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Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Rumblings: Biron's decision, Oilers' options

By Pierre LeBrun

Martin Biron was en route home to Buffalo when we caught up on the phone Tuesday afternoon. The trek had already allowed him to do some self-analysis and certainly some decompressing.

"I’m going to take a couple of days to think about things before I make a decision," Biron told ESPN.com. "I want to take some time to think about it all, talk to family and friends, and think about my next step."

Biron, who cleared NHL waivers Tuesday before being assigned to the AHL by the Rangers, has two options: report to Hartford (AHL) and see how things go from there or retire.

At this point, playing in Europe isn’t an option.

"No, those are the two options only," Biron said. "But I want to think this through. The last 48 hours have been pretty charged, I want to let the dust settle and then make an informed decision."

Oilers goaltending

I wrote last Friday that the Oilers would probably wait about 10 or so games into the season before taking stock of their goaltending.

It appears, though, that a nightmarish weekend -- in particular Saturday’s 6-5 overtime loss at Toronto -- has expedited that process.

My TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported Monday night that the Oilers have already reached out to teams to look at their goalie options as Devan Dubnyk continues to struggle. Nothing is believed to be imminent, but the sense is that the conversations have begun.

So if you’re the Oilers, what are your options? Let’s take a look at what potentially could be out there:

Certainly there’s Ryan Miller in Buffalo. At some point you figure the Sabres will trade him this season, although as of Tuesday morning, I’m told the Sabres hadn’t approached Miller yet about anything; and you figure they will at some point have to approach him given his modified no-trade clause. To me this is the guy the Oilers should want the most but there’s also the sense Sabres GM Darcy Regier wants to wait later in the season and build up a bigger market for Miller.

How deep into the season can Edmonton go without fixing this issue?

There’s Jonas Hiller in Anaheim; he was available last summer, as the Ducks are stacked in goal throughout the organization and this is the last year of his contract. But he’s also off to a great start, so I think it’s too early for that kind of move in Anaheim. Not sure the Ducks would want to rock the boat like that.

What about Michal Neuvirth in Washington? I say that because Team Canada Olympic camp invitee Braden Holtby certainly seems entrenched as the No. 1 man there. Neuvirth is in the mix for the Czech Olympic team this year, so he might be an intriguing target if the Caps ever feel they can live without him.

Brian Elliott in St. Louis? The Blues have gone back to Jaroslav Halak as their clear No. 1 while Jake Allen waits in the wings. Elliott is in the final year of his contract, and I don’t see how he fits into their long-term view. But again, that might be more of an offseason decision for the Blues unless someone really forces their hand.

There are other possibilities, of course, but those are names that jump out at me.

Wild goalies

Niklas Backstrom's knee injury early in the season hasn’t slowed down the Minnesota Wild as some people believed would be the case, and that’s thanks in large part to stellar netminding from backup Josh Harding.

The 29-year-old Harding is sporting a .948 save percentage and 1.06 goals-against average in four games (three starts) this season.

"He had a good training camp and he’s played well," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com on Tuesday morning. "He got thrown into the fire in Nashville [after Backstrom’s injury], was faced with the penalty shot from [Eric] Nystrom who scored on him, but then made 19 consecutive saves after that. And he’s finished up three wins where he’s given up just three goals [in total]. He’s given up four goals in four games and you certainly can’t ask for more than that. He’s a talented guy and he’s battling hard right now."

Harding missed two months last season because of side effects from a new medication treating multiple sclerosis. His healthy return this season is an important factor with the desire not to overwork the 35-year-old Backstrom.

"We’re all learning as we’re going," Fletcher said of Harding and his handling of his condition. "It’s a tough task for any goaltender in this league to go every night regardless of your medical situation. But certainly he’s a guy that we’re confident we’ll be able to play a lot of games for us if need be. The whole idea is that if we can get both guys healthy, both Nik and Josh play on a regular basis, especially in an Olympic year with the compressed schedule you need both guys going."

As for Backstrom, he should be back soon.

"He’s skated 4-5 days in a row, so we’ll see, hopefully by the end of this road trip he can either back up or play," Fletcher said. "Certainly the way Josh is playing, we can take the time we need right now to make sure Nik gets fully healthy. We’re fortunate it’s just a muscle strain and nothing structural with the knee, which was lucky."

It’s an important reminder from Fletcher about the Olympic impact on the schedule this season. I think what you’ll see because of that is an increased role for backup netminders.

Monahan's future

The Calgary Flames have a big decision to make soon on rookie center Sean Monahan, the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft who has looked nothing but at home in the NHL so far.

Keep him with the big club or send him back to junior?

His four goals and two assists in five games had him second in NHL rookie scoring before games Tuesday, so you’d think the decision is obvious. Or is it?

The Flames have not made that decision yet. Instead, they want to see how he fares on the upcoming road trip -- difficult games at Anaheim, San Jose, L.A. and Phoenix -- before deciding what they’re going to do with him. He turned 19 just a few days ago.

Once he’s played 10 NHL games, he burns his first year of service time on his entry-level contract, which is why all clubs around the league have to make a decision with their rookie, junior-eligible players after nine games played.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Flames, his track record as GM had him sending kids back to junior such as Bobby Ryan in Anaheim and Nazem Kadri in Toronto. But this will be GM Jay Feaster’s call.

The other factor to consider is what exactly Monahan’s minutes will be once injured forwards Mike Cammalleri and Matt Stajan return.

On the one hand, the Flames can save one year of service time on Monahan’s entry-level contract if they send him back to junior before his 10th game. But on the other hand, where will his development be best served this year?

Tough call.

Talking Europe

As I wrote last week, the NHL and NHLPA are meeting Wednesday in New York to further hash out details on the future of the Premiere Games in Europe, as well as the possible return of the World Cup of Hockey.

Both sides have keen interest in bringing back both events.

Team Canada

Team Canada’s Olympic brain trust is keeping a close eye on the performance of Chris Kunitz.

Every player's performance over the next two months will be paramount for his chances to make the team, but Kunitz is especially a unique case. My sense is there are those internally who think it’s tough to find a player who can mesh with Sidney Crosby in time for a two-week tournament, so Kunitz is the perfect fit given the chemistry between the two Penguins linemates. But there are those who just can’t buy that he’s among the very elite forwards in the world and Team Canada certainly doesn’t have a shortage to pick from on that count.

While goaltending will be the most pressing decision for Team Canada, I’d rank the "Kunitz decision" as the second-most intriguing.

Hawks No. 2 center

Michal Handzus was given the night off Saturday, but I wouldn’t read too much into that.
The Blackhawks are not on the lookout for a No. 2 center, they’re happy with Handzus given his performance last spring in the playoffs, but the plan entering this season was to limit his games to keep the 36-year-old as fresh as possible for the playoffs.

The other benefit of sitting out Handzus the odd game is that other players will gain a bigger role on those nights, mostly Marcus Kruger or Andrew Shaw, but other youngsters will also gain more experience depending on the game.

Regardless, the plan is status quo in Chicago with regard to the No. 2 center job, barring any major injury.