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The Buzzer: Blue Jackets’ top line dominates; Hurricanes bring back Storm Surge

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Three Stars

1. Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets. They get to share the No. 1 star on Saturday for absolutely dominating the Nashville Predators. Panarin recorded four assists in the Blue Jackets’ 5-2 win, including three in the first period alone, while Atkinson scored two goals to give him 41 on the season. Atkinson is now just the second Blue Jackets player to ever score 40 goals in a season, joining Rick Nash. His 41st goal of the season also tied him for the franchise single season lead. We also should not forget big trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene in this one as he also recorded a pair of assists in the win.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He just keeps making history. His two goals on Saturday night in the Capitals’ 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning give him 51 on the season, the eighth 50-goal season of his career. That is second most in league history behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Among the other accomplishments for him on Saturday: He is just the fourth player in league history to score 50 goals after celebrating his 33rd birthday (read all about that here), while his power play goal was the 247th of his career, moving him into a tie for fourth-place on the NHL’s all-time list with Luc Robitaille. Overall, he finished the night with 13 total shot attempts, eight shots on goal, four hits, two goals, and a plus-three rating. Overall it was a pretty dominant night for him.

3. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. No, Saturday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers did not really mean anything in the playoff race, and the Ducks’ win does not really help them in the standings or do anything for them except maybe hurt their draft lottery odds. But when you score three goals in one period the way Rickard Rakell did that is worthy of some attention. He is just the second Ducks player to ever record a natural hat trick in a one period, joining only Andrew Cogliano. He is now two goals away from his fourth consecutive 20-goal season in the NHL.

Highlights of the Night

The Montreal Canadiens’ power play has been a mess all season but it came through early on Saturday night to help set the tone in a huge win over the Winnipeg Jets thanks to this tic-tac-toe passing play.

Look at this incredible individual effort from St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas as part of their 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils. With the win, the Blues are now just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division.

One more time for Alex Ovechkin as he scores his 50th goal of the season.

The Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, but Alex DeBrincat continued his remarkable sophomore season with his 41st goal of the season, keeping him among the NHL’s league leaders.

They said the Storm Surge was finished, but the Carolina Hurricanes went back to the one that started it all on Saturday following their big win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Factoids

  • The New York Islanders completely dominated the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night to officially clinch a playoff spot. [New York Islanders]
  • Brent Burns‘ overtime goal snapped the San Jose Sharks’ seven-game losing streak and secured home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Burns’ goal is his 14th career regular season overtime goal, moving him into first place on the NHL’s all-time list for defenders, passing Scott Niedermayer. [NHL PR]
  • Patrick Marleau played in his 1,653rd career game on Saturday night, passing Mark Recchi for sole possession of fifth place in the NHL’s all-time games played list. As for the game itself, the Maple Leafs were on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision against the Ottawa Senators. [Leafs PR]
  • The Washington Capitals have seven 20-goal scorers this season for the seventh-time in franchise history and the first time since the 2009-10 season. The other instances came in 1982-83, 1983-84, and 1991-92. The latter three were when goal-scoring across the NHL was significantly higher. [Capitals PR]
  • Nicklas Backstrom became just the second active player to record at least four consecutive seasons with at least 20 goals and 50 assists. San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton is the only other active player to do it. [NHL PR]
  • Only one team in the NHL has more wins than the Carolina Hurricanes’ 27 since January 1. The Tampa Bay Lightning, with 28 wins, are the only team in the NHL with more wins since then. Their win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday officially eliminated the Flyers from playoff contention this season. [NHL PR]

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.

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports