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The Buzzer: Bergeron line continues domination; Lehner posts shutout in debut

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Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: 

The Bruins top line of Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand has picked up right where it left off last season. Bergeron gets the first-star spot on Monday after scoring his fourth career hat trick and adding a helper in a four-point night. Pastrnak was exceptional as well in the Bruins 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, compiling his own four-point game with two goals and two assists. Marchand chipped in three helpers for good measure.

2. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders:

A new team meant a new start for Lehner, who opened up in the preseason about a difficult time in his personal life. Coming from the Buffalo Sabres after being signed as a free agent this summer, Lehner had to wait his turn to get his first start in the Islanders’ crease after Thomas Greiss got off to a good start, stopping 45-of-46 in New York’s season opener. But after Greiss was shelled against the Nashville Predators, Lehner was given the green light for his debut. Lehner appeared more than ready was ready Monday, stopping all 35 shots sent his way by a potent San Jose Sharks team to post his ninth career shutout.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: 

Here’s a stat: Not since the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13 have the Sabres had a record better than .500. That’s incredible in its own right, and the reason why they were able to break out of that funk has been the stellar play of Eichel to start the season. Eichel fired home two more goals for his second and third of the season to lift the Sabres past the mighty Vegas Golden Knights. Buffalo had a tough outing in their season opener against the Boston Bruins but have rebounded, beating the New York Rangers and the Golden Knights to carve out an early 2-1-0 record. Eichel has been a factor in both wins after picking up a goal and an assist in the Rangers game. He’s billed as a stud and now has some decent talent around him to strut his stuff. Don’t sleep on Buffalo this season.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s backhand sauce is filthy here after leading the rush down the ice. He had a hat trick on the day, but this was arguably his best play from the win.

Eichel had himself a day, and this forehand-to-backhand sorcery was too good for Marc-Andre Fleury to ever have a chance to save.

Factoids:

Scores: 

Bruins 6, Senators 3

Islanders 4, Sharks, 2

Sabres 4, Golden Knights 2

Ducks 3, Red Wings 2 (SO)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Back issue makes Henrik Zetterberg’s future ‘real unknown’

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There was good news and bad news for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. 

The good news was that Dylan Larkin signed a five-year extension, locking himself in with the team until the end of the 2022-23 NHL season.

The bad news is that the status of captain Henrik Zetterberg’s health is not looking good. A month ago, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the forward was planning to play in 2018-19, but that his back would determine whether that would happen. A summer golf outing with some fellow NHLers looked like a good sign.

On a conference call with reporters on Friday, Holland delivered a discouraging update.

“I have talked to his agent a number of times over the course of the summer, and I know he’s had a tough summer,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to train anywhere near close to where he’s been able to train past summers due to his back. So there is a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg.”

Zetterberg, who turns 38 in October, hasn’t missed a game in three seasons. The lingering back issue caused speculation earlier this off-season that he might sit out the year to heal up.

“Certainly, he’s a bit of an unknown in terms of health,” said Holland. “He didn’t practice basically the last two, two-and-a-half months of the season, he just played games.”

The Red Wings are in a clear transition phase at the moment and it’d be great for their younger players to have someone like Zetterberg around. But there’s also the fact that he still has three years remaining on a contract that carries a $6.083 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. He’s not going to retire and forfeit the money owed to him, so it’s looking like a long layoff is in the cards.

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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.

Red Wings sign Dylan Larkin to five-year, $30.5 million deal

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The Detroit Red Wings leading point-producer is now their highest paid player.

The Red Wings locked up 22-year-old center Dylan Larkin on a five-year deal worth $30.5 million on Friday. The deal has an annual average value of $6.1 million, some $16,667 more than Henrik Zetterberg makes to take the average annual value title.

Larkin had 16 goals and 47 assists last year, doubling his point total from the year previous after getting a nearly four-minute bump in ice time per game. Larkin is the best player on a team that came into the 2017-18 season as the oldest team in the NHL.

Larkin foreshadowed Friday’s signing earlier in the week.

“Something’s coming,” Larkin told Sportsnet. “I’ve told everyone I think it’ll be before training camp. It’s right there. I’m just waiting to iron out the details.”

Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the deal in 2023.

Larkin is a player the Red Wings can build around as they work on rebuilding and leaving Jurassic Park behind. Larkin moved from the wing to center this past season, excelling in his new role as the team’s franchise center.

Larkin had 2.24 points/60 last season and had his best season in terms of Rel CF% at 2.25.

“His best years are ahead of him. Dylan brings a lot of determination and passion,” general manager Ken Holland told reporters on Friday.

The move leaves the Red Wings counting $3.2 million over the salary cap, which is set at $79.5 million for this coming season. A roster move will be necessary before the season begins. Teams are allowed to be over the cap by 10 percent during the offseason.

Johan Franzen is an LTIR candidate, however. He has a cap hit of nearly $4 million and hasn’t played in two years. Shedding his salary would put the Red Wings under, and they’ve made all their offseason signings with Larkin’s signature.

If not, the Red Wings will have to shed salary through a trade.

Larkin’s deal should make things interesting across the border in Toronto. William Nylander has yet to sign with the Maple Leafs. He’s a restricted free agent and compares well with Larkin.

The Leafs are facing a massive cap crunch next season and Nylander now has a template for his next deal.

Sam Reinhart, also an unsigned RFA, will also benefit from Larkin’s deal.


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

Red Wings extend GM Ken Holland, for better or worse

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Some teams dive in the deep end when it comes to rebuilding (and/or “tanking”). Generally speaking, the Red Wings have instead opted to dip their toes in that pool.

With that in mind, it’s probably not too surprising to see the team hand GM Ken Holland a two-year contract extension.

As the Red Wings note, this opens the door for Holland to enter his 22nd season as GM. The team does a solid job of listing his biggest accomplishments as the league’s second-longest tenured general manager:

Under his watch, the Red Wings have won four Presidents’ Trophies, captured 10 division championships, won five regular-season conference titles and reached at least 100 regular-season points a league-high 13 times in the last 17 seasons. The Red Wings have also won 893 regular-season games and 119 playoff games since Holland assumed general manager duties in July 1997, topping the NHL in both categories during that span.

Of course, that press release doesn’t ruminate much on the present, and it only fixates on one positive part of the future: that they made 10 picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, hold 11 in the upcoming 2018 edition, and already claim 10 for 2019.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

For one thing, the massive haul of draft picks are a mixed bag. Holding such a quantity of picks does open the door for Holland to justify the belief that the Red Wings might once again unearth gems as they had in the past, a thought that becomes more promising if you still believe that they’re better than most at developing prospects.

On the other hand, such a smorgasboard of selections could also have been useful for a new GM to define a new vision. And, hey, maybe some of those picks could be packaged in a deal to ship some crummy deals out of Detroit.

Because, make no mistake about it, this team is a real mess on paper. Despite missing the playoffs for the second straight season in 2018-19, they were essentially a cap team. Via Cap Friendly, the Red Wings already have $56.875 million in cap space devoted to 14 players, and that’s with key young players (including Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou) needing new deals as pending RFAs.

Now, there are some contracts that even the most creative, aggressive executive would probably just need to deal with.

Still, you wonder if Holland might be “too close” to some deals and decisions, thus keeping the Red Wings from making crucial calls to accelerate the process toward being competitive again. This franchise clearly needs to yank the “Band-Aid” off swiftly, and you have to wonder if the chief architect is truly willing to undergo a necessary makeover.

This is yet another example of a franchise handing a polarizing GM an extension, such as the Vancouver Canucks re-upping oft-criticized exec Jim Benning. Time will tell if Holland can turn the Red Wings around, but from a sheer PR standpoint, it’s not a move savvy Red Wings fans are very happy about.

In other key organizational news, the team is expected to make an announcement regarding head coach Jeff Blashill in the coming week. The Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James and others indicate that he’ll probably be back, and it’s worth noting that Blashill has one year remaining on his contract.

Holland’s name has been connected to the Seattle expansion franchise, and while it’s feasible that he could still move on, this extension should at least turn the volume down on such speculation for a while.

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.

Should Ken Holland lead rebuild for Red Wings?

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If the Detroit Red Wings are going to turn their fortunes around, it’s going to be Ken Holland remaining at the controls.

Holland, who’s been general manager of the team since 1997, will be back at the helm according to three Detroit outlets. MLive.com, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are all citing sources saying that ownership will not make a change after this season. Head coach Jeff Blashill, who has one more year left on his deal, is also expected to be back.

The Red Wings wrap up their season on April 7, so it should become official some time before the team breaks for the summer.

Holland entered the 2017-18 season without an extension, something that was routine business in year’s past. When that didn’t happen, and the Red Wings began to struggle again, he was firmly placed on the hot seat. After two decades in the GMs chair and three Stanley Cups, it’s been a good run, but with Christopher Illitch taking the ownership lead following his father’s death, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see a new face replacing Holland.

Since 2011, the Red Wings have only one playoff series victory and have now missed the postseason two straight years after a 25-year streak of getting into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With the likes of Julien BriseBois, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Tom Fitzgerald, Mike Futa, and Laurence Gilman among the names floating out there as possible future NHL GMs, you have to wonder why ownership has faith that Holland is the one to lead them out of their current mess when he’s the one who helped direct them down that way.

Their salary cap picture is not a good one, and while the ceiling is expected to rise for 2018-19, the Red Wings have some important young pieces — Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha — who are due raises as restricted free agents this summer. But while that extra room should help with re-signings, there are still the contracts of Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg — all Holland signings — that are long and eating a lot of space.

Holland’s rebuild efforts got off to a great start last month when he flipped Tomas Tatar and Petr Mrazek for draft picks. According to Cap Friendly, the Red Wings could have up to eight selections in the opening four rounds of this June’s entry draft and five in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft. That’s great for restocking the prospect cupboard or packaging in trades for young roster players who can aid in this rebuild.

But the hard part, identifying and securing talent, comes next.

“We’re not good enough quite right now,” Holland said last month. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation. That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”

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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.