By the end of the slate on Sunday, every playoff series will be through at least two games. After two contests in St. Louis, the Blues have a 2-0 lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will have to orchestrate their comeback without a key player for the next three contests.

Word came across the wire on Sunday that the NHL has suspended Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook for three games due to his crushing high hit on Blues forward David Backes on Saturday. The play resulted in a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and on the ensuing power play, the Blues tied the game with 6.4 seconds remaining; thereafter, they went on to win in overtime.

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Links from around the rink: April 18 

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
For the embattled coaches of the NHL, there was no real "Black Monday" mass firing, as many expected. Despite horribly disappointing seasons for a number of teams -- including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders -- only Barry Trotz, the long-tenured coach of the Nashville Predators was shown the door. While the axe still could fall on Randy Carlyle (Maple Leafs), John Tortorella (Canucks) and Adam Oates (Capitals), Jack Capuano can rest easy on the Isle.

ESPN's Katie Strang reported Monday that Islanders GM Garth Snow has "no intentions" of making a coaching change before the start of the 2014-15 season despite finishing with a record of 34-37-11.

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Fantasy Grapevine: UFA defensemen 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Matt NiskanenCal Sport MediaMatt Niskanen scored a career-high 46 points in 2013-14, but may be headed elsewhere.

Potential fantasy impact of forward signings | Goalies

Conventional hockey wisdom suggests a player on defense benefits more from experience and maturity than a forward, and that a typical NHL defenseman hits peak performance around 27 years of age. No one offers stronger testament to this theory than Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The whole next level of awesome that Niskanen reached this season -- a time during which he celebrated his 27th birthday -- was not only generally unexpected, but exceptionally timely.

Drafted 28th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2005, Niskanen followed up a solid rookie debut in 2007-08 with an even better sophomore campaign. The future for the young blueliner in Dallas appeared bright. But what followed were four remarkably second-rate campaigns, interrupted by a trade to the Penguins. Which brings us to the 2013-14 regular season, when Niskanen erupted for 46 points, capping off an 81-game stint at plus-33. And, wouldn’t you know, it’s a contract year for the former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog. Niskanen’s explosive output and proven durability, cobbled together with this summer’s wafer-thin market for well-rounded defensemen, means the pending unrestricted free agent is about to cash in huge.

Whether that entails re-signing in Pittsburgh or joining another club remains to be seen. With a limited amount of cap space available, GM Ray Shero is unlikely to re-sign both Brooks Orpik and Niskanen. So there’s a healthy chance Niskanen ends up testing the market and inks a lucrative deal elsewhere. The fantasy ramifications of such a move could be significant.

There’s no chicken/egg argument to be made here; Niskanen is a better offensive defenseman because of his supporting cast. Anyone would be more productive skating with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and/or James Neal at even strength and on the power play. The Penguins rank fifth in scoring overall and first in power-play efficiency (tied with the Washington Capitals). So there’s little doubt, in our mind anyway, that Niskanen’s number would suffer slightly elsewhere.

And if he does receive an extension in Pittsburgh -- the club is admittedly keen on his blossoming pairing with rookie Olli Maatta -- there’s the issue of competing with Kris Letang and Paul Martin for the juiciest opportunities. Battling a variety of health issues, Letang and Martin combined for a mere 76 active games this season. If both remain healthy for most of next season, Niskanen could see a reduced role, particularly with the man advantage.

Without argument, Niskanen was a gem when the Penguins needed him to be this season. He’s going to be (over-)paid handsomely for that effort soon. But we’re not convinced another 45-plus-point campaign lies in store for the former first-rounder. Gauge his performance in the postseason and monitor where he lands after July 1, if the Pens don’t sign him to an extension in the meantime. And be cautious in investing a high fantasy draft selection based on a few great months.

Here’s a look at a few other key unrestricted free agent defensemen from around the league:

Andrei Markov, D, Montreal Canadiens

At last check, Markov’s reps and the Canadiens were still working to hash out a new deal for the 35-year-old free-agent-to-be.

"I met with [GM Marc Bergevin] a couple of days ago when they were here [in Florida]," Markov’s agent Sergei Berezin told in early April.

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The NHL regular season came to a close on Sunday and it was Black Monday for Barry Trotz, the league’s longest tenured head coach who was told he would not be back for a 16th season with the Nashville Predators.

ESPN Insider’s Craig Custance takes a look at who might be behind the Predators bench in October and starts with Peter Laviolette, who was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers at the outset of this season.

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As the end of the regular season approaches on Sunday night, 16 of 30 teams are preparing for the playoffs while the remaining 14 are trying to figure out where things went wrong. There will be the customary player movement this offseason, but well before any of that, decisions will be made on the job status of GMs and coaches around the league.

As with the end of any season, there have been rumors regarding the firing of particular coaches; this season, that list has included Barry Trotz (Nashville Predators), Randy Carlyle (Toronto Maple Leafs), Pete DeBoer (New Jersey Devils), Kirk Muller (Carolina Hurricanes) and John Tortorella (Vancouver Canucks). Each situation is quite different -- DeBoer responded, "I don't know," when asked about his future, but there's also a report from TSN that he's close to an extension -- so keep your eyes peeled this week, as those decisions are made.

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Links from around the rink: April 11 

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
For six months, the St. Louis Blues cruised through the NHL season, never once losing three consecutive games and surpassing the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Central Division standings. Come the trade deadline, the Blues shored up their lone perceived weakness by adding goaltender Ryan Miller. Now on the threshold of a postseason in which St. Louis is expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup, it could all be falling apart at the worst possible time.

Thursday night marked the fourth straight loss -- the Blues' longest losing skid of the season -- this one coming at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, a potential first-round playoff opponent. But that scenario requires St. Louis to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, which is far from a guarantee at the moment. As of Friday morning, the Blues stand level with the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division with 111 points through 80 games, one point back of the West-leading Anaheim Ducks. And the Avs own the regulation wins tiebreaker over the Blues as well. If the Blues do fall back to the No. 2 spot in the Central, they would face the reigning-champion Blackhawks in Round 1 of the playoffs instead of the Wild.

[+] EnlargeMiller
Mark Buckner/Getty ImagesRyan Miller has slumped of late for the Blues.
The road back to the top of the division won't be an easy one. Not with the current instability in the the St. Louis net (four goals allowed in each of their four recent losses). Miller's play has been particularly questionable of late. He was pulled after allowing four goals on just 13 shots Thursday night, and owns an .813 save percentage over his past three starts. Meanwhile, across the rink in the Wild crease, 30-year-old John Curry stopped 43 shots to earn his third career win.

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Fantasy Grapevine: UFA goalies 

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller USA TODAY SportsJonas Hiller and Ryan Miller may be wearing different jerseys when the 2014-15 season begins.
Win the Stanley Cup, then worry about the future. With the NHL playoffs at the front of everyone's mind, the two most prominent pending unrestricted free-agent goaltenders have bigger fish to fry before chiseling out their next contracts. But Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller are going to have to make some hefty decisions soon enough, and the fantasy ramifications of how it all shapes up will be significant.

The intention on behalf of the St. Louis Blues regarding their shiny, new-to-them goalie is relatively straightforward: The club wants to re-sign Miller before July 1. But even though he’s said to be open to signing a fresh deal in St. Louis, the 33-year-old may have another preferred destination in mind. Miller’s wife, Noureen DeWulf, is a Hollywood actress; a gig with the Anaheim Ducks -- rising Cup contenders along with the Blues -- would be most convenient, from a geographical perspective.

That brings us to the Ducks’ current No. 1 goalie. Fiercely clutched by general manager Bob Murray ahead of the trade deadline, Hiller has been eight shades of awful leading up to the postseason. Instead, the Anaheim club has relied upon Frederik Andersen, who has been good, and fresh-from-the-minors rookie John Gibson, who has been nearly perfect. If this trend endures through the playoffs, the Ducks may opt to gamble with their two youngsters next season. That means a cheaper option might be on the club’s offseason wish list for the short term, and not a player of Hiller or Miller's ilk. After all, many scouts have high expectations for Gibson, and the reins could be passed to him within the next two seasons.

If that’s how the chips fall, Miller is a good bet to re-sign with the Blues, where he would remain a superb -- if not the very best -- fantasy goalie for 2014-15. As for Hiller, it'll depend on where he ends up. While some clubs are looking for reliable, experienced goaltending, like the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames, others would be open to some internal shuffling if it means snagging a proven No. 1 like Hiller. So who knows where he lands? From a fantasy perspective, a gig with the Sabres is not equivalent to a starting job with other superior clubs.

As for Gibson and Andersen -- but especially Gibson -- we suggest you hold them in somewhat high regard ahead of next season, especially those in dynasty leagues. Two NHL games are still only two games. But, as mentioned above, the former Kitchener Ranger is expected to be the genuine article.

Now here’s a look at a few other fantasy-relevant UFA goalies from around the league:

Jaroslav Halak, Washington Capitals

With respect to the latest bout of drama unfolding between Halak and Capitals coach Adam Oates, we suggest the goalie signs elsewhere this summer.

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Fantasy Grapevine: UFA forwards 

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
Thomas Vanek and Matt MoulsonGetty ImagesThomas Vanek and Matt Moulson have big decisions to make this summer.
There’s a unique state of limbo reserved only for NHL players in the final year of their current contracts. It’s not uncommon to begin the season with one club, join a second for (fingers crossed) a playoff run, only to sign with a third in the offseason. More rare, but not entirely unheard of, is representing four NHL teams in a calendar year. Just ask two former members of the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.

It’ll be interesting to see where pending unrestricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson end up, as they play out the campaign with the Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild, respectively.

Many, if not most, of your favorite NHL pundits favor Vanek to sign with the Wild this summer. Not only did Vanek play college hockey with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but his wife is from the state. From a fantasy perspective -- and that’s what we’re all about here -- there’s undeniable appeal in the thought of the versatile winger skating on a Wild top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Or, with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund. Plus, youngsters Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are only getting better ... you get the idea. There’s plenty of flexibility in finding the right fit and chemistry for Vanek in Minnesota.

That being said, a long playoff run may go a long way in maybe convincing Vanek to re-sign with the Canadiens. That wouldn’t make for such a bad fantasy future, either. Competing with linemates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, Vanek has 14 points in 15 games (as of April 9), and that was after a sluggish start with his new club. Whether he sticks in Montreal or signs with the Wild, Vanek faces an exceptionally bright fantasy future next season.

Meanwhile, Moulson’s offseason options appear more varied and less predictable. Beyond helping the Wild challenge in the playoffs, the former Sabre and Islander seems uncommitted to his new squad long term. At last check, he also essentially ruled out a return to Long Island. So while there’s talk the Florida Panthers might pursue the goal scorer, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings and others, the fact is that Moulson’s future remains up in the air. That’s where we’ll leave it for now, except for pointing out the coincidence that Vanek might end up replacing Moulson on an NHL roster, this time indirectly in Minnesota, for the second time in eight months.

As free-agent forwards with unpredictable playing futures, Vanek and Moulson are hardly alone.

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The Stanley Cup playoffs begin in a little more than a week, which also means that more than a dozen teams will soon be trading in hockey sticks for golf clubs.

We’ll start our links with some speculation regarding teams on course for an early summer vacation.

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It's a battle of attrition for some NHL teams as the playoffs near. We know well how banged up some of the top contenders -- including the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins -- have been as of late, but it's a problem for some of the teams still in the mix for the wild cards.

The Toronto Maple Leafs -- once in firm position as a postseason team -- will be playing without starting netminder Jonathan Bernier from here on out, as he's sustained an MCL strain. Meanwhile, the team that eclipsed them in the standings this weekend -- the New Jersey Devils -- did so without the help of many key players, including Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias, who were dinged up in game action this past week. As of now, Elias, Henrique, Jacob Josefson and Ryane Clowe are considered day to day.

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Fantasy Grapevine: Week 24 

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
Ilya BryzgalovDave Reginek/NHLI/Getty ImagesWith health problems elsewhere in Minnesota's goalie stable, it's Ilya Bryzgalov's show.
Just like that, Ilya Bryzgalov is once again worth discussing as a fantasy-relevant goaltender. The latest injury to Darcy Kuemper has prompted the Minnesota Wild to recall minor league journeyman John Curry from the AHL, suggesting Bryzgalov will be the go-to netminder for the next couple of contests, at least. If Kuemper’s upper-body ailment is even slightly serious, the 33-year-old Russian could start each of the team’s final six games.

Owned in only 13 percent of leagues, Bryzgalov hasn’t had the sweetest of campaigns, shuffling from Edmonton to Minnesota at the trading deadline. But he’s been pretty good lately; stopping a combined 41 of 44 shots, the perennially candid veteran has won two straight. Pushing to lock up a playoff spot in the West, the Wild coaching staff is justified in feeling confident in their experienced No. 2 netminder.

Moreover, Bryzgalov has a lot to prove, not only as a potentially viable candidate to play in the postseason, but as a pending unrestricted free agent. The next few weeks -- starting Thursday -- could significantly influence the former Vezina finalist’s next contract, whether he lands another gig in the NHL or elsewhere. We anticipate an inspired performance from the fantasy dark horse to close out 2013-14, if he's given the opportunity.

Then there’s the Harding factor. On the injured shelf since late December with complications related to his multiple sclerosis treatments, Josh Harding has joined the Wild for practice in Chicago. Whether the squad’s top netminder from earlier this campaign makes a meaningful appearance before the playoffs remains to be seen, but you might want to keep him in mind for postseason fantasy competition.

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In case you missed it, Monday’s Insider content featured our Craig Custance taking a look at why the two-horse race between the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks is so important out West. The loser projects to get the Los Angeles Kings as a difficult first-round opponent.

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Just two weeks remain in the regular season, and the New Jersey Devils are five points out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. So could we be witnessing the final days of Martin Brodeur in an NHL uniform?

The future Hall of Famer doesn’t necessarily think so. Brodeur tells Riche Chere of the Star-Ledger he is “80 percent sure” he’ll play next season and he hasn’t ruled out staying with the Devils.

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The playoff races are in the final stretch, and there were some notable developments thanks to Saturday's outcomes: the Boston Bruins are Atlantic Division champs, thanks to a win over the Washington Capitals; the Colorado Avalanche are headed back to the playoffs in Patrick Roy's first season behind the bench; the New Jersey Devils lost another shootout, and have now only scored one goal in 30 attempts this season. For New Jersey, the missed opportunity against the lowly New York Islanders means that they sit five points behind current wild cards Columbus and Detroit.

The Eastern Conference playoff battle is hottest among teams contending for the wild-card slots, while in the Western Conference, it's more about where the playoff-bound teams will be seeded. That includes the Avs, who are hoping for the best regarding an MRI for Matt Duchene, who suffered a knee injury on Saturday. Each NHL team has between six and nine games remaining, and it may come right down to the final day in some of these races.

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As we prepare for the weekend -- and potentially more signs of spring weather in some areas -- the big story in the hockey world is the report that New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is in talks to sell a majority stake of the team. Given the team's recent struggles, along with Wang's reported unwillingness to spend up to the salary cap, that report is welcomed with a certain amount of optimism by Islanders faithful. Then again, it's unclear what the new owner (or ownership group) would do with the club.

The Isles are set to begin playing at Brooklyn's Barclays Center during the 2015-16 season, though it's unclear whether that will entice potential suitors. Also unclear is the fate of current Isles GM Garth Snow, who has had some major wins, including John Tavares' club-friendly deal, and some major losses (see: the Thomas Vanek trades this season). Just another wrinkle for what promises to be an offseason of intrigue on "The Island."

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