Brandon Sutter

Canucks blast Kings for first win of season, name Horvat captain

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The Vancouver Canucks checked a lot of boxes against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Bo Horvat was named captain, becoming the first player to wear the “C” in Vancouver since Henrik Sedin in 2017-18. That would have already been a solid way to celebrate the Canucks’ home opener, but Horvat & Co. did it one better, getting the team’s first win of the season by blowing out the Kings 8-2.

There were some other bullet points that should make the Canucks happy:

  • The addition of J.T. Miller looked great. He scored a goal and three assists on Wednesday, giving him five points in his first three games with the Canucks. This was the first four-point night of Miller’s career. Brandon Sutter had quite an evening, too,
  • Quinn Hughes looked like an immediate threat for Vancouver, scoring the first goal of his NHL career, and also got an assist.
  • Hughes wasn’t the only Canucks defenseman to fill the net. Christopher Tanev connected on a great sequence by Hughes and Brock Boeser, while Alexander Edler poured it on to really get the score out of hand in the third period.
  • Fourteen different Canucks players generated at least one point in this drubbing.
  • Jacob Markstrom quietly had a strong season in 2018-19, by quite a few measures, so it’s promising to see him sharp. While he allowed a couple goals, Markstrom made 37 saves on Wednesday. Good goaltending could make the ultimate difference for a Canucks club that spent a lot of money to get better during the offseason.
  • It wasn’t such a great night for Jonathan Quick, obviously. The veteran goalie allowed eight goals for the first time in his career.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Jets, Lightning still have big RFA challenges to deal with

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This year’s restricted free agent market has been one of the most intriguing ones we have seen in years. Not only is it loaded with players that already among the league’s best, but we already saw an offer-sheet come in when the Montreal Canadiens attempted to snag Sebastien Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes. It was an offer that was quickly matched by the Hurricanes. As things stand on Saturday, Aho is the only one of those top RFA’s that has a new contract while Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrick Laine, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Brock Boeser, and Kyle Connor (among others) all remain unsigned, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

Some of these situations will easily get resolved. The Avalanche have more salary cap space than any team in the league and no other significant contracts to work out, so while Rantanen will get a huge pay raise, the Avalanche have more than enough space to work it out. The same is true in Columbus with Werenski where they still have more than $15 million in cap space after their free agent exodus.

Beyond them, most of the focus with the RFA market has been pointed in Toronto’s direction where the Maple Leafs have to re-sign Marner and (hopefully) avoid a repeat of last year’s William Nylander situation. But for as complicated as the Marner contract has been and still might be, the Maple Leafs still have more than $10 million in LTIR contracts to stash at the start of the season with David Clarkson and Nathan Horton.

It is going to be difficult, but it may not even be the most difficult one in the league.

Here are four teams that might have might even more headaches to deal with.

Winnipeg Jets

Good news: The Jets have more salary cap space ($17 million) than all but one team in the league, which would seem to put them in a really good position under the cap.

Bad news: As of Saturday they only have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season (no other team in the league has less than 19) and have two major RFA’s in need of new deals in Laine and Connor.

Laine is already one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers and is coming off a 30-goal season that was universally considered to be a “down” year for him, while Connor has scored at least 30 goals himself two years in a row. There have only been 17 players to top the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, and the Jets not only have two of them, but they are both in need of new contracts right now.

Unless one (or both) is willing to take a significant discount on their next deal the duo is likely to cost the Jets at least $14 million against the salary cap. Those two deals are going to eat up almost all of their remaining cap space while they still have to fill out a roster around them. Even with some free agent departures this summer the Jets are still in a position where they are going to have to do some juggling to keep their two best young players.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning already had one of the deepest forward groups in the league even before Brayden Point was one of the league’s big breakout stars during the 2018-19 season.

Now that he has joined their core of top-tier players, the time has come to pay him. The Lightning have roughly $5 million in salary cap space this summer, which will obviously not be enough to pay a 22-year-old winger coming off of a 40-goal, 90-point season whose best days are still ahead of him. They will be placing Ryan Callahan on LTIR, giving them another $5 million to work with and that will certainly help in the short-term. Point won’t be a $10 million player, but the Lightning also have an upcoming arbitration situation with Adam Erne and three more significant RFA’s next summer (starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, forward Anthony Cirelli, and defender Mikhail Sergachev). All of that is going to add up, and you have to wonder if it might make a forward like Alex Killorn (four more years at $4.45 million per season) expendable.

Vancouver Canucks

This is an underrated and overlooked nightmare situation. The Canucks three-highest paid players are Loui Eriksson, Tyler Myers, and a 33-year-old Alexander Edler (all making $6 million per year), while they also have around $14 million going to the quartet of Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. A classic case of a bunch of small mistakes adding up to one big headache that hurts a team in trying to keep its stars. They only have $5 million in salary cap space to re-sign Boeser, their second best player and one of the best young snipers in the league. That is not enough. They need to move as many of the aforementioned contracts as they can, not only to help re-sign Boeser this summer, but to improve their long-term outlook as well.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins’ roster is almost entirely set for the 2019-20 season with two big exceptions: Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins have roughly $7 million in salary cap space to make it happen, but that is going to be tight. Like Werenski in Columbus, McAvoy has earned a substantial contract extension with his play. Carlo may not be a star, but he is a rock-solid defender that needs re-signed. Together, they might cost at least $10 million. Shedding one of David Backes, Charlie Coyle, Kevan Miller, or John Moore would help.

More NHL Offseason:
Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo
Long-term contracts for depth players is usually losing move for NHL teams
Cap Crunch: Rangers, Penguins, Flames among teams that still need moves

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.

Canucks’ Brandon Sutter needs surgery, likely out for season

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Vancouver Canucks center Brandon Sutter will have sports hernia surgery again and is likely done for the season.

The team said Tuesday his recovery is expected to last six to eight weeks.

The operation is on Sutter’s right side. He sports hernia surgery on his left side in 2015.

Vancouver entered Tuesday eight points out of a wild-card spot in the congested Western Conference. Its regular season ends April 6.

Sutter hasn’t played since a Feb. 9 victory over Calgary. The 30-year-old forward also missed 30 games earlier this season after he separated his shoulder during a win over Minnesota in October.

Canucks don’t see Pettersson injury as dirty play as they await MRI results

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The city of Vancouver is holding its breath hoping for the best for Elias Pettersson one day after he left the Canucks’ game against the Montreal Canadiens after getting tangled with Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Already ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team is waiting for the full results from an MRI on his right knee.

“I’m walking fine. I feel better today than yesterday, so that’s good,” Pettersson told Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

“I think we both just fell down and I maybe fell on his leg. I’m not sure what happened,” Kotkaniemi said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I said this morning that he’s a good player, so everyone in the League wants that he’s on the ice, so so do I.”

While some Canucks fans were seeking blood having now watched their stud youngster get injured for the second time this season, his teammates and head coach Travis Green didn’t see anything malicious in the play.

“I think it was just two guys in a bit of a battle,” said forward Brandon Sutter. “Looked like Petey tried to get body position to try and hold him up and kind of got tangled and went down. It was kind of an awkward fall and it’s unfortunate. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

“I’ve watched it a lot of times. First of all, it’s not a dirty play by their player at all,” Green said afterward. “[Pettersson] gets hooked a little bit. Petey actually pushes back on him, leans back and probably tries to give a little bit of a reverse hit, and two young guys fall to the ice. It’s not a penalty.”

Pettersson, who was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team this week, leads all rookies with 22 goals and 42 points

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Business trip for Panthers; Notre Dame, Michigan going outdoors

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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.

• It might be a trip to Finland, but it’s all business for the Florida Panthers. [NHL.com]

• Dallas Stars netminder Ben Bishop is no fan of goalie analytics. “When it’s some old hockey fan that doesn’t even get the shots right on the game, how are they going to get that right? You go to every different building, and sometimes they count the dump-ins as shots on goals. Well, half the buildings don’t count those, because they don’t know the rules. When you go to some buildings, and they don’t count it, and there are four or five shots that don’t count. … That’s what’s frustrating. That’s what you get paid on. That’s your job.” [ESPN]

• The Notre Dame and Michigan men’s teams will play outdoors at Notre Dame Stadium on Jan. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. [USCHO]

• An upper-body injury will keep Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter out “weeks.” [Sportsnet]

• When it rains, it pours for the Vancouver Canucks when it comes to injuries. [The Canuck Way]

• The Erik Karlsson-Marc Edouard Vlasic pairing isn’t breaking up anytime soon for the San Jose Sharks. [Mercury News]

• The Pittsburgh Penguins had a great road trip in Western Canada. What can they take away from it? [Pensburgh]

• A look at how puck luck in the NHL affects the standings. [TSN]

• It looks like Ryan Murray is finally starting to put it together for the Columbus Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “We’re finding our way, we’re finding our identity as a team.” The San Jose Sharks are coming around after a slow start. [NBC Bay Area]

• Depth scoring is needed for the Tampa Bay Lightning. [Raw Charge]

• A look at the Chicago Blackhawks as the calendar is about to turn to November. [Faxes From Uncle Dale]

Michael Rasmussen will see his development continue at the NHL level with the Detroit Red Wings. [MLive]

• Why the Boston Bruins should let Jaroslav Halak take the No. 1 goalie job for a while and allow Tuukka Rask to rest. [Black and Gold Hockey]

• Will we ever see another offer sheet signed? [Spector’s Hockey]

• “John Ziegler Did More Harm Than Good for Hockey” [Puck Junk]

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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.