Rookie Miro Heiskanen leads Stars in upset win over Predators

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The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators have no shortage of defensive stars, so it seems appropriate that defensemen also drove the offense in Dallas’ 3-2 win over Nashville in Game 1. Among them all, it was rookie blueliner Miro Heiskanen who came out on top with two goals.

Roman Josi got Nashville on the board first and that was the only goal going into the first intermission. Heiskanen answered back with a power-play goal in the second period and then gave the Stars a 2-1 lead at 6:10 of the third. Heiskanen was one of the league’s top rookies this season. In addition to contributing 12 goals and 33 points in 82 contests, he logged 23:07 minutes per game. After a campaign like that, Stars coach Jim Montgomery didn’t shy away from leaning on Heiskanen in his playoff debut. Only Nashville’s Josi and Dallas’ Esa Lindell spent more time on the ice in Game 1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Mats Zuccarello scored the first goal of the series contributed by a forward at 10:39 of the third period. It has to be particularly satisfying to the Stars to see him score, especially after he barely played for them in the regular season due to injury. He suffered a broken arm in his first game with Dallas after being acquired from the Rangers.

Predators defenseman PK Subban cut the lead in half to make it interesting and a late holding penalty on Mattias Janmark gave Nashville a good chance to tie the contest. The Stars managed to stay strong though and Ben Bishop was solid when he needed to be, making 30 saves on the night.

The pressure is now on the favored Predators to bounce back and ultimately to win one in Dallas, where the Stars were 24-14-3 in the regular season.

Stars-Predators Game 2 from Bridgestone Arena will be Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET on CNBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Zuccarello injured during Stars debut, out at least four weeks

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Mats Zuccarello‘s first game as a Dallas Star started off fantastic. The 31-year-old forward assisted on the Stars’ opening goal during their 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday afternoon. He would later add a cherry on top of his offensive debut with his 12th goal of the season to give Dallas a 3-0 lead early in the second period.

The good feelings about Zuccarello then went sour later in the period.

Zuccarello, who was acquired Saturday from the New York Rangers, left the game late in the second period after a blocking a shot. Following the game, the Stars announced that he would be returning to Dallas to be examined and the early assessment is that he will miss at least four weeks.

Zuccarello told reporters afterward the “upper-body” injury is his arm and there’s a possibility that it’s broken. Once he’s examined this week they’ll have a better of idea of whether he needs surgery and if/when he can make a return. And as if that injury news wasn’t enough, the team also lost captain Jamie Benn with an upper-body injury. He’s considered day-to-day.

It’s a brutal blow for the Stars who are in the midst of chasing the third spot in the Central Division while also holding on to a Western Conference wild card spot. They have 13 important games in the next four weeks, and they will miss not having a Zuccarello in their lineup.

This tough injury news now makes you wonder how much more active Stars general manager Jim Nill will be before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. If Zuccarello returns in four weeks, Dallas will have seven games left in the regular season. Considering how the bottom of the West has played out so far, those seven games will likely be incredibly important for their playoff hopes.

MORE: PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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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.

Hayes, Zuccarello part of Rangers’ ‘retool’ or saying goodbye to Broadway?

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There’s a 10-point hill to climb for the New York Rangers to try and get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. But even a run over the next month won’t mean much if the teams ahead of them continue picking up points.

On that note, it’ll be an interesting few weeks for general manager Jeff Gorton, who a year ago raised the white flag on the 2018-19 NHL season and signaled that the team was heading in a new direction. Changes came and will continue to come, especially with three key players set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Forwards Kevin Hayes (10-23–33,  40GP) and Mats Zuccarello (8-16–24, 35GP), along with defenseman Adam McQuaid find themselves dubbed as trade bait with the Feb. 25 3 p.m. ET deadline approaching. Hayes, whose name has been linked with the Colorado Avalanche for some time, is back in the lineup after missing nine games with an upper-body injury. Zuccarello missed time last month with a groin injury and has been dealing with an infected foot but should be back Thursday versus New Jersey. McQuaid was acquired in September from the Boston Bruins, but it seemed clear at the time he would eventually be flipped for future assets.

The Rangers want to continue to get younger and faster in preparation for an off-season where they can use cap space to their advantage with a free agent market that could be littlered with big names like Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Jeff Skinner. Moving the 26-year-old Hayes, whose agent has spoke with Gorton but no negotiations have taken place yet about an extension, would free up future room and bring back assets in return. Same for the 31-year-old Zuccarello. Draft picks brought back can either restock the prospect cupboard or used in future trades to get immediate help.

Both have expressed their desire to stay, but Hayes and Zuccarello understand the nature of the business.

“At the same time, everybody knows how I feel about wanting to stay. I’ve loved my five years here,” Hayes told the New York Post over the weekend. “I love the organization, the guys, the staff, the city, the fans. I really can’t see myself anywhere else. But it’s also kind of out of my hands.”

“You know what, I think everyone knows my opinion about everything. I love it here,” Zuccarello earlier this season about the trade talk. “This is my ninth season. This is where I grew up to become — hopefully — an adult. Maybe half [an adult]. But this is home for me, my second home.”

In Hayes’ case, when he settled with the team on a one-year deal and avoided arbitration last summer, it set up this exact scenario. Gorton was given a period of time to take a look at the Rangers’ youth down the middle — Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden — and decide whether keeping the 26-year-old center fit his plans. A long-term extension is in the player’s plans, but the GM will have to weigh if locking him up for five years or beyond at somewhere between $5-6M a season is ideal, or if there’s another plan of attack to strengthed the position in the off-season.

Henrik Lundqvist is still playing at an elite level, and with two more years left on his contract after this season, this “retool” by Gorton shouldn’t continue into next season. Two down years and plenty of roster reshaping should have the Rangers back to playoff contenders for the 2019-20 season.

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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.

Should Winnipeg Jets stand pat at trade deadline?

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There are whispers that the Winnipeg Jets could stand pat at the trade deadline and get away with it.

It’s not necessarily the most popular opinion, but one that has gained a small following given how their season has shaped up to this point.

The growth of rookie forward Kyle Connor, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Sunday, has been impressive. Connor went from a mediocre training camp that saw him begin the season in the American Hockey League to play a vital role on Winnipeg’s top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Jack Roslovic began the season in the AHL and was only called up recently to fill in the gaps as Winnipeg’s health began to deteriorate. Now, Roslovic, a dynamic player with speed and play-making ability, has performed so well that he likely won’t see the minors again.

The Jets are also anticipating the return of towering center Adam Lowry (out with an upper-body injury) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (out with a lower-body injury) by the time the playoffs roll around, turning into quasi-trade deadline additions.

The Jets, who have scored 13 goals in their past two games, are as good as any other team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. A recent adjustment to their lines — one that included putting 20-plus goal scorers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on the third unit — has diversified Winnipeg’s top-nine to a scary extent.

The Jets have three lines that are capable, at the moment, of putting up a lot of points on any given night. So the argument that the Jets don’t need to add someone to their top-six, or even their top-nine, has some merit.

That said, as the old sports cliche goes: there’s always room to improve. The Jets could still use some depth on the fourth line. Matt Hendricks, while a good presence in the room and a decent penalty killer, isn’t the quickest player on the ice. Joel Armia shows flashes of brilliance and then goes on long stretches where he’s mostly invisible. The return of Brandon Tanev from injury will be useful in that regard. But adding a budget center could be the shrewd move general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to solidify a solid fourth-line combo.

On defense, Ben Chiarot has played admirably in place of Trouba but he may be a surplus to requirements when Trouba returns. One wonders what Cheveldayoff is thinking when it comes to Toby Enstrom, however. The diminutive defenseman had a tough outing in the physical department during the Jets last playoff appearance — their only visit since returning to Winnipeg — during the 2014-15 season. And his injury history should have the Jets thinking about at least shoring up that possibility.

The Jets could turn to Chiarot’s size and physicality in a similar scenario or could turn to the trade market for another option.

This is a good headache for any general manager. The Jets are one of the top teams in the NHL without having made a trade thus far this season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, their power play has been lethal and their penalty kill is up near the top. Bell MTS Place has become a place teams go to die and the Jets, at the moment, would have home-ice advantage in the first round.

It makes for an interesting week leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.

Here’s a look at what the Jets could be/are considering:

Forwards

Rick Nash: A pricey rental player that would add size and scoring to the Jets top-six. But pricey is the key word here and it’s unlikely the Jets want to dig into the farm to own a guy for a couple months.

Mike Hoffman: Skilled and quick with the ability to score. He would be a good fit for the Jets, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the weekend, Hoffman has a limited no-movement clause and Winnipeg is on the list. With term left on his deal, the price wouldn’t be cheap either.

Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu: Two depth forwards that would bolster Winnipeg’s bottom end. Maroon isn’t the fastest guy around, and he’s not scoring 27 goals like he did last season playing with Connor McDavid. But a fresh start after not getting a contract in Edmonton might be just what Maroon needs to get his confidence up and running. Letestu, meanwhile, offers bottom-six depth up the middle. Matt Hendricks, currently occupying the fourth-line center role, didn’t play in last year’s playoffs for the Oilers. He could make way again depending on what the Jets do at the deadline. These would be cheaper options.

Ryan Hartman: It would be odd for the Chicago Blackhawks to trade a 23-year-old budding forward to a divisional rival, but stranger things have happened. Hartman had 19 goals in his rookie season last year and is playing on a very poor Blackhawks team this year. The price tag is likely high on him as well.

Mats Zuccarello: The New York Rangers announced they were holding a yard sale, and Zuccarello is a name that’s been thrown around when it comes to the Jets. Zuccarello is a good penalty killer and plays a game, not unlike Mathieu Perreault, who the Jets covet. Zuccarello also comes with an extra year on his contract. and could help the Jets beyond this season.

Defenseman:

Nick Holden: Continuing with the Rangers fire sale, Holden could be an option. He’s a left shot defenseman that could fill in for an injury to Enstrom. Holden’s possession metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s a serviceable third-pairing guy who can play bigger minutes in a pinch.

Jan Rutta: One player the Blackhawks may be willing to part ways with is defenseman Rutta, who is on a one-year entry-level deal that’s set to expire at the end of this season. Rutta shoots right and has better possession metrics than Holden.


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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers earned their third Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history with a 53-22-7 record last season.

New York then eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games of the first round and edged the Washington Capitals in seven games in the conference semifinals. However, Tampa Bay cut New York’s bid for a second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance short defeating the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.

Rick Nash led the way offensively for the Rangers scoring a career-high 42 goals and 69 points in 79 games. Center Derick Brassard also had a career year notching a personal best for goals (19) and points (60).

In what was his final NHL season, Martin St. Louis reached the 20-goal plateau for the 10th time in his career. The 40-year-old announced his retirement in July.

In goal, Henrik Lundqvist went 30-13-3 while posting a 2.25 G.A.A. and a .922 save percentage in 46 appearances. Despite missing 25 games due to a vascular injury, the 33-year-old finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting.

Cam Talbot took over in Lundqvist’s absence. The 28-year-old finished the season with a 21-9-4 record to go along with a 2.21 G.A.A. and a .926 save percentage.

Off-season recap

It was a busy off-season for the Rangers.

After 15 years as the general manager of the Rangers, Glen Sather stepped down in July and handed the duties to Jeff Gorton.

On the ice, the Rangers dealt Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers and filled his spot with Antti Raanta.

New York also acquired Emerson Etem from the Ducks for Carl Hagelin on the second day of the NHL Draft.

Earlier this month the Rangers added depth at center inking free agent Jarret Stoll to a one-year deal.

The Rangers also took care of their own.

Restricted free agents J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast got new deals and Derek Stepan avoided arbitration signing a new six-year $39 million contract.

James Sheppard, who scored two goals and registered nine penalty minutes in 14 games after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks, remains unsigned.

Several Rangers are still recovering from injuries suffered last season.

Brassard had wrist surgery in late June and was expected to require four-to-six weeks of recovery time. Captain Ryan McDonagh, who led all Rangers’ blue liners with 33 points in 71 games last season, is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Mats Zuccarello has been cleared to resume skating and have contact after taking a shot to the head from McDonagh in Game 5 of the Rangers’ first round series against the Penguins.

Mackenzie Skapski is still recovering from off-season hip surgery.