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Lightning’s best chance for Stanley Cup is now, with or without Tavares

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Remember when the Washington Capitals viewed 2015-16 and 2016-17 as their “two-year window” to win a Stanley Cup, and then they ended up hoisting it one year after that window seemingly closed?

A similar situation may be brewing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, it’s important to first clarify that Capitals GM Brian McLellan wasn’t saying that the Capitals would either win by 2016-17 or fall flat. Instead, he viewed those two years as Washington’s best opportunities. Considering the regular season splendors versus this past season’s moderate dip (before the unprecedented highs), it was easy to understand that logic.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hasn’t made a similar statement, but looking at their salary structure on Cap Friendly, it would be reasonable if he has thoughts along the same lines.

It’s a big reason why the Lightning rank as arguably the most logical destinations if Erik Karlsson and/or John Tavares decide to make a one-season stop somewhere, rather than signing on longer term at a destination. And it’s a situation that has to at least be in the back of Yzerman’s mind as free agency opens up on Sunday.

Consider some of the contracts that will expire after 2018-19, or soon after:

Yzerman authored one of the truly great summers of wizardry in 2016, avoiding losing Steven Stamkos yet landing him for a team-friendly $8.5 million cap hit, signing Victor Hedman to a bargain extension, and hammering RFA leverage with Kucherov. Landing three years of the elite winger’s services for $4.767M per season through 2018-19 was a gob-smacking steal then, and it only looks more incredible after campaigns of 85 and 100 points.

Another example of Stevie Y’s deftness comes in the fact that Kucherov will still be eligible for RFA – not UFA – status after next season, but you’d have to think that Kucherov would strike an enormously tougher bargain for his next deal.

Maybe management can try to point to Stamkos’ $8.5M as a “ceiling” for deals, or at least argue that Kucherov shouldn’t make much more than that. Such arguments may fall on deaf ears for a winger who was massively, almost insultingly underpaid for years, though.

One cannot help but wonder if the Lightning are watching Sergei Bobrovsky‘s situation nervously when it comes to their own Vezina-caliber goalie.

The comparison isn’t one-to-one (Bob could be a UFA without an extension, while Vasilevskiy would be an RFA), yet the Lightning must hope that few other goalies make anywhere near Carey Price‘s $10.5M cap hit once they’re able to negotiate with Vasilevskiy.

He’ll command a hefty raise. Much like with Kucherov, the Lightning just have to hope it’s not to a devastating level.

Do you think there’s a small part of Yzerman that’s glad that certain Lightning players fell short at the 2018 NHL Awards?

During a less robust season for rookies, Gourde would have been a Calder Trophy finalist, if not the winner. He scored 25 goals and 64 points in 2017-18. For context, consider that Auston Matthews only generated five more during his 2017 Calder season, and Gourde’s 64 slightly edges some other strong winning seasons including Nathan MacKinnon in 2013-14 and Jeff Skinner in 2010-11 (both scored 63 points).

Point, meanwhile, followed up a nice rookie season (18 goals and 40 points in 68 games) in 2016-17 by scoring 32 goals and 66 points in 2017-18.

If the Lightning couldn’t hammer out some proactive extensions – plausible if the players want to maximize value, or if Tampa Bay wants more cap ceiling clarity – there’d be few moments in recent history where other GMs would be more justified to break up the country club mentality and send some challenging offer sheets to the likes of Point, Gourde, and maybe even Kucherov.

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Naturally, it’s foolish to question Yzerman considering his history as a Salary Cap Houdini.

When asked about the Lightning seeking Tavares and how they’d make the cap crunch work, he likely shed some light on how this team expects to maneuver in the probable scenario where they don’t land the big fish.

“Well, we would have to make room,” Yzerman said simply enough early this week, via The Athletic’s Joe Smith. “If we brought in a significant salary, we would have to (make cap room).”

Again, Yzerman’s been able to move cap space and bad contracts before, and he’s likely to pull such slights of hand off again.

Even then, the Lightning will almost certainly need to lose some of the supporting cast members that play a part in making Tampa Bay not just dangerous, but also deep. As we saw with the Capitals, the best days might come when things are leaner, as long as they keep their core intact.

(And maybe they’ll just find more Points, Gourdes, and Tyler Johnsons and continue laughing at the rest of the league. That could happen too.)


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.

Crosby’s four-point performance helps Penguins claim top spot in Metro

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have quietly claimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with an impressive 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Washington Capitals have lost four of five while Alex Ovechkin has not been able to score his 700th goal and Pittsburgh has taken advantage with a four-game winning streak.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists as Pittsburgh improved to 6-1-1 following the NHL All-Star break in late January. Bryan Rust had a goal and two assists while Jason Zucker recorded his third goal in four games with Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin took part in warmups prior to the game but was a late scratch due to an illness. Anthony Angello filled in and scored his first career NHL goal.

“The amount of injuries we have had and what we have gone through, different guys have stepped up,” Crosby told Pierre McGuire after his third straight multi-point game. “But our work ethic has stayed consistent all the way through and that’s the identity of our team.”

Crosby helped the Penguins expand their two-goal advantage with contributions on three consecutive goals in the second period. Crosby set up the recently acquired Zucker with a cross-ice pass 2:52 into the middle frame. The Penguins captain would then add a power-play goal and set up Teddy Blueger to put the game out of reach.

Rust opened the scoring when Crosby delivered a perfect pass 11:41 into the first period. Angello redirected a shot from Sam Lafferty with less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame to double Pittsburgh’s lead.

Pittsburgh took a commanding 5-0 lead before Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 43rd goal to spoil Tristan Jarry’s shutout bid. Kyle Clifford scored his first goal as a member of the Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month.

Pittsburgh entered the final period with a 5-2 lead and improved to 22-2-1 this season when leading after 40 minutes.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen has been dreadful since an injury forced him to miss four games earlier this month. The netminder has allowed 13 goals in three straight losses since returning to the lineup.

The Maple Leafs entered the season with hopes of competing for the Atlantic Division title. The Stanley Cup Playoffs were initially a given for a such a talented roster, but Toronto has only a slim two-point advantage on the Florida Panthers.


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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Maple Leafs on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins come into this game having won five of their last seven games (5-1-1) and have closed in on the division leading Capitals. Pittsburgh trailed Washington by 13 points entering play on Dec. 12, 2019, but have gone 19-5-2 (40 points) in 26 games since then to close the gap to just one point.

The Penguins have earned at least one point in each of their last six games at PPG Paints Arena (5-0-1) and recorded their 21st home win of the season overall – matching the Bruins for the most home wins in the NHL.

Jason Zucker, who was acquired on Feb. 10 from the Wild for Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick, has three points in three games for the Penguins and has been skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby. He tallied his first multi-goal game of the season in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens, and then added an assist in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Red Wings.

The Leafs enter this game having lost five of their last eight games (3-4-1). Toronto is coming off a 5-2 loss at Buffalo on Sunday night where they gave up three goals in the span of 91 seconds in the third period after the score was even at 2-2. Toronto sits in third place in the Atlantic, but the fourth place Panthers are just two points back with one game in hand.

Leafs star forward Auston Matthews is currently tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the league lead with 42 goals this season, and his 42 tallies have already set a career high. The Leafs star has done the majority of his damage on
home ice with 30 goals in 30 games any Scotiabank Arena.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins
WHERE: PPG Paints Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
William NylanderJohn TavaresAlexander Kerfoot
Pierre EngvallFrederik GauthierKasperi Kapanen
Kyle CliffordJason SpezzaDmytro Timashov

Jake MuzzinJustin Holl
Rasmus SandinTyson Barrie
Travis DermottMartin Marincin

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

PENGUINS
Jason Zucker – Sidney Crosby – Dominik Simon
Jared McCannEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Brandon TanevTeddy BluegerPatric Hornqvist
Dominik KahunAndrew AgozzinoSam Lafferty

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

An hour-long special on Connor McDavid, titled Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes will premiere following the game at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The feature provides an inside look at McDavid’s comeback from a knee injury in last season’s final game. Click here for a trailer.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

Trades: Habs send Scandella to Blues; Jets deal for DeMelo from Sens

Scandella to Blues DeMelo to Jets NHL defensemen trades
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Brenden Dillon wasn’t the only defenseman on the move on Tuesday, as Marco Scandella and Dylan DeMelo were also traded.

Jets get a possible gem in DeMelo from Senators

Winnipeg figures to be in a tough fight to earn a playoff spot. DeMelo could be a nice find for a defense that badly needs help.

Jets get: DeMelo (26, pending UFA, $900K AAV)

Senators receive: 2020 third-round pick

 

DeMelo generated 20 points in 2017-18, followed by a career-high 22 in 2018-19. He hasn’t scored a goal so far this season, but has 10 assists in 49 games. DeMelo can be a helpful offensive piece in a limited role.

[PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

Blues add Scandella, Canadiens get more than Sabres did for their trouble

Back in early January, the Sabres traded Marco Scandella to Montreal for a fourth-round pick. From there, they traded for Michael Frolik. About a month and a half later, Montreal’s sly fox GM Marc Bergevin landed a better package for Scandella.

Blues receive: Scandella (29, pending UFA, cap hit currently $2M)

Montreal gets: 2020 second-round pick, conditional 2021 fourth-round pick

Via Cap Friendly, the conditions are:

Montreal will receive the 2021 4th round pick if St. Louis re-signs Scandella before Oct. 7, 2020 or if St. Louis wins two rounds of the playoffs and he plays in at least half of the games.

The Blues are mired in a five-game losing streak. And, really, they’ve been struggling for a month, if not all of 2020. Add that to Jay Bouwmeester‘s health scare and it’s not shocking St. Louis wanted to bolster its blueline depth. Scandella isn’t spectacular, yet he could be quite useful for the defending champs:

The Canadiens gained some serious draft assets by essentially laundering the Scandella contract. That’s good stuff from Bergevin, and won’t make Sabres fans one bit happier.

Montreal already stockpiled quite a few draft picks, and could beef up even more depending upon who they might be willing to move.

DeMelo and Scandella bring different things to the table, but overall, they add to a defense-heavy day of trades.

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.

Trade: Capitals get Brenden Dillon from Sharks to beef up defense

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If the war for the Metro title ends up being a battle of attrition, then the Capitals just added a tank named Brenden Dillon. The Capitals landed Dillon in a trade that sends draft picks to the San Jose Sharks.

The official release confirms that the Sharks retained half of Dillon’s cap hit/salary ($3.27M) in the trade.

Capitals receive: Dillon (29, 50-percent of $3.27M AAV retained by Sharks)

Sharks get: Colorado’s 2020 second-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-rounder

Pierre LeBrun reports that these are the conditions for that third-rounder:

[PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

Dillon adds beef to Capitals’ defense

Washington already boasted decent size on the blueline with John Carlson and Jonas Siegenthaler, but Dillon becomes the biggest blueliner. (Dillon is listed as 6-foot-4, 225 lbs.) Dillon scored one goal and 14 points in 59 games with the Sharks. He’s had a feisty season with 83 penalty minutes, only three short of his career-high already.

“Brenden is an experienced defenseman who plays a solid defensive game with a high compete level and physicality,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “We felt it was important for us to add a player of his caliber to our defensive group.”

MacLellan is right: Dillon stands out most as being a physical, pure defenseman. Hockey Viz and other metrics spotlight a player who brings a lot of defense, without much offense:

Capitals Dillon Hockey Viz

Considering the Capitals’ scoring capabilities, that seems like a smart addition. Ideally, he’ll make Washington more versatile for another postseason run.

This continues a run of the Capitals adding defensive help around deadline time.

  • Last deadline, the Capitals landed Nick Jensen, who they swiftly extended.
  • Heading into their Stanley Cup run, Washington unearthed a hidden gem in Michal Kempny. The Capitals also kept Kempny around beyond the initial trade.
  • The Kevin Shattenkirk trade from the 2017 trade deadline didn’t work out as hoped, but it remains part of the pattern of spending on defense.

Will Dillon be another Jensen/Kempny-style addition who becomes more than a rental? That’s unclear, but either way, the Capitals added a big body. Meanwhile, the Sharks got some solid picks for their trouble.

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.