Cross Checks: Florida Panthers

John VanbiesbrouckMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJohn Vanbiesbrouck was heads and shoulders above the competition in the 1996 finals.
Florida Panthers fans, we know you're out there. We've heard about you. As a matter of fact, in 1996, it was like an infestation or something.

More to the point, we know you've had some great players to watch in your day. Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo (twice!), Scott Mellanby, John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Paul Laus, Olli Jokinen, Rob Niedermayer, Jay Bouwmeester, Peter Worrell. Not a bad list.

So show us you're all-in, no matter how lousy your team has been since, well, pretty much ever, and help us pick your favorite player in franchise history. Tell us who you feel is truly Mr. Panther. If one player could represent the Panthers in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which one would it be?

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.


PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps emotionally driven and certainly frustrated, veteran general manager Bryan Murray revealed more than a little after the NHL draft Saturday regarding his failed attempts so far to trade star center Jason Spezza.

For starters, the Ottawa Senators GM said a potential deal with the Nashville Predators was scuttled because Spezza didn’t want to go there -- the Preds are on Spezza’s list of 10 teams he won’t go to.

"[Preds GM] David [Poile] talked to me, and we couldn’t go there," Murray said. "I told [Spezza’s agent] Rick Curran that today, I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but he was on the list of no-goes."

Poile also confirmed the potential deal.

“I've talked to Bryan about Jason, and I was told through [Spezza’s] agent that he didn’t want to play for us. And that was confirmed by Bryan," Poile said Saturday.

The hint was that Murray could have gotten Patric Hornqvist and Nic Spaling, the two players who went to Pittsburgh for James Neal.

“They’ve done their James Neal trade, so that has gone away,” Murray said. "Anaheim’s gone away with Kesler, so the field narrows a little bit. But yeah, they might need to have a little change in approach, as well as I do.”

The question now is whether Spezza would consider changing his mind on Nashville if his situation drags on. After all, he is the one who asked for a trade.

“Maybe David and I will have a conversation later on, I don’t know that,” Murray said. "We talked today but didn’t indicate anything about a trade because of the Neal trade. But he may come back to me.”

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNashville is one of the 10 teams that Jason Spezza will not accept a trade to.
But a source close to Spezza told ESPN.com that, at this point, he has no intention of changing his mind on Nashville.

It’s clear that the classy Poile had a hint of frustration in his voice as he talked about Spezza not wanting to go to Nashville.

“I’m not going to pitch somebody if they don’t want to play for us,” Poile said. "This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

Poile sees Nashville as an attractive place for a player with a team that’s improving.

“I want to be optimistic. I think we’re closer than a lot of people are giving us credit for," Poile said.

“I have no problem selling my team, and I think it’s an easy sell. What we have on the ice, what we have off the ice, the city, the atmosphere, no state taxes, there’s a lot of advantages to playing in Nashville.”

And what he’d dearly love is a center of Spezza’s talents, or perhaps Paul Stastny (UFA on Tuesday).

“If I had it on my wish list, I would like to get a No. 1 center, and we’re going to try to get that,” Poile said. "If that happens the next couple of days or it happens in free agency or it happens through a trade that would be great. If it doesn’t happen right now, I have patience. I don’t think we really have an age problem on our team, but I think we’re really getting the correct pieces in place to be a more competitive club than we’ve been in the last couple of years.”

For the Senators, it may very well be that once Stastny is taken off the market, some of the teams who were chasing him will come back on Spezza.

"We’ll continue to talk and, over the course of time, I’m sure people that miss out on July 1 may come knocking, but we’ll have to wait and see," Murray said.

"Jason’s a 80-90 point guy, and you don’t get that return in any kind of trade in this league today, but I’m hoping we get something fair for the organization, so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there."

A source told ESPN.com that Murray had another conversation about Spezza with St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong on Saturday morning, the Senators trying to pry the Blues’ second-round pick in a possible package. But the Blues stood pat for now, although it’s believed their interest in Spezza remains strong. The same can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks, although they’ve got to figure out their salary-cap situation to have any chance to make a deal work with Ottawa.

The Blues also have interest in Stastny, so that’s another potential avenue, although half the teams in the league have approached Stastny’s camp.

HABS TRY TO MOVE GORGES
Talk about out of left field, news broke by my TSN teammate Bob McKenzie on Saturday that the Maple Leafs and rival Montreal Canadiens had talked about a potential Josh Gorges trade. Only one problem, Toronto isn’t among the 15 teams that Gorges has listed on his partial no-trade provision as clubs he’s willing to go to. But what it does tell you is that Gorges is in play, only thing is, Montreal needs to find a partner among those 15 teams listed.

Gorges, 29, has four more years on his deal at a $3.9 million cap hit.

The Leafs did trade for a blueliner, getting Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick. Toronto retained $200,000 of cap space in the transaction.

NEW SALARY CAP
Perhaps the biggest buzz item of the weekend was the salary cap, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announcing Friday that it would be $69 million for next season.

That’s about $1 million less than what most teams had budgeted for, which is no small deal.

For teams like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, every dime matters when you’re a cap team and having a lower-than-expected cap greatly affects potential moves and certainly the ability to spend.

"Yeah, it affects every team that’s close," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Saturday. "It affects us for sure. We’ve got to find a way to get below it. It was a little lower than we thought and hoped."

The Blackhawks are trying to find a No. 2 center, the Bruins had hoped to re-sign Jarome Iginla, the Rangers have Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman headed to free agency, and the list goes on.

Having a cap that’s a $1 million less than expected is far from ideal for many of these cap teams.

What’s most interesting is that in the negotiations over setting the cap number, it was the NHL Players’ Association wanting it at $69 million while the league wanted it at $70 million. The NHLPA’s concern was that a $70-million cap would lead to more escrow payments for players next year.

That’s a valid point, it’s just rare for the players to be arguing for less spending and the league wanting more.

"Role reversal," chuckled one team executive.

STARS BUSY?
Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets.

Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza.

What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause.

AVS TO TALK TO STASTNY
Agent Matt Keator was a popular man this week in Philadelphia, courted by half the teams in the league on the subject of his client and pending UFA center Paul Stastny.

It’s clear Colorado will need to boost its last offer to Stastny (believed to be a number that starts with 5) in order to retain his services.

"We’re going to continue talking, I’m going to talk to him probably tomorrow," Avs executive Joe Sakic said Saturday. "We’ll see where we’re at."

Stastny dearly wants to stay in Denver. But he’s going to get offered more money elsewhere, so he will have to balance those two thoughts.

"That’s what you get when you’re an UFA, the ultimate decision is Paul’s," Sakic said. "I’m sure there’s lots of teams that have interest, where they’re going to go financially, I don’t know, but I know what we can do. Hopefully it will work out, but we’ll see."

ALFIE'S FUTURE
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, continues to mull over his playing future.

"I think right now, Daniel -- not unlike a lot of veteran guys in his situation and his age -- just wants to take his time and make the right decision," his agent J.P. Barry of CAA said Saturday. "He wants to feel 100 percent before he makes any decision.

"I think he’s leaning towards playing, we all think that, but at the same time he needs that time in the summer to feel 100 percent."

If Alfredsson does return, it’s likely only for Detroit.

NISKANEN READY FOR MARKET
Matt Niskanen is almost surely gone from Pittsburgh, the cap-challenged Penguins unable to match what the UFA blueliner will fetch on the open market both in term and dollars.

Don’t be surprised to see Niskanen and his agent Neil Sheehy fetch north of $5 million a year and term around five or six years for the puck-mover.

FLORIDA'S NO. 1 PICK
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was close on one particular offer to trade away the No. 1 overall pick Friday night.

And while Philadelphia and Vancouver made strong pitches, the club that made Tallon think the most was Tampa Bay, a source said.

Imagine if the two Florida clubs had gotten together for that kind of blockbuster.


For years Dan Boyle tuned in on July 1 to watch all the fun.

He was never personally involved, so he would watch from afar with interest.

Now that’s changed, and for the first time in his career he’s going to market himself.

"It’s definitely exciting to watch when you’re not involved. It’s definitely a different experience when you’re in the middle of it," Boyle told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

The window for teams to reach out to other unrestricted free agents opened at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. And the Boyle camp was a popular target.

"Good deal of interest, there are going to be good options for him," Boyle’s agent, George Bazos, said Wednesday. "We’ll sift through it the next few days and see where it all leads."

All they can do is talk, nobody can sign a free agent from another team until July 1. But within the rules of the UFA talking window, teams can certainly lay out the parameters which they’d be willing to agree to.

"We’re just trying to figure out what the place for me would be and there’s definitely a few options out there," Boyle said.

Getting a two-year deal is very important and Bazos is confident he can make it happen for Boyle, who turns 38 on July 12. Contracts signed by players who are 35 and over count against the salary cap regardless of whether the players complete them or not. That’s why there’s risk involved.

"I still think he can really help a team, he’s still a great skater and a terrific character guy," said one Eastern Conference team executive Wednesday.

Boyle indeed remains a terrific skater and puck mover, so two years doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

"It’s not to say that I can’t play any longer than that, but mentally and physically I’ve committed myself to two years. I feel great right now," Boyle said.

"The only thing I know for sure is that I have two very good years left in me and then I can see after that."

While neither Boyle nor Bazos would divulge which teams had already shown interest, other sources around the league confirmed Toronto, Detroit and the New York Rangers were among the several teams that have shown interest in Boyle.

One source described the Maple Leafs' interest as "serious." And the Rangers are also very interested, especially pending the outcome of talks with UFA D-man Anton Stralman.

And of course the New York Islanders remain an option. Montreal had a bit of interest in case talks with Andrei Markov went south, but now that he’s re-signed, the Canadiens are likely not a player on Boyle.

Elsewhere:
  • Agent Matt Keator’s phone started ringing at 12:01 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning when the UFA talking window opened, with lots of teams calling in a hurry on Paul Stastny, the top center available on the UFA market.

    In the meantime, the Colorado Avalanche will be kept in the mix throughout.

    "Paul’s first choice is to re-sign in Colorado but we’ll listen to what teams have to say and make an informed decision," Keator told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning.

    According to a source, the St. Louis Blues were among the many teams that reached out to the Stastny camp. Given the Blues’ pursuit of Jason Spezza, getting Stastny instead would be a cheaper acquisition in terms of not having to give up assets to get him.
  • Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon keeps listening on offers for the first overall pick, but as of Wednesday at noon ET still nothing close enough to get a deal done.

    "Not much new," Tallon told ESPN.com. "There’s some offers from teams in the middle of the pack. But I want to stay top 10 if I can."

    To move down, Tallon would want an established player that fits into his team’s young core. Plus, as he said, he still wants to pick in the top 10.

    Right now, that offer isn’t there.

    "We’re in a good spot. We’ll take the pick if nobody steps up," said Tallon, who expected the offers to get more serious as we get close to Friday evening’s first round.
  • Talks are ongoing between the Montreal Canadiens and captain Brian Gionta (UFA July 1). Agent Brian Bartlett said Wednesday he was "cautiously optimistic" something could get done with the Habs, although finding the right term/dollar match remains a work in progress. Bartlett also said other teams had already called to inquire about Gionta once the window opened Wednesday.



The Colorado Avalanche are at an interesting crossroads in their rebirth as a buzzworthy team.

They've won back some of their fan base after a surprising and exciting 2013-14 season that saw the team razzle-dazzle its way to a playoff berth. The sky seems to be the limit with youngsters Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene leading the way.

But now comes the business part of the equation: two of their top forwards need new contracts, center Paul Stastny a pending UFA while Ryan O'Reilly will soon be RFA and carries his own unique set of circumstances.

It's not like the Avs are up against the salary cap, far from it. But it's about keeping things within the organization's financial landscape when it comes to trying to sign both important forwards.

"They're both part of our core, and we'd like to have them both here," Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the team's executive vice president of hockey operations, told ESPN.com Thursday evening. "That said, we have our internal structure; we don't want to change that. We signed Landeskog, Duchene and [Semyon] Varlamov all within our core structure, and we’d like to have both Ryan and Paul fit in there as well."

Ah, but what exactly is the magic number?

Stastny, 28, is coming off a five-year deal that paid him $6.6 million per season. One assumes the Avs would like to bring him back at less than that number. Tough call for Stastny, who would easily be the No. 1 targeted center on an otherwise lean UFA crop come July 1.

As soon as Wednesday, other teams are allowed as per the new CBA to reach out to Stastny's agent, Matt Keator.

"Paul has been open about the fact he wants to stay in Denver," Keator said Friday. "We will keep talking with Joe throughout the process and give them every chance to retain Paul. We will meet next week and see where things go."

The plan is for Keator and Sakic to speak in Las Vegas during the NHL awards.

"I'm going to touch base and see Matt next week," Sakic said. "But I also understand Paul has the right to listen to other teams. We hope we can keep Paul, but he's in that situation where it's his choice. I don't blame him if they choose to see what's out there."

Then there's O'Reilly, at 23 already a fierce team leader and coming off a career-high 28 goals, which led the team (he was third in points with 64). On the one hand, he's one of Patrick Roy's favorite players, which the head coach and vice president of hockey operations reiterated at a Thursday news conference in Denver. On the flip side, there's history here with O'Reilly resolving a contract dispute with the team after the lockout by signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avs matched it the same day.

And, Sakic warned, any team trying that again will see the same result.

"We're going to match that," Sakic said, when asked about a possible offer sheet for the restricted free agent.

The team announced last Sunday that O’Reilly was designated for club-elected salary arbitration.

It's certainly within the team's rights in the CBA, but not usually a popular move with the player.

The sensitive disagreement right now resides with O'Reilly having been paid $6.5 million in salary this past season but as the team points out, carrying a $5 million cap hit (because the two-year deal had a $3.5 million salary in Year 1).

While agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports no doubt would like the departure point in discussions to be $6.5 million, the Avs in turn no doubt would point to the $5 million cap hit as a good place to start.

In arbitration, a player can't be awarded anything less than 85 percent of his base salary from the year before, so O'Reilly is guaranteed at least $5.525 million as an award. Whether that's a decrease in salary or a raise depends on each viewpoint.

"He was a $5 million cap hit this year, so to me it's still a raise," Sakic said. "I mean, at the end of the day, you have to look at the whole contract. That's beside the point; my first option would be to sign him long term and avoid arbitration. The whole idea, though, with arbitration is that if we don't get to an agreement is have an arbitrator dictate what's a right deal, whether that's one or two years. From our standpoint, we want Ryan O'Reilly here."

What the Avs have going for them in terms of leverage is that they've once again become a destination team. They're on the rise. Players around the league are going to want to hitch a ride on this train over the next number of years.

Just like the old days.

"I think so," said Sakic, part of two Cup-winning sides in Denver as a player. "We've got great young players. With Patty coaching, we have a great system. The fans have come back, it's a great city to live in, but at the end of the day you have to win. Winning gets players interested. All players want to win. If you can put a winning product on the ice, and you look at the players we have, I think this is a destination [free agents] will at least look at."

Which is precisely part of the front office's sales pitch on both Stastny and O'Reilly. This team is going places. Why would you want to leave now?

"Well, it is," agreed Sakic about the team's direction. "We'll have Ryan for at least two years but we hope it's longer-term. Paul has spent his whole career here, he loves the city. From my point of view, I'll respect whatever decision he makes, and hopefully it'll be [to stay] here. I was a UFA too, I know the situation and I respect the process. At the end of the day, it’s going to be Paul's situation and I hope he stays here. If not, I wish him the best. But we’d like both players to remain part of our core."

Gallant in running for Panthers' gig
As we reported in Thursday's blog, the Florida Panthers hope to have a coach in place by Monday.

While Dan Bylsma had started off as the strong front-runner, we keep hearing that Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant has made strong headway in the discussion. Stay tuned.

Spezza, Kesler, Thornton talk
The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues are among the clubs to watch when it comes to the big-name free-agent centers.

Both clubs, we hear, have talked to the Vancouver Canucks about Ryan Kesler and to the Ottawa Senators about Jason Spezza, although they are hardly alone; several clubs have checked in on both available assets.

It's not surprising that Anaheim has inquired about both, as the Ducks' desire for a high-end No. 2 center is hardly a state secret, especially when the club tried too hard to get Kesler at the March 5 trade deadline.

What we're hearing out of both Ottawa and Vancouver is that the price is too high for each center, perhaps because we haven’t gotten to draft week yet in Philadelphia when things are expected to heat up.

Then again, the Canucks view Kesler as quite a bargain at a $5 million cap hit the next two seasons. Spezza has only a year left on his deal, but his offensive talent is a major drawing card the Senators are banking on cashing in on a trade.

It just so happens that the Senators and Ducks made a big trade a year ago -- the Bobby Ryan deal -- which among other assets netted Anaheim a first-round pick in next week’s draft. Because Ottawa surprisingly missed the playoffs, that pick became the 10th overall selection. I’m willing to bet the farm that Sens GM Bryan Murray would want that 10th overall pick back as part of the package in a Spezza deal with Anaheim. And I’m equally willing to bet that Ducks GM Bob Murray does not want to part with it.

On the Joe Thornton front, one thing to keep in mind amid all these trade rumors, as far as I can tell the San Jose Sharks captain has not indicated that he wants to leave San Jose. And since he has a no-movement clause, that means he won’t be moved until the day comes he changes his mind. Could he change his mind at some point? Sure. But we’ve yet to hear that.

In the meantime, teams have called to inquire about Thornton.

One club we’re told that is intrigued is the Detroit Red Wings, although at this point it's just that, pure intrigue and other than a very preliminary discussion, there hasn't been much work done on that front.

For starters, I don’t think Detroit can do something of that magnitude as long as Stephen Weiss and his $4.9 million cap hit remains on the books for the next four years. Good luck moving that contract.

Secondly, who's to say Thornton would include Detroit on his list of teams if the day should ever come that he decides to accept a deal?

It’s worth repeating, there’s no indication yet that Thornton wants to move on. At least not yet.
John Stevens knew he had a decent shot at being a head coach again, and most of the rest of the hockey world did, too.

It’s believed the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, would have wanted to chat with him as part of their coaching searches.

But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sticking with a Stanley Cup champion isn’t such a bad thing, and the Los Angeles Kings made sure staying was a really good thing by promoting Stevens on Wednesday from assistant coach to associate head coach (read: pay raise).

[+] EnlargeJohn Stevens
Abelimages/Getty ImagesJohn Stevens stayed with the Kings because he's happy, not because of a succession plan.
And with that, a fairly hot name was taken off the coaching market.

"I think the promotion, the confidence the organization has shown in me, they pulled me off the scrap heap and brought me out here four years ago, I feel indebted for that," Stevens told ESPN.com Wednesday night.

"But I love being part of this group. I’ve never been in a hurry to move on to something else. I was more than willing to put my time in the minors because I loved what I was doing. And to me it’s not about the next step always, it’s about being with good people and doing what you love to do. That’s certainly my situation right now and that’s why I chose to stay."

He’ll be a head coach again one day in the NHL, just not now.

"I think I’ll get those opportunities one day, but it’s not something I wake up thinking about," Stevens said. "I love to coach, and I love being in a position where we have a chance to win, and we certainly have that here."

We talk a lot about championship teams trying to keep their players together, but it’s just as important to keep the front office and coaching staff together.

On May 9, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi promoted Mike Futa to vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, a step up from co-director of amateur scouting. The Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season (before they hired Tim Murray as GM) and the Canucks this spring (before they hired Jim Benning as GM) had sought permission to talk with Futa. The Canucks never got to. Lombardi made sure of it with the promotion.

Now he’s done the same with Stevens.

It tells you a lot, too, about coach Darryl Sutter. Stevens had been brought to L.A. four years ago to work alongside coach Terry Murray.

"And that was terrific working with Terry again," said Stevens, who worked with Murray in Philadelphia.

When Murray was fired midway though the 2011-12 season, Sutter inherited Stevens. That’s not always a great situation, but the two veteran coaches formed a solid relationship, evidenced by Stevens’ decision to stay put.

"You get to know Darryl, he’s just an honest man, right?" Stevens said. "There’s no B.S. with Darryl. If you’re committed to winning and committed to doing everything for the team to help them win, I think you’ll get along fine with Darryl."

One of the popular theories out there is that Stevens stayed put because there’s some sort of succession plan for him to eventually replace Sutter as coach. Not so, Stevens said.

"I stayed because I wanted to stay with this group in my current role -- period," he said.

A Kings front office source also said that no such plan exists, that this was simply Sutter and the Kings wanting to keep Stevens -- and the feeling was very much mutual.

Elsewhere ...

-- Talks between Paul Stastny’s camp and the Colorado Avalanche are expected to continue next week in Las Vegas at the annual NHL awards. Stastny is a pending unrestricted free agent and easily would be the top center available on the July 1 market. The Avs also have the Ryan O'Reilly contract situation on their hands (he’s a restricted free agent and the team elected club arbitration on him), so there’s a few hot potatoes the Avs are juggling right now.

-- The Florida Panthers continue to entertain inquiries for their first overall pick for next week’s draft.

"We've had one, maybe two, concrete offers," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com. "About 8-10 teams have showed interest but at this point nothing I would do. We'll see what happens next week."

Tallon also said he hoped to have a new coach in place by Monday. Gerard Gallant, Tom Renney, Dan Bylsma and Marc Crawford are among the candidates.

NEW YORK -- It has been speculated for a while now, but Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray confirmed for the first time Wednesday that his star center Jason Spezza has asked out.

And Murray’s phone has been ringing.

"There are a few teams that have asked me about him, what the cost is," Murray said after the GMs meeting Wednesday. "I suggested at least we'll have discussions. I don't want to trade the guy, really, and I know I won't get the value, in all likelihood that I should get for him. But I think that Jason feels maybe there's a change that he would like to have happen, and if that's the case we'll try to do what we can."

The asking price won’t only include futures in return.

"Obviously I'd like to win a hockey game next year, so getting a player back that can play in the league, that has played in the league, would be important," Murray said.

Murray said Wednesday’s GMs meeting is not really much of an opportunity to get a lot done in terms of trade discussions.

"It's such a short time together," he said. "You get a chance to talk to two guys, but not widespread by any means. We're all kicking tires right now. It'll probably be another few weeks, at least, before anything comes down that might be a worthwhile trade talking about."

PANTHERS COACHING LIST
[+] EnlargeDan Blysma
Chuck Myers/Getty ImagesDan Bylsma interviewed for the Florida Panthers' head coach position on Tuesday.
Florida GM Dale Tallon said his exhaustive coaching search is down to six candidates: Dan Bylsma, Ron Wilson, Gerard Gallant, Marc Crawford, Bill Peters and Tom Renney.

Tallon also told my TSN colleague Darren Dreger that Bylsma had a strong interview on Tuesday.

PITTSBURGH CHANGES COMING
Had a chance to chat with new Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford and he’s got his hands full with a team that has seven forwards, three defenseman and a goalie all headed to unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Are more changes afoot in Pittsburgh after GM Ray Shero and head coach Bylsma were let go? You bet.

"Well there’s going to be changes because we have so many UFAs. And we don’t have a lot of cap space," Rutherford told a small group of reporters.

"Are you asking me are there going to be major trades? I don’t know. Talked to some people, some people came after me today and there’s ideas out there. I haven’t been throwing any ideas out but I’ll listen. But obviously there’s going to be some new players there because just the position we’re in with the cap."

It’s believed the team will move on without veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and there’s a possibility the Pens could move scoring winger James Neal to get younger up front and to free up cap space.

One player Rutherford is intrigued by is defenseman Matt Niskanen, who had a breakout year for the Penguins and is slated for free agency but would like to stay in Pittsburgh.

“He had a good year," Rutherford said. "And trying to figure that out. It’s not going to easy but certainly with the year he had we’d like to take a look at him."

The longtime Carolina GM has not yet talked with captain Sidney Crosby.

“Maybe at some point. Right now we got the coach and the draft and free agency," Rutherford said. "Been calling trying to say hello to players and half of them are wrong numbers and they’re off on vacation somewhere. I’m trying to get as much done as I can in a short period of time."

He would like to have a coach in place before free agency starts July 1.

KANE/TOEWS UPDATE
Confirming what we quoted agent Pat Brisson as saying last week, the Chicago Blackhawks are in talks to extend the contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and would like to get it done by July 1.

"I've had discussions with Pat, I'll continue that," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said after the GMs meeting. "I'm very optimistic about that. We've been very consistent with we're going to make it happen. I know [from] talking to Pat they certainly want to be in Chicago. It's a negotiation. I would say nothing has changed my thoughts all along, which is we'll get it done. It's still June 11 or 12th, and we've still got a few more weeks before we do anything."

As per the collective bargaining agreement, July 1 is the earliest players could be signed to extensions, one year out from the expiry of their current deals. But it’s clearly important to Bowman to get it done by July 1 because that allows him to plan out the rest of his offseason moves.

"Very eager," Bowman said of getting it done by July 1. "That's been our No. 1 objective all along and I'm expecting to meet that."

Trying to keep his team together and keeping an eye on the salary cap remains as always a challenge for the Hawks, who spend to the max.

"I always have concerns. I wouldn't be, that's part of my job looking forward," Bowman said. "You can't look year to year, you have to look two or three years out and obviously you know a year from now there should be a kind of bump with the new TV deal, but you still don't want to assume anything. You have to be planning your moves two and three years ahead, which we're doing. We have ideas what that entails. We're not going to share that. We've been doing this long enough that we know what has to happen. Then if the cap goes up more than you expect, that's great. We're not assuming anything. We realize it's a puzzle to put together and we'll make it work."

WEBER STAYING PUT
For whatever reason, every once in a while another Shea Weber trade rumor pops up.

It befuddles veteran Nashville Predators GM David Poile because he remains adamant he’s not moving his star blueliner.

"We’re keeping him, we’re building our franchise around him," Poile said after the GMs meeting. "I think we’ve got one of the best young defenses in the league. I think he’s got an excellent chance of winning the Norris Trophy in 11 or 12 days from now. Why wouldn’t we build our team around him? That’s exactly what we’re doing. We just need one or two forwards and when we get that, you’ll be saying, 'Imagine that someone ever thought they would trade Shea Weber?' No, we are not trading Shea Weber."

SABRES CHATTER
Sabres GM Tim Murray says he’d like to pick up another first-round draft pick to add to the second overall pick he already has.

"I can’t imagine I would trade the second overall pick," Murray said. "I’d like to get a couple of more first-round picks and I have those three third-rounders to us. I certainly know you can’t trade a second for a first, but you might take some money back in a deal to do that and I do have to get to the [cap] floor. There are different ways to get to the floor so I’m exploring all that."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this report
The offseason activity is beginning to pick up around the league as the games wind down. We made a few phone calls Wednesday to catch up on a few interesting situations around the league:
  • Now that Jim Benning was officially announced as Canucks GM, the search will be on for a head coach in Vancouver. Barry Trotz will likely be among the top candidates. The well-respected bench boss, who was Nashville's coach for 17 years, has already met with the Washington Capitals, and word is he’s also going to meet with the Florida Panthers about their coaching vacancy.

    The Canucks, by the way, sped up the process on Benning once Pittsburgh fired GM Ray Shero on Friday, apparently fearful that the Penguins would be all over Benning, Boston’s assistant GM.
  • Speaking of the Penguins, after mega-agent Pat Brisson turned down Pittsburgh’s overtures to fill the GM void, the search continues. Six or seven candidates are in play as of Wednesday, two being Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois and Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Norm Maciver. Don’t have a feel yet for who’s the front-runner but those are two of the guys who will get a look at the very least.
  • Despite repeated reports linking Wayne Gretzky to Washington, it doesn’t sound as though The Great One and the Capitals are a match at this point. Whether it’s for president of hockey operations or another high-end executive job, at this hour, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Which is too bad, because No. 99 in that kind of role would be a great asset. The Maple Leafs talked to Gretzky about a similar role last summer but talks didn’t produce a deal. That job went to Brendan Shanahan last month.
  • Sticking with the Caps, one industry source (not a Caps source) believed Wednesday that Washington will most likely reach out to fired Penguins GM Ray Shero at some point. It’s believed Paul Fenton (Preds assistant GM) and Don Sweeney (Bruins assistant GM) are among other candidates in the mix for the GM job.
  • And finally, where will Ryan Miller land? The decision by the St. Louis Blues to not try to re-sign him after a first-round playoff exit was probably a mutual decision anyway. It means Miller is headed to the July 1 unrestricted free agency market for the first time in his career, which was pretty much always the plan. He’s been linked for almost a year to the Anaheim Ducks, perhaps because Miller’s wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so the fit would certainly work from that perspective. But a source told ESPN.com Wednesday that the Ducks have decided to stick with the kids in net, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, and do not plan on courting Miller. You can also rule out fellow California club San Jose. The word out of there is that the Sharks are going to continue to focus on their mini-rebuild and it’s about youth for them. Adding veteran players is not in the cards in San Jose.

Here's the standard pattern when NHL coaches are hired: The new coach sits at a table or stands at a podium and describes how he wants to correct the mistakes of his predecessor, or outlines his philosophies and how he sees good things ahead for Team A or B or J. And then the first question the fan or the radio host wants to know is: Is he a good fit?

It's a great throwaway question and it's likewise prompts a great throwaway answer. But it's at the heart of whether the hire is a good one or not, and there is no way to know when the man is standing at the podium or sitting at the table whether or not it will be a fit. After doing all their due diligence about work ethic, planning and other tangible things, ultimately general managers make a decision based on their gut as to whether the new man will take his new charges places his predecessor couldn't go.

Peter Laviolette
Well, we can do that too: Use our gut to look at the tumbleweed of coaching stories rolling across the NHL prairie. And for what it's worth, we agree with David Poile's gut feeling that Peter Laviolette, a veteran of the hockey wars at many levels, was the right guy for the Predators. Now, some of those wars Laviolette's won spectacularly, and in some he’s been vanquished. We have watched him excel in Carolina, where he taught them the "forever" value of a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, and we've watched him in tough places such as Philadelphia, where he somehow managed to guide an odd collection of the aging and the punkish to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 -- a run that included a historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston. Those are the kinds of experiences that will put Laviolette in good stead in Nashville. It will not shock us at all if the Preds are back in the postseason next spring, provided Pekka Rinne stays healthy in goal. We're pretty sure Poile's gut told him the same thing.

John Stevens
By a show of hands, who doesn't think John Stevens will be behind an NHL bench as head coach somewhere next season? Right now, the question is whether the current Los Angeles Kings assistant has another Stanley Cup ring to box up when he makes the move. Last summer, Stevens’ name was mentioned as a possible successor to Alain Vigneault in Vancouver, but we know how that turned out. Now that John Tortorella has been dispatched by new hockey boss Trevor Linden, many think Stevens is a natural to fill that void. We do too, but it was ownership that steered former GM Mike Gillis away from Stevens and in Tortorella's direction, so through no fault of his own, is Stevens too close to the former regime? Just asking. What might make all this super simple is if Laurence Gillman, the assistant GM to Gillis, gets the job as GM, as he would have been privy to the thought process heading into last offseason and would presumably be a good fit with Stevens (see, there’s that term again).

Barry Trotz
Lots of people have linked Barry Trotz to the Vancouver job, although it appears Trotz would like a smaller-market franchise. Hard to imagine a place where Trotz wouldn’t be a good fit, but let's say that Vancouver doesn't work out, wouldn't it be interesting to see how the longtime Nashville Predators bench boss looked behind the Florida Panthers bench? Lots of good young talent there and Trotz is both demanding and a natural teacher. This is a team that needs to move forward and, with Roberto Luongo in theory providing the Panthers stability in goal for the first time in a number of seasons, the expectations should be high for this team next season. Trotz has been through those kinds of situations many times over the years in Nashville, and we think he has the perfect personality for that job and the tools that GM Dale Tallon has assembled in Florida.

Kirk Muller, Kevin Dineen, Adam Oates
It's not much of a surprise that new Carolina GM Ron Francis cut ties with Kirk Muller after the Canes missed the playoffs again. They haven’t been to the dance since their surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. Muller was the "it" guy a few years back after he was considered a key piece of the Montreal Canadiens’ coaching staff when they shocked Washington and Pittsburgh en route to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. Muller, who spent five years as an assistant coach with the Habs, had 17 games of head-coaching experience (with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League) before the Hurricanes swooped him up to replace Paul Maurice. But the Canes were never really a factor in the playoff hunt in the parts of three seasons Muller coached there. Now, Francis must find a coach who can get more from Eric and Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, and figure out how to improve a team that went from 25th to 19th in goals allowed per game last season but still has miles to go defensively to be a playoff team. Kevin Dineen, who did wonders in getting Florida to the playoffs in 2012, is an obvious candidate, but what about a cerebral guy such as Adam Oates? Sure, things didn't end up the way anyone wanted in Washington, but you can't argue against the production that Oates got out of Alex Ovechkin, at least offensively. Carolina had the 28th-ranked power play this season, and that’s right up Oates’ alley too, as the Caps were second overall with the man advantage.

Wayne Gretzky?
Speaking of Washington, no real traction to the idea that Wayne Gretzky might end up in Washington in a president of hockey operations kind of role, especially given that it's not entirely clear whether owner Ted Leonsis is even considering such a position (Leonsis did not return an email seeking comment). But let's imagine for a minute that's the route he goes; why wouldn’t it make sense to have a guy like Gretzky at the top of your hockey food chain? This isn’t about gimmickry or glad-handing or publicity appearances, but making use of one of the greatest hockey minds of all time. Not sure we see Gretzky in a GM role, which is also open in Washington, but in terms of assessing the value of players and the elements that go into making a successful organization, you can’t imagine Gretzky wouldn’t be a wealth of information for any team. And of course, who wouldn’t want to see the dynamic between the greatest player of all time and one of the greatest yet most polarizing players of this generation in Ovechkin? There's nothing to suggest that it’ll actually happen, but it doesn’t stop us from pining for such a hockey meeting of the minds.

Randy Carlyle
And, finally, we keep hearing that perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs are nearing a decision on whether to bring back Randy Carlyle as head coach. We understand new president Brendan Shanahan needs to do his due diligence but, as we noted, won’t it all come down to gut for Shanahan and presumably GM Dave Nonis? Does it not come down to the basic question of whether management believes that Carlyle can return to the Leafs dressing room next fall after their precipitous fall from grace down the stretch and command the respect needed to return to the playoffs next spring? Yes, the Leafs are a young team that's still learning. Was this collapse just another part of the learning process? And is Carlyle the man who can help them learn from it, just as he was supposed to help them learn from their collapse in Game 7 against Boston in the first round of the 2013 playoffs? From our perspective, it’s hard to imagine that there would be enough confidence in that room to move the team forward if Carlyle returns. And the quality of people available would be the tipping point for us. Regardless of what happens, Shanahan and the rest of the management team owe Carlyle an answer one way or the other, and sooner rather than later.

The postseason just got a little Wild

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
10:11
AM ET
Wild 4, Bruins 3 (SO)
* Wild: 5-0-1 in last six games, clinch playoff berth with win.
* Jason Pominville (MIN): Two goals (third multi-goal game this season); no goals in previous seven games.
* Bruins: 114 points (most in NHL).

Stars 3, Predators 2 (SO)
* Tyler Seguin: Game-deciding goal in fourth round of SO; second SO goal this season (2-7).
* Stars: 89 points, hold second Western Conference Wild Card (two points ahead of Coyotes).
* Jamie Benn (DAL): Goal (34); third straight game with a goal.
* Predators: Rliminated from playoffs with loss.

Blue Jackets 4, Coyotes 3 (OT)
* Ryan Johansen (CBJ): Second GW OT goal this season (Mar. 29 vs CAR).
* Blue Jackets: 89 points, hold second Eastern Conference Wild Card; 4-1-1 in last 6 games.
* Coyotes: 0-2-3 in last five games.

Red Wings 4, Sabres 2
* Red Wings: 90 points, hold first of two Eastern Conference Wild Card spots.
* Red Wings: 4-0 vs Sabres this season.
* Red Wings: Three goals in third period.
* Mike Babcock (DET): 414th win with team; most in franchise history.

Flyers 5, Panthers 2
* Flyers: Clinch playoff berth with win (17th appearance in last 19 seasons).
* Flyers: Outscored FLA 4-0 in second period (entered with minus-12 goal differential in second period this season).
* Claude Giroux (PHI): Two goals (had two in previous 15 games).
* Vincent Lecavalier (PHI): Goal, assist; reaches 20-goal mark for 13th time in 15-year career.

Rangers 4, Hurricanes 1
* Rangers: Won 11 of last 12 games versus Hurricanes.
* Rangers: 8-2-1 in last 11 games overall.
* Brad Richards (NYR): Two PPG; reaches 20-goal mark for 10th time in 13 NHL seasons.
* Martin St. Louis (NYR): Three assists; first three-point game as member of Rangers.

Capitals 4, Blues 1
* Capitals: First win in regulation since March 18.
* Alex Ovechkin (WSH): Goal, two assists; fifth season with 50+ goals (most among active players, t-6th all-time)
* Nicklas Backstrom (WSH): Two goals, second multi-goal game this season and first since Nov. 1.
* Blues: Lost 3 straight for first time all season

Most 50-Goal Seasons in First 9 Seasons - NHL History

Mike Bossy 9
Wayne Gretzky 8
Guy Lafleur 6
Alex Ovechkin 5
Brett Hull 5

The Central race just keeps getting tighter

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
9:58
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Blackhawks 4, Blues 2
* Jeremy Morin (CHI): Goal (3), assist; has goals in each of past two games (scored one goal in his first 20 games of season).
* Blackhawks: Won three straight games; currently two points behind Avalanche (107-105) for second in Central Division.
* Blues: Lost past 2 games (outscored 8-2); lead over Avalanche in Central Division down to four points (111-107); trail Bruins by two points in President's Trophy race (best regular-season record).

Penguins 3, Avalanche 2 (SO) (PIT wins shootout, 1-0)
* Brandon Sutter (PIT): Two goals (13); sixth career multi-goal game.
* Patrick Bordeleau (COL): Game-tying goal (5) with 3:13 left in regulation; first goal since Dec. 10 (had gone 48 games without a goal).

Oilers 4, Ducks 2
* Ducks: Secon straight loss (both in regulation) after going 5-0-1 in previous six games.
* Ducks: Lead in Pacific Division over second-place Sharks remains one point (108-107); Ducks have four games left, Sharks have three.

Flyers 5, Sabres 2
* Brayden Schenn (PHI): Two goals (20); first career 20-goal season.
* Flyers: First win in past five games.

Blue Jackets 4, Islanders 0
* Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ): 31 saves (fifth shutout of season, ninth of career).

Panthers 3, Stars 2
* SSean Bergenheim (FLA): Go-ahead goal (16) with 4:31 left in third period.
* Stars: Lost two of past three games following a three-game winning streak; remain one point ahead of Coyotes for second wild card berth in Western Conference (both teams have four games left to play, meet in regular-season finale).
The St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild tallied the most mentions in an unscientific poll of NHL general managers who were asked which clubs impressed them the most with their trade deadline moves.

The Blues were the most cited among responses from 10 GMs on Thursday, their blockbuster acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott solidifying St. Louis as a Cup contender. Blues GM Doug Armstrong got lots of kudos from his peers in our little survey Thursday.

"[Armstrong] gave up a lot, but he got the goalie he needed," said a Western Conference GM. "He’s got conviction. He went for it. I admire him for that."

Added an Eastern Conference GM: "St. Louis for sure got better. Ott is a bit overrated, but [coach Ken Hitchcock] has had him before and will get the best out of him. Miller obviously is the key guy there, a huge upgrade in goal."

The Habs and Wild were tied for the second-most mentions after Montreal nabbed Thomas Vanek and Minnesota got busy over a 48-hour period, adding goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and scorer Matt Moulson.

[+] EnlargeThomas Vanek
Paul Bereswill/Getty ImagesGetting Thomas Vanek for a bargain price earned praise for Marc Bergevin.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin got high marks from his peers for getting Vanek at a discount rate from the New York Islanders, while Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher got praise for his industrious few days.

"Bergevin did a really good job on Vanek," said a Western Conference GM in a comment that was repeated by many.

The two Florida teams also got a few mentions and for the purpose of this survey would rank tied for third.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had only one team to deal with in meeting the trade demand of his captain, Martin St. Louis, but Yzerman still got a decent deal out of it from the New York Rangers.

"I thought Steve did an excellent job managing that situation. He got a nice return," said a Western Conference GM.

Said another Western Conference GM via email: "To me, Steve Yzerman did the best job. He was dealt a bad hand. And nobody could have played that hand any better. Plus he did it with class (as always)."

Panthers GM Dale Tallon also got some attention for stunningly getting Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver. "Dale Tallon had the best deadline of all," said one Eastern Conference GM.

The Penguins were mentioned by one Western Conference GM, with Pittsburgh adding forward Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. "Pitt was strong with quality, under-the-radar players," a GM said via email.

Buffalo Sabres rookie GM Tim Murray has been busy over the past week, beginning a rebuild and getting a vote from one Western Conference GM for his efforts.

"Tim Murray certainly added a lot of long-term assets," said the GM.

The Anaheim Ducks struck out on Canucks center Ryan Kesler but did add veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas. Ducks GM Bob Murray got a vote from a fellow Western Conference GM.

"[Murray] always sees the big picture. He is two steps ahead of what is in front of him," said the GM. "No one has come close to doing the job he has done the last five years. He inherited a very difficult situation and executed flawlessly."

Other post-deadline notes and thoughts:

• Interesting to find out from a source Wednesday night that Toronto was among the teams that inquired about Vanek. Imagine the Leafs’ reaction when rival Montreal got him, especially given the modest price the Canadiens paid.

• Needless to say, the Canadiens were never going to get Vanek if the Islanders’ asking price continued to include a first-round pick, which it did for quite some time. Once the first-round pick was eliminated from the equation, the Habs jumped in with both feet.

• Vanek is on record saying he’s going to the free-agent market on July 1, and at this point there's no reason to think that won't happen. Still, in the back of my mind I wonder whether this is a repeat of the Alexei Kovalev situation, with a presumed rental player ending up staying around because he falls in love with the electric market that is Montreal. Food for thought ...

• The Penguins made an effort on Kesler and also had a line in the water on Ales Hemsky, the Edmonton Oilers forward who went to Ottawa instead. I thought Hemsky would have been a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but Goc and Stempniak are solid additions. Goc is versatile and provides depth at center while Stempniak could surprise some people after being given a fresh start, like Jussi Jokinen has done since joining the Pens at last year’s trade deadline.

And this, from our friends at Bovada:



So much for it being hard to move goaltenders at the trade deadline.

Counting Ryan Miller's move to St. Louis late last week, no fewer than six NHL netminders have changed jerseys in the past few days. And who knows where that number will go by Wednesday's trade deadline?

Miller led the pack both in terms of his résumé and the timing of his move when he was dealt Friday night from the Sabres to the Blues in a deal that also included netminder Jaroslav Halak moving to Buffalo.

Tuesday the goalie carousel picked up speed in earnest with Ilya Bryzgalov moving from Edmonton to Minnesota, where the loquacious netminder will back up rookie Darcy Kuemper for a Wild team that has virtually locked up one of the wild-card spots in the West.

The Oilers, having signed Ben Scrivens to a new two-year deal Tuesday, then acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim to shore up their goaltending depth.

And finally the whopper of the day saw Roberto Luongo making his long-awaited departure from Vancouver in a trade back to Florida that also saw the former future heir to the Panthers' goaltending job, Jacob Markstrom, go to Vancouver.

One would imagine that the market for guys like Martin Brodeur, Halak and either Justin Peters or Cam Ward in Carolina (the Canes inked Anton Khudobin to a two-year extension) might have dried up with all the goings-on Tuesday. But then again, it was supposed to be difficult to move goaltenders in general at the trade deadline, so anything is possible.


During the 2006 draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, then Canucks GM Dave Nonis pulled the trigger on what was one of the biggest deals in the team's history by acquiring netminder Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers.

It was early in the evening and it was a shocker, one that seemed to portend great things for the Canucks.

Almost eight years later the circle was brought to a close. After two years of emotional to-ing and fro-ing, Luongo was dealt Tuesday afternoon to the Panthers for netminder Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.

The deal comes two days after Vancouver head coach John Tortorella benched Luongo in favor of rookie Eddie Lack for the Heritage Classic "outdoor" game at B.C. Place, a move that angered the veteran netminder, although the reasoning may have had more to do with the impending deal than Lack’s strong play.

Of course Vancouver GM Mike Gillis spent most of last season trying to move Luongo and his massive contract -- he is locked up through 2021-22 with an annual cap hit of $5.33 million -- to no avail. He then switched gears and traded Cory Schneider, who had supplanted Luongo as the starter in Vancouver, to New Jersey at the 2013 draft.

But even though Luongo had reinherited his starting job with the Canucks, it was an uneasy repatriation, and with the Canucks looking to remake themselves by getting younger and shedding long-term deals, it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Luongo was finally on the move, even if many believed he would most likely be moved at the draft in June.

The move will give the Canucks a chance to find out if Lack, who leads all rookie netminders in save percentage and goals-against average, is ready to be an NHL starter. The move also suggests that the Canucks won’t be satisfied with just this move, that center Ryan Kesler, who has been the subject of much trade discussion the past week, could well be on the move by Wednesday afternoon as the Canucks continue to try to remake themselves on the fly.

The Luongo deal brings to a close an often ugly period for the Canucks, whose goaltending drama consumed the team for long periods of time.

In a matter of months, Vancouver has dealt two starting netminders for a first-round pick (Bo Horvat was selected ninth overall at last year’s draft), a goaltending prospect who has never measured up and a forward whose best NHL production was 14 goals.

But sometimes a deal like this can’t be measured in what is returned but rather what options it opens up for the Canucks in closing the door firmly on the team’s dysfunctional goaltending situation.

Of course, Florida has always been Luongo’s preferred destination given his wife’s family ties to South Florida. But this isn’t just about finally making a veteran goalie happy. This is a move that may be the one that sets the Panthers on the track to redemption.

The Cats made the playoffs in 2012, winning the Southeast Division, but lost in the first round to New Jersey in a seven-game series; had the Panthers had even average goaltending from Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen they would have won that series.

The team took a step backward last season in missing the playoffs, and it was clear that Markstrom, the 31st overall pick in 2008, was never going to evolve into the franchise netminder the Panthers had hoped for.

Enter Luongo. Or rather, re-enter Luongo. For the first time in years, the Panthers will have stability between the pipes to go along with a solid core of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Erik Gudbranson and Quinton Howden.

The fact that the Panthers were able to get Vancouver to eat some of Luongo’s salary as well as take on Markstrom, who was under contract next season for $1.4 million ($1.2 million cap hit), is a bonus to the cost-conscious Panthers.

Although Florida GM Dale Tallon has often said he would like to have veteran Tim Thomas back next season, it’s hard to imagine that will happen now.

As for the dynamics, there is something richly circular about Luongo, who appeared to tweet a palm tree after the trade was announced, sharing space with Thomas at least for the time being.

The two faced each other in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, with Thomas outplaying Luongo through the seven-game set, during which Luongo famously wondered aloud why Thomas wasn’t giving him enough credit, to which Thomas, likewise famously, wondered if it was his job to pump Luongo’s tires.

Fun in the sun to be sure.

Tallon said the deal "came out of nowhere" and escalated quickly from a tire kicking exploratory phone call on Monday to a deal by Tuesday afternoon.

As things got serious, Tallon said he talked to ownership in Florida about whether he should pursue the deal and got the green light to take on the salary.

"We're excited about it. I think it's great for our franchise," Tallon said during a conference call Tuesday night.

"We're getting a great goaltender. A proven commodity. We needed to make a statement. Luongo’s numbers are terrific."

As for Luongo’s reaction, "he’s excited. He’s just over the moon about coming back to Florida," Tallon said.

The Florida GM said he’ll sit down and talk with Tim Thomas on Wednesday about how Thomas imagines his future with the team given the Luongo deal.

"We're going to do the best we can to make this work," Tallon said. "We'll see what direction it takes us," he said.
Bruins 6, Panthers 2
* Milan Lucic (BOS): Two goals (15); third multi-goal game this season.
* David Krejci (BOS): Goal (11), two assists; second three-point game of season (other was Saturday vs. Flyers).
* Bruins: Third straight game with six goals (also scored six in wins over Flyers on Saturday and Islanders on Monday); fourth six-goal game of season.
* Bruins: 5-0-1 in last six games (won last four); won last six meetings versus Panthers (last loss was March 15, 2012).

Wild 4, Ducks 2
* Wild: 9-3-1 in last 13 games following six-game losing streak.
* Ducks: Second home loss in last three games (started season 20-0-2 at home).
* Zach Parise (MIN): Goal, two assists; three points ties season high.

Coyotes 3, Kings 0
* Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PHX): Two goals; third career multi-goal game (first this season).
* Antoine Vermette (PHX): goal, assist; five straight games with a point.
* Kings: lost six of last seven games.
* Coyotes: Third shutout this season (all have come this month).

Flames 5, Blackhawks 4
* Flames: Won three straight games for first time this season.
* Mikael Backlund (CGY): Second career multi-goal game (first since Oct. 21, 2010).
* Blackhawks: Lost season-high four straight games.
* Marian Hossa (CHI): Two goals; third multi-goal game of season.

Capitals 5, Sabres 4 (OT)
* Capitals: 2-5-2 in last nine games (won two straight).
* Sabres: 0-4-2 in last six home games.
* Mike Green (WSH): Eighth career overtime goal; he's now scored exactly one in each of the last five seasons.
* Alex Ovechkin (WSH): Seventh multi-goal game of season (most in NHL).

Maple Leafs 3, Lightning 2
* Maple Leafs: Won four straight home games.
* Lightning: Three-game win streak snapped.
* James van Riemsdyk (TOR): Go-ahead goal; has six goals in last 10 games (21st goal of season).
* Nazem Kadri (TOR): Second multi-goal game of season (other was against the Stars on Dec. 5).
* Jonathan Bernier (TOR): 40 saves; 5-1-1 in last seven appearances.

Flyers 5, Red Wings 0
* Flyers: largest shutout victory in series history and first shutout over the Red Wings since 2001.
* From Elias: Steve Mason's four shutouts against the Red Wings are the most by any active goaltender and twice as many as he's recorded against any other NHL team.
Panthers 5, Penguins 1
* Penguins: franchise-record 13-game home win streak snapped.
* Panthers: snap eight-game losing streak at Penguins.
* Drew Shore (FLA): Two goals (3); first career multi-goal game (55th career game).
From Elias: The Penguins’ 13-game winning streak at Consol Energy Center came to a crashing halt when they lost, 5-1, to the Panthers. It was only the third time in NHL history that a single-season home winning streak of 13-plus games ended with a loss by a margin of four or more goals. The previous instances were in March 1965, when the Red Wings saw their 14-game winning streak at Olympia Stadium stopped by a 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs, and in March 2013, when the Ducks’ streak of 13 consecutive wins at Honda Center ended with a 5–1 loss to the Red Wings.

Blues 4, Red Wings 1
* Blues: Snap two-game losing streak (was tied for team's longest this season).
* Blues: 39 shots on goal are tied for team's second most in a game this season.
* Alexander Steen (STL): Two assists in second game back after missing 11 games with concussion.
* Red Wings: Fall to 7-11-7 at home this season; haven't won consecutive home games since Oct. 12-15.

Bruins 3, Kings 2
* Bruins: 1-4 on power plays (1-23 on PP in previous eight games).
* Brad Marchand (BOS): Second straight game with two or more goals; three two-goal games this season (11 goals in last 15 games).

Sharks 3, Flames 2
* Sharks: won four straight overall and all three meetings with Flames this season.
* Joe Pavelski (SJ): Two goals (six in last three games); T-2nd in NHL with 27 goals this season
* Flames: 2-10-1 in last 13 games (scored 2 or fewer goals in 12 of last 13 games)

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