Vladislav Namestnikov

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Can surprisingly scrappy Senators find right competing-rebuilding balance?

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When you’re trying to rebuild an NHL team, winning isn’t the only thing. Sometimes it’s the thing you want to occasionally avoid.

Such a thought comes to mind with the surprisingly scrappy Senators, who’ve rattled off wins in four of five games (and eight of 12) to build a respectable 10-11-1 record. Their 10 regulation/OT wins rank ahead of the Maple Leafs and Lightning, both stuck at nine.

Strong Sens Surge

The Senators have enjoyed particularly great work from a red-hot Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a rising Brady Tkachuk, a sneakily effective Anders Nilsson, and hungry players looking to prove themselves, such as Anthony Duclair.

Ottawa can really hang its hat on just how challenging this red-hot stretch should be on paper, with eight of their last 11 games coming on the road.

It all brings up a fascinating-if-awkward question: how much success would be too much success? What are the best ways to find the right balance between not (at least overtly) sabotaging immediate results in the interest of taking bigger swings in the future?

Consider this a suggested blueprint for 2019-20.

Don’t be shameless about killing the fun

In a great piece for The Athletic (sub required), Hailey Salvian notes that Mark Borowiecki said that the Senators “are getting pretty fired up” about defying the odds, and that “it’s definitely fun.”

It brings to mind a key point: there’s an art to “tanking” while not torching the confidence and habits of the players you want to keep around for the better days. When you look at teams that have been stuck in agonizingly long rebuild cycles such as the Buffalo Sabres, you’ll note players like Ryan O'Reilly burning out at the constant losing, and sometimes getting shipped out of town right when Buffalo might have been more situated to restore his love of the game.

Ideally, the Senators will start to build a structure for the future, while also losing enough to bank some big lottery odds. Judging by head coach D.J. Smith’s comments to Salvian, it seems like the organization is taking a sober approach.

“This is a process,” Smith said. “For us, whether its three years, four years, however long it takes for these kids to develop … But that’s been the best part, we are finding ways to win with the young guys and they are getting minutes and they are getting better.

“My job is to make them better by the end of the year, and if we can win some games along the way, it’s great.”

Building up assets to sell at a high price

Along with developing young players, Ottawa should focus on pumping up the value of non-essential pieces for lucrative trade returns.

If you look at the Senators’ near-comical salary structure at Cap Friendly, you’ll notice a ton of players on expiring contracts, with these standing out the most:

  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau: It’s easy to see why the Senators would want to keep JGP around for the long haul, but if I were Senators GM Pierre Dorion, I’d try to maximize the return for a 27-year-old player who’s on a career-best hot streak, with an unsustainable 24.5 shooting percentage acting as a red flag for his impressive 13-goal, 17-point start through 22 games.

While Pageau’s $3.1M AAV will shrink even more for a cap-challenged contender around deadline time, Dorion should consider selling him at his peak value (right now) if a desperate team would be interested.

If there’s angst about letting Pageau go … well, Ottawa could bring him back in free agency next summer.

  • Craig Anderson: The cynical rebuilding thing to do would be to keep Anderson (not playing well) and Nilsson (playing very well) in a platoon situation to lose more games. There’s a different bonus that could happen here, though: if Anderson plays at least competently, a team might look at him as a decent insurance policy, even at 38. Especially if Ottawa retained some of his $4.75M AAV … which isn’t a guarantee with Eugene Melnyk writing the checks, but still.
  • Anthony Duclair, Mikkel Boedker, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ron Hainsey, etc.: The Senators have a wide variety of expiring contracts for different tastes, in some cases with unclear injury situations (Namestnikov is on IR). If Ottawa can get value from trading any of them — even Duclair — they probably should.

***

For those grimacing at the notion of the Senators not putting their full weight behind a playoff push, consider a point Salivan made in passing: Ottawa had 21 points in 22 games last season, too.

The Senators’ greatest focus should be on the future, but they don’t need to totally look beyond the present to do so. Finding the right balance could really help in the construction of this rebuild.

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 Fantasy Hockey: Stromes among this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Washington took Burakovsky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he never had much of a role with the Capitals. Burakovsky averaged 12:45 minutes over 328 career games with the Capitals and his best output was 38 points in 2015-16. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s been given 15:11 minutes per game and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s scored eight goals and 16 points in 20 games this season. Despite that strong start, he’s owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re interested, the odds are in favor of him being available in your league.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Early in Ennis’ career, he was a solid top-six forward, but his role declined substantially over the last couple years, to the point where the Maple Leafs gave him just 9:56 minutes per contest over 51 games last season. He’s been given a chance to rebound with the Senators though and so far he’s done alright with it. He got off to a pretty slow start with just two goals and three points in 12 games, but has settled in with three goals and six points in his last eight contests. His long-term value is still in question, but he’s worth the risk while he’s hot. 

Andrew Copp, Jets – C/LW: Like Ennis, Copp is a player who is hot now and thus worthy of short-term consideration, but also with the potential of having some staying power. First off, he has two goals and five points in his last six games, so clearly things have been working out for him lately. He’s never recorded more than 28 points in a single season, but he’s still relatively young at the age of 25, and he’s getting a far bigger role this season. He’s averaging 16:52 minutes, up from just 12:10 minutes in 2018-19. If he continues to get that kind of ice time, then there’s a fair chance that he’ll average out to be a solid secondary scorer.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Senators – LW/RW: Namestnikov began the season with the Rangers, but they traded him to the Ottawa on Oct. 7th in exchange for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick. He only averaged 13:30 minutes in two games with the Rangers prior to the trade, but he’s managed to carve out a sizable role for him with the Senators. He’s averaging 17:27 minutes per game since the trade and that’s led to him contributing six goals and 12 points in 18 games. His eligibility on both wings provides owners with some critical flexibility, making him a solid fallback option if you need injury relief.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman had 22 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season, which isn’t too exciting by fantasy league standards, but his contributions tended to come in waves. That hot-and-cold nature makes him a potentially decent short-term pickup if you get the timing right and right now might be such an occasion. He’s on a three-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s action.

Dylan Strome, Blackhawks – C: Strome looked great after being acquired by Chicago last season, scoring 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. He’s been somewhat hot-and-cold so far this season, but lately everything has been clicking for him. He has a goal and nine points in his last six contests. Unfortunately he only has center eligibility and that’s a rather deep position, but at the least he’s worthy of consideration while he’s hot.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: While you’re at it, you may want to consider Dylan’s older brother, Ryan. The elder Strome has certainly has had some low points in his career already, but he seems to have finally put it all together this season. He has six goals and 18 points in 18 games while averaging 19:09 minutes. If he’s still available in your league, you should grab him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have gotten off to an unreal start to the season, but the rest of the Oilers’ offense has been lacking. Kassian has been something of an unlikely exception to that. The 28-year-old has never reached the 30-point milestone, but he already has seven goals and 15 points in 22 contests. A big part of his success has been getting to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl. Just one of Kassian’s 15 points didn’t involve Draisaitl or McDavid.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: The biggest knock on Danault is that he only has center eligibility, but he’s been good enough that he’s worthy of consideration in spite of that. He has six goals and 15 points in 20 games while averaging 18:23 minutes per contest. He set a career-high last season with 53 points and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he will top that this time around.

Charlie Coyle, Bruins – C/RW: Coyle had 18 goals and 56 points in 82 games in 2016-17, but he hasn’t come close to that since. I’m not confident that this will be a bounce back season for him, but if you’re looking for a short-term pick up, then Coyle is pretty hot right now. He’s on a four-game point streak with two goals and five points over that span.

Players You May Want To Drop

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin hit the ground running this season with three goals and eight points in his first eight games and 12 points in his first 13 contests. He was limited to three assists in six contests from Nov. 2-15 though and now he’s out with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined for, but he was moved to the injured reserve list. Between the injury and his hot streak being over, it might be time to move on.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: This is a tough one. Barrie had 57 points in 2017-18 and 69 points in 2018-19, but he’s done very little offensively with the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, he has no goals and six assists. The big X-Factor here is what might happen with Toronto’s coaching situation. There are certainly Leafs fans calling for Mike Babcock to be fired given the team’s shaky start, but is that actually going to happen? If it does, the new bench boss could make substantial changes that might lead to Barrie bouncing back. Those are some big ‘ifs’ though and in the meantime, he’s not much help.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had an incredible nine goals in his first eight games this season, but his offensive contributions have dried up. He’s scored three goals and five points in his last 14 games and has only found the back of the net once in his last eight contests. It wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually got hot again, but that might not happen for a while and in the meantime he doesn’t have much value to fantasy owners.

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen is another player who got off to a great start with a new team.  The defenseman had two goals and five points in nine contests and eight points in 14 games to start the campaign. He’s fizzled out though with an assist over his last six contests. Niskanen does chip in offensively, but not enough to make him worth owning long-term in standard fantasy leagues.

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz had 21 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2017-18, but he was limited to 40 contests last season. So far this season he’s stood out with four goals and 16 points in 21 games, but those numbers are skewed by a stretch from Oct. 10-Nov. 5 where he scored four goals and 14 points in 13 games. Over his last six games, he’s been limited to two assists. I’m also a little worried about his role with the Coyotes. He’s averaging 15:48 minutes, which is down from 18:14 minutes in 2017-18 when he had those 52 points and 17:50 minutes last season.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Senators score two goals in just four seconds (Video)

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This figures to be a tough season for the Ottawa Senators, but there’s enough interesting young talent on this team that you can’t totally fall asleep against them.

You also might want to time your restroom/fridge trips until intermissions.

If you merely walked away to get a Pop Tart or something, you might have missed two goals in just four seconds during Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. First, Vladislav Namestnikov beat James Reimer for his sixth goal of the season, then Jean-Gabriel Pageau continued a hot streak by getting open and beating Reimer from a dangerous spot just four seconds later.

(It’s now the eighth goal of this young season for JGP, who might just establish himself as a part of the Senators core at this pace.)

Enjoy those two goals in the video above, and consider how rare this feat was. Four seconds or less is something even Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie would be impressed by.

As you can see from that above graphic, the Montreal Canadiens have the record by scoring twice in two seconds on Nov. 1, 2018, but that feels a bit like cheating since the second goal happened on an empty net. Still really cool and worth revisiting, though:

The Senators ended up beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Pastrnak, Marchand carry Bruins to top spot

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The Boston Bruins may have their share of question marks, but if you are going to be a top-heavy team you better have one hell of a top line and a darn good goalie to help mask whatever flaws your roster may have. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have both of those things.

Their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been the ultimate game-changer in the NHL this season, and when you sprinkle in some great goaltending from the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak it has helped power them to an 8-1-2 start and the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the one grabbing headlines here. Entering play on Monday both players are among the top-five point producers in the league, while they rank first and second in points-per-game. They each have eight points apiece (in only three games) over the past week alone. When they are on the ice at 5-on-5 for the season the Bruins are controlling 60 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 14-4 margin. When neither player is on the ice those numbers drop to 49 percent (shot attempts) and a minus-2 goal differential (8-10). They are as dominant as a line can get.

Is it a sustainable way to win? Probably not, and eventually they will need some help. But the Bruins have time to address the depth issues again, and there is certainly room for improvement from within. For now, though, they get the top spot.

Where does everyone else fit this week? To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The forward depth after the top line is a concern, but we have said this for about two years now and it never seems to slow them down.

2. Colorado Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen‘s injury is a big loss but they should have enough to overcome it for as long as he is sidelined, especially after their big offseason to improve their depth.

3. Washington Capitals. They keep scoring goals and piling up wins and it still feels like they have another level they can still get to.

4. Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres can not collapse again. They can not do that again to a loyal fan base that has waited so long for something to get excited about. Do not do this to them again, Buffalo.

5. New York Islanders. This season was going to be a big test to see how much of last year’s turnaround was Barry Trotz and how much of it was the two goalies. Even with a different goalie in place they just keep right on winning. Seven in a row entering Monday.

6. Arizona Coyotes. After losing their first two games (and only scoring one goal) the Coyotes are 6-1-1 in their last eight and are averaging more than four goals per game.

7. Nashville Predators. Not very often you see two defenders leading a team in scoring, but that is the situation the Predators are in right now with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis pacing their team.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They cooled off a bit after their fast start, but they are still waiting for their top players to start filling the back of the net. Still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

9. Florida Panthers. There is probably no team in the NHL that wants to ban the shootout more than the Panthers, consistently one of the league’s worst teams in the tiebreaker.

10. Edmonton Oilers. There is still a glaring lack of talent around the top four forwards, and that will eventually do them in.

11. Vancouver Canucks. Who knows how many games the Canucks are capable of winning this season, but this much is certain: With Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes they will be worth watching every night.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning. What is mildly concerning about this team after 10 games is that they are one of the league’s worst teams in shot-attempt differential, a strong indicator they are spending way too much time defending and not enough time dictating the pace of the game. Something to watch.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. The results have been inconsistent but the process is there and the roster is still full of talent. They will put it together.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are starting to get healthy and for the first time this season we might get to actually see what their roster was intended to look like. Evgeni Malkin said on Monday he’s targeting a Saturday return to the lineup.

15. St. Louis Blues. The Vladimir Tarasenko injury is a huge blow to the defending champs. He is this team’s game-breaker offensively and that is nearly impossible to replace.

16. Philadelphia Flyers. It is actually surprising they have collected as many points as they have given how poorly Carter Hart‘s season has started.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may take a step backwards but they are not going to go away quietly.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin becoming the impact player Montreal hoped he would be when he was acquired a couple of years ago would be a big development.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. They still have their share of questions on defense, but the biggest thing sinking them right now is goaltending. Frederik Andersen has not played up to his standard and Michael Hutchinson has been a mess in the backup role.

20. Minnesota Wild. They are starting to show some signs of life after a horrendous start. The recent schedule has helped, but beating the teams you are supposed to beat is a good start.

21. Calgary Flames. In the three years before joining Calgary Elias Lindholm scored 38 goals in 235 games. He already has 34 goals in 94 games with the Flames.

22. Anaheim Ducks. This team is going to need goaltending to carry it, and fortunately for them they might have the best duo in the league.

23. Winnipeg Jets. Given the way their entire defense disappeared on them in the span of six months they have probably overachieved a bit. They still only have two regulation wins all year and none since Oct. 10. Not a great sign.

24. Dallas Stars. They won a few games this week to maybe start getting back on track, but they did not look particularly good in doing so. Still a team with a lot of flaws.

25. San Jose Sharks. The goaltending still stinks and the rest of the team is not playing well enough to cover it up as it did a year ago. Bad combination.

26. Chicago Blackhawks. Playing one of the few teams that has been worse than them so far (Los Angeles) was just what they needed on Sunday. There are still a lot of problems with this team.

27. Los Angeles Kings. This is a bad team, but Jonathan Quick is giving up four-and-a-half goals every time he starts. How much longer can they continue running him out there even semi-regularly?

28. New York Rangers. If Mika Zibanejad has to miss any time that would make an already sluggish offensive team even worse.

29. New Jersey Devils. This team has already blown a season’s worth of multiple-goal leads. On the plus side, Jack Hughes has points in three consecutive games (five points total in those games).

30. Ottawa Senators. Do you know what the best news for Ottawa is right now? A lot of players that could be used as trade chips (Conor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Vladislav Namestnikov) are having decent starts.

31. Detroit Red Wings. If Steve Yzerman wasn’t already aware of how big of a job he had to do when he took over, he certainly does now.

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.

The Buzzer: Namestnikov’s revenge game; Crosby keeps dominating

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Three Stars

1. Vladislav Namestnikov, Ottawa Senators. Two years ago Namestnikov was skating on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. After boosting his value, he was then used as a trade chip for the team to land defender Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before the 2017-18 trade deadline. After a mostly disappointing stay on Broadway, he was traded to Ottawa this past week for another fresh start. So far, so good, and it came at the Lightning’s expense. Namestnikov scored two goals — including the game-winner — for the Senators on Saturday to help his new team get its first win of the season. On paper, this game should have been a mismatch, but the Senators drastically outplayed the Lightning in what was probably the biggest surprise of the day.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. After scoring 50 goals and 100 points a year ago and finishing in the top-four of the league in both categories, Draisaitl is picking up where he left and is once again looking like a superstar. He finished with three points on Saturday afternoon — including two goals — to help the Oilers improve to 5-0 on the season. He and Connor McDavid (two more points on Saturday) are carrying the offense again.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Penguins’ forward lineup dealing with a ton of injuries they are going to need their captain and his line to dominate for them to have a chance to win. Right now, they are dominating. Crosby was great once again on Saturday night, picking up two more points in a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild, including a highlight reel backhand goal off the rush. He has recorded at least one point in every game this season and already has eight in the Penguins’ first five games. The Penguins also received some surprising production from their recent call-ups with Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty both recording their first NHL goals.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Brendan Gallagher finished with three points for the Montreal Canadiens as they handed the St. Louis Blues their first regulation loss of the season.
  • Rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov was amazing again for the Washington Capitals as they defeated the Dallas Stars. In his first two NHL starts Samsonov has allowed a total of two goals. He is the future of the position in The District.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his strong start with another goal in the Kings’ 7-4 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • The Winnipeg Jets overcame an early 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks to win in overtime on Mark Scheifele‘s second goal of the season. The Blackhawks remain winless.
  • Mark Stone, Will Carrier, and Max Pacioretty all had two points for the Vegas Golden Knights in their big 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Semyon Varlamov picked up his first win as a member of the New York Islanders by stopping all three shootout shots against the Florida Panthers. He also made 35 saves through regulation and overtime.
  • Tanner Pearson scored a goal in regulation and then added the game-winning goal in the shootout for the Vancouver Canucks in their win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • The Boston Bruins’ top line was once again dominant as Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron both scored goals in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils to keep them winless. Tuukka Rask was also brilliant again and has stopped 90 of the first 94 shots he has faced this season.

Highlights of the Night

It may have come in a losing effort but Kaapo Kakko‘s first NHL goal for the New York Rangers was a beautiful play.

Jacob De La Rose had one of the few highlights of the night for the Detroit Red Wings with this nice looking goal.

The Columbus Blue Jackets handed the Carolina Hurricanes their first loss of the season thanks to this great effort from Pierre-Luc Dubois.

The Colorado Avalanche improved to 4-0-0 on the season and it was new addition Andre Burakovsky scoring the game-winning goal for the second game in a row.

Blooper of the Night

There is really no other choice here, it has to be Jimmy Howard‘s gamble in Detroit that turned into a rather easy goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rest in Peace

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win against the Stars was their first regulation win in Dallas since the 1995 season. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel played in his 1,000th NHL game on Saturday night, making him the third youngest active player to play in 1,000 games. [NHL PR]
  • Penguins goalie Matt Murray recorded his 100th career win on Saturday night, making him just the eight goalie since the 1966-67 season record 100 wins in 166 games or less. [NHL PR]
  • The Los Angeles Kings set a franchise record for fasted three goals, scoring three goals in 30 seconds during their win over the Nashville Predators. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers are the first team in NHL history to come-from-behind to win each of their first five games of the season. [NHL PR]

Scores
Edmonton Oilers 4, New York Rangers 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Los Angeles Kings 7, Nashville Predators 4
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Boston Bruins 3, New Jersey Devils 0
Montreal Canadiens 6, St. Louis Blues 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Detroit Red Wings 2
New York Islanders 3, Florida Panthers 2 (SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Washington Capitals 4, Dallas Stars 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Minnesota Wild 4
Colorado Avalanche 3, Arizona Coyotes 2 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 6, Calgary Flames 2
Vancouver Canucks 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2 (SO)

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.