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Amid Tavares push, Lightning give J.T. Miller big contract

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One J.T. down, one to go?

The Tampa Bay Lightning raised some eyebrows on Tuesday by signing J.T. Miller to a five-year, $26.25 million contract, which means he’ll carry a $5.25M cap hit from 2018-19 to 2022-23. This lofty deal surfaces despite the already-cap-challenged Lightning reportedly being a part of the bidding war for John Tavares‘ services, which makes this substantial investment doubly surprising.

That’s not to take anything away from Miller, 25, who’s coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 22 goals. He generated a career-high by a small margin with 23 this past season, also accruing 58 points. He fit in very nicely in Tampa Bay, essentially filling trade partner Vladislav Namestnikov‘s spot alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

(This deal is the latest reminder that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sure loves ex-Rangers. See: Ryan McDonagh being in that trade, not to mention commitments to Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, and Anton Stralman over the years.)

This only strengthens the impression that Yzerman will need to pull some strings – maybe trade Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn, etc.? – to make Tavares fit into the salary structure, even for a season.

The five-year term stands as one of the most interesting things to consider, as the Lightning face some steep potential raises in the near future. Consider these situations:

  • Nikita Kucherov’s almost-scandalous bargain of $4.767M expires after 2018-19. Yzerman deserves credit for squeezing Kucherov’s RFA status for all it was worth there, but even as an RFA again, Kucherov’s going to get paid … one way or another.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy is due for a big raise from his $3.5M cap hit. On the bright side, Tampa Bay has him on the hook for two more seasons.
  • Two exceptional young players will be eligible to become RFAs during the 2019 summer: Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde.

All things considered, it sure seems like the Lightning are primed for an all-in season in 2018-19, and then they’ll need to pivot. Some of that cap crunch is likely to strike much sooner, and there’d be some serious gymnastics required if Tavares becomes a genuine possibility.

If anyone can do it, it’s Yzerman and the Bolts.

Will we look back at this contract as one Stevie Y will regret, or this yet another ahead-of-their-time bargain? It should be fascinating to find out.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “J.T.” stands for “Jonathan Tanner.” At least when it doesn’t stand for John Tavares.

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.

Notable playoff performances on NBCSN: Kane’s hat trick tops Kings

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Hockey Week in America continues Friday with some big-time individual playoff performances.

The Western Conference foes dueled to a Game 7 that went into double overtime. Dallas relied on St. Louis native Ben Bishop and his 52 saves, the 5th-most saves in a Game 7 in history, to nearly defeat the Blues, but St. Louis prevailed 2-1, on the way to their historic 2019 Stanley Cup run.

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire called the action from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo.

You can catch Kane’s Game 5 hat trick Friday on NBCSN beginning at 12 a.m. ET or watch the stream here.

FRIDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE:
• Kane’s hat trick: Kings vs. Blackhawks (2013 Western Conference Final) – 12 a.m. ET

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.

Notable playoff performances on NBCSN: Bishop, Maroon shine in Game 7

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Hockey Week in America continues Friday with some big-time individual playoff performances.

In a double-overtime thriller between these two Western Conference contenders, Patrick Kane and his series-clinching hat trick propelled Chicago to a 4-3 victory. In the Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks defeated the Bruins to capture the 2013 championship.

The late, great Dave Strader, Darren Pang, and Brian Engblom had the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill.

You can catch Bishop’s 52-save performance and other memorable individual playoff memories Friday on NBCSN beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

FRIDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE:
• Bishop’s 52-save effort: Stars vs. Blues (Round 2, Game 7, 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET
• Kane’s hat trick: Kings vs. Blackhawks (2013 Western Conference Final) – 12 a.m. ET

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.

Notable playoff performances on NBCSN: Tavares leads Isles into Round 2

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Hockey Week in America continues Friday with some big-time individual playoff performances.

Trailing by one with less than a minute remaining in regulation with the extra attacker on the ice, Islanders captain John Tavares scored to tie the game at one to force overtime. In the second overtime period, Tavares scored the game-winner, leading the Islanders to a playoff series win in 2016 for the first time in 23 years.

Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro called the matchup from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

You can catch Tavares’ two-goal night and other memorable individual playoff performances Friday on NBCSN beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

FRIDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE:
• Tavares’ big night: Panthers vs. Islanders (Round 1, Game 6, 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs) – 8 p.m. ET
• Bishop’s 52-save effort: Stars vs. Blues (Round 2, Game 7, 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET
• Kane’s hat trick: Kings vs. Blackhawks (2013 Western Conference Final) – 12 a.m. ET

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.

Blues broadcaster ‘symptom free’ after self-quarantine

Longtime St. Louis Blues broadcaster John Kelly, jr. during the St. Louis Blues victory parade
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The quarantine strategy medical professionals have urged society to use have proved effective once again.

John Kelly, a broadcaster for the St. Louis Blues, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and is now symptom free after being self-quarantined for 14 days.

The St. Louis Blues released the following statement earlier Friday.

The St. Louis Blues are confirming that play-by-play announcer John Kelly has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

John has been in self-quarantine since March 13. We are thrilled to report that John is now feeling strong and symptom free.

The health and safety of the entire Blues family remains our core focus during these unprecedented times. We wish John well as he continues his recovery at home.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.