Cross Checks: Carolina Hurricanes


BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and agent Kent Hughes, who reps star blue-liner Kris Letang, are slated to meet here in Boston on Wednesday, a source told ESPN.com.

It only makes sense because Hughes lives in Boston and Shero is in town for the NHL's general managers meeting.

It could potentially be a pivotal meeting in terms of what transpires on the Letang front. The blue-liner has one year left on his deal, but Shero’s usual M.O. is not to wait it out. Just look at the Jordan Staal situation a year ago. After Staal, who had one year left on his deal, rejected a contract extension from the Penguins, Shero dealt him quickly thereafter.

It could be that Shero will get the ball rolling on trade talks if Letang rejects whatever offer might be coming from the Penguins' GM.

And know this, I don’t think Letang signs for any less than $7 million a season.

Wednesday’s meeting, therefore, will be a compelling discussion either way.

BRIERE BUYOUT

Daniel Briere will be an unrestricted free agent soon, with the Philadelphia Flyers deciding to buy him out.

A source told ESPN.com that Briere and Paul Holmgren met last week, at which time the Flyers' GM informed the veteran center of the team’s decision. No bitter feelings, though, as I’m told Briere feels Holmgren handled it with class.

The buyout will wipe out Briere’s $6.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers will buy out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a decision that has been met with mixed opinions within the Flyers front office.

The decision is whether to do it now or wait one more year, when they can still get a cap-friendly buyout.

Perhaps what might push the Flyers into buying out Bryzgalov now is the availability of young netminder Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.

My TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie, reported during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday night that the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Islanders were most interested in Bernier.

One source told ESPN.com Tuesday that five teams have serious interest in Bernier, the list cut down from the nearly dozen clubs that poked around about him.

COACHING CAROUSEL

Could the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks simply swap coaches this offseason?

It’s possible.

We know Alain Vigneault will be the new Rangers bench boss, the official announcement imminent. But what about John Tortorella?

He has interviewed in Vancouver, and a source told ESPN.com that the Canucks were impressed with Torts. He is among the final four candidates for the Canucks' coach gig vacated by Vigneault. The others are John Stevens, Scott Arniel and Lindy Ruff.

The intensity that Torts brings and the accountability he would demand from players are elements that impressed Canucks brass.

Stevens would be a more cerebral coach, his defensive work on the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings not to be overlooked. Ruff is a stud candidate, of course, and Arniel is viewed by some in the industry as a guy who deserves another shot after what happened in Columbus.

Another potential candidate is Dave Tippett (whose deal is up), depending on what transpires with the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership front. If Tippett were to become available, my guess is both Vancouver and the Dallas Stars would want to talk to him.

TUUKKA’S FUTURE

Give agent Bill Zito a lot of credit. When he signed his client Tuukka Rask to just a one-year deal a year ago, some people criticized him. The gamble, though, was that Rask would excel in his first full season as Boston Bruins starter with Tim Thomas gone -- and boy, oh boy, has that been an incredible decision by Zito.

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Zito and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli talked about an extension back after the lockout-shortened season began in January, but then mutually decided it would be better to wait until after the season was over to pick it up again regarding the star netminder, a restricted free agent.

SIGNINGS

On the heals of the Penguins locking up star center Evgeni Malkin a year before he was due to become a free agent, the Detroit Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk, while the Sharks have agreed to a five-year extension with Logan Couture worth $6 million a year.

A couple of thoughts on each deal: First in Detroit, where I wonder what the Datsyuk signing means for pending UFA center Valtteri Filppula. In a weak UFA class, Filppula can likely fetch north of $5 million on the open market, and I think that coin is too rich for Detroit. Expect the Wings and Zito, also Filppula’s agent, to meet next week at the draft though.

As for Couture, the term (five years) is reflective of how San Jose has managed to keep its top players from signing those lifetime deals that other stars get around the league, which allows GM Doug Wilson to stay out of a payroll/cap jam. Other than Couture now, not a single player on the Sharks roster has a deal that extends past five years, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both signing shorter-term deals a few years ago.

SENATORS UPDATE

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray held a brief discussion with Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean about a contract extension last weekend and is expected to sit down with his coach next week at the draft. MacLean has one year left on his deal.

Murray has chatted briefly with captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is an UFA and undecided on whether to keep playing or not. In a perfect world, Murray would get an answer before Alfredsson goes back to Sweden for the summer next week, which would give the Sens the ability to hit trade talks/free agency with the knowledge of whether or not he’s back.

But if Alfredsson needs more time to think about it, Murray said it would be no problem at all. Meanwhile, other UFAs on the Ottawa roster include Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin and Mike Lundin, none of whom likely will get a contract offer from the Senators.

THIS AND THAT

Veteran agent Don Meehan expects to meet with Rangers GM Glen Sather in New York/New Jersey the week of the draft to talk extension for star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. That’s going to be an expensive re-sign. …

The Carolina Hurricanes offered pending UFA Dan Ellis a new deal, but the veteran backup netminder informed them he was headed to market. …

Speaking of the Hurricanes, they’ve gotten calls about their No. 5 overall pick for the June 30 draft, but the intention right now is to keep the pick. …

Contract talks have been ongoing since the end of their season between the Kings and pending UFA blue-liner Rob Scuderi. The expectation is that veteran agent Steve Bartlett will meet in person with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on draft week. With Slava Voynov signing a six-year, $25 million deal Tuesday, Scuderi is now clearly the top priority. …

No surprise at all but the expectation is that pending UFA center Derek Roy, who was dealt by the Stars to the Canucks at the deadline, is headed to market. …

The NHL’s 30 GMs meet here Wednesday before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and while Patrick Roy will be handling trade discussions for the Colorado Avalanche, Greg Sherman will represent the franchise at the meeting.

Dainius Zubrus' through-the-legs pass to Ilya Kovalchuk



Cam Ward's diving save in Toronto

What to watch for Tuesday night

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
3:39
PM ET

Boston Bruins (28-15-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (24-5-6, 1.81 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (22-15-5, 2.70 GAA)
Preview: Two weeks after the Bruins finished a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes, Carolina tries to end the series with Boston on a high note. The Hurricanes got only two of their 76 shots past Tim Thomas in back-to-back losses to the Bruins on Jan. 17 and 18. Carolina is one point out of the eighth-seed in the East, while Boston leads the Northeast division.

Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-1 Chicago
Starting goaltenders: Marty Turco (10-10-2, 3.02 GAA) vs. Steve Mason (15-12-2, 3.20 GAA)
Preview: The Blackhawks begin a six-game road trip in Columbus after All-Star weekend featured four Chicago players, including game MVP Patrick Sharp. Heading into their final 32 games, the Blackhawks are tied for seventh in the West with San Jose and Colorado. Minnesota and Los Angeles are a point behind that group, and Columbus, tied for 13th, is five back.

Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4) at New York Rangers (29-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (23-11-2, 2.19 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (21-16-3, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers have lost four in a row to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden and haven't won a home game against the Penguins since Jan. 5, 2009. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight at MSG since a streak from Dec. 31, 1989 to March 17, 1991. Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin is ready to return, but the Penguins are 5-3-1 without Crosby and 2-1-0 without both Crosby and Malkin this season.

Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky (21-6-3, 2.42 GAA) vs. Dwayne Roloson (7-3-0, 2.25 GAA for Bolts)
Preview: The East's top two teams face off for the third time this season with the Flyers looking for their first win of the season against the Lightning. The Lightning have won five straight games and are in the midst of a 12-game home stand. The Flyers have won two straight and six of their last seven games. Philadelphia leads the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since the 1986-87 season.

Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5) at Washington Capitals (27-15-9), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Carey Price (24-16-5, 2.36 GAA) vs. Semyon Varlamov (8-7-3, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have looked like a different team since getting stunned by the Canadiens in the postseason. They cruised through last season and won the President's Trophy, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Montreal. This season, the Capitals are 17th in the league at 2.71 goals per game, have been shut out seven times and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in goals and points.

Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1) at Minnesota Wild (25-19-5), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA) vs. Niklas Backstrom (15-11-3, 2.52 GAA)
Preview: After an up-and-down season, the Kings went into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Kings now begin a 10-game road trip. The Kings are 5-8-0 in their past 13 road games. The Wild won four of five before the break and are currently tied with the Kings, but Minnesota is just 4-6-1 at home since the start of December.

Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9) at Dallas Stars (30-15-5), 8:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Cory Schneider (8-2-2, 2.35 GAA) vs. Kari Lehtonen (22-11-5, 2.57 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks and the Stars both lead their divisions, but Vancouver has dominated the series. Vancouver has outscored Dallas 11-2 in the two games. But the Canucks will now need to depend on defenseman Lee Sweatt more with an injury to Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the Canucks with 24 minutes of ice time per game and tops the defense with 32 points, is having back surgery and will be out indefinitely.

Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9) at San Jose Sharks (25-19-6), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Ilya Bryzgalov (19-12-6, 2.64 GAA) vs. Antti Niemi (13-13-3, 2.69 GAA)
Preview: The Coyotes will try to win their sixth straight away from home Tuesday night and end a six-game slide against the Sharks. Phoenix has limited its opponents to 1 for 17 on the power play during its run on the road. Veteran center Joe Thornton has two goals and three assists, and Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average in two wins over the Coyotes this season.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Zdeno Chara once again proved his domination, setting a record with the hardest slap shot (105.9 mph) at Saturday's SuperSkills competition. It was the fourth straight time Chara has won the event.

Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang just shook his head at the feat.

"Scary," he said. "Scary because I'm going to play against him a few more games this year."

The highlight for Letang, who ended up shooting on teammate Marc-Andre Fleury?

"Just being here," he said. "It's fun, it's an experience. Obviously, it's not a competition anyone wants to get hurt here, so just to be here having fun with the guys."

[+] EnlargeZdeno Chara
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesZdeno Chara set a SuperSkills record in the hardest shot competition, clocking in at 105.9 mph.

Was he disappointed at the lopsided Skills competition score?

"Honestly, I just want to have fun," said Letang, whose Team Staal squad pounded Team Lidstrom 33-22.

Shea Weber wasn't able to dethrone Chara, finishing second with a good showing nonetheless.

"We were having a blast," said Weber. "We're both competitors out there and he's got a great shot. He holds the record for a reason; he's a big man and he can really let it rip."

Weber hit triple digits and the crowd loved it.

"You surprise yourself," said Weber, who shot a puck through the net at the 2010 Olympics. "A couple of years ago in Montreal [at the 2009 All-Star Game] was the first time I timed my shot since I was a little kid. Just to see it go up there and see how hard it is was pretty crazy."

Weber hadn't checked his cell phone yet after the event, but he knew what would be waiting for him.

"I'm sure my teammates will be ripping me," said Weber. "There will be a few positives after the first round, but they were probably ripping me after the final."

No All-Star texts for Alex

Although Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge, he admitted he liked Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban's effort, but would have voted for Anaheim's Corey Perry if he had a chance to vote.

When it was suggested the players should have been given phones, so they could text their votes, Ovechkin explained he could have since he never parts with his cell.

Said Ovechkin: "Well I have my cell phone all the time with me, but I don't want to spend the 50 cents, you know what I mean?"

Subban's jersey swap

It's been interesting to watch just how big a deal Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner is in Raleigh. Subban wore a Skinner jersey in the breakaway competition, much to the crowd's delight.

Subban said the idea for his jersey switch came from San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle.

"Dan Boyle was just like, 'Hey man, you need an idea,"' said Subban. "I was just like, 'That's a pretty good idea. I think the crowd would like that.' So I threw it on and they liked it -- that's what it's all about."

Skinner wasn't sure what to make of the old switcheroo.

"I didn't know [what he was doing]," Skinner said. "Five seconds before he shot, he just came up to me and said 'I need your jersey.' I just took it off. He put on a good show."

Fans in Montreal might have taken a dim view of Subban's move, but he's not in any hurry to trade in the fabled Montreal colors.

"To be honest with you, I'm more comfortable in my jersey," said Subban. "That jersey was snug and there was a little too much black in it. I prefer the bleu, blanc et rouge, you know what I mean?"

Among Skinner's Team Staal teammates was San Jose's Logan Couture, who looks to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Carolina rookie for this season's Calder Trophy.

"If this was in San Jose, I'm sure it would be the same for me, but I love how they support him. He's a great player, very gifted," Couture said. "Eighteen years old to be doing what he's doing this year is spectacular. He's a great kid, too. This is my first time of really getting to know him and be around him. He doesn't say much, but he's a great kid. He's always got a big smile on his face."

Couture said a number of players complimented him on his strong first NHL season.

"A lot of these guys have come up to me and said. 'You're having a great year, you're playing really well,' and it means a lot to me to hear it from these guys. These guys do it year in and year out," Couture said. "A couple of coaches tonight said that to me as well, so it's a great honor to hear that, it definitely means a lot to me."

Fleury on fire

Fleury was dynamite in the shootout event. We asked him if he was swearing at his shooters like he did with his teammates during shootout drills in HBO's "24/7".

"I'm not as comfortable with the guys here like I am back home in Pittsburgh,'' said Fleury. "I gave it a bit to Tanger [Letang] when I stopped him, but I was mad against myself for Perry on the last goal. I moved too fast. I said a few bad words after that."

Why the success in the shootout?

"I have some good teammates shooting on me at home," said Fleury. "I guess practicing against them helped me out."

Stammer versus Marty

Lightning linemates Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis faced off in the fastest skater competition and the kid beat the veteran.

"I didn't even know what I was doing when I got to the dressing room today, so we didn't have time to have a side bet," said Stamkos. "He let me know that I beat him and that I have 15 years on him and that he said he had a bad start. We might have to have a rematch back home."

Stamkos also took honors for hardest shot among forwards.

"I'll take pride in that," said Stamkos, the NHL goals leader. "I was a little nervous after the first one, only 95 [mph], but I beared down. It was nice getting over 100."

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at where teams stand at the All-Star break:

Burnside: Well, my friend, the All-Star break has arrived, the unofficial start of the stretch drive. There were a couple of interesting games to close out this part of the NHL schedule on Wednesday night, most notably here in Atlanta.

With even more bad news on the ownership front in recent days (they're suing their own lawyers), the Thrashers have been in danger of falling right out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. But on Wednesday night, Ondrej Pavelec was terrific in net and one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL buttoned up and shut out Washington 1-0. The win keeps the Thrashers in eighth place, just ahead of surging Carolina. What caught your eye last night other than the nonstop commercials for this weekend's All-Star shindig?

LeBrun: As you know, I love my Western Conference hockey, and that's really where the action was last night. The Sharks and Kings put on some kind of show, especially in a wide-open overtime period. The single point finally put San Jose back in a playoff spot at the break, a real important mental development for the Sharks. They streaked into the break with a five-game points streak (4-0-1) and I just don't see how they could possibly miss the playoffs now. They've figured it out.

Similarly, the Kings roar into the break with a three-game winning streak, and their celebration after the shootout last night was playoff-like. They needed that one badly. They're only a point out of eighth in the crazy West and, like the Sharks, seem to have turned the corner. But it won't be easy for either team; only two points separate seventh from 12th in the conference.

Burnside: Having spent some time in Denver last week and seeing the Avs turn in a solid effort against St. Louis on Monday, it was surprising to see them play so poorly against Phoenix last night in a 5-2 loss at the Pepsi Center. Once again, the Avs dropped out of the top eight.

Chatted with Avs GM Greg Sherman last week and he insisted he's comfortable with his goaltending tandem, but once again the goaltending was average Wednesday. I don't know if they can make the playoffs without upgrading that position. As for the Coyotes, there's just no quit in coach Dave Tippett's team; it looks like a squad destined for the postseason.

LeBrun: While you were in Denver, I was in Vancouver, and one of the games I caught was Calgary's big shootout win over the Canucks. The resurgent Flames enter the break on a 10-3-3 run, a stretch that began with coach Brent Sutter breaking the rest of the season into three-game segments and convincing his players all they needed to do is get four out of six points in those segments and they'd be in the playoffs. Well, they're only two points out of a playoff spot at the break, perhaps one of the most stunning turnarounds of the season.

There are other teams to jump over and it's going to be difficult, but the Flames have given themselves a shot, which is more than anyone would have predicted. Let's jump back to the East, where the Hurricanes enter the break one point back of the Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot, only three points behind Montreal. How do you see that playing out?

Burnside: I still think the Canes are the only team capable of cracking the top eight right now, but it is interesting to note that Buffalo is 7-3-0 in its past 10 games and has three games in hand on the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers, especially because of their defensive shortcomings, seem the most vulnerable. The Canadiens, hammered Tuesday by Philadelphia, aren't safe and sit just two points ahead of Atlanta, although they have two games in hand.

Then there's the New York Rangers; they're only five points ahead of ninth-place Carolina and have played two more games. It's not as jam-packed as the Western Conference, but I foresee much drama at the bottom end of the East standings. Remember last season? The Flyers earned a playoff berth on the final afternoon of the regular season in a shootout.

LeBrun: I wouldn't worry one bit about the Rangers. They were really unlucky to lose that game against Florida earlier this week, and the consistency of their effort, night in and night out, is superior to Atlanta and, to some degree, Montreal. The Rangers are in. I've always had a soft spot for the Sabres and their loyal fans, but I just don't see them getting back in. Despite their recent play, losing Derek Roy is just too big a blow.

Well, I will see you in Raleigh tomorrow morning as we arrive for the All-Star festivities. I will try to keep an open mind about the whole weekend!

What to watch for Wednesday night

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
3:38
PM ET

Florida Panthers (22-21-5) at Boston Bruins (27-15-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-0 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Scott Clemmensen 5-5-2, 2.43 GAA) vs. Tim Thomas (23-5-6, 1.84 GAA)
Preview: Tim Thomas has dominated the Southeast Division, going 10-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .949 save percentage in 13 starts against the Southeast this season. The Bruins are looking to complete a sweep of the Panthers after being shut out by the Kings on Monday.

Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-6) at New York Islanders (15-26-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Carolina
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (21-15-5, 2.71 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-8-4, 3.39 GAA)
Preview: The Hurricanes are hoping for another happy trip to Long Island. Over the last five seasons, Carolina has the second-best record of any team on the road against the Islanders of teams that have played at least five games there. Look for Jeff Skinner to lead the Canes as the rookie has more goals in January than any other NHL player.

Washington Capitals (27-14-9) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-2 Atlanta
Starting goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov (8-6-3, 2.22 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-12-7, 2.51 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 22. And, the Thrashers have allowed more than three goals in a game seven times over that stretch, so a trip to Atlanta could be just what heals Washington's power play ails. Alex Ovechkin has scored 30 career goals against the Thrashers, tied for the most by any player against Atlanta.

New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (10-18-2, 2.84 GAA) vs. Jimmy Howard (23-8-3, 2.86 GAA)
Preview: The Devils may have the worst record in the NHL, but they are playing their best hockey of late. They have won four straight and have earned a point in seven straight (6-0-1), giving them the NHL’s best points percentage since Jan. 9. Unfortunately, they have not enjoyed much success at Joe Louis Arena recently. Since they swept the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals, the Devils are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games at Detroit.

Nashville Predators (27-16-6) at Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9), 10 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-12-4, 2.11 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (22-8-7, 2.31 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks lead the Western Conference thanks to a strong home record. They will be looking to earn at least one point in a 13th consecutive home game when they face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville ended its three-game winning streak when it went 0 for 5 on the power play in a loss at Calgary on Monday night.

San Jose Sharks (25-19-5) at Los Angeles Kings (26-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (21-14-1, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Sharks attempt to win five in a row for the first time in more than a year, but the last time they won four straight, they followed it with a 4-0 loss to the Kings. The Kings will be playing their last game at home before beginning a 10-game road trip after the All-Star break.

What to watch for Thursday night

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
4:26
PM ET

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.

Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.

New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.

Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.

Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.

Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.

What to watch for Tuesday night

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
5:23
PM ET

Washington Capitals (25-14-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (29-11-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season Series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Michal Neuvirth (15-6-4, 2.55 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (17-6-3, 2.53 GAA)
Preview: The Eastern Conference-leading Flyers dropped the first meeting of the season with Washington 3-2 in overtime Nov. 7 but won 5-4 in a shootout Nov. 20. Both matchups were at the Verizon Center. Alex Ovechkin has been held without a point in his past three games and has just one goal in his past seven, but the Capitals' captain has recorded seven goals and six assists during a seven-game point streak against the Flyers.

Detroit Red Wings (28-11-6) at Pittsburgh Penguins (28-14-4), 7 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Joey MacDonald (1-1-1, 2.37 GAA) vs. Marc-Andre Fleury (20-11-2, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: In the first meeting of the season between these two teams, the Penguins are worried about the health of Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, but the Red Wings have even more concerns. Injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Mike Modano, Brad Stuart, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard and Tomas Holmstrom have left the Red Wings in survival mode heading into the All-Star break. Despite the injuries, it’s always interesting to see the 2008 and 2009 Cup finalists tangle.

Boston Bruins (25-13-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-17-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season Series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (19-13-5, 2.71 GAA) likely for Carolina. Game-time decision for Boston.
Preview: On Monday night, the Bruins crushed the Hurricanes 7-0 as Zdeno Chara recorded his first career hat trick and Tim Thomas has his seventh shutout of the season. The only good news for the Hurricanes is they didn't have to wait long to try to get revenge with the Bruins in town Tuesday night, but Carolina will need a much better effort if they are going to have any hope of earning a playoff berth.

Vancouver Canucks 29-10-6) at Colorado Avalanche (23-16-6), 9 p.m. ET

Season Series: 4-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Roberto Luongo (21-8-4, 2.33 GAA) vs. Craig Anderson (12-9-3, 2.98 GAA)
Preview: The Western-Conference leading Canucks will try to end their five-game road trip with a win and extend their perfect record against the Avalanche this season. Colorado is clinging to the eighth spot in the West and will need to quiet Henrik and Daniel Sedin if they are going to have a chance to win. The Sedin twins have combined for nine goals and 13 assists in their past nine games against the Avs.

Watch: Zdeno Chara's first NHL hat trick

January, 17, 2011
1/17/11
4:57
PM ET

Zdeno Chara recorded his first career NHL hat trick in the Boston Bruins' 7-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.

According to our Stats & Information gurus, Chara became the first Bruins defenseman to net a hat trick since Glen Wesley did it on Dec. 15, 1993. Chara also is the third blueliner to score three goals in a game this season; Phoenix's Ed Jovanovski (Nov. 3) and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom (Dec. 15) were the others.

Watch highlights of Chara's big game here:


Stock Up

Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers
Take that, NHL Hockey Ops. After being snubbed by the NHL for inclusion in the All-Star Game in Raleigh later this month, Danny Briere continues to run red-hot for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers. He had a goal, his 23rd of the season, and an assist in Thursday's 7-5 loss to Boston, and now has points in five straight games. In his past eight games, Briere has seven goals and seven assists. Pretty good for a guy not good enough to go to the All-Star Game.

Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes
The Canes dropped a 3-2 decision to Buffalo on Thursday night, but Tuomo Ruutu kept up his recent torrid pace, adding his 12th goal of the season on the power play. He has goals in three straight games and points in four straight to help keep the Canes within shouting distance of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

Stock Down

John-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche
It's been a difficult time for the youthful Avalanche as they try to hang onto a playoff berth in the Western Conference. One of the reasons for the team's strong start was the impressive point production of veteran defenseman John-Michael Liles. After a torrid start, though, Liles has managed just two points in his past 12 games for the Avs. As for goals, he has gone 17 straight without pushing one across.

Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals
One of the things that made the Caps such a dynamic offensive squad last season was the depth of scoring. Brooks Laich was the leader of a second line that most often featured talented yet streaky Alexander Semin, and Laich topped the 20-goal mark for the third straight season. Now he's on pace for about 15 goals this season and has gone 11 straight without a goal.

Ask hockey folks to list the top 10 goalies in the NHL this season and you'll hear lots of names, some familiar, some not: Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Hiller, Carey Price, Brian Boucher, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Semyon Varlamov.

Wonder how many people you'd have to ask or how far down the list you'd go before you'd hear the name Cam Ward?

Might be more than a few.

Not that that bothers Ward any. Indeed, one of the young netminder's most endearing qualities has been his lack of ego.

[+] EnlargeCam Ward
Claus Andersen/Getty ImagesCam Ward's .925 save percentage is sixth in the NHL but third among netminders who have played in 30 or more games this season.

In spite of the fact that he won a Conn Smythe Trophy in his first NHL season as the Carolina Hurricanes won their first Stanley Cup, Ward has remained self-effacing, unflappable, darn near anonymous. In some ways, the netminder mirrors the personality of the Canes themselves: a little bit under the radar but not to be underestimated.

"I think he's always been under the radar because of where he started," Canes GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com this week.

With the All-Star Game scheduled to be played in Raleigh, N.C., at the end of the month, it was more than justified for Ward to be selected to play.

But, the new father -- son, Nolan, was born almost seven weeks ago -- was not losing any sleep over the selection process before the remaining All-Stars were announced Tuesday.

"It doesn't bother me," Ward said of his life in relative obscurity in the Raleigh area. "To be honest I don't really need somebody to tell me I'm an All-Star for me to believe I'm an All-Star."

It is that kind of attitude that has served both Ward and the Hurricanes well in the past and appears ready to serve them well in the future.

"I'm not a guy to really seek the spotlight anyways," he admitted.

If Ward keeps playing as he has through the first half of the season, the spotlight will inevitably seek him.

The Canes started the season with a trip to Russia, where the St. Petersburg squad tried to mug them. Then, after games in Finland against Minnesota to start the regular season, the Canes jetted to the West Coast. Historically not a particularly good team out of the blocks, the Canes struggled through their arduous travel docket and fell behind the rest of the Eastern Conference early in the season. A strong December, though, has Carolina back in the hunt in the Eastern Conference.

Where many thought this young team wasn't ready to compete for a playoff spot, it is three points behind eighth-place Montreal with a game in hand as of Tuesday morning. More interesting, perhaps, is that the Canes are five points back of Atlanta, whom they beat in overtime Sunday, with four games in hand.

Ward is one of two suns around whom the Canes and their playoff hopes revolve.

Captain Eric Staal has come on offensively while Ward has quietly turned in a stellar first half of this regular season and appears to have shaken off questions about his durability that may have arisen during the past couple of seasons.

After missing the past two games with a minor injury, Ward is expected to be back between the pipes Tuesday night to face the visiting Calgary Flames.

"I'm probably the healthiest I've been in a very, very long time," Ward said.

Among the workout regimens he found and liked during the offseason was Pilates. "Although I do get razzed about it sometimes by my teammates," Ward said.

In 10 December starts, Ward was 6-3-1 with a .943 save percentage.

At one point in games against Atlanta and Anaheim, he turned in back-to-back 40-plus save performances, both wins.

Ward's .925 save percentage is sixth in the NHL but third among netminders who have played in 30 or more games. Only Anaheim's Hiller has made more saves than Ward.

"He's had stretches of just incredible hockey," Canes coach Paul Maurice told ESPN.com.

How important is Ward's presence to the Canes? Until this past weekend, he had started every Carolina victory this season.

"He's always been a special goaltender in my opinion," Rutherford said.

Like most Rutherford-built teams, this Carolina team is less about flash and dash and more about balance and consistency. After shedding veteran players last season at the trade deadline and with the retirement of longtime captain Rod Brind'Amour, the Canes are counting on a lot of young players to do a lot of grown-up work.

"That's really what's happened to us now," Rutherford said. "We have a long way to go, but I do like where we're situated now."

"I think if you went through that locker room, everybody would feel an important part of what we do," Maurice said.

One of the reasons that those players are able to feel that sense of satisfaction is the leadership shown by guys like Staal and Ward.

"This year we've been able to rebound after a disappointing outing. It's a consistency factor," Ward said. "We believe in what we're doing."

Monday: Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET)

The Canucks jumped into the top spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings on Monday (the highest honor that a team can receive short of being named Grand Poo-bah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo). They have not lost in regulation in their past 10 (9-0-1) and were tied for the conference lead with Detroit as of Monday. San Jose, meanwhile, rebounded after losses last week to Los Angeles and Minnesota to beat the Kings and Chicago. This is a good test to see if the Sharks really are among the league's best as we cruise into the second half of the schedule.

Prediction: The Canucks continue their ascension with a big road win in the Shark Tank.

Tuesday: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET)

We all know about the surging Capitals, who have won five of six (5-0-1) after knocking off Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic on Saturday. But the Lightning, 8-1-1 in their past 10, were actually in first place in the Southeast Division on Monday based on their winning percentage. The Lightning will have new netminder Dwayne Roloson in the fold for what should be an interesting clash between teams with dynamic offensive tools. Tampa sniper Steven Stamkos is now just one goal back of Sidney Crosby in the goal-scoring race with 31.

Prediction: The Lightning, who are in Pittsburgh the next night for another big tilt, come up with a win but it'll take extra time.

Wednesday: Carolina Hurricanes at the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET)

The Canes began the week seven points back of the seventh-place Rangers with three games in hand. If the Hurricanes, in ninth at week's start, hope to force their way back into the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference, these are the games they need to win. Carolina has won three straight and seven of 10.

Prediction: The Rangers hold off the Canes at MSG.

Thursday: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Penguins look to bounce back after a disappointing end to 2010 with losses on Long Island (in a shootout) and in the Winter Classic. The Habs, meanwhile, are trying to hang on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Shocking but Sidney Crosby has zero points in his past two games. Carey Price is winless in his past four (0-3-1) and wasn't great in an overtime loss to Atlanta on Sunday.

Prediction: The Habs' woes continue as the Penguins get back on track.

Friday: Detroit Red Wings at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET)

The Wings are trying to muddle through without offensive pieces Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Cleary and lost to the Islanders (in overtime) and Philadelphia in their past two outings. Calgary is hoping to build on some recent success as the Flames start the week riding a four-game winning streak. Any coincidence the wins are coming with the departure of GM Darryl Sutter, who was forced out last week? Discuss amongst yourselves. Regardless, these are the kinds of games the Flames must win if they're serious about getting back in the playoff picture in the competitive Western Conference.

Prediction: The Flames shock the Wings.

Last Week: 4-1

Another week, another collection of excellent rants by our ESPN.com puck heads. Let's take a look:

Ivesty: Lebrun, When is Stamkos finally going to get the love like Ovi and Crosby? The kid ties Crosby for most goals last year, and is putting up better numbers than both Ovi and Crosby this year, with a weaker supporting cast. Yet, you barely hear boo about him... When are the NHL analysts going to finally give him his due? I am starting to lose all respect for all hockey analysts. Why can't they focus more attention on the other stars on the ice outside of DC and Pittsburgh? There are some very exciting players on teams all over the league, lets showcase all the NHL stars not just two.

My take: Oh my, what timing Ivesty! Check out the tremendous Stamkos feature from my colleague Scott Burnside. The best reporting on Stamkos since he's entered the league. Make sure to read it all.

Claven5577: I think the Islanders mess needs to be addressed in an unprecedented show of force by the league. The latest circus moments are the attempted circumvention of the SALARY FLOOR, increase of prices, dismissal of Billy Jaffe, 12-game losing streak, press credential pulling of Chris Botta, the complete and seemingly intentional destruction of this team by the ownership since they didn't get their Lighthouse Project approved, and the firing of Scott Gordon (coach #?) as a scapegoat for the incompetence and contempt this management crew seems to have for the fan base. Couple that with the endless amount of things over the LAST 20 YEARS (Milbury antics, other ownership issues including a con man buying the team, fishermen, NYLES, Yashin, yadda, yadda, yadda), and many people not even realizing this team still exists, the league has to say enough is enough. They are hurting the rich heritage of this once great team, the fans and the brand that is the NHL. League needs to expel Wang from ownership until a proper ownership group who will responsibly operate this franchise like a professional sports team is found. If that means picking them up and moving them to Quebec or Winnipeg so be it. I'd rather this team not exist than continue down this path of insanity.

My take: It is utterly sad, is it not? A rink that's half empty for every game, a team that's last overall in the league and the bizarre off-ice distractions like the Jaffe and Botta situations. First, let's be fair: not that many teams would survive the long-term injury losses of Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo, not to mention the other injuries. Those two guys were arguably the best two players on the team last season. Still, it's ugly. My biggest concern if I were an Islanders fan is what John Tavares and his powerful agent Pat Brisson (Crosby, Toews, Kane) will think once the star forward's entry-level contract is up in July 2012. Your top priority right now must be to make sure you don't lose his enthusiasm for wanting to stay in Long Island.

sjmarky: San Jose Sharks: Slow defense, mediocre goaltending, no chemistry, no intensity. Every other game they appear to be just going through the motions. Wilson chose McLellan to install a Detroit-style system, and then dealt away all the players who could play that system. This team is weaker than either of the last two, who couldn't win in the playoffs. Before the season, I figured the Sharks to finish third in the Pacific, sixth or seventh seed, and a first-round exit. I may be wrong -- they're not even that good. What do they need, other than three defensemen, a different coach and a captain who feels like playing once in a while?

My take: I wrote before the season that I thought they were a top-four blueliner short, having not replaced Rob Blake, and I think that's more clear than ever. My bet is that GM Doug Wilson will try to address that between now and Feb. 28. Also glaring is that outside of star defenseman Dan Boyle, they've only got two goals from the rest of the blue line corps combined. Jason Demers has been disappointing. I'm not as concerned with the goaltending, they'll be fine. The Sharks are right in the middle of the 30 teams averaging 2.74 goals against per game; it's not that bad, although it is off from the 2.55 they averaged last season, good for eighth in the league. Hang in there Sharks fan, way too early to give up on this talented team.

spiritfan8: Can we skip the team love, or lack thereof, for a minute and ask how it is remotely possible that not one single NHL exec has a problem with the fact that their head disciplinarian has just shown himself to have a big problem with impartiality? I really don't care how all the head guys are marching in lockstep and proclaiming in unison what a great guy Colin is, and how honorable he is. He effed up, pure and simple. ANY other business in the world, and he'd be out on his #### by now. Even for the NHL, this is absolutely breathtaking.

My take: The league's GMs and owners have indeed been solidly behind Campbell in the aftermath of this e-mail controversy. Even Marc Savard has! But I did have one NHL GM tell me last week that while he fully supports Campbell, he wonders if the episode doesn't at least warrant the discussion of whether or not it's time to change how the process for league discipline is performed. Whether or not this particular GM would bring that up internally with the league? Who knows.

rubyhawk204: Okay, last week's game between the Canes and the Pens had a goal that made no sense. The puck was under Peters, he got pushed by his own D-man and the puck ended up in the net. But that was after the whistle blew. After a lengthy review, the goal was called a "good" goal. How did the no-goal call on the ice get overturned with no concrete evidence either way? And even if the puck crossed the line slightly before the whistle, there's that whole "intent to blow" rule. Please explain this to me, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

My take: Actually that's an easy one. I checked on that with the league and the ref in question totally screwed up on that play. He should have stuck with his no-goal call and said that he was in the process of bringing the whistle to his mouth before the puck went in, which means it wasn't a reviewable play. That's why you saw Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice gesturing like he had a whistle going to his mouth, that's what he was also arguing. And he was right.

rjs162: can i complain about all the same complaining every week?

My take: But that's the point! The weekly rant!

metaljunkie003: I'm sick of the stinkin' Red Wings fans always thinking their team gets no love! The team is good -- everyone understands they are one of the top Cup contenders. Everyone that's a real hockey fan -- in Detroit or not -- knows that Datsyuk is one of the best, if not THE best player in the league. Just because every time someone talks about hockey it is not necessarily about the Wings does NOT mean they get no love. I mean, Wings fans are basically saying "Our team is so good that everyone should just agree that we should stop playing right now and hand Lord Stanley's Cup over to them for infinite possession." I'm sick of it. Face it: there are other good teams in the league. They are going to be talked about sometimes. Get over it. Your precious Wings will be in the top five (most likely top three) of the Power Rankings most of the year, and they will be one of the favorites for the Cup. NOW STOP GRIPING ABOUT THE ATTENTION THEY SUPPOSEDLY DON'T GET!

My take: It is strange to see how many Red Wings complain to me about their team coverage. I've written so much about them in my career I can't even count how many stories. And I'm headed to Detroit soon to do another story on them. I mean, what else do you want Hockeytown fans!

StarZoneX: Pierre, I have read numerous comments that if a hockey fan plans to avoid watching the Winter Classic (and subsequent Crosby-Ovi hype) then they are not a true hockey fan. Somehow the media in Washington and Pittsburgh (as well as some national media) think we are not hockey fans because both the excessive Crosby-Ovi hype as well as the NHL's failure to recognize other stars (dare I say Western Conference stars) actually turns some of us lifelong fans off to this Winter Classic matchup. Must I really "bow down" to the Crosby-Ovi hype to be a "true" fan? Frankly, there is a good chance my alma mater will likely be playing on Jan 1 at the same time -- am I at least excused from watching this overhyped matchup?

My take: You can skip the game and you'll still be a good hockey fan, no worries pal. You may miss a thrilling affair, yes, between two teams that don't like each other, two superstars that don't like each other, and enough talent on an outdoor ice to make your head explode. Having said that, this will be my fourth Winter Classic and despite the electric matchup, I must admit they are beginning to look the same to me. But you know us jaded media types, we're like that.

MUTiger0834: When are the Columbus Blue Jackets gonna get some love and earn some respect that they deserve? You'd have to say that they are one of the best smaller market teams (and top NHL teams overall) so far in the early season (12-6-0 through November 21). And shockers of all shockers, they are 7-1 on the road, and coming off a three-game West road trip sweep. If this team can pick up their play at home and continue to "be greedy," as Coach Scott Arniel wants them to be, they could be a scary foe in the Western Conference. Even though it is early on, this franchise may have finally turned the corner...

My take: It hurts my feelings that you don't read our Cross Checks Blog. There on Nov. 4 you would have seen major "love" from yours truly on the surprising Blue Jackets. I also posed the question on twitter a few weeks ago, whether these Jackets were this year's Coyotes, the surprise team that comes out of nowhere. Got a mixed response from users but it's a question worth pondering.

justplayinj21: Pierre, I have wrote in every Monday. I am a diehard MN Wild fan. I can't seem to figure this team out. We win games that it doesn't look like we deserve but we keep taking some key games down. I am not so much venting, but how do we beat Detroit in Joe Louis then come home and get throttled by the Rangers?! Is it because it was the second game in two days? Also what do we need to do to get our five-on-five scoring up??? Do you believe once we get PMB and the Tenderness back we can start generating a lil more? Also remember you said the Wild will not make the playoffs... Sir you are wrong, and I continue to say I will wager anything you want on it!

My take: I spoke with Wild GM Cliff Fletcher last week and yes, five-on-five scoring is a major concern (29th in the league). Some of that comes from slow starts to the season from several regulars (who lack confidence right now, Fletcher said), including Havlat. But I also think Havlat has played his best hockey of the season over the past 10 days or so. Still, doesn't seem to be enough offensive jam on this team for them to make the playoffs.

jbowcott1414: Hi Toronto.

Let's meet up some time.

Sincerely,

The Back of the Net

My take: Haha, that's the best of the week. Well put. So you're saying being ranked 28th in the NHL in offense bothers you? Can't blame you. But it's also not surprising. Read any writer's preview on the Leafs from September and it'll say the team needed to win a lot of 2-1 games this year. That was the framework for this season. But what has killed the Leafs again this year on the other end of things has been the PK, ranked 28th in the league. When you can't score goals, you need your PK to stop the other team from doing so.

Is there a more compelling contract negotiation this season than Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning?

How much will it cost to sign a player that will challenge for the Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies?

Gulp.

Contract talks officially began Nov. 9, and I suspect it's going to be a long process. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and veteran agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports are slated to chat again over the next week.

"We had an initial meeting with Newport Sports, just an introductory meeting," Yzerman told ESPN.com Friday. "But the one thing is, we're not going to regularly give updates on the process and where we are. We just felt it's the best thing for Steven so he doesn't have to read about it or comment about it every time. It'll take as long as it takes, but we're both committed to trying to get a deal that makes sense for everybody involved."

Wisely, neither side wants this thing played out in the media. The last thing anyone wants is to see Stamkos distracted by it.

So where does it go from here? How much is enough to get a deal done?

My guess is that in a perfect world, Tampa would love to do a Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane type of deal ($6.3 million cap hit), although Newport Sports, and who can blame them, might be thinking more along the lines of a Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million cap hit) or Alex Ovechkin ($9.5 million cap hit) deal.

Listen, Yzerman knows he has to pony up. But I think part of his sales pitch will be similar to what you've seen in Philadelphia, where the Flyers signed their core players to reasonable deals. The sales pitch is about icing a competitive team. Whatever Stamkos signs for, he basically determines the rest of the team around him. That's the thing about a cap system.

Regardless of what happens, it's going to be fascinating. You've got a big-time agent, a brilliant young GM and a rising superstar needing a new deal.

Doughty talks not begun


Well, you can't mention Stamkos and not the player taken right after him in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Drew Doughty, right? I wrote a few weeks ago that the Kings were drawing up different contract proposals for Doughty's camp. Talks, as far as I can tell, still haven't begun, but one thing I was told Friday is that the Kings at this point are leaning toward a short-term deal instead of the multiyear deals you usually see for these young stars; the reason being that the Kings are weary of the uncertainty of the next CBA. I don't think you can rule out a long-term deal, because, after all, it all depends on the money, but short term is where the Kings are leaning right now.

Iginla rumors not substantiated



Nice to see Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla with a hat trick Friday night, it's been a tough year for him. Trade rumors this past week involving the Kings spread like wildfire in cyberspace. Judging from what I was told by people in the know, the Flames and Kings never spoke, so it appears those rumors were just that.

One thing to keep in mind with all these trade rumors is that the Flames, as of Friday, have not once approached Iginla's agent and they would need to since Iginla has a no-trade clause.

Also, a Flames source told my Hot Stove colleague Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun that Iginla was told by the team he would not be traded.

Of course, stranger things have happened and, as I first reported last month, Iginla remains very much part of the Kings' wish list approaching the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Should Iggy not be an option because the Flames insist on not moving him, then you wonder what else is out there for L.A., which has the most cap room of the Cup contenders. I think Patrik Elias or Jamie Langenbrunner could be options from New Jersey, as well as Marco Sturm of the Bruins.

The Kings have the cap room, and they want to add a significant forward if they can.

Savard's return raises salary cap questions



Great news that Marc Savard is on the mend from a concussion that threatened his career.

"He's cleared for controlled contact," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Saturday. "He has a couple of more tests this week. Obviously he has to get back up to playing speed but he's past that first conditioning test which we had for him and that was a big hurdle. He's coming hard."

It's still unclear when exactly he'll return, but once he does, Chiarelli has work to do to get the Bruins under the salary cap.



"Yes, we're going to have to make a transaction or maybe two to be cap-compliant," he said. "I'm not naming any names, there's speculation on a lot of guys, but I've been pretty open about having to do it. Guys recognize that it's a business. I hope to do it in the least obtrusive way, but we'll see what happens."

He won't name names, but I will: Andrew Ference, Marco Sturm (back in December), Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder. I think those are all possibilities. Ryder was always considered the most obvious target entering the season, but the one thing I'll tell you is that the veteran winger has played so well I think he's made the Bruins think harder about it. I'm not saying Ryder won't be moved, I'm just saying it's not the no-brainer it once was.

Goalies Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask? They're not going anywhere. The Bruins love their goalie depth and don't want to mess with it.

Sticking with Savard, interesting to see his comments Saturday regarding Colin Campbell. Savard also spoke with Campbell's son, Gregory Campbell, on Friday and relayed to him that there were no hard feelings whatsoever. Tells you a lot about Savard's character that his priority is the Bruins and he doesn't want any distractions as he makes his way back.

Markov being evaluated Tuesday



Star Habs blueliner Andrei Markov will see Dr. Tony Miniaci of the Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday.

"They waited for the swelling to subside, they're going to get a more definite assessment of him," Markov's agent ,Don Meehan, told ESPN.com Friday. "Once they do that, the doctors will convene and determine what course of action he will take."

They've been waiting for the swelling to go down in his injured right knee to take a proper look at it. It's a huge meeting because it'll determine whether Markov needs surgery or can simply rehab. Obviously surgery would mean a much longer absence.

Canes hope White stays



An absolutely great trade in my mind this past week by the Carolina Hurricanes in getting defenseman Ian White from Calgary. They got the best player in the deal. Now the team hopes to have him longer than this season. He's an UFA July 1.

"I'd like to sign him but it's our team policy that we don't do that during the season," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Saturday. "We'll deal with his contract when the season is over, just like the other free agents on the team. But I've been a huge fan of Ian White his whole career. He comes to play hard every night. We were really looking for a guy to play top-four minutes and we found him."

Rutherford actually reached out to the Flames in September, that's how long they've been eying White. Once the Flames signed top blueliner Mark Giordano to an extension in October, which along with other long-term deals on their blue line spelled the eventual exit for White, Rutherford phoned back to stress his interest in White. That's when talks really got cooking.

Melrose and Barnaby's four stars

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
11:52
PM ET

... Because three just wasn't enough.

There were plenty of games to pick from on Wednesday night, but Barry Melrose and Matthew Barnaby made their choices for the top performers. Melrose went with Boston's Tim Thomas and Detroit's Daniel Cleary, while Barnaby chose Carolina's Chad LaRose and Eric Staal.


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