Cross Checks: Damien Brunner

It is very possible, although not quite a guarantee, that Vincent Lecavalier will choose his next team by the end of the day Wednesday.

The UFA center, who is allowed to speak with teams earlier than other UFAs because his contract was bought out, has been deliberating with family where the best fit might be for him to continue this career.

The likes of the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are among the teams that have shown interest.

The decision for Lecavalier begins with Montreal. He has to decide whether he wants to go home and deal with both the perks and detriments of playing in his native town. And if he goes home, it’s not going to be for the same kind of money or term other clubs would have offered. If he’s a Hab, it’s more because he really, really wants to be one. Montreal definitely has interest in signing him, but it’s going to have to be on a reasonable deal that fits within its cap and payroll structure.

But no one should fault Lecavalier if he decides to avoid that situation; that’s his choice as a UFA.

I still think Dallas is a solid possibility for Lecavalier if he wants to remain in a quiet, nontraditional hockey place such as the environment he has experienced his entire career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And I think the Stars are willing to go five years on a deal.

While it’s true to a degree, as Nashville Predators GM David Poile suggested to his local media Tuesday, that Lecavalier would prefer to stay in the East, it does not preclude him from playing in Dallas, I can tell you that.

Detroit is a great fit, too, and so is Boston. We’ll know soon enough.

As a reminder, beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday (so basically Tuesday night), a wrinkle in the new CBA kicks in that NHL fans haven’t seen before: Free agents have the right to speak with other teams in the 48-hour lead-up to the opening of the market Friday.

So for teams trying to re-sign their free agents, Tuesday was their last day of exclusivity to do so. For example, it was the last day for New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello to be the only voice in David Clarkson’s ear. Clarkson recently turned down an offer from the Devils and most likely is headed to the market. Then again, maybe Uncle Lou has another last trick up his sleeve.


• Traded texts Tuesday morning with UFA forward Danny Briere. He says he’s talking to teams as he’s narrowing his focus. We should know more Wednesday.

• The Devils and pending UFA center Patrik Elias were close to a deal, but it wasn’t done as of noon ET Tuesday, agent Allan Walsh said. Walsh also represents winger Pascal Dupuis, another pending UFA, and the agent said talks with the Pittsburgh Penguins were continuing.

• Pending UFA winger Damien Brunner was a day away from being able to speak with the 29 other teams. His agent, Neil Sheehy, told via email Tuesday morning that he planned to talk again with Detroit but wasn’t sure where it was all headed.

• The Predators put veteran blueliner Hal Gill on waivers. He has one year left on his deal at $2 million. GM David Poile said via text that the blue line is a little crowded given the drafting of Seth Jones, and the hope is to find a new home for Gill. If no one claims him on waivers, another possibility would be to buy him out.

DETROIT -- It would have been worse if nobody mentioned it. Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner didn’t sleep much on Saturday night after Ryan Getzlaf picked him clean in front of Jimmy Howard to score a back-breaking goal in the Anaheim Ducks’ Game 3 win.

Brunner momentarily laid on his stomach as Getzlaf celebrated in an excruciating moment for a young player still learning how to win in the playoffs.

When Brunner showed up at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, it wasn’t awkward silences or teammates avoiding him.

Instead, it was guys giving him a hard time.

“[Pavel Datsyuk] was razzing him a little bit,” said defenseman Brendan Smith, who also jumped in with his own comments.

“I kind of threw a little chirp in there, ‘I heard you made the highlight reels,’” Smith said, smiling. “If he’s down, you have to get in there and help him out and get it over with.”

The best joke came from Brunner’s friends back home in Switzerland. One told him that he should call the league and make sure he got an assist on Getzlaf’s goal. That’s pretty good.

Some teammates preferred a tap on the shoulder or other small gesture to show they were still with him. That they knew exactly how he felt.

"It made me feel needed for the next game,” Brunner said.

That next game was Monday night. It was a crucial game the Red Wings had to win to send this series back to Anaheim in any kind of competitive form. And because it’s the playoffs, and this is how hockey goes, the guy who is crushed for a momentary lapse of judgement in one game can totally redeem himself in the next.

That moment came with less than five minutes remaining in overtime of Game 4. Red Wings rookie forward Gustav Nyquist raced toward Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller with the puck in front of him. Hiller came out for a poke check, and all Brunner saw was the back of two Ducks players as he trailed the play and skated straight to an opening in front of the net. The puck arrived at about the same time.

“It came out perfectly, and I just had to lift it over [Hiller’s] pad there,” Brunner said.

Brunner had the game winner, a 3-2 overtime win for the Red Wings, one that evened the series 2-2.

Nyquist didn’t see the goal because after racing toward Hiller, he went to the corner of the ice. A moment later he turned, and there was Brunner.

“Brunner is standing there [with] a big smile on his face,” Nyquist said. “I guess he put it in.”

It was another overtime goal by one of the Red Wings' newest forwards, as Detroit’s young players continue to keep this series interesting. Of course, it was Datsyuk who tied the game with a third-period laser, but that kind of greatness is expected from Datsyuk.

It’s the contributions from guys like Brunner and Smith, who scored his first career playoff goal in the third period, that this Detroit team relies on to keep up with the deeper, more experienced Ducks.

The veterans on the Red Wings consistently told the younger players that they needed to make this a best-of-three series. They needed this one win to do it.

Brunner’s goal of redemption made it happen. The Getzlaf turnover is already a fading memory.

What you need to know: Day 4

January, 23, 2013

--Let’s start with the reunion of Ryan Suter and his former teammates from Nashville in Minnesota. This won’t have the emotional charge of Suter’s much-anticipated return to downtown Nashville on March 9, but you know that Suter’s old mates were looking for a little payback after he chased a giant payday to Minnesota as a free agent last summer, signing a 13-year deal worth $98 million. The Preds got their wish after they gave up an early goal to Zach Parise, shutting out the Wild the rest of the way en route to a 3-1 victory. It was the Preds’ first win after two shootout losses; backup Chris Mason got his first start and was solid in his return to Nashville after spending the past couple of seasons in Atlanta and Winnipeg. Mason turned aside 29 of 30 shots in the first of seven straight on the road for the Predators. Suter was on ice for all three Nashville goals and has yet to record a point for 2-1-0 Wild.

--If Wild-Preds was about emotion, Chicago-St. Louis was about the undefeated. Both Central Division teams were 2-0 when they collided Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago, and the Blackhawks staked an early claim to Central superiority with a 3-2 victory. The Hawks built a 3-0 lead and then had to hold off a never-say-die Blues team in the third as St. Louis launched 16 shots in the final frame on Corey Crawford. The game represented another building block for Crawford, as he tries to erase a pedestrian turn in the playoffs last spring. He is now 2-0 and his wins have come against defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and Cup hopeful St. Louis. Blues rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko was held without a point.

--The Detroit Red Wings' early-season offensive struggles continued at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night as they were stymied by a red-hot Kari Lehtonen and the Dallas Stars, who spoiled the Wings’ home opener with a 2-1 win. Lehtonen stopped 39 of 40 shots and Michael Ryder scored both Dallas goals to drop Detroit to 1-2 on a night when the Wings honored longtime crease presence Tomas Holmstrom, who formally announced his retirement Tuesday after a career that included four Stanley Cup wins. The Wings have been outscored 11-5 and while Damien Brunner did score his first goal, the Wings are going to need some other forwards to show themselves or they are going to be quickly buried in the Central. For the 2-1-0 Stars, Cody Eakin, who came over from Washington in the Mike Ribeiro deal, added assists on both Ryder goals.

--Guess we can hold off on that Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton for a little while as the young Oilers got a lesson in humility when San Jose poured six first-period goals past Devan Dubnyk en route to a 6-3 victory. Much anticipation surrounded the talent-rich Oilers as this season began, but if there was a significant question mark it was team defense and goaltending. Suffice it to say, those questions have yet to be fully answered. The Oilers are 1-1 and it will be interesting to see how Dubnyk, being given a chance to prove he’s starter material, responds to this debacle. The Sharks, meanwhile, are in an early groove, having outscored opponents 10-4 while going 2-0.

--The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are still looking for their first win after giving up three third-period goals in a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov continued to give the 1-1 Avs strong goaltending, turning aside 28 of 29 shots. P.A. Parenteau, a key offseason signing by Colorado, scored his first goal.

--Things have officially turned ugly for the Philadelphia Flyers as they dropped to 0-3-0 on the season with a 3-0 loss in New Jersey to the Devils. Martin Brodeur (do we even need to say "ageless" anymore?) was solid, although he faced only 24 Flyers shots in helping the Devils to a 2-0 start. Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a penalty shot -- must admit we weren’t sold on the call that led to the opportunity that gave the Devils a 3-0 lead early in the second -- but the Flyers have only themselves to blame as they’ve been outscored 11-3 thus far. Remember all that depth scoring that made the Flyers so dangerous last season? Right now it’s still on lockout.

--Joining the Flyers in the "what the heck?" category would be the Washington Capitals, who are now 0-2-0 after a surprisingly flat effort at home against Winnipeg, as the Jets handled Washington 4-2. The Jets (1-1-1) got a much-needed road win thanks to two power-play goals, and it’s clear there are still some adjustments for the Caps under rookie coach Adam Oates. Braden Holtby is 0-2 with a .863 save percentage and it’s hard to believe we won’t see Michal Neuvirth next as the Caps try to get in a groove.

--Many folks liked the revamped Carolina Hurricanes to challenge for a Southeast Division title, but they’re struggling to correct problems that plagued them early last season before Paul Maurice was replaced by Kirk Muller. The Canes dropped their second straight game, losing at home 4-1 to Tampa Bay. Muller told us before the season that he was hopeful a strong finish would carry over, but Cam Ward gave up four goals on 26 shots and Carolina could not solve Tampa backup Mathieu Garon, who stopped 35 of 36 shots. Carolina has been outscored 9-2 early in this season. Tampa, meanwhile, continues to get terrific production from youngster Cory Conacher, who scored and has five points playing mostly with captain Vincent Lecavalier.

--Finally, another Southeast Division team struggling early is Florida, as the Panthers dropped their second in two nights, this one a 4-1 decision to Montreal at the Bell Centre, to go to 1-2. The Panthers are nicked up without Kris Versteeg and Erik Gudbranson. The Habs, slow-footed and ineffective in an opening-night loss to Toronto on Saturday, had much more jump Tuesday as top-rated rookie Alex Galchenyuk scored his first NHL goal and Andrei Markov, injured for much of the past three seasons, had two for Montreal. The win will take a little pressure off GM Marc Bergevin as he tries to re-sign restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban.

Morning jam: Day 3 stat highlights

January, 22, 2013
Ducks 5, Flames 4
* Daniel Winnik (ANA): 2 goals (4), assist (multi-goal games in both games this season; had just 1 in his 1st 5 NHL seasons)
* Ryan Getzlaf (ANA): 2 goals (2); 4 points in 2 games this season (2 G, 2 A)
* Curtis Glencross (CGY): 2 goals (2), assist (had 2 multi-goal games all of last season)

Red Wings 4, Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
* Damien Brunner (DET): scored only goal of shootout (8th player to attempt); 1st career shootout goal
* Pavel Datsyuk (DET): goal, assist (6 points in last 3 games vs Blue Jackets)
* Red Wings: 0-7 on power play (0-11 on power play in 2 games this season)
* FROM ELIAS: Pavel Datsyuk, who scored one goal and assisted on another in the Red Wings’ shootout win at Columbus, is the all-time leader in points (64) and assists (43) against the Blue Jackets. Datysuk’s 21 goals vs Columbus tie him with Teemu Selanne for fourth-most all-time, behind co-leaders Jarome Iginla, Patrick Sharp and Keith Tkachuk (24 goals each).

Senators 4, Panthers 0
* Craig Anderson (OTT): 31 saves; 20th career shutout (allowed 1 goal in 2 games this season)
* Kyle Turris (OTT): 2 goals (3); 5th career multi-goal game (never had hat trick)
* Senators: 6th straight home win vs Panthers

Sabres 2, Maple Leafs 1
* Sabres: snap 5-game losing streak in road games vs Maple Leafs
* Jason Pominville (BUF): goal, assist (5 points in his 1st 2 games this season)
* Ryan Miller (BUF): 34 saves; 1st win in last 7 road starts vs Maple Leafs

Blues 4, Predators 3 (SO)
* Blues: 3rd straight win over Predators
* Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): goal (3), 2 assists; 5 points in 1st 2 career NHL games
* Patric Hornqvist (NSH): goal, 2 assists; ties career high with 3 points

Bruins 2, Jets 1 (SO)
* Bruins: 11th straight home win over Jets franchise (last loss was March 2007)
* Tuukka Rask (BOS): 26 saves, allowed 1 goal in both starts this season (both Bruins wins)
* Brad Marchand (BOS): goal (1); had career-high 28 goals last season

Islanders 4, Lightning 3
* Islanders: 4th straight home win over Lightning
* John Tavares (NYI): 2 assists; 9 points in last 5 games vs Lightning
* Steven Stamkos (TB): goal, assist; 5-game point streak vs Islanders (5 G, 3 A on streak)
* FROM ELIAS: Vincent Lecavalier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft, played his 1000th regular-season game on Monday. Lecavalier, who’s spent his entire career with Tampa Bay, is the 5th player to be selected with the top pick in the draft then play at least 1,000 games for the team that chose him: Gilbert Perreault (Sabres, 1191 games), Denis Potvin (Islanders, 1060), Mike Modano (Stars, 1459) and Chris Phillips (Senators, 1027).
No doubt Damien Brunner is one hot name in fantasy hockey league drafts this week with news that he’s slated to begin the season on the top line for the Detroit Red Wings with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

The Swiss star has yet to play an NHL game, but the hype surrounding his arrival on this side of the ocean is inescapable.

It might have something to do with putting up 25 goals and 57 points in just 33 games in the Swiss league during the lockout.

Still, given that he’s 26 years old and has never been drafted by an NHL team, there are some skeptics out there as well.

There’s only one way to find out: See how he does when the NHL season begins this weekend.

"He has good quickness and finish -- that talent level should translate well here unless he can't get to the areas on the ice where his talents can flourish," a pro scout from a rival NHL team told Tuesday.

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, Brunner will need to fight through heavier traffic in a smaller rink to get to the scoring areas.

“He's obviously a goal-scorer, but he's got more qualities than that,” Zetterberg told this week. “He's a good skater, sees the ice very well and he wants to win. That's a good quality to have."

Brunner caught the Wings’ attention last season en route to winning the Swiss league scoring title with 60 points (24 goals-36 assists) in 45 games.

Former Red Wing Stacy Roest, who was still playing in the Swiss League last season, kept emailing Wings GM Ken Holland about Brunner. Roest and Holland both summer on the same lake in Vernon, British Columbia.

"Stacy felt Brunner would be a guy he thought that could make the jump from the Swiss League to the NHL," Holland told this week.

Once the Wings were eliminated by Nashville in the first round last spring, Holland and coach Mike Babcock headed overseas to the world hockey championship to watch Brunner play for Switzerland.

"We liked him," Holland said. "So we made him an offer. I know there were other teams involved, but he ultimately signed with us."

Brunner’s agent, Neil Sheehy, said there were five NHL teams seriously in the bidding for his client, "but Detroit was the best fit for Damien," he told Tuesday.

Then came the NHL lockout. Silver lining? Brunner and Zetterberg become linemates for Zug of the Swiss league this season.

"It couldn’t have worked out any better for us during the work stoppage that Henrik Zetterberg went over to play with him, and they obviously found great chemistry over there," Holland said. "He’s got nothing more to prove in Switzerland, he led the league in scoring last year, and he looks to have led them in scoring this year [had he stayed]. He’s a good skater, really quick, knows where to go to score, he has a quick release, thinks the game at a high level. Obviously, the question is, at 5-10, 5-11, on a smaller rink with less space, can he still find ways to get open and create scoring chances? We’re going to give him every opportunity."

Brunner, by the way, isn’t eligible for the Calder Trophy. He turned 26 last March. Under NHL rules, a player can’t have turned 26 by Sept. 15 of his first NHL season to be eligible.

Blackhawks rested and ready

The Chicago Blackhawks made very few roster changes in the offseason other than adding defensemen Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank.

Otherwise, it’s largely the same team that returns, and I’m one who believes that in this short season with a short camp, NHL clubs with the smallest amount of roster turnover will get off to better starts. Especially a talented team like Chicago.

"It’s funny because everyone around here was up in arms last summer, why we didn’t make all these changes, not that we listen to that stuff anyway,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told Monday. "But we had 101 points last season and, while our playoff performance was below expectation, you don’t want to overreact."

No new system to learn; these players are used to each other. No adjustment period.

I like the Hawks’ chances of getting off to a flying start.

Having star forwards Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa both in perfect health also helps, of course. Toews returned in time for the playoffs after missing time with a concussion, but he wasn’t quite the same. Hossa got decked by a brutal hit from Raffi Torres in Game 3 of the playoffs and needed months to recover from that concussion. The rest did him well.

"Marian’s probably never been this healthy if you think about all the hockey he played with Pittsburgh, Detroit and with us with all those Cup runs (2008 through 2010),” Bowman said. "He had an extended period to get himself strong and completely healed. He’s feeling better than ever. Same thing with Jonathan. They’re your key guys. You have to have your top guys rested and healthy. And we are, we’re totally healthy heading into the season and that gives us reason for optimism."

The question mark in Chicago remains in goal after Corey Crawford struggled last season. Much is riding on how he rebounds. Two years ago, Crawford was sensational late in the season in helping Chicago get into the playoffs and nearly stole a first-round series upset win over Vancouver with a magnificent performance.

"It’s the tale of two seasons with him, and this season will show us which of those was accurate," Bowman said. "You go back to two years ago, at the end of that season, I think any team would have been excited to try and acquire Corey because of the way he played. He was great down the stretch. Was that a fluke? I guess it’s possible, but not likely it was a fluke. You don’t lose your skills in five months. But it’s a whole different dynamic when you come in expected to do well. Your mentality changes. He didn’t play badly last year, I wouldn’t say he was great but he was steady."

It’s pretty simple. If Crawford rebounds, the Hawks are once again big Cup contenders.

"Corey needs to rebound and we think he will," Bowman said. "Time will tell if we’re right or we’re wrong."

Don't doubt Duchene

If you’re looking for a candidate to have a bounce-back year, I’d peg Matt Duchene in Colorado.

After putting up 55 points (24 goals-31 assists) in his rookie campaign in 2009-10 and following that up with 67 points (27 goals-40 assists) in 2010-11, the young forward slumped to 28 points (14 goals-14 assists) last season, albeit in 58 games. But whether it was part of the maturity process and learning how to be a consistent pro, Duchene got a bit of tough love last season from coach Joe Sacco as his ice time and role diminished at times.

But that’s in the past.

"I expect a response year from Matt, no question," Sacco told Monday. "His first couple of years in the NHL were pretty good. And then last year, he kind of got off track and got away from his game a little bit. We had some situations where I felt he wasn’t playing the way he should be playing, so his ice time went down. But it’s a fresh start for Matt."

Sacco sees a reenergized, refocused Duchene, who turns 22 on Wednesday.

"I think he’s really redefinied himself as far as committing himself to getting in really good shape, taking the opportunity to playing overseas in Sweden (during the lockout) -- that was real important for him to reestablish his game," Sacco said. "I felt he needed that. This is a new beginning for him. He’s an important player for us. When he’s playing the way he’s capable of playing, that certainly should help our team offensively. I know he’s excited right now."

Duchene has started camp playing between captain Gabriel Landeskog and newly acquired winger P.A. Parenteau.

"They’ve looked good the first few days," Sacco said.

On the second line, Sacco has Paul Stastny between Jamie McGinn and David Jones.

"That was one our better lines last year, probably our best line down the stretch, so we kept that line intact," Sacco said.

The third line is John Mitchell between Steve Downie and Milan Hejduk; a unit with some pretty good offense.

"I guess it’s not your typical third line," Sacco said. "Downs’ plays an energetic, in-your-face type of game but also can bring some skill to it as well. Obviously, Milan is a good goal scorer and can make plays. And John Mitchell has looked good in camp. He’s fit in well there."

Of course, at some point last season’s leading scorer Ryan O'Reilly, a huge heart-and-soul guy on this team, will finally sign and return to the Avs. The NHL club and his representatives from Newport Sports continue to negotiate. Once O’Reilly is back, whenever that is, that will somewhat change a line or two above.

But that doesn’t change my point on Duchene: I think he’s in for a big offensive year.

Sens' depleted blue line

The season-ending injury to Jared Cowen and the broken finger to Mike Lundin have left the Senators thin on defense to start the season.

Senators GM Bryan Murray wants to see how AHL call-ups Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki and Andre Benoit do in camp this week before deciding whether or not he needs to go out and acquire help.

"It will be at the end of the week at the earliest if we try to do anything," Murray told Monday.

The Senators have good depth at the forward position throughout the organization, so if they make a trade for a defenseman, that’s where the asset would come from. The Sens could also wait and see who goes on waivers from other NHL clubs over the next week.