wizardry on the balance sheet

Figuring this out seems a futile endeavor.

There are a lot of unknowns with the RFAs right now. At this point, the Jets have just seven players signed to contracts past next season.

If Cheveldayoff could just get every player he possesses to sign Mark Scheifele-type deals, the Jets would have a better team than they already do. But that’s just not the case.

Sure, Morrissey may take a bridge. Lowry might, too. But Trouba likely won’t, and even if he heads to arbitration, will make more than the $3 million he’s commanding on his current bridge contract.

Hellebuyck needs to be paid like the elite level goalie he is.

It’s tight, to say the least.

Sign Stastny short-term

Hockey Analytics guru Matt Cane’s prediction of Stastny’s next contract is three years at roughly $5.4 million annually.

The problem for the Jets isn’t the 2018-19 season, it’s the one after.

With Winnipeg’s biggest contract — Laine — still a year away from kicking in, and with the shedding of other contracts at the end of next season — Myers’ $5.5 million, potentially Blake Wheeler’s $5.6 million and Mason’s $4.1 million — the Jets could give Stastny a home for a reasonable price on a deal that would make sense for all parties.

Wheeler is going to want a big raise after his 91-point season, but he’ll be 33 after next season and may price himself out of Winnipeg.

But if Wheeler stays, it’s not crazy to think that Wheeler, Laine and Connor could make well over $20 million combined beginning in the 2019-20 season.

Breakup and remain friends

As good as the fling was between Stastny and the Jets, getting him signed might just not make sense in the end.

Laine needs a center. So does Ehlers. Roslovic could grow into that role. The Jets were a better team with Stastny, but have young players become a year older and better by the same token.

It was good while it lasted, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Long story short

Much of this is guesswork. We look at the cap, we look at the players and we try to figure out what makes the most sense.

Simply, if Stastny wants to stay in Winnipeg, he needs to take less money and less term.

The benefit of him being in Winnipeg is he gets to play next to Laine and on a team that appears to have a solid window that’s open for a few runs at the Stanley Cup.

If he wants long-term security, he will look elsewhere. There will be no shortage of suitors willing to pay more, and for longer, for a productive center.

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

Fan-free playoff hockey still proving plenty intense

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Staging games in empty arenas after a virus-forced hiatus of more than four months, the NHL skated into this unprecedented postseason with plenty of questions about just how intense the action on the ice would be.

Four days into a most unusual Stanley Cup tournament, this much is clear: Playoff hockey is still playoff hockey, even without the roar of the crowd. The Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, their qualifying round series even at one win apiece, have proven as much.

Both contests at Rogers Place in Edmonton have been testy, with the two teams jawing at each other at the end of Game 2.

”The guys play the exact same way. I spoke to several people before this, and they said, ‘Do you think it’s going to be playoff hockey?”’ Wild coach Dean Evason said. ”These guys, they’re kids, and even if they’re older guys, they’re kids. They’re playing the game for the right reasons. They’re the best in the world for a reason, because they absolutely love to play and they love to compete, and when that puck’s dropped in a playoff atmosphere, we’re all battling to win the Stanley Cup, which they’ve thought about their entire lives. There’s going to be that excitement level and there’s going to be that battle level that we’ve seen already.”

Even more strange with this postseason has been the bubble-city setup that has stationed both of these teams at the Sutton Place Hotel. The Wild routinely walk by the Canucks on their way to eat.

”It’s definitely different. You’re in an absolute war with a team, and then you ride the elevator with them,” Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said on Wednesday.

Game 3 is on Thursday (2:30 p.m. EDT, NHL Network). The Canucks are banged up, with four forwards iffy. Tyler Toffoli and Adam Gaudette were hurt in Game 1 and held out of Game 2. Michael Ferland and Antoine Roussel left Game 2 with injuries.

The Canucks will likely go as far as their talented top-six group of forwards will take them, with the ”Lotto Line” of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser making a significant impact so far.

Pettersson has impressed the Canucks with his tenacity, too, the frequent target of not-so-friendly hits from the Wild.

”I’m always impressed with his skill level, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see how he does with this type of hockey, and it’s been impressive so far,” Canucks coach Travis Green said.

The Wraparound: Jets want to make Flames ‘scratch and claw for everything’

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

• The Canadiens make a comeback and push the Penguins to the brink of elimination. 

Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Thursday.

The Jets are staring down elimination Thursday night in Game 4 against the Flames (10:30 p.m. ET, CNBC; livestream). After a gutsy win to even the series on Monday, they laid an egg Tuesday, putting themselves one foot out of the bubble.

Calgary had answers to everything Winnipeg did, even scoring 18 and 159 seconds after the Jets recorded both of their goals in Game 3. Still without Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, the Jets couldn’t avoid mistakes.

One Jet who is up for the challenge of winning the next two games is Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina Trophy finalist has not played well through three games. His .852 even strength save percentage is 15th among all goalies who have played at least twice.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hellebuyck has not looked himself in the series. A miscommunication handling the puck behind the net with defenseman Neal Pionk led to the Flames’ second goal. If the Jets are to have any shot, he’ll have to carry them on his back, much like he did during the regular season.

“It’s going to be everything for me,” Hellebuyck said. “I’ve got to use this, and I plan on using this. This was an upset for me [in Game 3]. I don’t see it being easy for them at all for the rest of the series, so they better scratch and claw for everything that they get.”

He could use a little help, of course. While Nikolaj Ehlers has been one of the early breakout players of the Qualifying Round, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, who combined for 60 goals during the regular season, have yet to light the lamp.

Everything has clicked for Calgary. Time is running out for the Jets.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): How special have special teams been for the Wild? Through two games they have six goals. Zero have come at 5-on-5. Killing penalties hindered their offense in Game 2, which allowed the Canucks to even the series. For Vancouver, they’ll be without Micheal Ferland as he has headed home with suspected concussion issues. Tyler Toffoli may also miss a second straight game.

Round-robin: Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestreamBrian Elliott is expected to start in net for the Flyers after Hart played against Boston. Elliott went 2-0-0 vs. the Caps this season, allowing just two goals in each of his wins (.926 SV%) – although Hart allowed just three combined goals in his two starts against Washington this season. Lars Eller has left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

Round-robin: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in streamThe Blues have yet to score at even strength through two games (exhibition and round-robin). St. Louis will be without Ivan Barbashev after he left the bubble to go home for the birth of his first child.

Game 3: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: – (Series tied 1-1): Only four playoff series have ever started with three straight shutouts, the last being the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Lightning and Islanders (four straight shutouts to start series). According to the Maple Leafs, Jake Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return following an awkward collision in Game 2.

FRIDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR wins series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI lead series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads series 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, 2:30 p.m. ET (live look-in coverage on NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets, 10:30 p.m. ET – CNBC
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

————

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.

NHL Return to Play: Round-robin standings, scenarios

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While the 16 teams in the qualifying round play for the right to move on, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still up for grabs in the round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play.

The round-robin schedule resumes on Thursday with a pair of games (Capitals vs. Flyers and Golden Knights vs. Blues) and here we take a look at the impact those games can have on the standings.

Below is a look at the current round-robin standings and everything at stake on Thursday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings

Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

Thursday’s round-robin schedule

Capitals vs. Flyers

Scenarios based on Thursday’s result

Capitals win in regulation

  • TB: Clinches 1st with 1 point vs PHI on Saturday
  • WSH: Can finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd
    • Will be 1st if…
      • TB loses in regulation to PHI on Sat, AND
      • WSH beats BOS on Sunday
  • PHI: Can finish no better than 2nd, can finish anywhere from 2nd-4th
    • Will be 2nd if…
      • They beat TB on Saturday, AND
      • BOS beats WSH in regulation
  • BOS: To avoid last place, needs TB to beat PHI in regulation on Saturday, AND to beat WSH on Sunday 

Capitals win in OT/SO

  • TB: Clinches 1st with 1 point vs PHI on Saturday
  • WSH: Can finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd
    • Will be 1st if…
      • TB loses in regulation to PHI on Saturday, AND
      • WSH beats BOS on Sun
  • PHI: Can finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd
    • Will be 1st if …
      • They beat TB in regulation on Saturday, AND
      • BOS beats WSH in any fashion on Sunday
  • BOS: Guaranteed last

Flyers win in regulation

  • The winner of TB/PHI will be 1st, the loser will be 2nd
  • The winner of BOS/WSH will be 3rd, the loser will be 4th 

Flyers win in OT/SO

  • The winner of TB/PHI will be 1st
  • If TB loses to PHI, the Lightning will be 2nd
  • If PHI loses to TB, they will be 2nd or 3rd
    • Will be 2nd if…
      • they lose in OT/SO, OR
      • WSH loses to BOS in any fashion
    • Will be 3rd if they lose in regulation and WSH beats BOS
  • WSH can finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th
    • 2nd if PHI loses in regulation and WSH beats BOS
    • 3rd if either of the following happens:
      • PHI gets at least 1 point on Saturday AND WSH avoids losing to BOS in regulation on Sunday, OR
      • PHI gets 0 points on Saturday AND WSH gets exactly 1 point on Sunday
    • 4th if WSH loses in regulation to BOS
  • BOS: must win in regulation to avoid last place

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Standings

Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Vegas Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

Thursday’s round-robin schedule

Golden Knights vs. Blues

Scenarios based on Wednesday result

Avalanche win in regulation

  • DAL can finish no better than third.
  • Other three teams can still finish with No. 1 seed, but Colorado controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Vegas.

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.