NHL Rink Wrap: Salary cap talk at GM meetings; costly win for Maple Leafs

NHL Rink Wrap: Salary cap talk at GM meetings; costly win for Maple Leafs
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tuesday’s top NHL players

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Seen Stamkos making a difference? Then you were watching the Hurricanes and Lightning during the NHL action on Tuesday.

Stamkos scored the overtime game-winner, assisted on the goal that sent the contest to OT, and collected one other assist. So, that’s a three-point game (1G, 2A). This gives us a chance to appreciate the season Steven Stamkos is enjoying.

With the Lightning, it’s tempting to take brilliance for granted. They just keep doing this. They keep winning, their stars keep producing, Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the few goalies we can trust, and Victor Hedman isn’t broken by those big minutes. And, yeah, they’ve shaken off the sort of free agent losses that lesser teams would find devastating.

[They also keep finding ways to add depth at trade deadlines]

So, you might tune out and miss that Steven Stamkos sure looks a lot like the Steven Stamkos before injuries once again disrupted his career.

With that overtime game-winner, Stamkos now has 30 goals this season, his first 30+ campaign since scoring 45 in 2018-19. Granted, Stamkos scored 29 goals in just 57 games in 2019-20, so that 30-goal plateau feels a touch misleading.

Nonetheless, this is still impressive. The 32-year-old rests at 73 points in 65 games this season. That puts Stamkos comfortably in the top-20 in scoring, ahead of the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. Stunning stuff, Stamkos.

Tuesday NHL highlights

The Predators and Senators held a moment of silence for Eugene Melnyk, who died at the age of 62 on Monday.

Here’s that Stamkos OT-GWG:

 

Kevin Fiala: talented human.

“You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them” feels more and more appropriate for the Florida Panthers.

Tuesday NHL Takeaways

NHL salary cap projected to be about $82.5M next season

Apparently NHL GMs received a projected salary cap ceiling for next season (2022-23): $82.5 million. That’s $1M up from $81.5M, the salary cap the NHL’s been stuck around for quite some time.

If you want teams to be able to load up, well, you’re going to need to wait.

Honestly, this should be a bigger concern than supposed LTIR hijinks. You know, maybe the cap would have a chance of going up a bit if the Coyotes were in a better situation than echoing indie rock bands touring small clubs?

Normally, this would be where I complain about the NHL’s allergic reaction to the idea of a luxury tax. Like many other possible areas of improvements, that’s proven to be such a resounding dead end that it’s clear arguing about that is a waste of breath.

Coolest Game on Earth!

Other takeaways from NHL GM Meetings Day 2

PHT’s Adam Gretz provided the lowdown on day two of the NHL GM Meetings, including the salary cap discussion. If you want some quick quips regarding the other top topics:

  • It’s a good idea to improve the system so the voided Evgenii Dadonov trade doesn’t happen again. Now, there’s the potential drawback that no-trade teams would get leaked, thus hurting feelings (especially in, what, Winnipeg?). Personally, it’s a win-win, though. Dadonov playing for the Golden Knights and possibly saving their season? Great drama. Leaked teams giving us better ideas about how cold a market is in players’ eyes? Sloppy and spicy.
  • Ah, what a relief. I don’t blame the NHL’s GMs wanting to monitor LTIR use and salary cap shenanigans during the playoffs. But there’s the risk of overreach. Do you want teams to be as close as to their best as possible after a grinding 82-game season? Then don’t go too far just because there’s a rare Nikita Kucherov LTIR bit here and there. (And even then, Kucherov wasn’t exactly 100%, impressive offense and all.)
  • Classic hockey/NHL mindset to see the buzz of Team North America from the last World Cup and say, “not again.” Boooooo.

Maybe cool it on the fighting, Nathan MacKinnon?

Should … the Colorado Avalanche maybe have a little chat with Nathan MacKinnon?

Earlier this season, word surfaced that MacKinnon is a bit of a dietary tyrant. Beware those who want to play for the Avalanche and eat heaping portions of the least nutritionally beneficial starches available.

Overall, it’s understandable that a player as driven as MacKinnon wants to make sure they’re using the best fuel. Yet, you can’t say he’s careful in every way.

At times, MacKinnon revs up the engine, and gets steered by a volatile temper. Whether he slashed that official or not, it wasn’t great that it was a discussion. There were already concerns about MacKinnon’s anger getting the best of him before he possibly got injured fighting Matt Dumba after Dumba hit Mikko Rantanen on Sunday.

Sure, there’s a “lead by example” element of sticking up for your teammate. But MacKinnon’s far too valuable to the Avalanche to fight, and it’s happened more than usual lately. Now it might keep him out long enough for it to be a concern.

While you want MacKinnon to play with passion, there has to be a happy medium between skating passively and scared vs. trying to be a superstar enforcer rolling the dice with nightly broken knuckles.

Frankly, the Avalanche deal with enough sneaky-troubling injury issues beyond unforced errors like a superstar player fighting when a plugger could have dropped the gloves. (If you fight at all; the peak Red Wings preferred hurting opponents on the scoreboard to get revenge.)

It would have been better if MacKinnon and the Avalanche didn’t need to learn this lesson the hard way. Hopefully they’re clued into what they need to do now, at least.

Tuesday was a feast of high-level NHL battles, including a costly win for the Maple Leafs

Here are some quick summaries.

  • The Maple Leafs likely took some joy in beating their rivals, the Boston Bruins. Especially with both teams so close in the standings. That joy is subdued by the Maple Leafs dealing with possible injuries to Petr Mrazek, Justin Holl, and Ilya Lyubushkin, however.
  • In some Lightning – Hurricanes games, you’d expect Carolina to hog the volume, but Tampa Bay to hope they can survive on quality over quantity. During an often-exciting Lightning – Hurricanes game during the NHL action on Tuesday, Tampa Bay earned a 32-19 shots on goal advantage. Carolina almost won anyway, but Steven Stamkos assisted on the game-tying goal, then scored the game-winner in OT.
  • There’s a decent chance that the Rangers will face the Penguins in a first-round series. With wins in back-to-back weeks, the Rangers greatly improved their odds of holding home-ice advantage in a hypothetical series vs. the Penguins. For the Penguins’ sake, they at least didn’t get blown out by the Rangers this time. They still lost, though, and in regulation. Perhaps New York found another gear after a promising trade deadline?
  • Impressively, the Flames controlled much of the play against the Nathan MacKinnon-less Avalanche, including a 45-30 SOG advantage. The two teams only combined for three goals, all on the power play. Ultimately, it would be Valeri Nichushkin who was the difference-maker (beyond Darcy Kuemper), scoring both of Colorado’s goals.

Wednesday’s big story

Another possible playoff preview in Kings vs. Oilers?

While the Eastern Conference features room for the top eight to move up and down, the West’s battles are more urgent. Although the Kings and Oilers are unlikely to fall all the way out of the postseason, such a collapse is still at least plausible.

That said, heading into the NHL games on Wednesday, Kings vs. Oilers would be the Pacific Division’s 2/3 matchup. And it would sure be an interesting clash of styles.

Generally, the Kings look either solid or great at even-strength, showing signs of the puck-hogging team they were when they won two Stanley Cups. Being that this is a rebuild that’s ahead of schedule, maybe it’s not too shocking that they’re less exciting in high-skill areas, like the power play.

[Check out where Kings, Oilers, others place in the PHT Power Rankings]

In some ways, the Oilers are the opposite: shaky at even-strength, deadly on special teams. There’s hope that Jay Woodcroft can nudge Edmonton in a more competent direction at 5-on-5, yet the makeup of the team seems to still boil down to “survive when Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl aren’t on the ice.)

(Interestingly, the Kings’ goaltending’s slipped lately, making it less of an advantage over the Oilers’ at-times-disastrous netminding.)

Theoretically, Kings vs. Oilers could be a series featuring two teams with very different approaches. The actual on-ice differences may actually end up being more subtle, but if styles really clash, hockey fans could have something to chew on.

Tuesday NHL scores

Maple Leafs 6, Bruins 4
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Panthers 7, Canadiens 4
Rangers 3, Penguins 2
Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3
Predators 4, Senators 1
Wild 4, Flyers 1
Avalanche 2, Flames 1
Stars 3, Ducks 2

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.

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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.