Tomas Jurco

Three things to watch for on opening night

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The 2019-20 regular season is finally upon us!

There’s four games on the opening-night schedule, including a doubleheader on NBCSN (Capitals vs. Blues at 6:30 p.m. ET and Sharks vs. Golden Knights at 10:30 p.m. ET). One game doesn’t make or break a season, but there are certain things to look out for when the schedule begins tonight.

Here are three storylines we’ll be keeping an eye on during tonight’s games:

• Are the Ottawa Senators the worst team in the NHL?

The Senators were the worst team in the NHL last year by a considerable margin. That’s what happens when you move on from players like Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene. Ottawa finished with just 64 points last year, which put them in the basement of the NHL standings. The team directly ahead of them was the Los Angeles Kings and they finished with 71 points.

The Sens have some good pieces in place like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom and a few others, but how long will it take them to be competitive? Given some of the size and grit on the current roster, it’s important to note that they probably won’t be easy out. They’ll be in your face, they’ll make life difficult for you, but they probably won’t win many games.

Ottawa gets their biggest rival tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’ll find out if they can push the Leafs and if they can be one of the big surprises in the league.

• Can Jordan Binnington pick up where he left off? 

The Blues made what seemed like an improbable run to their first Stanley Cup championship last year. They did so on the back of Ryan O'Reilly and Jordan Binnington. Nobody’s worried about O’Reilly’s ability to perform, but there are some questions when it comes to Binnington’s outlook. Can he continue being a strong number one goalie at the NHL level on a nightly basis? He’s no longer an unknown commodity around the league.

The Blues paid him during the off-season, as the two sides agreed to a two-year, $8.8 million extension. The 26-year-old has a tough act to follow. He finished last season with a 24-5-1 record, a 1.89 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

It’s going to be tough to follow that up. It all starts against the Capitals tonight.

• How lonely will Connor McDavid be this year?

Earlier this week, McDavid was skating on a line with James Neal and Tomas Jurco during practice, which means Leon Draisaitl was on another unit. There’s no reason to believe McDavid can’t perform next to anybody, but the sad state of the Oilers is apparent when you look at the wingers they have on their roster. No disrespect to Neal, who has had a strong career, but he’s coming off a seven-goal, 19-point season in Calgary. As for Jurco, he was limited to just 33 games in the AHL last season.

Again, McDavid doesn’t depend on his wingers to produce, but it would be nice for him to get some help whenever he’s on the ice. General manager Ken Holland has a lot of work to do to improve this roster. The fact that the high-end talent is already in place within the organization is good news, but the supporting cast needs to be blown up in a hurry.

Can McDavid drag the Oilers into the playoffs? They open the season at home against the Vancouver Canucks.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Red Wings hand Jurco a two-year contract

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The Detroit Red Wings signed Tomas Jurco to a two-year deal on Friday. The financial terms have not been revealed just yet.

Update: It looks like the deal is for $1.8 million, or $900K per season:

The 22-year-old suffered from some tough luck this past season.

For one thing, he dealt with injuries, but the bounces really didn’t go his way. Just 3.3 percent of his 92 shots on goal ended up in the net, so a disappointing total of three goals and 18 points in 63 games comes in part thanks to unfortunate breaks.

After all, the 22-year-old managed 15 points in just 36 games in his debut run of 2013-14, and his shooting percent was more-or-less average at 10.4.

Detroit’s cap situation is pretty snug at the moment, so we’ll see how his contract affects the Red Wings once details surface.

Wings sign Pulkkinen to one-year deal

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The Detroit Red Wings have reached a one-year deal with winger Teemu Pulkkinen, the club announced today.

Financial terms of the contract were not released.

Pulkkinen, 23, split last season between the NHL, where he had five goals in 31 games for the Wings, and the AHL, where he had 34 goals (the most in the AHL) in 46 games for Grand Rapids and was named to the league’s first all-star team.

With Pulkkinen and Gustav Nyquist signed, forward Tomas Jurco remains as the Wings’ lone restricted free agent.

Detroit drafted Pulkkinen 111th overall in 2010. The hope now is that he can take what he’s done in the AHL and start doing it regularly in the NHL.

Detroit signs Nyquist to four-year, $19 million extension

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The Red Wings made a big splash on Friday, signing forward Gustav Nyquist to a four-year contract extension worth $19 million.

“We’re very happy to have Gustav locked up for four more years,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said in a statement. “He’s quickly become an important part of our team, and is a critical piece to the Red Wings’ future.

“He is just now entering the prime of his career.”

Per War On Ice, the deal carries a $4.75 million average annual cap hit, and Nyquist receives a full no-trade clause in the third and fourth years of the deal. Financially speaking, it’s a nice pay bump for the Swedish sniper, who was pulling down an average of $950,000 per year on his old deal.

Nyquist certainly deserves the raise.

He’s been Detroit’s most consistent scorer over the last two seasons, leading the team in goals (a combined 55 in ’13-14 and ’14-15.) This year, he finished third in the NHL with 14 power-play markers, pacing a Red Wings PP that led the league with 70 goals on the man advantage.

With this new deal, the 25-year-old becomes the third highest-paid forward in Detroit, behind Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Nyquist, along with Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, is also one of just three forwards inked beyond 2017.

With this deal done, Holland will now turn his focus to his other two remaining RFAs: Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen.

Larkin, Mantha in tough to make Red Wings roster, says Holland

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Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin, two of the brightest forward prospects in the Detroit organization, will be hard pressed to be on the opening night roster — at least according to GM Ken Holland.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“Realistically, I think he’s going to have to come in — it’s going to be a struggle for him to make the team,” Holland said of Mantha. “You gotta come in and take the job. We’ve probably got 14, 15, 16 forwards that we think, legitimately, are going to be competing for a spot on the team. I’m not even sure if Anthony’s in that group.

“Then there’s another group of young players — (Andreas) Athanasiou, (Tomas) Nosek, Mantha — that we think are going to be Red Wings. Are they going to be Red Wings in September? They gotta come in and knock somebody out of the box.”

What about Larkin?

“Same thing,” Holland said. “My take on Larkin is he’s gotta be in our top 12. Coach (Jeff) Blashill’s gotta say to me, as we’re putting the team together, ‘I want him in the lineup.’ He’s not going to be a 13th, 14th forward.”

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Detroit was already deep at forward before inking AHL Grand Rapids standout Andy Miele to a one-way deal, and signing veteran center Brad Richards on the opening day of free agency.

All told, Detroit currently has 12 NHL-caliber forwards under contract (though one is Johan Franzen, still dealing with concussion issues) with four guys — Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro — still needing new deals.

So, all signs point to both Larkin and Mantha heading to the Griffins next year. For Larkin, the 15th overall pick in 2014, it’ll be a chance to further impress after scoring five points in six Calder Cup playoff games this year.

For Mantha, the 20th overall pick in ’13, it’ll be a chance to rebound after a tough year in which Red Wings executive Jim Devellano said Mantha was “very, very, very disappointing.”