1. Parenteau's future with Islanders
One of the great off-the-radar stories this season has to be the blossoming of New York Islanders forward P.A. Parenteau into one of the game’s premier setup men. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2001 entry draft by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks; since then, the "Mighty" has been excised from that franchise’s name and the ninth round of the draft no longer exists.
Though the Ducks gave up on Parenteau, as did the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers, Parenteau never lost the faith. In fact, he surmised that his strong play while marooned in the American Hockey League by the Rangers might have actually been the catalyst to what has been a breakout season for him with the Islanders.
Signed by the New York Islanders as a free agent in July 2010, Parenteau didn’t get a chance to play top six minutes or get much of a sniff on the power play until coach Jack Capuano took over for Scott Gordon early in the 2010-11 season. Capuano had been the head coach of the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn., and Parenteau admitted he’d always managed to light it up against them while toiling for the Hartford Wolf Pack.
“I think [Capuano] knew what I could do. There was a pretty good rivalry there,” Parenteau told ESPN.com this week.
After collecting 20 goals and 53 points a season ago, Parenteau has become almost a point-a-game guy this season with 11 goals and 47 points in 52 games. His 36 assists are fifth in the league.
An amiable sort, Parenteau said he never doubted his ability to contribute at this level, even though his path has been dotted by more than a few road blocks.
“It’s been a long road," he said. "But I’m a pretty confident guy.”
“When I make a nice play around here, it doesn’t get wasted,” Parenteau said.
Now here’s where it gets interesting for the Isles, who this week signed forward Frans Nielsen to a four-year contract extension worth $11 million. Nielsen has 25 points, or roughly half those collected by Parenteau, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Sources familiar with the negotiations say that the team has yet to begin discussions about extending Parenteau, but with the Islanders crawling back into the edge of the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference (they are in 11th place in the conference, nine points back of eighth-place Ottawa with four games in hand), it’s hard to imagine GM Garth Snow won’t make getting Parenteau under contract a top priority. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine Snow letting Parenteau walk away for nothing on July 1.
For the record, Parenteau likes it on Long Island and, all things being equal, would prefer to stay.
“I really like where this team is going now,” he said.
2. Jackets deal with Prospal
The Columbus Blue Jackets, already trying desperately to rid themselves of the giant mistake that is Jeff Carter, curiously opted to re-sign veteran forward Vinny Prospal to a one-year deal, apparently promising to give Prospal a job with the organization when he retires. Prospal will turn 37 years old next week, and one wonders if he can coach or learn to be a GM in short order, given those seem to be the team’s most pressing needs.
Whether Prospal is a galvanizing force in the dressing room -- that’s the logic being floated by management for the extension -- one wonders where that leadership has been this season as the Blue Jackets have been an embarrassment from day one. Beyond that, how does it make any sense to commit $2.5 million of cap space to a forward whose production will likely max out at 20 goals (he has nine this season through 53 games)? Prospal would have drawn some interest on the trade market, given the dearth of forwards with playoff experience who are likely to be available by Feb. 27 (he has 65 postseason games to his credit with 35 points collected). So why the hurry to sign a guy who apparently likes it in Columbus? Why not try to gather an asset or two (goodness knows the talent-challenged Blue Jackets can use all the help they can get even if it was a third or fourth-round pick) and then re-sign Prospal in the offseason? In the end, we wonder what the new GM in Columbus will think of this deal, and we’re guessing not much.
3. Flames plan for postseason
When Calgary GM Jay Feaster acquired Mike Cammalleri last month for Rene Bourque, there were a number of arched eyebrows as the Flames added salary at a time when many observers were waiting for the team to wave the white flag and start trying to unload expensive pieces of machinery. But Feaster has remained steadfast in his belief that the Flames are a playoff team, and it was important to him to add a piece he thought could help the team as early in the process as he could.
Cammalleri’s addition illustrates the often ignored truth of deadline deals, that no matter how good the player is there is a period of adjustment to a new team, new system and new teammates. Since arriving, Cammalleri has produced just two goals and an assist in nine games. That’s the reality. By adding Cammalleri early on, though, as well as center Blair Jones -- who the team had coveted for a number of years -- Feaster said he is hoping that those players will be fully integrated into the Flames' program if they make it to the playoffs, and thus more effective when it counts.
It was the same philosophy the former Tampa GM used when he made his lone roster move during the 2003-04 season, adding veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor on Jan. 27, 2004. It took Sydor time to blend in with the up-tempo Lightning -- we recall former assistant coach Craig Ramsay talking about Sydor’s painful learning curve when it came to head coach John Tortorella’s demanding practices -- but it turned out to be an important piece to what would become a Stanley Cup puzzle in Tampa.
“He became the veteran voice on the blue line that we didn’t have,” Feaster said.
The current edition of the Flames isn’t to be confused with the 2004 Lightning, and Feaster knows that. The Flames aren’t particularly deep and are missing Curtis Glencross (due back in early March) and Lee Stempniak (out much longer), which has exacerbated the team’s scoring woes. But Miikka Kiprusoff is having a terrific run, and his 300th career win on Wednesday put the Flames just a point out of eighth place when they woke up on Thursday.
4. Playoff landscape
The crowded NHL playoff landscape is difficult enough to handicap on its own, but throw in uncertainty over injury issues and it makes it doubly hard to read the tea leaves, especially with the trade deadline a little over two weeks away. The Pittsburgh Penguins, battling with Philadelphia and New Jersey for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, hope to have center Jordan Staal back any moment. The Pens and Flyers are both dealing with the long-term absence of their captains Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger, respectively, although Crosby continues to skate and presumably is closer to returning. But the Flyers got a nice boost with the return of Daniel Briere to the lineup this week.
St. Louis has been patiently waiting for the return of top six forwards Alex Steen and Andy McDonald, both of whom are suffering from concussions. It seems that McDonald has overtaken Steen in terms of game-readiness, although GM Doug Armstrong declined to identify potential return dates; “too much uncertainty,” he wrote Thursday. Still, the return of either or both could be enough to keep the Blues in the hunt for a home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs or to close the gap on Detroit and the top spot in the conference. The Blues trail the Wings by five points and have two games in hand.
The injury situation is more critical for bubble teams, and you have to wonder whether the absence of Dallas captain Brenden Morrow from games against Columbus and Buffalo as he continues to battle back and neck pains might be enough to keep the Stars out of the postseason. Dallas had fallen to 12th in the conference as of Thursday morning but was just two points out of eighth. Morrow’s injuries will also quiet any potential trade talks involving the gritty veteran.
The inverse is true in Buffalo, where the Sabres are finally healthy, especially along the blue line, and are coming off an emphatic 6-0 pounding of Boston Wednesday night. And the Minnesota Wild, clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, announced Thursday that captain Mikko Koivu would return to action after missing eight games to injury. His presence on the ice and in the dressing room could represent the tipping point to keeping the Wild in the playoff bracket.
5. Anyone need a veteran goalie?
Had a brief exchange of texts with veteran netminder Marty Turco, who is trying to stay sharp playing with Salzburg in the Austrian elite league. Playoffs start next week and Turco said he’s enjoying the experience, but he has always had his eye on returning to the NHL. Turco played for Canada at the Spengler Cup in December as well as in a tournament called the European Trophy, in which he played well. We are told a number of NHL teams are keeping an eye on Turco’s progress. He has a clause in his contract that would allow him to return to the NHL should he sign with an NHL team by the Feb. 27 trade deadline. The Detroit Red Wings’ goaltending situation remains somewhat fluid with Jimmy Howard nursing a broken finger, although Joey MacDonald has filled in capably in Howard’s absence. Still, a veteran presence heading into the playoffs wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Western Conference-leading Red Wings.