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Sharks should still go bold after failing to land Tavares

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No doubt about it, landing John Tavares was the best-case scenario for the San Jose Sharks this summer. They showed as much with what was reported to be a generous offer, but it was not to be.

The question, then, is what is Plan B?

So far, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has been content to lock up some noteworthy in-house talent, and that’s really soaked up a lot of that would-be Tavares money. After signing Joe Thornton for one year, extending Evander Kane to a big deal, and giving term to Tomas Hertl, the Sharks knocked off one of the final items on their to-do list by avoiding salary arbitration with Chris Tierney via a two-year deal.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the cap hit comes in at $2.9375 million per season.

As it stands, the Sharks aren’t actually all that flush with money. According to Cap Friendly, they’re only about $4.4M under the ceiling with all 23 roster spots covered.

Does that mean that Wilson can go tan on a beach for the rest of the summer? Maybe that’s the call now that Tavares is off the table, but allow some advice: the Sharks should instead go for it … in 2018-19.

There are a slew of interesting trade options for players with expiring contracts right now, and for many teams, that’s the stumbling block. Why give up assets just for a guy who can walk in free agency next summer? Such a thought process might explain the lack of an Erik Karlsson trade, in particular, right now.

The funny thing is, the Sharks might get protected from themselves by such a barrier.

Simply put, the Sharks’ core is aging, a point we’ve made plenty of times at PHT. Even beyond the obvious (Joe Thornton at 39), Brent Burns is already 33, Joe Pavelski is 34 and entering a contract year, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and even recently extended Logan Couture is 29. Adding another risky long-term contract could make for a scary situation in San Jose, especially when you consider that Max Pacioretty – one of the optimal targets – is 29 himself.

(Jeff Skinner would theoretically be a more palatable risk since he’s 26, yet just about any long-term contract carries risks for an aging team such as the Sharks.)

Let’s list off the reasons why the Sharks should make big commitments, but mainly for 2018-19, since this is theoretically a great time to poach someone on an expiring contract.

  • Again, this team’s window could close soon. The Sharks might as well swing for the fences while they still can.
  • The free agent market is too shallow for a shark to swim.
  • Beyond the worrisome miles on key players (and the possibility that they might have to let Pavelski walk after this coming campaign), the Sharks are simply formatted for this. They’re already heading into 2019 without their first and fourth-round picks, while their two second-rounders could help them put together the sort of trade package that might be acceptable for a Skinner or Pacioretty.
  • Pacioretty would work under the cap, as his $4.5M cap hit essentially matches the room San Jose currently possesses. They’d either demote someone to the AHL or include some salary in a hypothetical trade to make it actually fit. Skinner’s a little pricier at $5.725M, but moving around deals or some salary retention would alleviate those concerns.
  • Both Skinner and Pacioretty could really give the Sharks that extra boost as scoring wingers. Pacioretty would play with the best center of his career – whether he’d land with Couture or Thornton – while Skinner would be shooting for his first-ever postseason bid. Naturally, both would carry contract motivations, which never hurts one’s ambition.
  • And, hey, maybe a player like Skinner or Pacioretty would earn such rave reviews during an audition that the Sharks decide to re-sign them anyway? The cap could always rise for 2019-20, and such a player could serve as a Pavelski replacement.

That’s a pretty decent list, right?

Now, naturally, the Canadiens and Hurricanes might just want to keep those players for themselves, or perhaps their asking prices will be too steep for San Jose. From here, it sure seems like the right strategy for the Sharks.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it would just be flat-out fun to watch Thornton set up Pacioretty for goal after goal …

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.

What should Blackhawks do with cap space after Hossa trade?

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The most fun part of the Marian Hossa trade is pondering the possible future trades it opens up thanks to improved cap space for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Cap space estimates tend to be tenuous at best in July, but that’s especially true with Chicago, as the Blackhawks still have some roster spots to sort out. Still, Cap Friendly’s estimate of the Blackhawks having about $8.55 million in room seems fair enough.

It’s also plausible that the Blackhawks might find even more breathing room. Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if the return of Marcus Kruger may spur the Blackhawks to move Artem Anisimov, whose $4.55M cap hit runs through 2020-21.

Even if they don’t trade Anisimov to cut costs, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman gave himself opportunities to make a splashy move this summer. Considering that Chicago missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and eyes an aging, top-heavy core, landing a substantial asset could be huge for a “win-now” team.

(Especially since, as promising as Adam Boqvist is as the eighth pick of this past draft, he could be a bit of a project at just 17 years old.)

Here are some of the most enticing possible trade targets for the Blackhawks, keeping in mind that there aren’t any obvious difference-makers remaining on the free agent market.

Artemi Panarin We might as well get the most obvious name out of the way, considering how much Bowman loves bringing back former Blackhawks. (It’s quite fitting that Panarin was traded out of Chicago in such a move to land Brandon Saad.)

There’s probably a fascinating subplot to ponder from Columbus’ perspective. If they know Panarin’s gone, would they bet against Chicago rebounding by asking for significant draft assets for “The Bread Man?”

That’s a debate – maybe a post – for another day. Let’s focus on the Blackhawks’ side of an equation, instead.

Panarin remains in the meat of his prime at just 26, and he’s quite a value at $6M, though that cap hit expires after this coming season. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility for Panarin to ink an extension at some point with Chicago, as “The Windy City” ranks as the sort of big market he’d prefer. (Though maybe he’d really want to go big and merely eye New York or Los Angeles?) With Kruger, Cam Ward, and others coming off the cap in summer 2019, the money would likely be there … although a pricey Panarin extension would make a top-heavy team even more imbalanced.

The longer term situation is already fascinating, but Panarin would be a great find even if Chicago only wanted to bet big on 2018-19.

The Russian winger generated a career-high 82 points last season, emphatically proving that he can score without Patrick Kane. It probably should have already been obvious that they enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, but Kane’s slight – but noteworthy – slippage in production cemented such notions.

Panarin’s game-breaking ability would make him a huge “get,” and his familiarity with Chicago and the Blackhawks organization couldn’t hurt.

He likely wouldn’t be too easy to pry from Columbus, though.

Max Pacioretty “Patches” doesn’t seem long for Montreal, considering the rumblings about a lack of contract extension negotiations and the team’s reported urgency in trading him.

Compared to Panarin, Pacioretty brings some advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • He’s cheaper, at least in 2018-19, as Pacioretty’s cap hit is $4.5M.
  • *cough* some might say that his GM might be, um, easier to swindle.
  • Pacioretty has a larger body of work in the NHL, generating 30+ goals five times, and playing 626 regular-season games.
  • “Patches” also literally has a larger body than Panarin. Perhaps the Blackhawks would perceive him as more attuned for the playoffs? (That’s a stretch, of course, if Bowman merely watched Panarin’s work against the Caps. Then again, NHL teams often march to the beat of their own drums …)

Cons

  • Pacioretty’s a little older at 29.
  • He’s coming off of a tough season. Pacioretty barely scored more points (37) in 2017-18 as he scored goals (35) the year before.
  • The American winger seems to be more focused on an extension than Panarin. If Chicago’s more interested in a rental, that could be a stumbling block.

Few players have scored more goals than Pacioretty since he broke through with 33 in 2011-12. One can dream of big things if he were paired with an elite center, or at least better linemates.

And that $4.5M cap hit would really keep other options open for the Blackhawks or other bidders.

Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk – The Blackhawks and Hurricanes have done business before, including the Teuvo Teravainen – Bryan Bickell trade, not to mention Carolina paying big money for former Blackhawks backup Scott Darling.

The Hurricanes could feasibly move one or both of Skinner and Faulk, and by pulling some strings, it’s not even that outrageous to imagine Chicago landing each player. (Again, it would require some maneuvering.)

Like Panarin and Pacioretty, Skinner is entering the final year of his current contract. In his case, he carries a $5.725M cap hit.

With three 30+ goal campaigns and three additional 20+ goal seasons to his name (not to mention 579 regular-season games played), it’s kind of startling that Skinner is only 26. He’s only missed three games total in the last three seasons – he appeared in all 82 last season – putting most of his health fears to rest.

Skinner is a fantastic skater who’s rarely shy about firing the puck. One might downplay his strong possession stats thanks to sometimes-heavy offensive deployment, but those numbers don’t hurt either.

He’s never appeared in a playoff game during his NHL career, so Skinner would probably be even hungrier to reach the postseason than his would-be Blackhawks teammates.

Faulk, 26, could end up being the best consideration of them all, because he’s the sort of dynamic defenseman the Blackhawks generally lack beyond Duncan Keith.

Since 2014-15, Faulk’s scored 56 goals, the seventh-best total among NHL defensemen. Only Brent Burns (85), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (70), and Erik Karlsson (63) lead Faulk by a significant margin.

While he’s not considered an elite shutdown-type guy, his possession stats show promise, and he comes in at an affordable $4.833M cap hit. One nice perk is that Chicago would land extra cost certainty with Faulk compared to other options in this post, as Faulk’s cap hit runs for an additional season (through 2019-20).

Erik Karlsson – Look, it’s tough to imagine Chicago pulling off such a heist, considering that repeated bids to contend leave them with limited futures.

Still, it would be foolish not to at least mention Karlsson, particularly if the Senators realize they can only shop the superstar as a rental. With a $6.5M cap hit, Chicago could easily afford Karlsson … for a season, at least.

***

The Blackhawks would pop some champagne if they could merely land one of Panarin, Pacioretty, Skinner, Faulk, or even Karlsson. It remains to be seen if they can entice any of those sellers to take a deal.

Moving Hossa’s contract encourages imaginations to run as deep as Gino’s Pizza, though. If nothing else, few teams have more incentive to go all-in than the Blackhawks.

Who would you go after, if anyone, if you were in Bowman’s shoes?

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.

Goaltending will once again make or break the Hurricanes season

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So far this offseason is taking shape the same way as the previous four or five for the Carolina Hurricanes

There is the yearly talk that forward Jeff Skinner is on the verge of being traded without — to this point — actually being traded.

We have also now reached the point of the summer where we look at the roster, perhaps after some kind of a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick (in this case the selection of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick along with the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames), and try to convince ourselves that this is going to be the season where the Hurricanes put it all together and are good again … if only they can just get some decent goaltending. 

As much as it all sounds like a broken record, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

[Related: Beyond Karlsson: Five Players Who Could Be Traded This Summer]

Over the past four years the Hurricanes have allowed fewer shots on goal than every team in the NHL with the exception of the Los Angeles Kings. Despite they rank 20th in terms of goals against, a shocking disparity when you look at the rest of the league. You can talk about shot quality and scoring chances, but teams that are so strong when it comes to shot suppression usually — usually! — fare well when it comes to preventing goals. Teams that are bad at shot suppression are usually bad at giving up goals. It is not exactly rocket science here.

The biggest part of scoring a goal in the NHL is actually getting the puck on net. The more it happens, the more are going to end up in the net. The fewer you get on net, the fewer you in the net.

Just look at the top-10 and bottom-10 teams in terms of giving up shots on goal over the past four seasons and where they also rank in goals against.

The Hurricanes are the only team in the top-seven in terms of shots allowed that ranks lower than ninth in goals against during that stretch. The only other two outliers in the top-10 (Calgary and Dallas) are two other teams that have well documented issues finding consistent goaltending.

The only outliers on the right side are, really, the New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist masks a lot of flaws) and Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo masks some flaws, too). Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets, too (they have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in their net).

With the additions of Hamilton and Calvin de Haan in free agency that defense is going to be just as strong, if not better, than it has been the past few years, and that hat will still be true whether or not they trade Justin Faulk.

The issue, again, is going to be whether or not they have anybody in net that can give them even average play in net.

For years it was Cam Ward that had a stranglehold on the position, and for the better part of the past six or seven years was one of the least productive goalie in the league. At different times they have brought in successful backups to perhaps push Ward and maybe even take the job away from him and perhaps solidify the position, including the likes of Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack. None of them succeeded.

The latest attempt came last offseason when they traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Scott Darling and then immediately signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract extension.

Year one of the Darling era was … well … more of the same in the Carolina net as Darling’s .888 save percentage was 32nd out of 32 goalies to appear in at least 40 games. It was also one of the 10 worst performances over the past 20 years (again among goalies that played in at least 40 games). It had to be a large disappointment for the Hurricanes, not only because the investment they made did not produce immediate results, but also because Darling had been really good in Chicago as Corey Crawford‘s backup. Then as soon as they get him in Carolina everything completely fell apart in his first attempt at being a regular starter (or at least as a semi-regular starter).

Despite that tough debut the Hurricanes seem willing to stick with him and give him another shot, especially after letting Ward go in free agency and only signing Petr Mrazek (who was, to say the least, not good for the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers this past season) to push him for playing time.

The net, it seems, still belongs to Darling.

His attempt at bouncing back — as well as everything that led to his down year in 2017-18 — was the subject of an in-depth article this week by Luke DeCock at the News & Observer where he details Darling’s work to improve his physical conditioning and attempt to show up at camp in better shape than he did a year ago. Given the season Darling had a year ago, it certainly can not hurt.

If you are a Hurricanes fan there are a couple of things that should give you cause for optimism even after a decade of the same story over and over again.

For one, there is every reason to believe the shot numbers and underlying numbers this team has produced are an accurate reflection of what it is capable of defensively. It is a good defensive team, and it has good players on the blue line, and it added even more of them this summer.

There is also a pretty striking parallel here with another perpetually mediocre team that always seemed to be just a goalie away from competing — the Winnipeg Jets.

For years the Jets stuck with their same core of players, they stuck with the same goalie, they would have consistently good underlying numbers, and they would always lose because their goalies, for lack of a better word, stunk. Then one year they got a chance to draft a superstar goal-scorer with the No. 2 overall pick (Patrik Laine) to bring everything together up front, and then they finally found a competent goalie in Conor Hellebuyck. The result: An organization that had made the playoffs just once in the past 10 years and had never even won a playoff game was in the Western Conference Final, just a handful of wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.

Are the Hurricanes, as presently constructed, really that far away from where the Jets were heading into the 2017-18 season? While the Jets were built around a group of talented forwards, the Hurricanes have built their core around the blue line — and it is excellent. The point, though, is that there is a young, talented core in place here that could be capable of competing this season. How quickly Svechnikov is able to develop will play a big role in the outcome of the season, but the biggest issue will once again be in net.

They do not need him to be a savior. They do not need him to be Henrik Lundqvist or even a top-five goalie But if Darling is able to be the goalie the Hurricanes thought he could be when they traded for — and signed — him a year ago, an average to maybe slightly above average starter, they could be a lot better than anyone expects them to be, and a lot sooner than any expects them to be, too.

Related

Hurricanes Continue To Strengthen Defense With Calvin de Haan Signing
Hurricanes Get Dougie Hamilton From Calgary Flames

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.

Six NHL teams that improved the most this summer (so far)

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The start of the NHL season is still a few months away and there is obviously time for a lot to change between now and then when it comes to roster movement.

Erik Karlsson is still likely to get traded.

Artemi Panarin and Max Pacioretty could get traded.

There are still probably a handful of bargain bin free agents floating around that are capable of making some sort of an impact. There are still ways for the 31 general managers to improve their rosters before the puck drops on the 2018-19 regular season.

So while it is probably still a little early to officially determine the winners and losers of the offseason, we can at least take a look at which teams have done the most to improve themselves so far.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs — Uh, this one is pretty obvious, right? The Maple Leafs, already loaded with young impact talent at forward, added one of the best players in the league in John Tavares on the first day of free agency and that alone makes them better.

The Maple Leafs still have some work to do when it comes to solidifying their blue line, but you can’t fault them for adding Tavares. When you have a chance to add a player of that caliber (and it is rare that you do) you have to take advantage of that. Now they have a 1-2-3 center group of Auston Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri that is every bit as good as any other center trio in the league.

[Related: John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs]

2. Carolina Hurricanes — A lot here depends on whether or not they trade Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk and what they might end up getting for them in return. Overall, though, this has been a strong offseason for the Hurricanes. Still not sold on their goaltending situation and until that gets fixed that is probably always going to be the thing that holds them back, but can Petr Mrazek really be any worse than Cam Ward was? And, hey, Scott Darling really has nowhere to go but up after a dismal debut with the team. So there is that.

The real encouraging news comes from the fact they were fortunate enough to address probably their second biggest need (after goaltending) when they selected goal-scoring sniper Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick.

Then they went and traded for Dougie Hamilton (full trade here), a borderline elite defenseman, to strengthen their blue line.

Hamilton led all defenseman in goals last season, is a dominant possession player, is still only 25 years old, and is signed for three more seasons at $5.75 million per season, — a steal of a price given his production. Hamilton’s addition perhaps could give them some added flexibility to maybe trade Faulk for help elsewhere, or perhaps even better, simply keep him and continue to build what could be an outstanding defense around those two, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce.

Update: The Hurricanes continued to strengthen their defense on Tuesday by signing Calvin de Haan, formerly of the New York Islanders, to a four-year, $18 million contract in free agency.

3. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers seem like an intriguing possibility for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, given need, cap space, and perhaps even assets that could be traded. Will it actually happen? Well, probably not, but it sure is fun to think about. As far as actual moves the team has made, bringing back James van Riemsdyk was a strong addition in free agency as it gives the Flyers some much-needed secondary scoring punch.

Once you got below Tavares on the list of available free agents van Riemsdyk was probably the best pure offensive name available on the market and still at an age where a long-term contract (in this case five years) wasn’t a massive gamble.

He has scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons, a stretch where he has been one of the best goal-scorers (both at even-strength and in all situations) in the entire league.

[Related: Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson]

4. St. Louis Blues — The immediate reaction to the Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres seemed to be one of shock because of the number of pieces going the other way. But that is just it. It was a quantity over quality package, and when you break down the assets that the Blues gave up how many of them were actually something that they might truly miss?

Prospect Tage Thompson and the first-round pick are obviously the key pieces. But what else are the Blues going to miss?

Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka turned into contracts that the Blues probably no longer wanted, and a second-round pick (probably one in the second half of that round) is nothing more than a lottery ticket with low odds of turning into anything impactful. At the end of the day the Blues still got what was by far the best player in the trade.

They also added Tyler Bozak and David Perron in free agency, two players that will probably end up outproducing what Berglund and Sobotka provided (or will provde). The Blues were 24th in the NHL in goals this past season and needed to do something to address that. They absolutely did address it.

[Related: Blues acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Sabres]

5. Arizona Coyotes — There is reason for optimism in Arizona. They kept their franchise player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson on a long-term contract, they have some outstanding young talent starting to emerge from their farm system, and after a miserable first half of the 2017-18 season they finished on a very strong note by going 17-10-2 over their final 29 games (that would be a 101-point pace over 82 games). How much that carries over to this upcoming season obviously remains to be seen, but for the second offseason in a row they made some big additions.

They landed a potential impact player in Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi, and then dipped into the free agent market by bringing in speedster Michael Grabner. Grabner has his flaws, but his speed can cause havoc during 5-on-5 play and the penalty kill while they have more than enough salary cap space to handle his three-year, $10 million contract. Those additions, combined with what will hopefully be a full year from Antti Raanta and perhaps the development of Dylan Strome could make Arizona a surprise team in the Western Conference. Especially in a Pacific Division that is completely wide open.

6. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings didn’t really do much to make themselves younger or faster, and there are some questions as to how much he has left in the tank given his age and the fact he spent the past five years playing in Russia, but Ilya Kovalchuk gives the Kings the type of offensive weapon they desperately needed this past season. I still don’t love the Kings’ long-term outlook, but Kovalchuk could be a pretty big addition and makes them better in the short-term even if he is not the 40-goal, point-per-game player he was during his prime years in the NHL.

[ProHockeyTalk’s NHL 2018 free agency tracker]

More NHL Free agency:
Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights
Kings add Kovalchuk on three-year contract
Penguins make it official with Jack Johnson, bring back Matt Cullen

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.

Sharks also lock up Hertl after signing Thornton, missing out on Tavares

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A day after failing to land John Tavares, the San Jose Sharks are keeping familiar faces in the fold.

Not long after inking Joe Thornton to a one-year, $5 million contract (more on that here), the Sharks announced a four-year contract for RFA forward Tomas Hertl.

The Sharks didn’t disclose Hertl’s cap hit yet for reasons, so this post will be updated when more is known about the financial terms. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that it is $5.625M per season, which would leave the Sharks with approximately $8.2M in cap space.

“Tomas took a big step forward last season, both on and off the ice, and we feel that he is just starting to hit his prime,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “He has the ability to be a dominant player in this League and proved during the playoffs that he can take over any given game with his combination of skill and strength. His capability to play both center and the wing gives our team some flexibility, and he has one of the most infectious personalities in our dressing room. We’re excited he made this commitment to our organization.”

Hertl, 24, set a career high with 22 goals this past season while matching his career-best with 46 points. The Jagrloving, Czech-born forward already has two 20+ goal seasons to his name. He’s generally been a strong possession player for San Jose, although his numbers were more pedestrian in that regard during the 2017-18 campaign.

This constitutes most of the in-house moves on the docket for the Sharks, although Chris Tierney is still an RFA.

As mentioned earlier, the Sharks may also consider adding another piece or two. The free agent crop is already pretty shallow, however, especially with Thornton out of this mix and Rick Nash‘s future in question.

The trade route seems especially sensible, as wingers Max Pacioretty and Jeff Skinner could make a lot of sense, even just as stopgaps for San Jose. The team is structured to win now – Thornton celebrated his 39th birthday while signing his contract – so giving up futures for a longer rental could make quite a bit of sense.

One avenue that seems unlikely but interesting may also be firing out an offer sheet.

Considering how much the Senators are pinching pennies, would Wilson be smart in sending a “poison pill” to Ottawa’s Mark Stone?

While it seems unlikely, the Sharks rank as one of the only franchises that would at least consider it. As you may recall, they deployed that tactic against the Chicago Blackhawks when they unsuccessfully targeted Niklas Hjalmarsson during the 2010 summer when they eventually got Antti Niemi. That obviously was quite a while ago, but Wilson remains in the GM seat for San Jose, so it’s at least worth mentioning.

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.