Drew Cogliano

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Stars have cap space to make big moves

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After years of being on a bargain contract, Tyler Seguin‘s finally going to get paid – to the tune of $9.85 million per year – starting next season.

With Jamie Benn already at $9.5M per pop, and the two once being called bleeping horsebleep by a high-ranking executive, you’d think that the Dallas Stars would be headed for a painful cap crunch this offseason.

As it turns out … nope, not really. The Stars actually stare down a Texas-sized opportunity to surround Benn and Seguin with some premier talent, whether they use a surprisingly robust amount of cap space to land free agents or if the Stars target yet another splashy trade. (They went the trade route to brain the Bruins out of Seguin, after all.)

Let’s take a look at the Stars’ larger situation to see how promising it could be, with copious help from Cap Friendly’s listings.

[For another breakdown of a Central team with promise, consider the Avalanche’s situation.]

A ton of bad money clearing away, or soon to clear

Jason Spezza isn’t as washed up as his lowest moments would make you think but … $7.5M was an agonizing cap number to hang on him, nonetheless. When you look at Spezza’s $7.5M basically being forwarded to Seguin’s bank account, it makes that raise more palatable, and also is a first step in understanding how the Stars are in a pretty solid salary situation.

The Stars will also see Marc Methot‘s $4.9M evaporate, along with the $1.5M buyout to Antti Niemi. After 2019-20, they can say goodbye to the mistake that was the Martin Hanzal deal ($4.75M), assuming they don’t do something sooner.

Heading into the offseason, Cap Friendly estimates the Stars allocating a bit less than $60.8M to 15 players. If the cap ceiling reaches $83M, that gives the Stars approximately $22.2M to work with, and some decisions to make.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To Zucc or not to Zucc?

There’s another salary expiring in the form of Mats Zuccarello‘s post-retention $3.1M, and the Stars face a riddle in deciding what to do with the near-instant cult hero.

On one hand, Zuccarello is rad, and easy to like. His creativity clearly opened things up for his linemates, at least once Zuccarello is healthy. There won’t be a ton of comparable options on the free agent market, and he seems interested in sticking around.

On the other hand, Zuccarello is 31, will turn 32 in September, and has dealt with some lousy injury luck. Allow me to jog your memory about Zuccarello suffering a skull fracture in 2015, an injury that briefly impaired his ability to speak. It’s pretty stunning that Zuccarello ever played professional hockey again after that injury, let alone playing such a high level.

So, again, Zucc is rad … but there are red flags. And then, of course, there are the conditions of that trade from the Rangers. If the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they’d cough up a first-round pick to the Rangers, instead of a third-rounder.

Maybe the Stars should look at it as a win-win situation: you either bring back Zuccarello, or keep that first-rounder and reduce your risks? One thing seems clear: Stars fans already love him … and can you blame them?

[More on the Zuccarello dilemma.]

Old and new

Like the Avalanche, I’d argue that the Stars have incentive to be aggressive while they still have some bargain contracts. Dallas diverges a bit from Colorado in that the situation screams even more for additions sooner, rather than later.

While Benn and Seguin total close to $20M in cap space, other key Stars rank as bargains.

  • John Klingberg provides Norris-caliber defensive play for just $4.25M, and that cap hit runs through 2021-22.
  • Ben Bishop was otherworldly, and even if slippage is basically unavoidable, the 32-year-old clocks in at less than $5M per season through 2022-23. That may eventually be a problem (big goalies only tend to get hurt more as they age, not less), but he was probably worth $9M in 2018-19 alone.
  • Anton Khudobin was almost as impressive as Bishop, and with $2.5M for one more season, he buys the Stars some time to find a younger future goalie option, and also provides insulation from potential Bishop injuries.
  • Miro Heiskanen jumped almost instantly into heavy-usage as a rookie defenseman, and the Stars get the 19-year-old on his dirt-cheap rookie contract for two more seasons.
  • Roope Hintz looked like a budding star during the playoffs, and the power forward’s entry-level contract runs through 2019-20. That gives the Stars time to try to hash out an extension, and also time to figure out what he’s truly capable of.
  • Alexander Radulov has been fantastic for the Stars, and the 32-year-old’s $6.25M cap hit looks more than fair today. Maybe it will start to get dicey (it expires after 2021-22), but so far, so good.

That’s a fabulous foundation, and the Stars don’t have too many pressing contracts to deal with this summer, aside from finding the right price for RFA Esa Lindell. (Let me pause for embellishment jokes. Go ahead, get them out of your system.)

The Stars have a pretty nice mix of veterans and young guns, but they should make haste, because those veterans could hit the wall. Again, Bishop and Radulov are both 32, while Jamie Benn’s a rugged player who will turn 30 in July.

Age would linger as a question, in particular, if they bring back Zuccarello (31), Ben Lovejoy (35), and/or Roman Polak (33), considering that they already have Blake Comeau (33) and Andrew Cogliano (31) as veteran supporting cast members.

To me, this all points to an “add now” strategy. Maybe Phil Kessel would look good in green. It couldn’t hurt to see if Dallas is a big enough city for Artemi Panarin. And so on.

***

The Stars booted the Predators and gave the Blues all they could handle as constituted during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so there’s an argument for allowing that roster to simply try to build on 2018-19.

Still, when I look at the structure of this team, I don’t necessarily see the system that, at times, leaned far too heavily on scoring just enough while Ben Bishop saved the day. Heiskanen and Klingberg give the Stars two outstanding (and cheap) defensemen who can play a modern game, and there were times when Seguin – Benn – Radulov looked like one of the league’s most dominant trios. As Hintz and others improve, this roster could also take some of the pressure off of Benn and Seguin.

In sports, you don’t always know how wide your window is going to be open, and I’d argue the Stars should go bold, rather than waiting. A Kessel, Panarin, Matt Duchene, P.K. Subban or perhaps a returning Zuccarello could give Dallas the extra push they need, to say, win those big, double-OT Game 7s.

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.

Blues survive wild finish to take Game 3 from Stars

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If you spend any time on social media, you know that hockey fans have a lot to say about officiating during any contest in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And you can apply that griping – accurate or overwrought – to basically all over forms of competition.

It was difficult to ignore some of the key calls in the St. Louis Blues’ 4-3 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 3, giving the Blues a 2-1 series lead.

The headline-grabbing moments came late. For one, Patrick Maroon scored the game-winner with 1:38 remaining in the third period after it sure seemed like Maroon got away with an interference penalty against Esa Lindell to create all of that one-on-one time with defenseless Stars goalie Ben Bishop.

But, personally, it sure seemed like the Stars tripped a Blues player in Dallas’ zone to help open up the odd-man rush that allowed Dallas to score a 2-2 shorthanded goal. An optimist (or someone who’s not a fan of either teams?) might rationalize it as two missed calls canceling out. Maybe.

(It’s quick early on and then in an additional replay, but you can see Andrew Cogliano bring his opponent down before scoring. You could make an argument that was penalty-worthy, and the same with Maroon, or you could argue for just one, or neither.)

We can debate those moments until we’re blue (or Blues) in the face, but another pivotal moment came when an official didn’t doom a team. Colton Parayko was (correctly) called for putting a puck over the glass with 44 seconds remaining, giving the Stars a power-play chance to tie things up. The Blues finally held off the Stars that time around, holding onto a win.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Don’t discount the Blues holding off the Stars at the end, as Dallas was remarkably resilient in managing comebacks in this one. The Blues lost leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 before finally holding off the persistent Stars. The wildest stretch happened during the third period, as Dallas and St. Louis combined for three goals in just 2:46 of game time, and also combined for four goals in 5:16. For such a buttoned-down Game 3 defensively, and a series that’s largely involved skin-tight defense, this was a stunning scoring spree.

Well, it would be a more stunning score spree if, you know, this postseason wasn’t consistently mind-blowing.

Both goalies were generally strong in Game 3. There was some concern about Ben Bishop after he had difficulty getting to his feet making a save (and maybe was a little slow on a 2-1 Blues goal), but Bishop seemed to play quite well overall, so maybe that was a dodged bullet. Bishop and Jordan Binnington made some huge, difficult saves in Game 3, giving us the goalie duel we expected heading into Round 2.

[More on Bishop’s injury scare]

After carving out an impressive three road wins against the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, the Blues remain perfect away from home during this run, as they won this first skirmish in Dallas. The Blues are up 2-1 in Round 2, but if the Stars’ hustle is any indication, more wins won’t come easily.

And there might be more controversy.

The Stars will host the Blues in Game 4 at American Airlines Center on Wednesday. Game 4 airs at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (stream here).

Stars’ Bishop has injury scare in Game 3

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Dallas Stars (star) goalie Ben Bishop had trouble getting up after falling awkwardly making a save during the second period of Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues.

[Airing on NBCSN — stream here]

The good news is that Bishop didn’t leave Game 3 at all. In fact, during that same frame, Bishop made one of his trademark tremendous passes to set up an Andrew Cogliano semi-breakaway, and stopped Ryan O'Reilly on a similar opportunity. Performance-wise, it’s difficult to really tell that Bishop might be dealing something, although maybe you’d make a mild argument that it had some impact on the 2-1 goal?

Maybe Bishop and the Stars dodged a bullet, and we’re merely worried about a close call.

Still, there are a few reasons to at least monitor Bishop:

  • Bishop’s injury history is undeniable.
  • As one of the largest goalies in the NHL, he’s more likely to aggravate injuries new and old. That’s the disadvantage to boasting the sort of towering frame that teams covet. He’s also 32, so Bishop’s dealt with quite a bit of wear and tear, even if you ignore his size.
  • The situation could get worse once adrenaline wears off, whether that may mean during an intermission, or possibly after Game 3 altogether.
  • In the foreseeable situation where Bishop plays hurt, it’s possible he could be less mobile. Would he be less able to move post-to-post? Might he struggle to get to loose pucks and rebounds?

On the bright side, if Bishop needs to miss time, Anton Khudobin was almost as lights-out this season as Bishop was, aside from when Bishop somehow found yet another gear toward the end of the regular season. Khudobin’s a veteran, although rust would be a consideration, as he hasn’t played since April 5.

Again, this could be concern over nothing, but it certainly looked painful. Then again, goalies can bend their bodies like Gumby, in ways that almost seem inhuman, so it might not be as bad as it looked.

Game 3 is on NBC; stream it here.

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.

Stars chase Rinne early, win big to even series vs. Predators

Four goals on eight shots in just under 14 minutes in the first period. In as tight of a series as it’s been between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, Wednesday’s aberration on the scoreboard was a byproduct of Dallas squad that simply took advantage of many of their opportunities in a 5-1 win.

Swiss-cheese goaltending and a porous defensive effort certainly didn’t help the Preds as Dallas evened the best-of-7 series 2-2, but Dallas played the game that helped them down the stretch in the regular season, and it was effective.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

The first three games of the series had been decided by a single goal, meaning every opportunity to fire one into the back of the net had a little extra meaning to it. Both Pekka Rinne, who was yanked after a terrible opening 14 minutes, and Ben Bishop had been superb, a continuation of their stellar regular-season play.

But when the dam cracked in the Predators crease on Wednesday, it didn’t take long before it all came crashing down.

Dallas imposed their will on the Preds from the onset.

In the first five minutes, they had drawn two penalties and converted on both of their power play chances (one by Roope Hintz, the other by Alex Radulov). Their suffocating style kept Nashville struggling to make it through the neutral zone.

Conversely, the Stars had no issues working their way into the Nashville end of the ice, with Andrew Cogliano‘s goal to make it 3-0 a prime example of a great break out and some lazy defending by the Predators. Mats Zuccarello‘s third of the series was another power-marker, a snipe job from the slot that ended Rinne’s night.

Hintz found the net for his second of the playoffs and second of the game in the second. Hintz nearly scored shorthanded, too, but his attempt ringed off the post to deny his hat trick.

Ben Bishop’s shutout bid ended nearing the mid-way mark of the third as Roman Josi sent a seeing-eye wrist shot past the Vezina candidate. It’s some consolation as the series shifts back to Tennessee this weekend, although Dallas mostly sat back on the lead they built in the final 20.

Stars-Predators Game 5 from Bridgestone Arena goes Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC


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

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.