If Max Pacioretty is available, these teams should be calling

Max Pacioretty
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The Vegas Golden Knights still need to clear salary cap space, and according to reports on Tuesday night they could be considering a Max Pacioretty trade.

If they are actually shopping him, he would be an attractive option for any team in need of scoring.

The hurdle is going to be the $7 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons.

As of this moment there are only seven teams in the NHL that have enough salary cap space to take on such a contract  this season without retained salary on Vegas’ side, or Vegas taking back another contract.

Those teams: Florida, Columbus, Detroit, Ottawa, Nashville, Los Angeles, and New Jersey.

There are a handful of teams that can probably be scratched off from that list.

Columbus has the salary cap space and the need for scoring, but it still has to re-sign Pierre-Luc Dubois, who will take up most of its remaining $9.2 million in salary cap space. I am not saying it could not work there, but it would require some creativity on both sides.

Ottawa, Detroit, and Los Angeles are in the early stages of rebuilds and not really in a position to add a 32-year-old winger on a $7 million per year contract. They are probably out.

So let’s take a look at the others.

Nashville Predators

I still think the offer sheet option is an intriguing option, but Pacioretty would also be a great fit.

The Predators love to swing for the fences in trades, and they still have more than $12 million in salary cap space with only restricted free agent Luke Kunin left to re-sign. They easily have the money to take on that contract and they are still in a position where their window for contention is open.

Their offense was already weak and saw close to 70 goals leave town this offseason with no proven impact players coming back to replace it. Pacioretty would help fix that and maybe even help improve what has been the league’s worst power play over the past two seasons.

They need another finisher, and Pacioretty is one of the league’s best.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils are a fascinating situation. They are not a contender, but they are also not a team that is setting up to be a disaster, either.

They have two recent No. 1 overall picks hopefully ready to take a significant leap in their development, and with Corey Crawford and Mackenzie Blackwood in net they have what should be an outstanding goalie duo that will keep them in a lot of games. If they can avoid all of the late game collapses they had to start last season and get some competent goaltending, they could be surprisingly competitive.

They also have more salary cap space than any other team in the NHL with a whopping $17 million in space still remaining.

Blackwood (restricted free agent) still needs re-signed, but he is only going to take up a small portion of that space.

They also still need more offense. A lot of it.

They are obviously banking heavily on Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes to be stars, but they could still use another proven scorer or two. There is also the fact that both Nikita Gusev and Kyle Palmieri are unrestricted free agents after this season and there is no guarantee they will be back. Pacioretty would give them a proven scorer that is still under contract for the next two years. It also would not prohibit them from re-signing one of the other two forwards. It would also be kind of funny to see Pacioretty be reunited with P.K. Subban in New Jersey just a couple of years after each of them was traded out of Montreal.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers’ biggest need is improving their defensive play and goaltending.

Their offseason moves are intriguing when it comes to improving the former, and they created a new department to try and squeeze excellence out of the latter. We will see how it all works.

While their offense has been very good the past two years, they did lose a lot this offseason with Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman (their top-two goal scorers from a season ago) leaving in free agency.

This is a team that is clearly determined to make the playoffs, and they still have close to $8.5 million in salary cap space to play with.

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.

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    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.