The Race for the Playoffs
Eastern Conference 6-10
6. New York Rangers | 54 GP | 63 PTS |
7. Buffalo Sabres | 54 GP | 62 PTS |
8. Florida Panthers | 53 GP | 60 PTS |
9. Carolina Hurricanes | 54 GP | 59 PTS |
10. Pittsburgh Penguins | 53 GP | 57 PTS |
The Florida Panthers have won five out of seven and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4¬†in overtime Tuesday night to jump ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 60 pts. They’re a team that won‚Äôt be going away. The Penguins meet the Panthers three more times this season. The Panthers currently have two games in hand on the Penguins
Players Association eyes return to ESPN
Has anyone noticed how much more Hockey coverage ESPN has now compared to last year. In recent weeks the Capitals-Penguins game was the top story on and Tuesday night the matchup between the Bruins and Sharks was rewarded with the top headline which never happened last season unless it was a special occasion like the playoffs.
There is good reason ESPN has picked up their coverage of the NHL this season. As I mentioned about a month ago, ESPN and the National Hockey League remain in talks about the NHL returning to ESPN. The Players Association is the driving force behind a potential return as the NHLPA has been seeking a better television deal. The holdup in a return to ESPN for next season is ESPN wants exclusive rights to the Stanley Cup Finals. Versus currently carries the first two games of the Finals, with NBC carrying 3-7.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a NBA guy and he needs to take a strong look at the NBA’s national t.v. Schedule. The best case scenario for the game of hockey is returning to ESPN, let Versus act as the TNT of the NHL (Televises Game and the Week on Monday, Tuesday ) and has exclusive rights to some playoff games, including exclusive rights to one of the Conference Finals series. NBC carries weekend games in regular season, playoffs and conference finals series that Versus has rights to.
Still, the players association deserves a lot of credit for when the NHL returns to ESPN. May not be for next season but expect ESPN to be televising games by the 2010-2011 season.
Montreal, Pittsburgh in talks?

The Montreal Canadiens are giving Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney a strong look. Whitney is among a group of defenseman the Canadiens have been scouting in recent weeks. If Pittsburgh is interested, the opportunity for a Alexei Kovalev – Ryan Whitney swap is there.
Pittsburgh would have to have some high draft picks coming their way. They are not interested in a straight swap. The Canadiens are shopping Kovalev and in the right deal would move him as they have minimal interest in signing Kovalev to an extension. More on this as details become available tomorrow 
Av’s Shopping Darcy Tucker
The Colorado Avalanche are shopping gritty forward Darcy Tucker. Tucker has 11 points in 42 games this season. Pittsburgh inquired about Tucker at the deadline last year and during free agency this past summer. Tucker has one year remaining on his contract with a cap hit 2.250. I will ask around tomorrow if the Penguins have any interest.
The Penguins have approached the Senators about forwards Shean Donovan and Chris Neil. There is a strong market for Neil who will miss the Senators next five games with a leg injury.
Did the Penguins over-pay for Fleury, Staal and Whitney?
Among the local media there is a lot of discussions going around whether Ray Shero over-paid for some of his young core such as Ryan Whitney, Marc Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal.
Ryan Whitney ( 6 years – $24 million )
Jordan Staal ( 4 years – $16 million)
Marc Andre Fleury (7 years – $35 million)
Paul Krepelka the agent for Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal has had a lot of success negotiating extensions for his clients. The Penguins had a four year deal worth $14 million on the table for Whitney. Krepelka claimed three teams were going to make an RFA offer sheet to Whitney. Offers goes to 6 years worth $24 million.
With Jordan Staal, Shero should have made it known he wouldn’t go above $3 million per season. MY argument would have been how do you deserve more than Zach Parise who signed a four year deal (at age 21) two seasons ago and has two years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of only $3.1 million.
NJD Zach Parise ( 32G-31A-63PTS)
Cap Hit $3.1 million- Signed through 2010-2011
PIT Jordan Staal ( 15G-14A-29PTS)
Cap Hit $4 million – Signed Through 2012-2013
Signing the core has been Shero plan since he was named General Manager but you make a strong argument that maybe signing players to long-term deals based their potential wasn’t the smartest decision when you have over $17 million tied up in two franchise centers and a need to surround them with top tier wingers.
Scouts alert
The Penguins had representatives at the Leafs/Panthers game, Avalanche/Blue Jackets and Kings/Islanders game on Tuesday night.
Photo courtesy of Dan4th