Derek Stepan

The Buzzer: Crosby’s return, Matthews’ hat trick, Kubalik’s hot streak

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Three Stars

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night and dominated the Minnesota Wild with four points (one goal, three assists) in a 7-3 win. Along with his sixth goal of the season, he also made one of the plays of the night (see it below) to set up Dominik Simon for a highlight reel goal. Read more about his return to the lineup here.

2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. This seems like the type of game the Maple Leafs are going to be winning a lot of, especially given the current state of their defense. They score seven goals, had one of their stars (Matthews) record a hat trick, they gave up a hat trick (to Blake Coleman) and held on for a 7-4 win. Matthews’ three goal performance on Tuesday gives him 34 goals for the season and puts him on pace for 59 goals over 82 games. He is just six goals away from matching his career high (40). He is also just two goals behind David Pastrnak (36 goals) for the league lead.

3. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks appeared to be on their way to an ugly loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night after giving up two early goals. The trio of Kubalik, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane was not going to let that happen. Kubalik extended his current goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games by netting a pair of goals to send the game to overtime, setting the stage for Toews’ game-winning goal early in the extra period. Kubalik is having an outstanding rookie season for the Blackhawks and has now scored 18 goals on the season. That is second best on the team, trailing only Kane. The Blackhawks still sit six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference but they really needed this win given how difficult their upcoming schedule is.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Elvis Merzlikins recorded his second straight shutout for the Columbus Blue Jackets as they beat the Boston Bruins 3-0 to move back into a tie for the second Wild Card spot with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was injured in this game after being hit in the head. Read more about that here.
  • Brock Nelson scored two goals and was one of seven Islanders to record at least two points in an 8-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 41 shots he faced on Tuesday night (and tried to score a goal!) to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a 2-0 deficit to rally for a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Big night for the Coyotes as Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, Conor Garland, and Derek Stepan all had three points in a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks to move them into sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Leon Draisaitl scored a pair of goals to help lead the Edmonton Oilers to a big 4-2 win to help them keep pace with the rest of the teams in the Pacific Division race.
  • Esa Lindell‘s overtime goal completed the Dallas Stars’ against the Colorado Avalanche, giving them a 3-2 win.

Highlights of the Night

Filip Forsberg scores with the Lacrosse-style goal for the Nashville Predators. Read all about it here.

Sidney Crosby passes to himself off the back of the net then sets up Dominik Simon for the goal.

Jack Eichel scored the game-winning goal for the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights with this incredible display of speed and skill.

Blooper of the Night

No video to share, but it has to be Wild coach Bruce Boudreau making a pre-game mistake on his lineup card and forcing his team to play with a shorthanded defense for the entire game. Read all about it here.

Honorable mention goes to this crazy sequence at the start of the Jets-Canucks game where the Jets put the puck in the net three times within only 37 seconds, only to have just one of the goals actually count on the score board.

Factoids

  • Hellebuyk’s shutout is the 18th of his career and puts him in first place in Jets franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Kris Letang became the first Penguins defenseman to record 400 career assists with the team. [Penguins PR]
  • Eichel reached the 60-point mark in the Sabres’ 46th game of the season. He is the first Sabres player to record 60 points in 46 games or fewer since Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine. They both did it during the 1992-93 season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 7, New Jersey Devils 4
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (SO)
New York Islanders 8, Detroit Red Wings 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Minnesota Wild 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Boston Bruins 0
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (OT)
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vancouver Canucks 0
Arizona Coyotes 6, San Jose Sharks 3
Edmonton Oilers 4, Nashville Predators 2
Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Hintz, Stepan highlight 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

Samuel Girard, Avalanche – D: Girard has quickly risen in importance with the Avalanche, averaging 17:43 minutes in 2017-18 after being acquired from Nashville, 19:54 minutes in 2018-19, and now 21:42 minutes this season. He set a new personal best last season with 27 points, but the 21-year-old blueliner already has 22 points in 42 contests this season. That total is somewhat misleading though because an incredible eight of those points have come in his last three games. It’s worth noting that he did have four assists in eight games prior to this outburst, so he had been heating up for a bit even before this. At any rate, he’s at least worth a short-term pickup, but the rising defenseman might also have a strong enough second half to justify holding onto him for the rest of the season. If you do pick him up, I’d recommend exercising some patience with him rather than dropping him at the first sign that his hot streak has fizzled out.

Derek Stepan, Coyotes – C: Stepan had between 53-57 points in five straight campaigns from 2013-14 through 2017-18, but he dropped to 35 points last season and has just seven goals and 16 points in 44 contests in 2019-20. So to say that he has largely disappointed over the last year-and-a-half would be accurate, but he is doing a bit better lately with a goal and four points in his last three games. It’s too early to say if this will prove to be anything more than a hot streak, but one bit of good news for him is that after the Coyotes experimented with pairing Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, the duo has been broken up with Kessel now playing alongside Stepan instead. Stepan is a gamble, but there’s enough upside here to at least make him worth keeping a close eye on right now.

Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets – G: Earlier this season Merzlikins couldn’t seem to buy a win, then Joonas Korpisalo suffered a torn meniscus and suddenly the Blue Jackets needed Merzlikins to step up. Merzlikins has largely answered the call, stopping 36 of 37 shots on Dec. 31 and 25 of 26 shots on Jan. 2 to collect his first two career NHL victories. He fell short against the Sharks on Jan. 4, but he mostly held his own, saving 25 of 28 shots. With Korpisalo likely out for at least another three weeks, Merzlikins will have value for the next little while.

Filip Hronek, Red Wings – D: Hronek is having a really good season with just one glaring exception. He started the season alright with three points in eight games before really taking off with four goals and 10 points in 14 contests from Oct. 22-Nov. 21. That led into the aforementioned exception where he had no points and a horrendous minus-11 rating in six games, but he’s bounced right back with three goals and 10 points in his last 13 contests. Given that he’s been more hit-than-miss this season and consider his recent success, he’s a pretty solid defenseman to own. He’s only taken in 27% of Yahoo leagues so the chances of you being able to claim him are rather good.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat is having a hot-and-cold season with his latest drought coming from Nov. 27-Dec. 17 when he was limited to a goal and no assists in 11 games. Since then he’s scored three goals and nine points in nine games. Feel free to pick him up while he’s producing, but given how 2019-20 has gone, it wouldn’t be surprising if those who grab him end up dropping him in a couple weeks.

Dominik Kahun, Penguins – LW: The loss of Jake Guentzel for the remainder of the season was a major blow to the Penguins, but they have no choice but to move on and attempt to fill the void. Kahun is one of the players who has an opportunity with Guentzel out. The Penguins have been experimenting with using Kahun on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, which was Guentzel’s spot prior to the injury. Kahun’s new role hasn’t resulted in any points yet, but he has been a solid contributor this season with 21 points in 41 contests despite being limited to 13:14 minutes per game. With increased responsibilities, he could be a pretty solid fantasy option in the second half of the season.

Sami Vatanen, Devils– D: Vatanen has been a silver lining in what has been a largely disappointing campaign for the Devils. With five goals and 22 points in 37 games, he’s bounced back nicely from his 17-point 2018-19 campaign. He’s hot right now with a goal and nine points in nine games, but he was doing alright even before that. I’ve said before that I see him more short-term pickup and I’d still lean more towards classifying him as that, but I don’t he’d be a bad defenseman to hold onto if you are hurting in that position.

Roope Hintz, Stars – C/LW: The Stars are on a four-game winning streak and Hintz has done his part with two goals and five points in that span. His ice time has been all over the place this season and what’s interesting that he’s averaged just 12:55 minutes over his last four games, but he’s still be used with the man advantage. That power-play ice time has been critical to his recent success. He has three power-play points and one shorthanded assist over his last four games, leaving him with just one even-strength point. The Stars next two games are against Los Angeles and Anaheim, which rank 28th and 21st respectively when it comes to killing penalties, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hintz find more success on the power play in the near future.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist is a known entity at this point. He’s a not spectacular, but reliable scorer. This season injuries have gotten in the way, but he’s been solid when healthy with nine goals and 15 points in 25 contests. Now that he’s healthy, he’s worth grabbing if you have a hole in RW that needs plugging because while he’s not exciting, he’s fairly safe.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: Kubalik had six goals and 10 points in 27 contests to start the season, which is solid for a rookie, but nothing particularly special by fantasy standards. Lately he’s stepped up though with six goals and 12 points in his last 14 contests. His increase in production also corresponds with his growing role. He’s averaged 14:28 minutes over his most recent 14 games, up from 12:29 minutes prior to that. Kubalik has routinely played alongside Jonathan Toews lately, which helps matters. Although it’s rarer, occasionally the third player on that line is Patrick Kane. In other words, Kubalik has been handed a pretty good opportunity lately and he’s taken advantage of it.

Players You May Want To Drop

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – LW:  I mentioned above that Kahun is filling in for Guentzel on the Malkin line, but Galchenyuk was also tried on that line. That didn’t last long though. Galchenyuk logged just 9:22 minutes on Jan. 4 and 10:29 minutes on Jan. 5 and unsurprisingly had no points over that span. He’s been a big disappointment this season and if you grabbed him after Guentzel’s injury in the hopes that Galchenyuk would play a bigger role, you can drop him again.

James van Riemsdyk, Flyers – LW: van Riemsdyk has been hot-and-cold this season with his latest hot streak being particularly good. He had eight goals and 14 points in 13 contests from Nov. 27-Dec. 23. That the problem that he hasn’t recorded a single point in the five games that have followed. He’s worth keeping an eye on so you can scoop him up when he starts scoring again, but for now you may as well drop him.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak scored three goals and 14 points in 17 contests from Nov. 18-Dec. 22, but he’s otherwise been pretty underwhelming this season. Lately, he’s recorded just a goal and an assist in six games. He’s a pretty borderline player in standard leagues under normal circumstances, having never recorded more than 37 points in a single season. If you picked him up while he was hot, you may want to re-evaluate your options.

Calle Jarnkrok, Predators – LW/RW: Jarnkrok was a great option from Nov. 21-Dec. 17 with six goals and 13 points in 13 contests. He hasn’t done much since then though. Over his last eight games he’s registered just two assists. Given that he’s usually not a great offensive force, it’s reasonable to drop him now that he’s cooled down.

Justin Faulk, Blues – D: Faulk was typically good for at least 30 points per season when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he has just three goals and 12 points in 43 contests in his first season with St. Louis. It doesn’t help that Faulk has averaged a modest 1:21 power-play minutes this season. By contrast, he averaged 2:56 power-play minutes in 2018-19 with Carolina. As a result, Faulk has just two power-play points this season, which is part of the reason for his underwhelming production this season. He did record two goals and five points in seven games from Dec. 12-27, which likely led to an uptick in people picking him up during that span, but he’s cooled down again and probably won’t be a major contributor going forward.

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.

Taylor Hall’s early impact on Arizona Coyotes

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In mere hours, Taylor Hall will suit up for his fifth game as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Hall’s new team has a chance to fatten its Pacific Division lead against the (mostly) rising Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

Don’t blame Hall if he’s still trying to find his rhythm, and footing.

Consider that the New Jersey Devils sat Hall as they ramped up their efforts to trade him, ultimately finding a deal with Arizona. Hall waited a week between games, needing to catch a “red eye” flight to debut for the Coyotes in a win against the Sharks on Dec. 17.

Other factors likely messed with Hall’s equilibrium.

So far, the Coyotes only played one home game (against the Wild on Dec. 19), not that “home” is home yet for Hall, anyway.

While the holiday break provided a crucial opportunity for rest, Hall probably feels like he’s still trying to dance to a strange, unfamiliar beat. Really, these factors only strengthen the logic behind trading for a player sooner rather than later. Ideally, the Coyotes will get Hall fully up to speed long before most other teams make their late “rentals.”

Factoring in all of those caveats underscores how impressive Hall’s first four games have been. Let’s break down his start, going deeper than one goal and two primary assists.

Dec. 17: Coyotes beat Sharks 3-2 (Hall gets first assist)

Using Natural Stat Trick’s handy game logs, you can see that this was the only game so far where Hall was really under water from a shot-share perspective.

Even then, Hall showed why the Coyotes acquired him by combining power and skill to set up Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s game-winning goal:

“He had maybe four hours of sleep, travels cross country, and he hasn’t played in about a week. Not bad for that situation,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet after that game, via NHL.com. “If he plays like that for not having much sleep, imagine what he can do with some real rest.”

Dec. 19: Wild beat Coyotes 8-5 (Another assist)

Hall has avoided the line blender so far, spending the majority of his even-strength time with Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel. If that alignment boosts Kessel and opens up easier matchups for the likes of Clayton Keller, it could be quite the boon for Arizona.

While this marked Hall’s first loss with the Coyotes, he made an impact, firing five SOG and finishing this nice takeaway by Dvorak by setting up Kessel:

 

The Coyotes lost Darcy Kuemper to injury, so it was clearly not a great overall night for Arizona.

Dec. 22: Coyotes beat Red Wings 5-2 (First Hall goal with Arizona)

Despite limited ice time (14:16 TOI), Hall made an impact. He fired four SOG, with his first Coyotes goal coming on a booming shot:

Goodness.

Dec. 23: Predators win against Coyotes 3-2 (First time Hall hasn’t scored a point for Arizona)

Looking at only the simplest stats, this seems like a rough night for Hall specifically. He failed to score a point, and finished with a -2 rating.

Delve deeper and Hall comes across as a positive influence. The Predators dominated possession, but Hall broke even. Hall also showed signs that he could click with Derek Stepan and Vinnie Hinostroza if need be.

***

After Hall’s debut, Tocchet told NHL Now that he didn’t want Hall to get “system’d to death” upon arriving with the Coyotes. If Arizona leans toward a slow trickle instead of a deluge, maybe we’ll see more of the benefits of that osmosis starting with Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights?

Ultimately, it’s already been a pretty strong start for Hall in Arizona.

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.

NBC Sports NHL Player Survey: Commissioner for the day

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When NHL players descended on Chicago earlier this month for the annual Player Media Tour NBC Sports bestowed upon them the power of league commissioner for a day. Putting themselves in Gary Bettman’s shoes, we asked the players what changes they would make to the game on or off the ice. Escrow was an obvious choice, but we wanted the players to get a little more creative than that.

Changing overtime and the offside review were popular answers, but there were also some interesting ideas to come out of the exercise, like what Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had to say.

Here’s what the players told us when we asked them, “You’re NHL Commissioner for the day. What change, on or off the ice, would you make and why?”

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars: “Get rid of the escrow. That’s an easy one. And get rid of the offside [review].”

P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils: “I’d like to see less penalties. I’m a little bit biased, I like the older school game. When I sit back and watch the old NHL and watching guys like Pavel Bure and [Sergei] Fedorov still put up the numbers that they did with guys draped all over them, sometimes in the league we forget what those guys had to go through to earn the numbers and the seasons that they put together. I think sometimes we go a little bit too far this way. But nobody’s perfect. … Maybe just let the guys play a little bit more, let a little bit more stuff go. Every game there’s a controversy of some sort and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights: “I’m pretty happy for the refs to get a little bit more help, to be able to watch replays so it’s a fair game for everyone. After that, just make sure you have a good relationship with the players. I think that’s a big thing that they’re respectful from both sides and both parties. That’s something which I think we have with [the league].”

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: “I’d probably get rid of the trapezoid.”

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: “I would take away the offside challenge because now every time you score a goal you’re looking at the referee [waiting for a signal] and you jump on the bench still waiting, waiting. They can cancel it at any moment. That’s not good, especially in intense games. Sometimes you score a goal and [the team] challenges and there’s a TV timeout and it just kills the speed of the game and kills the momentum, too. I know it’s helping sometimes but I don’t think it’s supposed to be like this, when you score a goal and you’re still waiting for the ref to decide if it’s allowed or not. You can’t really get the full emotions of scoring a goal — especially if you get a 2-on-1, for example, and you have a pass from behind and you don’t know how your feet were [crossing the blue line]. I don’t think it makes sense.”

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: “I always say, just because our travel has been so ridiculous these last bunch of years, I would change the schedule into little weekend series, similar to baseball. Let’s say you go to Winnipeg, you play them three times. You go to Dallas, you play them three times and you don’t go back there. We’ve had so many road trips going somewhere, coming back, going somewhere, coming back — just one game here, two games there, one game there. We’re always practicing, driving to the airport, flying. To me, that’s one of the things maybe other teams, at least in the East, don’t deal with as much as we do.”

Derek Stepan, Arizona Coyotes: “As a centerman let the offensive center on a power play get to choose what circle he gets to take the draw on, and that’s after the team has already put their guys on the ice. Maybe you can catch more centerman on their off side.”

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: “I would change no offside, so no blue lines. I think that would make the game a lot more fun, especially if you’re an offensive guy. I think the fans would like that, maybe a lot more goals, open up the game a little bit more.”

Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers: “I would probably [remove] the offside [review]. It slows the game down. It takes momentum away from the game. It’s a fast game and they’re trying to slow it down.”

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres: “I’d put more than just two games in Sweden. I would have probably around 20 games.”

Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets: “The Olympics. For small countries like where I’m from, Denmark, it’d be an honor to play in the Olympics one day. We’ve never made it. I think we have a very good chance to make it next time and not being able to play in those [games] if we were to make it would not be fun.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: “Smaller nets, bigger equipment for the goalies. Five-on-five overtime, six-on-six.”

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: “I would change the dress code. It wouldn’t be no dress code, I think it would be more casual. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie every game, kind of like the NBA a little bit. Probably more like the NFL.”

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: “[Auston Matthew’s] a stylish guy. Me, I’m not that stylish. I like wearing suits. [I’d like to see] for some of the guys to express more of their personality. You see the basketball guys walk in, some of them wear suits, some of them wear those fun outfits that really gets people talking. That might be a good thing to implement.”

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings: “I would extend 3-on-3 overtime to 10 minutes.”

Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes: “Longer overtimes. I think 3-on-3 is super exciting, and shootouts are exciting, too, but 3-on-3 comes with so many opportunities and so many chances. I think if you extended it even a couple of minutes you’d have more games decided in OT rather than having it go to a shootout.”

Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames: “I’d make the nets bigger so I can score more.”

MORE NHL PLAYER SURVEYS:
Most underrated player
2019-20 sleeper team
Change or keep current playoff format?

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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.

Offensive upgrades helping playoffs become expectation for Coyotes

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The obstacles of struggling to score goals and staying healthy didn’t force the Arizona Coyotes to wither and eye the NHL draft lottery last season. Instead, it was a “next man up” mentality that head coach Rick Tocchet continued to bark out to his players that put the team deep into the race for one of the Western Conference wild card spots.

The effects of losing a different teammate seemingly every week to another injury could have led to a team fading away, but the Coyotes’ close proximity to the wild card race was a key factor in not letting the situation take a toll on the roster.

“It’s a big kudos to our coaching staff and our general manager and our leadership group and our young guys to stick with the process, even though we had new bodies coming in almost every day,” Coyotes forward Derek Stepan told NBC Sports during last week’s NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago.

The Coyotes finished with 386 man-games to injury or illness last season, third-highest in the NHL. But their goaltending, led by Darcy Kuemper, who filled in for the injured Antti Raanta, was a big bright spot, as was their penalty kill, which tied for league best at 85%. The area of goal scoring, however, needed some help. Their 131 even strength goals were worst in the league, per Natural Stat Trick. To help solve that problem Alex Galchenyuk was traded to Pittsburgh for Phil Kessel, who is currently 43 goals away from 400 in his career.

[MORE: How Phil Kessel can transform Coyotes’ offense]

It’s the confidence built up after overcoming last season’s hurdles and the addition a top offensive star in Kessel that has Stepan believing the playoffs can be a reality next spring.

“I certainly don’t see why we wouldn’t expect that,” Stepan said. “We were close last year. I think Chayka did a really good job of adding pieces to help us on the offensive side of the puck. It comes with that work ethic that we had at the end of last year, we kind of built that identity. I’m going into [the season] expecting to be in the playoffs this year.”

Stepan, who wasn’t sure yet if Tocchet would start him on a line with Kessel, added that the trade “re-energized” the Coyotes roster and with some internal improvements what held them back last season won’t stand in their way in 2019-20.

As far as integrating Kessel’s unique personality into what he described as a tight-knit dressing room, the veteran Stepan is eager to add the sniper to the group.

“I’m OK with him being a different cat,” Stepan said. “We’ve got a lot of dogs on our team. We could use a cat.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.