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Vegas' LTIR dance, the Wild's quiet dominance, and 3 stunning Habs stats

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Well, that was anticlimactic.

Jack Eichel may have flashed his elite skating and playmaking abilities Wednesday in a 17-minute debut for the Vegas Golden Knights, but overall, his performance was underwhelming. The former Buffalo Sabres star center recorded one shot on goal, won eight of 19 draws, took two penalties, and was on the ice for one of Colorado's goals in a 2-0 loss.

Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer told reporters postgame that it was a "great first step" for Eichel, who's jumping onto a moving train following a nearly year-long layoff. DeBoer's not wrong, Eichel will be fine in time.

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Of course, the more interesting part of Eichel's debut was the manner in which he was activated off long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon announced Monday that captain and presumed Eichel linemate Mark Stone and his $9.5-million salary-cap hit would be placed on LTIR, freeing more than enough space to fit Eichel's $10 million.

Stone, who missed time earlier this season, is dealing with a nagging back problem. Yet the convenient timing of his move to LTIR raised more than a few conspiratorial eyebrows across the hockey world. Similar to Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov in 2015 and 2021, respectively, Stone could potentially be reinserted into the lineup for the first game of the playoffs, where teams can exceed the limit because there's no postseason salary cap.

(It's also possible Stone returns prior to the playoffs, which would force Vegas to shed salary ahead of the March 21 trade deadline. McCrimmon has said Stone's recovery timeline is currently "impossible to predict.")

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I poked around a bit this week to see if rival team executives were irked by what appears on the surface to be another convenient LTIR situation.

The consensus view from a few conversations: The 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks, 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning, and (perhaps) the 2021-22 Golden Knights aren't doing anything egregious. LTIR rules, which were agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA in collective bargaining, allow this kind of maneuvering given the player is, in fact, injured. Clubs are just finding a competitive advantage within the CBA's scope.

"I know the league is making sure teams aren't abusing their LTIR - and I don't think anyone's abusing it, to be clear - but it's a loophole and teams are jumping through it," one executive said. "It sort of is what it is."

"Someday it might be us," the exec said, laughing.

"Look," a second executive said, "if the Leafs traded for a really good player and Auston Matthews got hurt and they shut him down for three months and brought him back for the playoffs, so be it. There's a level playing field here."

If anyone has an issue with what's going on, fingers should be pointing at the NHL and the players' union, not the teams. Besides, if enough influential people started voicing their displeasure behind the scenes, the league could theoretically rewrite the LTIR rules to punish a team for exploiting this loophole by, say, not allowing the injured player to compete in the first game or two of the playoffs.

"They can definitely amend it with the players' consent," the first exec noted. "I've always thought a good solution is to just put in some kind of penalty."

Or, as the second exec pointed out, let teams continue to do the LTIR dance as is. There's no guarantee it'll work out, anyway. Vegas, for instance, is not only without its No. 1 winger for an extended period but is also unable to test out a line of Eichel-Stone-Max Pacioretty until, potentially, the playoffs.

"Yeah, you're benefiting from the salary cap, and so on and so forth, but you're also hurting your team," the second exec said.

Wild's quiet dominance

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Six teams currently boast a points percentage of .700 or higher, and five of them (Colorado, Florida, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Toronto) are generating plenty of buzz as legitimate Stanley Cup front-runners.

Minnesota - the other .700 team - has been, from my observations, mainly labeled a fringe contender. It's a bit unfair, although the disconnect may be as simple as this: The Wild's biggest strength is their depth, and depth isn't sexy.

Kirill Kaprizov is the Wild's lone star attraction, with the crafty Russian winger tied for seventh in league scoring with 59 points in 44 contests. Yet, since another 11 Wild skaters have points-per-game rates of 0.50 or higher, Minnesota owns the third-best offense as measured by goals per game (3.8).

Dean Evason's team comes at the opposition in waves.

"We want to be an aggressive team, a team that's attacking at all times and on the right side of the puck at all times," captain Jared Spurgeon said in an interview earlier this week. "Having that depth definitely helps keep us fresh. Guys can go over the boards feeling like they're really able to attack, attack."

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Six players have already reached double digits in goals - Kaprizov (22), Ryan Hartman (19), Marcus Foligno (17), Joel Eriksson Ek (15), Mats Zuccarello (15), and Kevin Fiala (14). Matt Boldy has dealt with multiple injuries in his rookie season but is close to joining the list; in 14 games, the rangy winger has pitched in seven goals (including a hat trick Monday) and seven assists.

"He's pretty special," Spurgeon said of Boldy. "Just the way he can shield the puck from opponents and the vision he has on the ice - not just passing-wise and how he can create for his linemates, but he also has a great shot."

"For being 20 years old, Bolds is so mature and so calm and cool with the puck," the blue-liner added. "He's very confident in his skill set, but at the same time, he's just out there having fun, making plays. He's been awesome."

The depth extends to other areas. Ice time is split fairly evenly between the top two defensive pairings, and between the pipes, starter Cam Talbot (29 starts) is sharing the workload with the promising Kaapo Kahkonen (16).

Amazingly, the Wild have had only one extended losing streak all season, dropping five straight games from Dec. 11 to Jan. 1, despite playing in a competitive Central Division.

"We have a mature group, and we know what we need to fix. So the next night we try to get back to our game," said Spurgeon, the longest-tenured Wild player. "It's the maturity of the group and the depth that we have at all positions."

You can say that again.

3 stunning Habs stats

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The Montreal Canadiens have earned 25 points in 49 games for a .255 points percentage, the lowest rate since the salary cap was introduced in 2005-06.

The Habs' results thus far have been worse than the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings (.275) and 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche (.293). They're even well behind this year's so-obviously tanking Arizona Coyotes (.292). Trades made ahead of the March 21 deadline (like Tyler Toffoli earlier this week) will do nothing to help the on-ice product in Montreal.

Extreme winning/losing tends to bring out stunning stats. Here's a few:

The Canadiens have lost by three or more goals 23 times. In 2022 alone, they've lost 14 of their 16 games - eight of them by three or more goals, including blowouts of 8-2, 7-2, and 7-1. Sad and demoralizing.

Montreal is the only team without a player in the top 100 in scoring. Nick Suzuki is tied for 126th (28 points). Toffoli, who's now with Calgary, is tied for 142nd (27). Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen are both tied for 227th (20).

The Habs have a five-on-five expected goals against per 60 minutes rate of 2.81. In other words, not only are they losing often, and by a lot, but they're also getting destroyed territorially. Since shot-based metrics started being tracked in 2007-08, only the 2010-11 Islanders (2.84) and 2012-13 Hurricanes (2.82) have recorded worse five-on-five xGA/60 rates, according to Evolving Hockey.

Parting thoughts

Old guard: What a week for dudes over 30. Drew Doughty, 32, played in his 1,000th game. Sidney Crosby, 34, became the 46th player in NHL history to reach 500 goals. Alex Ovechkin, 36, scored his 30th and 31st of the season to stay in the hunt for the "Rocket" Richard and Hart trophies. And Jaromir Jagr, who turned 50 on Tuesday, laced up in Czechia's top pro league.

Dallas Stars: Of the NHL's 32 teams, the Stars might be the biggest unknown with just a month left before the trade deadline. They're right around the playoff cut line in the Western Conference and certainly have enough talent to secure a postseason spot down the stretch. Yet John Klingberg is reportedly on the trade block and Joe Pavelski, if made available, would be a hot commodity. That's two veterans who could command a haul of draft picks and prospects. Is it worth selling, though? Does general manager Jim Nill instead stand pat? Buy, even?

Sam Reinhart: Following seven dreadful seasons in Buffalo, Reinhart is enjoying a career year with the juggernaut Florida Panthers, recording 45 points in as many games. The 26-year-old winger is also enjoying how the intensity can really ratchet up in the regular season when there's something to play for. That said, as Reinhart humorously pointed out to reporters after Florida's 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, it's all so fresh.

Takes, Thoughts, and Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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