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The Buzzer: Couturier nets hatty; Duchene sticks it to Avalanche

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Three stars

1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Couts, as some call him, notched his first career regular-season hat trick in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey. Obviously, that’s a great feat for him, but he also helped the Flyers win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 20, so it was also good for the team that has been mostly in nose-dive mode this year.

Couturier has 19 goals now on the season. A special mention here goes to Carter Hart, the Flyers netminder, who stood tall, stopping 39-of-42 sent his way in a game where the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Priority No. 1 in Philly is making sure Hart gets some help going forward.

2. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators

Duchene stuck it to his old team in a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

The 28-year-old, who the Senators badly need to re-sign, scored twice in the game put it out of reach and added an assist on the game-winner.

Duchene has 20 goals on the year now, the seventh time he’s done that in his 10-year NHL career.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres needed this one.

Stuck in a three-game slide, the Sabres were quickly falling down the Eastern Conference standings. And having to play the Calgary Flames, with five straight victories heading into Wednesday — and on the road to boot — wasn’t an easy task.

But Eichel scored with 1:10 into overtime to give the Sabres a much-needed win. The Sabres captain has 16 goals on the year now and 51 points after adding a third-period assist on rookie Rasmus Dahlin‘s fifth.

Highlights of the night

Couturier made the hats fly in Philly:

No panic in Panik:

Get over here!

Ullmark’d:

Chabot threads that needle:

Factoids

Scores

Senators 5, Avalanche 2
Flyers 4, Bruins 3
Sabres 4, Flames 3 (OT)
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Coyotes 6, Sharks 3


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

Pondering Jeff Skinner trade as Sabres visit Hurricanes

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Back in May, I surmised that the Carolina Hurricanes would likely be haunted by a Jeff Skinner trade, and that was before I shared Hockey Twitter’s general reaction of “that’s it?” when he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres.

As bad as that trade looked in August, it only seems to get worse as the 2018-19 NHL season goes along, and so the Hurricanes brass has to take it on the chin Friday, as people inevitably revisit the trade being that Skinner’s making his first visit to Carolina as a member of an opposing team.

Let’s dig a little deeper. For the most part, this will only pour more salt in the wounds of Hurricanes GM Don Waddell and his staff, yet there are a few things that will provide at least a little comfort.

Red-hot Skinner, and a cautionary tale

Puck luck stood as one of the main reasons why I was concerned about Carolina trading Skinner.

In 2017-18, Skinner scored 24 goals, down from 37 the previous season. While this point will cue a wah-wah from Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites, the 24 goals really weren’t so bad when you consider his 8.7 shooting percentage, down from his current career average of 11.4 percent.

This season, Skinner already has a ludicrous 29 goals, and he’s showing dazzling swagger with a 21.5 SH% (his previous career-high was 14.4 percent from his Calder-winning 2010-11 season). Goals like these have to sting the scoring-starved Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes remain as frustrating as ever when it comes to failing to finish chances. In fact, the frustration is only greater, as Skinner and fellow traded winger Elias Lindholm are enjoying the best runs of their careers on playoff-caliber teams, while Carolina looks like it will once again see the postseason as agonizingly just-out-of-reach.

The free agent factor

The dangerous thing for the Sabres is that Skinner, a pending unrestricted free agent, is virtually certain to cool off, but has socked away such a great season that his price is dramatically inflated. Skinner’s a fantastic player, so that’s not the end of the world, but it’s a factor that more far-sighted fans should consider.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, there’s only so much solace one can take from a move eventually looking a bit less painful.

Interestingly, there’s the slight chance – albeit slim – that the Sabres might decide to trade Skinner if they don’t think it’s better to keep him, thus reaping more indirect rewards from this trade. Yow.

Even if it’s just for one year, Buffalo desperately needed to make real progress in 2018-19, and Skinner’s been enormously important in the Sabres doing just that.

Diminishing returns

To review, Carolina received:

  • Prospect Cliff Pu, and the stinky puns that come with his name.
  • Buffalo’s 2019 second-round pick.
  • Buffalo’s 2020 third-round pick and six-rounder.

That seemed like a pupu platter weak return from the moment it happened, and unfortunately, it’s only stinking worse today.

Unfortunately, Pu’s had an awful first year with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. He has just one assist since Nov. 25, and only one goal and three assists for four points in 32 games.

Cruel stat: Pu’s .13 points-per-game are barely better than that of goalie Scott Darling (.11), who managed an assist in nine contests.

That second-rounder was a somewhat reasonable gamble that the Sabres would struggle again in 2018-19. Instead, they currently hold the second wild-card spot in the East. While Buffalo could fall short of a 2019 Stanley Cup playoff berth, they’re unlikely to fall enough for that to be anything better than a mid-second-rounder.

The third and sixth-rounders in 2020 carry dubious benefits, even if the Sabres struggle in 2019-20. Maybe the numbers will change in the next decade, but a few years ago, TSN’s Travis Yost noted that only about one-third of third-rounders became NHL players from 2000-09, and that number decreases as you go along. And the odds of finding a Skinner-level gem is even less likely.

Of course, draft picks can be helpful in making trades.

Think of it from a PR perspective, in particular.

Sports fans can be drawn in to the siren call of potential, and few things do the imagination wonders quite like throwing some draft picks into a trade, to soften the shock of losing a more proven commodity.

Maybe the Hurricanes could turn those Sabres picks into, say, a goalie for the future? Perhaps they could use them in a package to carve out some goals?

If nothing else, they give the Hurricanes options. Skinner’s goals are a lot more exciting, but still.

***

Again, it’s crucial to consider context.

The Hurricanes likely believed that Skinner would leave in free agency (either by his choice, theirs, or both), so they didn’t want to lose him for nothing. It’s possible that both sides wanted to get a split over with after years of missing the playoffs and the tensions that tend to arise from falling short.

Still, Carolina and other teams can learn from this. Maybe you can’t trade a player on supremely hot streaks, but there may be better option than selling low when they’re ice-cold. There’s an alternate scenario where the Hurricanes bide their time by waiting to trade Skinner, likely driving up his value while enjoying the goals he could provide.

(Even if he might not be anywhere near as red-hot as he is now, prospering in a dynamic duo with Jack Eichel.)

This saga isn’t over for the Sabres, either, as they must make the right moves regarding his future.

There’s no denying that it looks like an enormous win for Buffalo right now, though, and that’s something the Hurricanes must contend with on Friday night.

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.

NHL All-Star Game: Draisaitl, Landeskog, Letang, Skinner voted ‘Last Men In’

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Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers have been added to the 2019 NHL All-Star rosters after fans elected them through the Last Men In vote.

Following the player announcement last week, the NHL left one spot open on each divisional roster for the new Last Men In competition. After a week of voting by fans, those four will be heading to All-Star Weekend in San Jose later this month.

According to the NHL, more than 11.5 million votes were cast over in the last week, including two million on Thursday, which was the final day of balloting.

Still to be announced is the new captain for the Metropolitan Division after Alex Ovechkin pulled out for more rest. And barring another injury replacement, the Montreal Canadiens will be the only team without a representative after Carey Price announced he would not be participating.

Here are the updated rosters:

Atlantic Division
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Last Men In vote)
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
D Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
G Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning*
(*Injury replacement for Carey Price)

Metropolitan Division
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
F Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Men In vote)
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
(*Captain Alex Oveckin pulled out.)

Central Division
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Last Men In vote)
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
F Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
F Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
G Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Pacific Division
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
F Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Last Men In vote)
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters
Pass or Fail: NHL’s eco-friendly 2019 All-Star Game jerseys
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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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.

Why wait to trade for Wayne Simmonds?

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A shrewd contender should ask themselves a simple question regarding a Wayne Simmonds trade: “Why wait?”

Simmonds’ name has been surfacing in trade rumblings lately, including when Darren Dreger weighed in on the matter during Tuesday’s edition of TSN’s Insider Trading. Dreger and others indicate that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is still mulling over options, with at least some possibility for Philly to simply re-sign the 30-year-old power-play whiz.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports (sub required) that Simmonds’ reps are expected to increase pressure on Fletcher to make a decision soon (maybe by the end of the week), and while that might lead to some sweaty palms, it’s likely for the best overall.

In fact, it could end up being a situation where everyone – the Flyers, Simmonds, and a potential new team – wins.

Consider the many factors at hand.

Lame duck: Let’s face it, the Flyers essentially sealed their fate without Simmonds when they handed James van Riemsdyk $7 million per season with considerable term. The two players are just too similar from an age and role (power play ace, big body) perspective.

Unfortunately, it’s been a tough season for Simmonds and an even rougher one for JVR. Maybe it would be better just to move on?

On one hand, Simmonds has motivation as his near-$4M cap hit is set to expire, as his next contract is a true mystery. Could he get big money and big term? Would a slower season really hurt his bargaining power? The current situation doesn’t seem particularly happy for Simmonds, and the Flyers might not have a ton of luck driving his value any higher.

Plenty of selling points: Luckily, Simmonds brings a lot to the table already.

We’re talking about a forward who’s not that far removed from regular 30-goal seasons, and while his next contract could be risky, he’s a better bargain rental than that Oscar winner you nabbed at RedBox.

Naturally, he checks a bunch of old-school “intangibles” boxes. He’s a hard-nosed winger who plays with an edge and scores goals in the vaunted “dirty areas.” That style of play makes him risky for a long-term contract, but for a rental?

(Cuts to GMs salivating.)

Buying time: The waiting game may or may not make sense for the Flyers, but there are some significant reasons why a contender should get him sooner rather than later.

For one thing, there’s the stupidly simple logic: if you land Simmonds, that means your competitors don’t get him.

It’s also worth noting that, giving Simmonds’ affordable cap hit, that same contender might be able to land another big fish. Considering rumors about the Golden Knights allegedly running out of time to trade for Erik Karlsson, it might help to cross an item off of the to-do list.

Let’s not forget human elements, either.

When a player’s traded, that person has to find somewhere new to live, possibly relocating family too. Some players are creatures of habit almost to a Rick Spielman level of zaniness (looking at you, Jack Eichel, hopefully with more reasonable pants policies). Disrupting those habits could be a real bother, particularly mid-season.

The sooner you’d land Simmonds, the more likely you’d be able to get him comfortable with new teammates and new surroundings before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs kick in.

You’d get more time to make sure you’re optimizing strategies on the power play, where Simmonds seems like a dynamite difference-maker.

And, hey, getting extra looks at Simmonds could be crucial if said contender is thinking long and hard about signing the winger beyond this season. It would be dangerous to make such a decision based on, say, 30+ games, but that would sure beat about 15 regular-season contests.

***

The proactive argument makes sense for quite a few would-be trade targets, yet Simmonds ranks as one of the clearer cases, as he’s one of those UFAs whose teams have been noncommittal about the future.

(In other words, he’s not being wooed with free vodka to stay in town, like Artemi Panarin is with Columbus.)

Seeing Simmonds score big goals for a contender might sting for the Flyers and their fans, yet trading him might help that franchise get back to a place where they’re doing the contending. Sometimes that means making tough decisions, and this is a great time to pull off that Band-Aid.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Lightning’s Vasilevskiy replaces Price on Atlantic Division All-Star roster

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The NHL’s best team will have a third representative at the 2019 All-Star game.

The league announced on Tuesday that Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been added to the Atlantic Division roster in place of Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.

Montreal announced on Monday that Price will be withdrawing from the game so he can rest and recuperate. With Price no longer there, the only way the Canadiens will have a player represent them at the game is if defenseman Shea Weber wins the “Last Men In” fan vote for the game. Price is the second big-name player to pull out of this year’s game, joining Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin who chose additional rest over taking part in the weekend.

Both players will have to miss at least one game immediately before or after the All-Star break.

Based on their on-ice performances this season, Vasilevsky was probably the better choice for the game anyway. A finalist in 2018 for the Vezina Trophy, Vasilevskiy has been great for the Lightning once again this season with a .920 save percentage in 22 appearances. He did miss more than a month due to injury, but has definitely played at an All-Star level when he has been on the ice for the Lightning.

This will be his second consecutive All-Star game after also appearing in the 2018 game. He will be joining teammates Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at the All-Star weekend in San Jose later this month.

At this point the only other players that seem to be in any real danger of missing the game might be Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel, who has missed a few games due to an upper-body injury, and Vancouver Canucks rookie sensation Elias Pettersson who has been sidelined due to a leg injury. Eichel seems to be on the verge of returning to the lineup any day now so it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that he will still take part. Pettersson is expected to miss at least one or two weeks so his status could still be an issue.

Related: Carey Price pulls out of All-Star Game to rest and recuperate

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.