Cross Checks: Dan Boyle

The West was best yet again this past season, and it just got even tougher.

"It’s crazy, really," one Western Conference GM mused Tuesday night as we talked about all the moves strengthening Western clubs.

Jason Spezza, Jarome Iginla, Brad Richards, Ales Hemsky and Thomas Vanek are just some of the notables who switched from the East to the West on Tuesday.

The arms race to stay competitive in the Western Conference is mind-blowing.

The Anaheim Ducks filled the No. 2 center hole with Ryan Kesler last week, a major add-on. The Dallas Stars, playoff participants this past season and hoping to climb even more in the tough Western Conference, responded by adding Spezza and Hemsky.

The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny. The rising darlings from Colorado lost said Stastny, but they added veterans Iginla and Brad Stuart a day after trading for Daniel Briere. The Wild -- who reached the second round of the playoffs this past season -- added goal-scoring machine Vanek. And the perennial powerhouse Blackhawks signed Richards.

The Cup champion Kings? Well, they had already made their most important move of the offseason last week when the re-signed playoff sniper Marian Gaborik long-term. Otherwise their team is largely intact and ready to contend for years.

The Western Conference hierarchy is not for the faint of heart.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis are the dominant four teams at the top; Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota are pushing hard; and it’s too early to know exactly what to make of San Jose as the Sharks begin rebuilding -- they traded away Stuart on Tuesday and await Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to decide their own futures over the next few months.

Either way, you’ve got four teams at the top guaranteed to get back into the playoffs next season, three more that seem like good bets, and the Sharks should still be competitive despite their rebuild.

That’s seven or eight teams trying to keep those eight playoff spots. It just shows you how daunting the task is for Nashville (which at least got better with James Neal last weekend), Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary to make their way up next season.

Detroit went aggressively after UFAs such as Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle, but it didn’t pan out.

[+] EnlargeMike Green
Mike Stobe/NHLI/Getty ImagesIs Mike Green on his way out of Washington after the Capitals picked up two top defensemen in free agency?
In Boyle’s case, they offered more money than what he agreed to in New York. And word is they certainly made a strong offer to Niskanen, who opted to take a bit more in Washington.

So now what?

For starters, this isn’t a team that needs that much. Just being healthier after the incredible injury losses this past season would be one way to add about three or four wins next season. The team should also benefit from itsr younger players such as Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser getting some of their initial NHL experience under their belts. Just those two factors alone make Detroit a better team for next season in a division and conference that are as wide open as ever.

But there remains a glaring hole for sure: a right-handed, puck-moving, power-play defenseman.

That’s why either Boyle or Niskanen would have fit the bill.

So I bring you the name of Mike Green. The Washington Capitals spent some major dough bringing in Niskanen and Brooks Orpik on Tuesday. It screams of perhaps needing to trade out a body now.

Could it be Green? It’s interesting in talking to team execs around the league on Wednesday that there was a mixed response. Some believed he was available, some didn’t.

But if the Caps do try to move him, I would suspect the Wings would at least look at him. He fits the criteria listed above.

Now, he’s coming off a couple of less than impressive seasons, especially at a $6.08 million cap hit.

On the other hand, he’s heading into the last year of his deal. He’s got a modified no-trade clause in which every offseason he lists seven teams he can’t get traded to, which leaves 22 open for trade.

Again, we’re not 100 percent sure Green is available, but if he is, one would think Detroit would perhaps take a look ...

Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres could be another possibility. His name has been out there for a bit as well as trade bait.

UFA center Steve Ott would be a valuable addition for almost any team, a young team needing leadership or a contender adding more character. He’s a solid faceoff guy, penalty killer and gritty player all-around.

Word is about four or five teams are in the mix for the 31-year-old, who finished the season in St. Louis. Ott didn’t re-sign with the Blues at first because he wanted more term than St. Louis was offering, but we’ll see in the end whether or not he circles back to them or not. Minnesota is another team that we think has some level of interest but may not have the cap room to do it.

Sometimes you have teams that start to become regular trading partners, usually teams in different conferences. Take Anaheim and Toronto, for example. They’ve done a number of deals over the past several years.

Do Montreal and Colorado have the potential to become good partners? They made Monday’s trade in which Daniel Briere and P.A. Parenteau swapped teams. Then a source told that on Tuesday there was talk between both clubs about defenseman Josh Gorges. By then the Avs had already zeroed in on blueliner Brad Stuart from San Jose, so they passed, and Montreal sent Gorges to Buffalo.

Well, we knew Dan Boyle was somewhere in Europe on the first day of free agency when he signed his two-year deal with the New York Rangers.

Exactly where he was and what he was doing there, well, that’s a whole other story.

The veteran blueliner is in England this week, hanging out with his favorite band, Faith No More, who are on tour.

"Yes, I planned this a LONG time ago," Boyle told via text message Wednesday. "My summer workouts have a one-week transition period that allows me to rest and recover [for seven days], so I took advantage and came with them for a couple of shows. Back on Sunday."

Cool, just very cool.

The Los Angeles Kings have a predominantly Canadian-based roster, so the front office got to thinking lately, why not include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the championship celebration festivities next season and not just the annual White House visit.

So plans are afoot, although far from official at this point, to try to visit with the Canadian PM in Ottawa, Ontario, when the Kings are there in December. Neat.

And with that, I’m off for the summer, folks. It's been a long but fun season, to be sure, including the trip to Sochi and a tremendous playoff run I mostly spent in California.

There is still lots of terrific content on the site, so continue to make this your favorite page.

But until then, talk in September!

The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.
Dan BoyleKelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWhile several Rangers have jumped ship, Dan Boyle will give the Blueshirts bite on defense.
The New York Rangers have watched several key players who had an instrumental role in their run to the Stanley Cup finals this spring walk away as that bevvy of unrestricted free agents tested the open market, but they still managed to reel in one of the big fish in the first hour of Tuesday’s action-packed frenzy.

The Blueshirts landed one of the most coveted UFAs on the market, signing veteran defenseman Dan Boyle to a two-year deal that a source confirmed is worth $9 million and includes a no-move clause.

Boyle, who had 12 goals and 36 points for the Sharks last season, was one of the headliners of a class of free-agent defensemen that included Matt Niskanen and the Rangers’ own Anton Stralman.

With Stralman's anticipated departure -- the Rangers could not get a deal done to keep the steady Swede from hitting the open market -- Boyle’s addition to the Rangers’ D becomes even more important.

Boyle rounds out an already impressive defensive corps that includes Ryan McDonagh, the stud 25-year-old who is the odds-on favorite to become the Rangers' next captain, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.

Though Boyle is on the back nine of his career at age 37, he is still respected as an excellent puck-moving, smooth-skating defenseman.

His potential contributions on the power play should not be overlooked, with the Rangers actively seeking a bona fide power-play quarterback with a big right-handed shot. Boyle fills that role seamlessly and will replace Brad Richards on the point of the special teams’ first unit.

Richards was bought out by the Rangers last week.

Several teams were in the mix for Boyle, who narrowed it down to roughly five by Monday night. According to a source, the longtime Shark left money on the table to sign with the Rangers but felt that New York was the best fit in terms of giving him the chance to win now. Boyle thought he could be one of the missing pieces that could help boost the Rangers over the edge after they got so close to the ultimate prize this spring.

The Rangers clearly made landing Boyle a top priority, as they had to part ways with UFAs like Stralman, who greatly increased his value with a phenomenal playoff run; Brian Boyle, who also saw his stock rise this spring; and Benoit Pouliot, who signed a five-year, $20 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers almost as soon as the market opened.

Of their own class of unrestricted free agents, the Rangers re-signed 2014 Masterton Trophy winner Dominic Moore, who played a vital role on what turned out to be a supremely effective fourth line for the team this spring. They also added depth forwards Tanner Glass and Chris Mueller, signed defenseman Matt Hunwick and Stephen Kampfer and inked goaltender Cedric Desjardins to deals as well.

The Rangers, who tried to trade for Boyle at the deadline in 2013, finally addressed what has been a glaring need in recent years. They exercised prudence in letting some of their own free agents walk -- a vital decision because of some critical restricted free agents that remain unsigned -- and instead honed in on their prized target.

They’ll be a better team for it.
The NHL’s all-time winningest netminder was intrigued on the eve of free agency, wondering exactly where he’ll end up.

"I’m excited and intrigued to see some of the options [that] will be laid out in front of me," Martin Brodeur told on Monday. "It’s something that’s new to me; it’s going to be fun."

Technically, Brodeur did in fact enter free agency two years ago, but that was really just because it took Devils GM Lou Lamoriello some time to come around on the idea of a two-year deal.

This time, it’s for real. Brodeur is almost surely changing teams, something Devils fans probably never thought they would see in their lifetime. But Brodeur is eager for a new challenge before he wraps up an incredible career. He’s got one of the sport's big-time agents in Pat Brisson of CAA Sports.

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsMartin Brodeur is ready to say goodbye to New Jersey and begin a new chapter in his career.
"We’ll see what noon [ET] tomorrow will bring," Brodeur said. "I’m just sitting back and letting Pat do his thing."

Brodeur is willing to look at different types of fits.

"It depends on the opportunity," Brodeur said. "I’m pretty open-minded about things. For me, this is a year that’s going to be a challenge for me regardless of where I land, first because it’ll be in a different organization, second because it’ll be a new [role]. It’s something where I think I’m just going to really enjoy the game and not worry about carrying a team. I’m just going to be a piece of the puzzle for a team, hopefully."

Whether that’s mentoring a young starting goalie or even helping a more established starter, Brodeur is ready to be that guy.

"It’ll be fun for me just to see what the opportunities are," he said. "But I’m open-minded, whether it’s a team with a good young goalie or being in a spot where I’ve got a chance to win a Stanley Cup again ... just look forward to seeing what’s out there."

Brodeur also knows it may not happen on Day 1 of free agency for him. He needs to patient as Brisson works out the market for him.

Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan publicly stated over the weekend Toronto had some interest, although I don’t think there’s much money to spend there. Not to mention James Reimer hasn’t been traded yet.

What about Tampa Bay? It needs a backup goalie. Just a thought.

What now for Tampa?
The Tampa Bay Lightning shed $5.65 million in cap space Sunday night with their three trades, fueling no end of speculation that the club was going to be quite active come Tuesday. Perhaps ... but this is about Tampa creating roster/payroll flexibility moving forward whether that’s for signing a player or two come Tuesday or for having that space to do something over the next few months.

"It gives us some options," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told on Monday. "Really, prior to yesterday, other than trying to sign a backup goaltender, we really weren’t in a position to do anything at all. And we may end up doing nothing [Tuesday] other than signing a backup goaltender, but we’d like to explore [the free-agent market]."

Yzerman pointed to possibilities both up front and on defense.

"We’d like to get potentially a center or maybe a winger," said Yzerman. "And then, we have seven defensemen signed and we’d like to carry eight. Depending on fit and contract, whether it’s a really expensive guy or a low-end one-way, we’ll try to add one more defenseman."

Yzerman said he'd prefer a right-handed defenseman. The Bolts GM would not discuss specific names, but sources have confirmed Tampa’s interest in UFA blueliner Matt Niskanen as well as veteran Dan Boyle, among others.

Tampa joins the likes of Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and the New York Rangers on the list of teams interested in Boyle, as well as places where he would be happy to sign, according to a source.

Niskanen, well, he’s wanted by nearly everyone. He could fetch north of $6 million a year on the open market Tuesday. I don’t believe Tampa will bid like crazy; the deal would have to make sense for them.

Around the market
  • Speaking of Niskanen, likely the most sought-after blueliner on the market Tuesday, his agent, Neil Sheehy, was busy Monday trying to pare down the long, long list of teams interested in signing his client.

    "We are narrowing the list to a workable number today. I can't say how many but rather a workable number," Sheehy said via email.
  • Brad Richards is set for free agency for the second time in his career. Bought out by the New York Rangers, the veteran center would be a valuable addition at the right price. His leadership was on full display during New York’s playoff run and his hands are still capable of helping any power play. Reached via text Monday, Richards didn't want to comment, saying he wanted to keep a low profile on the eve of the market opening.
  • Paul Stastny’s agent, Matt Keator, was working Monday to shorten the list of suitors. Some 15 teams showed interest since the speaking window opened. Keator said Monday morning it was time to work it down to a more workable list, planning to speak with Stastny to identify the top suitors, which another source suggested would include St. Louis. Colorado, of course, also would remain in the mix right to the end, either way.

    The Stastny situation continues to affect the Jason Spezza trade scenario to some degree, most notably with the Blues’ interest in both players. One source did suggest Monday that the Dallas Stars might renew their exploration of the Spezza situation. As I reported Saturday, the Stars have talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton, but either way would like to pick up another top-end center.
  • About eight to 10 teams have circled back to the Thomas Vanek camp with interest. Minnesota, of course, is one of those teams, although as we reported last week, the Wild have expressed to Vanek’s camp that they won't do a long-term deal. Despite that, Minnesota remains very much part of Vanek’s wish list, although where exactly he ends up Tuesday remains to be seen. Sounds like he’ll have to decide between a shorter-term deal in Minnesota (where he really wants to play) or a bigger offer elsewhere. Meanwhile, Vanek met with Wild coach Mike Yeo on Sunday, a source confirmed, to talk about his possible fit.
  • After Josh Gorges refused to accept a trade the Toronto, the Habs must either find a trading partner with one of the 15 teams on Gorges’ approved teams list or put him on waivers, my TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported earlier today. Will the prospect of going on waivers convince Gorges to take the trade to the Leafs?
  • Jussi Jokinen hits the market Tuesday as it appears the Penguins won’t be re-signing him.

    A source told that Jokinen’s camp offered to re-sign for $4 million a year, a raise over the $3 million he made this past season, but the cap-challenged Penguins feel it’s too much money.

    Jokinen’s agent, Todd Diamond, wouldn't divulge those kinds of details, only to say he still hoped to hear back from Pittsburgh before the market opened Tuesday.

    "Our last conversation was that they would get back to us, but we haven’t heard back yet," Diamond said Monday morning.

    "We have three or four other teams that we’ve spoken to. But I think with these potential trades possibly happening [Jason Spezza, etc], that may also create more interest for Jussi and other players in his position. It’s a pretty fluid situation right now."

    Diamond also represents forward Leo Komarov, who wants to return to the NHL after a year in Russia. The former Maple Leafs forward played well in the Olympics for bronze-medal winner Finland, and there’s a lot of interest in him, according to Diamond.

    "I don’t have enough fingers to count how many teams have called," said Diamond. "He’s a very popular player right now. He’s 27 and brings lots to the table."
  • Speaking of interest, there's plenty as well apparently in Martin Havlat, who became an unrestricted free agent after the San Jose Sharks bought him out. A source told approximately 10 teams have called on him since he was bought out. The long list of injuries have minimized his impact over the past few years, but at the right price, there are teams that can’t help but wonder if getting him on the rebound would be a nice bargain and a solid gamble if he can stay healthy.
  • TSN's Darren Dreger reported Monday that the Maple Leafs would make one more push on pending UFA center David Bolland, but it wouldn’t be more than five years or above $5 million a year. Not sure that’s going to get it done.
  • Pending UFA winger Radim Vrbata has seven or eight teams on his trail, although the Coyotes remain in the mix. It was expected agent Rich Evans and the Coyotes would talk again Monday at some point.
For years Dan Boyle tuned in on July 1 to watch all the fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Right now, that offer isn’t there.

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

The New York Islanders were aggressive in trading for the rights to blueliner Dan Boyle, but after failing to get his signature on a contract, the NHL club is now shopping him before he walks away as an unrestricted free agent.

"I don’t know if we’ll get anything done, but we'll see what's out there," Islanders GM Garth Snow told early Wednesday afternoon. "We've talked to a couple of teams, we'll see if anything comes to fruition here."

The San Jose Sharks will get a fifth-round pick in 2015 in exchange for trading Boyle’s rights to the Islanders earlier this month. That pick would have changed to a fourth-rounder had Boyle signed with the Islanders.

Snow is smart to cut bait now because there's less than week a left before other teams can reach out to any UFAs.

New to the CBA is a talking period when clubs can contact pending UFAs from other teams, which this year is as of 12:01 a.m. ET June 25, five days out from the official opening of free agency on July 1.

No formal offers can be tabled but the ground can certainly be set.

The Islanders made their best pitch to Boyle and give him plenty to consider.

"Garth's done a great job, he's kept us abreast of everything along the way, we understand he's got to protect his interests," Boyle's agent, George Bazos, told "That being said, we haven't closed the door on talking to them. The Islanders gave Dan a lot to think about."

Boyle turns 38 on July 12 but remains a terrific skater who can help with the transition game and power play.

The risk is that any contract signed by a player 35 or over counts against a team's salary cap, regardless of whether the entire deal is played out. But there's no question Boyle will continue to seek out a two-year deal in whatever contract he signs.

Sticking with the Islanders, Snow had hoped to bring back veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov to back up new starter Jaroslav Halak, but the GM says that's unlikely to happen.

"We couldn’t come to an agreement, it looks like he's headed to July 1," Snow said of Nabokov.

Leino, Booth clear waivers
Ville Leino and David Booth had their buyouts made official Wednesday after both players cleared waivers. With money in their pocket, both wingers get to double-dip now and test free agency come July 1.

"His first priority is to play in the NHL," Leino's agent, Markus Lehto, said Wednesday. "He knows he's an NHLer. He knows the numbers haven't really been there for the past year. But he had had some health issues, he's totally healthy now. We'll see what happens, it's going to be interesting."

As part of the buyout, Leino will earn $1.22 million in each of the next six seasons; Booth's buyout will pay him $1.58 million for each of the next two seasons.

Other free-agent rumblings
No surprise, but the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings have already reached out to Marian Gaborik's camp to try to get something done to keep the pending UFA in the fold. Gaborik led all players in goals in the playoffs, with 14. ... Veteran blueliner Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens remains unsigned as the clock ticks toward July 1. "No news. I don't expect anything to happen anytime soon," Markov's agent, former NHLer Sergei Berezin, told via text Wednesday morning. "But you never know." ... Veteran agent Steve Bartlett remains in talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning about pending UFA Ryan Callahan: "Good-faith talks with Tampa continue, hard to handicap at this point," Bartlett said via email Wednesday morning. ... The NHLPA's annual summer player meetings, presided over by Donald Fehr, will be held July 14-17 in Pebble Beach, California, to discuss issues raised during the season. An official agenda has yet to be set.
Who was helped and who was hurt by the Olympic break? Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun drop the figurative gloves over it.

BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. Can you believe that it's been more than a month since the Olympic hockey tournament began? We wondered how that break would effect NHL teams and, as we head into the final month of the regular season, it's obvious in at least a couple of cases where teams really took advantage of the break -- and the fact they did not have a lot of players participating in the Olympics -- to jump-start their stretch run. I know you think the San Jose Sharks, a team you have spent a lot of time covering in the playoffs (there's actually a bronze statue of you and mascot S.J. Sharkie in front of the SAP Center), really took advantage of having Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, just coming off injury, rest up during the break. As of Friday morning, the Sharks are 6-1-1 since the break ended and have won four in a row to pull into a tie with Anaheim atop the Pacific Division, no small achievement given the Ducks' big lead at one point and the importance of finishing first and avoiding the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.

LEBRUN: I'd like to move to San Jose in retirement, a little secret I'll share with you. But, yes, the Sharks have been on fire since the break, using time off perfectly as Logan Couture and Raffi Torres were able to have extra time before coming back from injuries. But I think the older guys, such as Thornton and Boyle, really benefited. It brings me back to a comment NHLPA boss Donald Fehr told me during a chat we had in Sochi during the Olympics. I was asking him why or how such a majority of players seem to favor Olympic participation, even though such a small minority of the membership actually gets to play in them. He had a few responses to that but one of them, which I had never thought of, is that many of the veteran players around the league say they appreciate the Olympic break, the actual time off, to rest their bones and bumps and bruises. In non-Olympic years, they just don't have that opportunity, the All-Star break not really counting as much time off. So, certainly, I'd say with the Sharks sending only four players to Sochi -- as much as the team took a hit to its pride, given how many talented players the Sharks have -- I'd San Jose has greatly benefited from having so many key players rest up.

BURNSIDE: One of the teams that's been interesting for me to watch coming out of the break is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have you heard of them? After starting the post-Olympic break 0-1-2, the Leafs have won four of five, including a monster come-from-behind win Thursday night in Los Angeles that halted the Kings' eight-game winning streak. Indeed the Kings, as we speak, have the best post-break record in the league at 7-1. But what's fascinating for me about the Leafs is that they didn't have much in the way of Olympic representation but the guys who've been the catalyst to their strong push into second place in the Atlantic Division have been U.S. Olympians Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. You and I talked on our podcast this week about the fact Kessel might well have worked his way into Hart Trophy discussion (behind Sidney Crosby, of course). The thing is both van Riemsdyk and Kessel, who played on the same line in Sochi and of course play on the same line in Toronto, weren't very good as the Americans were shut out in their final two games in Sochi. Do you think Kessel, who was pointedly criticized for not delivering in the clutch in Russia, has used that as motivation to ensure the Leafs are playoff-bound? Or is that reading too much into it?

LEBRUN: I think that's reading too much into it. Fact is, the Kessel we're seeing now is the same one who was producing on a nightly basis for Toronto before the Olympics, which is why he's garnered Hart Trophy talk (although, as you say, Crosby will definitely win in a landslide; and I hope Ryan Getzlaf gets on the ballot as well). Toronto's big performances on the road trip in California have them, as of Friday, three points ahead of both Montreal and Tampa in the Atlantic Division. Speaking of post-Olympic performances, the Habs are only 3-4-0 since the break and you can certainly point to the absence of franchise netminder Carey Price as the biggest reason. Price, named the Olympics' top netminder after a stellar performance in leading Canada to gold, was secretly nicked up in Sochi and hasn't been able to get into the Montreal net since returning, although it sounds as though he will finally be back soon. That Habs team needs a healthy Carey Price to have any chance over the next month or two.

BURNSIDE: Fair point on Kessel. It's been interesting to look at some of the Russian players and their performance after the break, given their spectacular flame-out in the quarterfinals against Finland. Evgeni Malkin has a five-game point streak as of Friday but the former scoring champ and playoff MVP has just one goal since the break and he has talked candidly about the disappointment of the Olympic tournament. The NHL's top goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, had three goals in his first two games after the Olympics -- where he scored just once, in Russia's first game -- but has just one goal in his last six games for the slumping Caps. Olympic hangover? You tell me, my friend. On the other side of the coin, the guy who has impressed me mightily has been Semyon Varlamov, who was lifted in that quarterfinal loss to Finland in favor of Sergei Bobrovsky. Lots of consternation from Avalanche fans about Varlamov's mental state post-Olympics and yet he has been dynamic as the Avs have overtaken the Chicago Blackhawks and now sit in second place in the Central Division. The Avalanche are 6-2 since the break and Varlamov has collected five of those wins and might be the favorite now, along with Tuukka Rask of Boston, to win the Vezina Trophy. Are you surprised?

LEBRUN: Just can't be surprised anymore by anything Colorado does. The Avs are for real. Period. You mentioned Rask, and it’s interesting to note how some of the Finns have played since their emotional bronze-medal win in Sochi. Rask has been sensational in Boston, Mikael Granlund has continued his terrific play in Minnesota and gold ol' graybeard Kimmo Timonen might be playing his best hockey of the season in Philadelphia since returning home with a bronze. But what remains to be seen, because this is still very much a small sampled size of 7-8 games played per NHL team since the break, is whether there's a fatigue factor with some of the players used often in Sochi. That usually wouldn't show itself until a few weeks from now and I'm thinking in particular of all the Team Canada and Team USA guys on both Chicago and St. Louis. The Blues had contemplated sitting out some of their Olympians after Sochi but the players in question convinced the coaching staff they were fine to play. We'll see whether that was a wise decision or not in a few weeks.

Have a great weekend, pal, enjoy the best time of the season here with the stretch drive.

The chatter has picked up this week as NHL teams prepare more and more for not only the March 5 trade deadline, but also the Feb. 7 Olympic trade freeze.

"There’s definitely more talking going on," one team executive told Monday night.

"Some of the bubble/lower teams have begun to share their lists of players they might move if they fall out of it."

The question is how much will actually happen before next Friday’s (Feb. 7) 3 p.m. ET Olympic trade freeze.

There are so many teams right up against the salary cap, which handcuffs some trades.

"Because of that, I still think most of the action, like 90 percent of it, happens after the Olympics, closer to March," said one player agent who has a player or two who likely will be on the move.

One player whose name I would have never predicted to even possibly be in the mix before the season is that of New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.

But he’s a pending UFA July 1 and so far contract talks have not gone well at all, a source told Tuesday.

All of which led to some rumblings that the Rangers are exploring the trade market in case talks don’t produce a contract extension before the March 5 trade deadline. My colleague Darren Dreger also reported on Callahan’s trade possibility during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday evening on TSN in Canada.

You can imagine the reaction when Rangers GM Glen Sather called some teams over the past week to inform them that Callahan might be available.

"That’s a pretty big name," one Western Conference source said.

Still, it seems hard to fathom Callahan moving, but it appears the Rangers are intent to not lose such a prized asset for nothing July 1 if they can’t get him signed. So the clock is ticking.

Stay tuned ...

Boyle's future

The Sharks and Dan Boyle's camp chatted over the weekend in the wake of the Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton signings, but I would certainly not say a deal is close as of now, although talks are ongoing.

Boyle remains the one veteran name who's unsigned in San Jose, as my colleague Craig Custance detailed in his Monday blog.

What I can gather at this point is the Sharks point to the 35-and-over rule (where deals count against the cap even if a player can’t complete it) and have suggested that a one-year deal makes the most sense. It’s what players in their late 30s have done in the past (such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson).

But Boyle, I believe, wants a two-year deal at this point and feels he can probably play another three or four years of good hockey. And when you watch him play right now, you certainly can’t disagree with that. He remains a high-end force.

In the end, I can see both viewpoints.

We’ll see how it plays out ...

Kadri trade rumors

Hard to believe that Nazem Kadri can ignore the trade rumors that have circulated for the past two months, but that’s exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs center has tried to do.

It may very well be that he never goes anywhere, but it’s a fact that other teams have called to inquire about him, which has led to the speculation in the NHL’s biggest hockey media market.

"I kind of just forget about it, I’ve been around long enough to not listen to speculation," Kadri told after Tuesday's morning skate. "The amount of guys that have been on the trading block the last few years and nothing ended up happening, that’s just crazy to me. So I just ignore it and go about my business."

No question he simply does not want to leave.

"Absolutely not. I’ve grown a lot of friendships and relationships here on this team, I’m close to a lot of guys. It would suck to leave. That’s why I’m trying to contribute as much I can to make them want me here," Kadri said.

Pens' blue line

The Penguins organization is loaded with depth on defense, which also means Pittsburgh has decisions to make.

Whether the Pens make some of those decisions before the March 5 trade deadline or wait until the offseason depends probably on how hard other teams make them think with potential offers for one or two of their blueliners.

They’ve got free-agent decisions to make, too, on defense with Team USA Olympian Brooks Orpik as well as Matt Niskanen -- both UFA eligible July 1. Niskanen is having a terrific year.

There are youngsters in the AHL such as Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson, as well as junior star prospect Derrick Pouliot, among others.

At least one if not two youngsters need NHL jobs next season, but there isn’t room for everyone.

So it certainly would not be surprising to see the Pens deal a kid away before March 5 to get a winger with Pascal Dupuis out for the season.

But the blue line will need shaking out past this season heading into next year.

I am curious about one thing: I wonder if there won’t be a few teams calling on Kris Letang. It just so happens that Letang’s new extension kicks in next season and his salary will more than double from $3.5 million this season to $7.25 million next year, the first in an eight-year, $58 million deal he signed last summer.

Now, I am not saying the Pens are thinking of shopping him, in fact I have heard zero evidence of that being the case. But what I can see happening is another team making an offer thinking the Pens are so loaded on defense organizationally and need to find money to re-sign Niskanen and/or Orpik, plus make room for the likes of Despres next season. ...

You can see how another team might be thinking it might be worth making an offer to Pittsburgh on Letang ahead of the June NHL draft. Food for thought.

Stars' Whitney on rental list

Another rental name to remember before the March 5 trade deadline is pending UFA Ray Whitney of the Dallas Stars.

The 41-year-old winger has a modified no-trade clause, but I think he’d welcome a change to a contender if the Stars fall out of it.

Right now, Dallas intends to see how things go before the Olympic break and then decide based on where the Stars are in the standings what the organization will do with some of their its, including Whitney.

Watch: Max Lapierre suspended five games

October, 18, 2013
St. Louis Blues forward Maxim Lapierre was suspended for five games for boarding San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle.

Lapierre will forefit $28,205.15 of his salary.

He was given a game misconduct for hitting Boyle from behind in the first period of San Jose's 6-2 road win Tuesday. Boyle was knocked out on the play and taken off the ice on a stretcher before spending the night in a hospital.


It didn’t take long for the week’s high-profile tilt between the unbeaten San Jose Sharks and unbeaten St. Louis Blues to turn ugly Tuesday. Early in the first period, Blues forward Max Lapierre sent veteran Sharks defensemen Dan Boyle head-first into the boards with a hit from behind. The hit left Boyle unconscious, and he was removed from the ice in St. Louis on a stretcher. Lapierre was ejected for the hit and will almost certainly be suspended for the dangerous play. Early reports indicate that Boyle’s injuries aren't too severe, which, needless to say, represents the best outcome.

"I'm doing OK, thank you for your concern and support," Boyle said in a message directed at fans via’s Pierre LeBrun from the St. Louis hospital where he spent the night. "Means a lot to me. I've never once taken this game or any of my fans for granted. Hope to be back soon."

We didn't like the hit by Sharks forward Brent Burns on Brenden Morrow later in the game that also could have produced a serious injury, and it was a bit of a disappointment to see Burns assessed only a minor penalty (Morrow did return to the game). In the end, the greatest statement was made by the Sharks, who used their skill to avenge Boyle’s injury as they humbled the Blues 6-2, scoring three times with the man advantage. The Sharks also chased Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been a key factor in the Blues’ hot start, out after the second period. The game marked the first in a stretch that will see the Sharks play seven of eight on the road.

Kaleta's at it again: The Lapierre hit on Boyle came just a few hours after the NHL suspended serial cheap-shot artist Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres 10 games for his latest transgression: A dirty, head-high hit on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. By almost any measuring stick, 10 games is a heavy sentence -- almost any measuring stick except for a guy such as Kaleta, a player who is either too stupid to learn from his mistakes or too reckless to care. Given Kaleta’s history, one wonders what number would have been appropriate. At some point, with players such as Kaleta, who has been fined or suspended six times in the last four seasons -- the most recent being last season when he drove Brad Richards head-first into the boards -- it would seem the threat of actually being unable to play the game anymore is the only real deterrent. We saw this happen with Matt Cooke when he was in Pittsburgh; the Penguins publicly said that unless Cooke changed his ways, he wouldn't be able to play with them. This happened after Cooke’s last suspension, in the spring of 2011, after a hit on New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Cooke worked with the Pens’ coaching staff during his suspension, which lasted through the first round of the 2011 playoffs, watched video and dedicated himself to changing his style of play. To date, he remains a shining example of players who can learn from their mistakes. It would be nice if we heard something similar from the Sabres, although we aren't holding our breath, given that ownership/management of NHL teams historically only worry about dangerous play when it’s some other team’s player who’s playing outside the lines. We often criticize league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for what we've felt has been consistently lenient discipline for plays that have no place in the game. Yet the stakeholders, owners, general managers and players themselves remain, for the most part, mute on issues such as those created by guys such as Kaleta. Where is Buffalo owner Terry Pegula on Kaleta? Where is Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, a smart, thoughtful hockey man, on how his employee behaves? The Buffalo News reported that, even though the Sabres were playing Tuesday, neither Regier nor Kaleta would comment. Way to take responsibility. Shanahan could have, indeed, should have, given Kaleta 20 games and left his return open-ended, pending an end-of-suspension interview. But it would mean a lot more if the Sabres would come out and announce they will no longer employ a player such as Kaleta until he learns from his mistakes. Sadly, that’s not likely to happen, so we remain skeptical this latest brush with the NHL law will change how Kaleta plays the game.

Not so fast, Avs: An interesting experiment in fan reaction occurring in Denver where the Colorado Avalanche are the story of this young NHL season. With their 3-2 win over Dallas on Tuesday night, the Avs moved to a remarkable 6-0-0. The win marked their first home game after three impressive road wins, and yet the announced attendance at the Pepsi Center was 15,208, well below the capacity of 18,007. It reminded us of a conversation with Carolina GM Jim Rutherford during the ‘Canes superlative 2005-06 season. The Hurricanes would go on to win their first Stanley Cup in June 2006, but during that regular season, the ‘Canes’ crowds remained soft in spite of the fact the team was one of the most entertaining in the league. Rutherford explained that on-ice success does not translate instantly into fan support. A kind of elasticity is at play; a team has to prove they have turned a corner before fans will consistently return to support them. In short, you don’t repair a badly damaged fan base in the first month of a season even if the Avs appear to be on the track to redemption.

Giroux's Olympic goal is toast: It’s never too early for players to make a case for their respective Olympic teams. Likewise, it’s never too early to start playing yourself right off the map. One has to wonder about the early-season struggles of the Philadelphia Flyers and how it might affect captain Claude Giroux and his bid to be named to the Canadian Olympic squad for the Sochi Games in February. A lock to make the team heading into the season, even though he missed the Canadian orientation camp with a golf-related hand injury, Giroux and the Flyers have been stuck in neutral since the season started. OK, that’s being charitable. After blowing a third-period lead and losing 3-2 to Vancouver on Tuesday, the Flyers dropped to a woeful 1-6-0. Even the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette three games into the season hasn't helped, as the Flyers have managed only 10 goals. Giroux has yet to score and has just two assists, and with Canadian executive director Steve Yzerman and the Canadian selection committee already facing the onerous task of narrowing the talented Canadian forward contingent down, Giroux’s tepid play further muddies the waters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s hard to believe there is any way Giroux makes this squad unless he mounts a significant renaissance in the next two months.

Reimer ain't backing down: Nice statement game for netminder James Reimer, who appeared to have been frozen out of the Maple Leafs' goaltending equation after an early bad game combined with the strong play by newcomer Jonathan Bernier. Not so fast. Reimer was outstanding in stopping 36 of 37 shots as the red-hot Leafs moved to 6-1-0 with a 4-1 win over Minnesota on Tuesday. Those are exactly the kind of goaltending “issues” Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle likes to have.

Bruins are looking mediocre: It’s been interesting to watch the Boston Bruins through the first couple of weeks. There’s something solid and reliable about the team GM Peter Chiarelli has built, and which for a number of years now has stolidly reflected the personality of head coach Claude Julien. That doesn't mean there haven’t been hiccups early on, and maybe we didn't appreciate the transition that would be required after the Bruins lost Jaromir Jagr, Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin through trades and free agency. Although the team continues to play well defensively, allowing just eight goals through their first five games, they've managed just 12 going the other way. The struggles continued Monday when the Bruins could not solve Detroit backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson during the matinee, losing 3-2 in spite of a long 5-on-3 and the fact the Red Wings did not have a single power play. Specifically, winger Jarome Iginla is struggling to find his place with the B's and has just one assist. If he hadn't struggled during the playoffs for Pittsburgh last spring, there wouldn't be much cause for concern, but in spite of prime ice time and a ton of power-play time, he’s not hitting the mark, which has to be worrying for Julien et al. Not that Iginla is alone. Patrice Bergeron (one goal, one assist) and Brad Marchand (one goal) are also off to slow starts.

CALGARY, Alberta -- A little ball hockey, eh?

Team Canada took to the floor-covered ice Monday for "walk-through" practices, which is the coaching staff's unique solution to a tough situation given the inability to actually get on the ice for real practices.

The 45 players were split into two groups and ran around with their sticks in their hands playing out drills from the coaching staff while wearing track shorts, T-shirts and running shoes.

Kudos to head coach Mike Babcock for the clever solution for a tough predicament.

"I thought it was a real good day for us,” Babcock said. "Obviously, I have never done this before. We've put a lot of planning into it. I spent a lot of time talking to people to gather the information -- [head coach] Tom Izzo in particular with Michigan State basketball. He talks about the walk-throughs, and [they are] part of the reason that he believes they've been to six Final Fours in the last 15 years. Todd Downing is a quarterback coach with the Lions. He talked about the plays they walk through each and every day and the muscle memory and the timing and spacing that's going on.

"This is a big sheet, and guys aren't used to it. It's even bigger when you can't move very fast, and you couldn't go very fast today. But I thought it was a good teaching tool. The other thing is when you've got 23 guys on your team, you usually got to teach 23 different ways. Everybody learns different, so when you see it on video, it's one way you see it. In a book, it's another way. You've got a posting on the wall, you walk through it again and then you talk about it. To me, what we're trying to do is get them to understand the way we're going to play, so it meets the comfort for them when they arrive in Sochi."

It’s early, folks, but, for the heck of it, here were the lines:

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patrick Sharp
Eric Staal-Jonathan Toews-Rick Nash
Logan Couture-John Tavares-Steven Stamkos
Andrew Ladd-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Jeff Carter-Mike Richards-Martin St. Louis
Milan Lucic-Matt Duchene-James Neal
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall-Jordan Staal

"Don’t read anything into the lines," Babcock cautioned.

Joe Thornton’s absence from the camp (family illness) left Hall and Jordan Staal lined up with a University of Calgary player, Dylan Walchuk.

Talk about a thrill for the college player.

"I know. It's pretty sweet. Maybe I'll see myself on TV tonight if I get lucky," Walchuk said.

So much is going to play out over the next few months before Team Canada picks the team. It’s hard to tell a whole lot from these lines when you consider that most of the line combinations at the camp four years ago didn’t hold water come the Olympics in Vancouver four months later.

Still, there were some interesting looks Monday, such as Nash back on a line with Toews. That duo was Canada’s most effective forward combo by the end of that gold-medal tournament in 2010, with Toews being named the tournament’s top forward. So it’s natural for the coaching staff to want to see those guys back together.

Crosby had his trusted Pittsburgh Penguins linemate Kunitz on his left side Monday, an obvious fit. I still think Kunitz is in tough to make the team, but if he lights it up in the fall like he did last season, he’s got a shot, especially when you consider how difficult it was for the coaching staff in Vancouver to find players who could mesh with the world’s top player.

"This is the best of the best," Kunitz said. "It's awesome. I've never been to an All-Star Game or one of these things. This is a great thing to be a part of, but if I want a chance to go to that team, I have to play my game and have as much success as I did last year moving on and have to earn my way on the team."

Sharp’s inclusion on the line is also intriguing. He’s a long shot for most people to make the team, although I would put him on the team if it were up to me. Sharp is a versatile player who can play all three forward positions, and, on a team that’s going to have a lot of centers playing out of position on the wing, I think he’d be a valuable addition.

Whether or not Sharp was on the Crosby line for no other reason than Claude Giroux not being here in camp, who knows. But I like Sharp on that line.

But easily the most intriguing line Tuesday for me was Tavares between Couture and Stamkos. Wowsers. That’s a young and talented combination, and Couture brings in a bit of defensive protection with his two-way game. That’s a line I could certainly live with.

But again, so much will change between now and February.

To me, the locks on defense are Alex Pietrangelo, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty -- and perhaps Jay Bouwmeester. Then, the final three jobs are up for grabs among P.K. Subban, Dan Boyle, Kris Letang, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marc Methot and Dan Hamhuis.

Canada-Russia rivalry

Crosby is an avid hockey history student. It’s not lost on him the chance at hand next February with the Olympic tournament staged in Russia, Canada’s historical hockey rival.

Not since the famous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the former Soviet Union has there been a more meaningful game played in Russia between the two rivals played than if the two countries tangle next February.

"I can remember being 15 in Shattuck [Minn.], and J.P. Parise was there, and I remember some of the stories he would tell,” Crosby said. "I was always kind of wondering if I’d even have a chance to play in Russia and, up to this point, I haven’t. To have that opportunity and knowing the history is there to be part of that would be definitely very special. It’s something we’re all well aware of and want to make happen."

Wayne Gretzky has often said that one of his regrets in his career was not having a chance to play an important international game in Russia. The Great One was part of those great Canada Cup games against the former Soviet Union, but those games were always held in Canada.

"That’s a pretty special opportunity for those Canadian players if they get to play Russia in Sochi," Gretzky told Sunday.

Old man Boyle

The gray speckles on Boyle's beard reveal the veteran defenseman’s experience in this camp. At 37, the San Jose Sharks blueliner is the second-oldest player here in camp behind only St. Louis.

"I’ve got a lot of D-men telling me that I was their favorite D-man growing up,’’ Boyle chuckled Monday. "I’m sure I’ll be asked about my age from here on in. It bothers me, but what can you do? I play with guys who are 25 who are icing their backs. It’s not always about age. Look at Marty."

Don’t be fooled, though. Boyle can still play at this level, and he’ll be an interesting decision for Team Canada. He’s an asset on the big ice, and his experience is important, too. But the Canadian management staff will watch him carefully in the opening months of the NHL season to make sure they don’t see any signs of slowing down.

"I know the experts haven’t picked me to make the team," Boyle laughed, using his fingers to show quotation marks around the word experts. "I don’t put too much thought into that. I’ve been doing this my whole career, being counted out forever. I’m probably not expected [to make it], but, obviously, I’d love to be part of it. I know what I can bring to this team."

Team Canada will have some new faces on its roster, and having some experience in the room will be important.

"I think so, too," Boyle said. "Oddly enough, the gold-medal game in Vancouver was the calmest I was in the whole tournament. I was more nervous in the preliminary games. I watched the gold-medal game again a few months ago, and I was happy [with his performance]. I think you need that. I think that’s where experience comes in."

Smith cuts hair

Barely recognizable Monday was goalie Mike Smith. Gone was his long hair.

What’s up with that?

"I’m 31 years old with two kids. Time to grow up," he chuckled.

Smith has a solid shot of making this team. Of interest is that he was invited here by Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman, whom he played for in Tampa Bay before getting waived and leaving via free agency. Yzerman had hoped to re-sign Smith, but he chose to go to Phoenix.

But as far as Smith is concerned, he left on good terms.

"When I left, there weren’t any hard feelings,” he said. "I hadn’t really deserved the chance to stick around. There were bumps along the road in Tampa, and I never really found my niche. I went to Phoenix and developed more into the guy I thought I could be. But the way it was handled in Tampa was first class. Steve and the whole organization handled it with the most respect they could give me. I’m fortunate for that."

Keith looking for more glory

He’s got two Stanley Cup rings, and now he’s aiming for a second Olympic gold medal.

Star blueliner Keith is far from satisfied with his current haul.

"They’re both very special experiences,” Keith said Monday. "When you win a Stanley Cup, I dreamed about that sort of thing when I was a kid. To be able to do that after a long season and a long grind is definitely rewarding. At the same time, when you play on an Olympic team, you’re representing your country, and it’s a huge honor in itself to have that jersey on. To win an Olympic gold medal, it means you’re the best team in the world at that time. It’s a special feeling.

"They’re both special. They’re both unique feelings. Any time you win a championship, it’s the best feeling in the world. I mean, a win’s a win, right?"

Keith was partnered with Weber in Monday’s walk-through/ball hockey practice.

Bouwmeester's back

Bouwmeester was part of Canada’s Olympic team in 2006 but was passed over for 2010.

Now he wants back in.

“You'd like to be there,” he said Monday. "That's the goal for everyone. I think you learn from that. From that, you learn it's a process, and you can't worry about it. If you're picked and get to go, great. But there are a lot of great players.”

It could be an exciting year for him. His St. Louis Blues were picked by The Hockey News to win the Stanley Cup, to which Bouwmeester responded Monday:

“I guess that's better than being on the bottom. I think the Toronto Blue Jays were picked to win the World Series, weren't they? I wouldn't put a lot of faith into it.”

Ouch, Jays fans.

Still, the Blues are definitely a team that’s knocking at the door.

“We're still fairly young, but everybody's kinda past that learning stage,” Bouwmeester said. "You've got a group that's probably going to be together at least a few years, at least the majority of guys. It seems like a good opportunity.”
Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Antti Niemi of the San Jose SharksAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesAntti Niemi and the Sharks aren't happy about their season's end, but they still stood tall in 2013.

LOS ANGELES -- You were in the wrong dressing room here Tuesday night if you were looking for anyone to acknowledge what the San Jose Sharks achieved this season.

No, in the visitors’ room at Staples Center, there were only looks of despair and heartbreak after a hard-fought series with the Los Angeles Kings ended with a Game 7 loss.

Logan Couture sat dejectedly in his stall, looking into space as if hoping to wake up from a nightmare.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s tough,” Couture said. “It’s been a long year. We battled hard to get to where we were. We made some changes and played a good first round, then forced, I think, the best team in the league to seven games and almost beat them in their building. It’s tough to take.”

“We played our hearts out, and that’s all you can ask of each other,” added captain Joe Thornton.

This was a team that was headed absolutely nowhere in February. The Sharks couldn’t score, they couldn’t skate and they didn’t look like a team worthy of a playoff berth, which is why GM Doug Wilson took honest stock back then of what he had and decided it was time to “reset” his roster, planting the seeds for the eventual trades of veterans Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus.

They were all pending unrestricted free agents after the season, and Wilson had seen enough of his team midway through the season to know he had to get younger and faster. Years of contending had had its impact. It was time to remold the group, a process which will continue in the offseason.

But at that time, about the last thing anybody in San Jose truly believed was that they’d end up just one win away from the Western Conference finals.

“Definitely credit to the guys for turning this thing around because it was looking pretty dark and ugly for a while,” veteran blueliner Dan Boyle said.

A strange thing happened in early April after Murray, Handzus and Clowe were dealt away: The team came together and started winning games.

Feeding off a sense that nobody believed in them, the Sharks molded into a tight-knit group that felt it could prove people wrong. The team did so by upsetting Vancouver in the opening round -- in four straight games no less -- and impressed in the manner in which they took the Kings to the very end.

The loss of Raffi Torres to suspension after Game 1 against the Kings was a factor, Boyle said.

“We had to shift our lines a little bit after losing Raffi, and I think that hurt us a little bit,” Boyle said. “We had [Joe] Pavelski on the third line in the first round and that gave us a balanced scoring attack. With Raffi out, Pavs went up [to Couture’s line]. It’s not the way we were playing in the last month and a half.”

Couture acknowledged afterward that he had been playing on an injured ankle he suffered in Game 3 -- a game in which he returned to score in OT -- which required an injection every game just to play. But he refused to use that as an excuse.

“I was able to play 100 percent,” Couture said, his face buried in his hands.

Top blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic also gutted it out, confirming to me after Game 7 that he’d been playing with a hairline fracture in his right foot since Game 4, which required freezing the nerves in his foot before playing.

“But lots of guys in this room were playing hurt, just like the Kings," Vlasic said. "It’s no excuse.”

So what now? Thornton and Boyle both have one year left on their contracts. Are they part of Wilson’s roster reset, which will continue this summer? Or do both vets, or only one of them, stay on?

“It’s tough to look at the future right now," Boyle said. "We’ll see what happens this summer, but obviously we have something going well with this team."

Thornton and Boyle were both terrific in these playoffs, and you wonder just how badly they wanted this given where they see the team heading.

“It’s disappointing right now,” Thornton said. “We were just having so much fun. It’s disappointing that it has to end, because we were really enjoying this. It’s a tough way to finish.”

The Sharks know they’ve got special players in Couture, Pavelski, Antti Niemi and Vlasic, plus up-and-comers in Justin Braun and Matt Irwin. They should remain a competitive team.

But it’s a team that needs more depth, too. They didn’t get a single goal from any of their bottom-six forwards -- not counting Pavelski, who moved up a line -- in two playoff rounds. Tough to win when you’re counting so hard on your top players all the time.

All in all, though, considering how the season looked in February and March, it's hard not to feel somewhat satisfied if you’re a Sharks fan in the end. This isn’t a team that folded under expectations. It’s a team that achieved more than was expected from them this time around.

LOS ANGELES -- Game 7.

It explains itself.

No matter how many you’ve played, it’s special unto itself.

“If you don’t get butterflies, there’s something wrong with you,” said Los Angeles Kings veteran Justin Williams, who is 3-0 in Game 7s in his career with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists).

“But at the same time, control the butterflies, be calm, be confident; that’s how we aim to approach it,” Williams added after the morning skate at Staples Center.

Williams remembers how he felt before Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals; his Carolina Hurricanes had lost two straight to the Edmonton Oilers before finally finishing them off at home.

“We had lost Game 5 on a short-handed overtime goal, and then we got completely embarrassed in Game 6 [in Edmonton]. It wasn’t even close,” Williams said. “So, obviously, we had to regroup, refocus and maintain. Just like everyone says, ‘Hey, if you could play one game for the Stanley Cup, you guys would take it at the start of the year.’ That was the approach. I don’t think I slept that day, but I was ready to play.”

Loose Sharks

On Tuesday morning, the San Jose Sharks players were loose and relaxed again at the pregame skate.

It may mean nothing come game’s end Tuesday night, but it’s unmistakable that the Sharks are acting like they’re playing with house money.

“This team really does have a lot of fun with each other; we’ve really just enjoyed this run and we want to continue it after tonight,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the morning skate.

Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle says it’s a different feeling this year for the Sharks, who didn’t enter the playoffs under the weight of expectations.

“For many years we’ve been picked [to go far] and people get disappointed year in and year out. This year it’s been the other way around, where we weren’t picked to win the first series [against the Vancouver Canucks] and we weren’t picked to win this one,” Boyle said. “It’s a different situation for us. Whether that’s good or bad, we’ll see. But not a lot of people thought we would be here at this point.”

Less than two months ago, the Sharks were in the process of trading away three veteran players: Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus and Douglas Murray. And if the team had kept losing, who knows who else would have been gone.

“We were probably a couple of losses away from a big blowup; a couple of us were mentioned in trade rumors,” Boyle said. “We just stuck through it, came together as a team and have played very well since we made a couple of those deals.”

Ever since that day, the Sharks have played as if every day was a bonus for them. Which is why coach Todd McLellan said he’s not planning any big speech before Game 7.

“There are still things we need to address, but there isn’t a rah-rah speech that’s going to go on,” McLellan said. “They’re motivating themselves, they’re playing for each other. There’s nothing more powerful in sport than when a group of people come together and play for each other. If they have to play because the coach is motivating them, I don’t think we’ll be successful.”

Williams, though, downplayed San Jose’s underdog role. After all, he said, these teams were separated by only one point in the standings this season.

“You can say anything to make yourself think whatever you want,” Williams said. “In here, we don’t care. Underdog? They’re a successful hockey team, and so are we. You want to finish your season with a win. If you don’t, you get a sour taste for the summer, and we don’t want that tonight.”

Sutter demands more of LWs

Kings coach Darryl Sutter pointed to production -- or, rather, a lack thereof -- from the team’s left wingers as an issue heading into Game 7.

“We need more from our left side, period,” Sutter said Tuesday morning. “We’ve got two even-strength goals in the whole playoffs from our left side. When you’re talking about lines, that’s one of our three that aren’t pulling their weight.”

Captain Dustin Brown played left wing on the top line with Anze Kopitar until two games ago, when he was shifted to right wing on the third line and scored his team’s lone goal from that spot Sunday. He has three goals in 12 playoff games.

Sutter’s message was probably directed more toward left wingers Dustin Penner (two goals in 12 games) and Dwight King (no goals in 12 games).

First goal means something

The team scoring first in this series is 6-0. Scoring first seems to calm that team down and allow it to set the tone. It looms large heading into Game 7.

“Both teams rely heavily on their goaltenders, so I think getting that first goal kind of calms both benches down,” Thornton said. “I think it’s 70 percent in these playoffs -- if you score the first goal, that team wins. So it’s going to be huge for us tonight.”

Jumbo huge

Asked what the Sharks were doing well against them in this series, Brown pointed to one specific player: Thornton.

“He's been a pretty dominant force throughout the series,” Brown said. “He is really good on the offensive side of the puck. I think that's probably been the biggest part of the series for them is No. 19. From our blue line in, he's been really big and really hard. He's so big and strong, and then you add his skill level into it, it's a tough combo to defend. I think guys have battled hard against him, but he's been effective.”

Western parity

Both second-round series in the Western Conference need seventh games to decide them, a fact Sutter felt was reflective of the competition in the West.

“Look at it, our conference has four teams going to Game 7,” Sutter said. “It tells you how good the conference is and how close the teams are. That’s clear. There’s not a top to bottom, and it’s probably the way it should be.

“The teams are really, really close.”

LOS ANGELES -- The Kings’ new forward lines were still a go at the pregame skate Thursday morning, meaning captain Dustin Brown and star center Anze Kopitar were on different units.

If the morning lines stand for Game 5 Thursday night, Kopitar will start with Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams, and Brown will be on the third line with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.

“When you score two goals in 120 minutes, you got to mix it around,” Brown said after the morning skate. “With Kinger and Lewis, they’re both really hard-working guys with pretty good skill low. They have that two-man cycle game down pat. For us, it should be about simplifying our game, getting it into their zone and cycling. The important thing, and I mentioned this to Lewy and Kinger: it’s one thing to cycle; we have to bring pucks to the net when we have the opportunity. Sometimes that’s just bearing down, dropping your shoulder and going. With the size and skill we have on this line, that should be our goal.”

For Clifford, it’s a big promotion from the fourth line to Kopitar’s line.

“It’s definitely a big role, I just have to play my game, keep it simple and not change anything,” Clifford said.

Dustin Penner remained with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Penner having joined that duo midway through Game 4 in San Jose -- although Penner’s promotion to that line doesn’t mean Kings coach Darryl Sutter is completely satisfied with his play in this series.

“We need a bigger, heavier game from Dustin Penner. Very simple,” Sutter said.

Stoll update

Jarret Stoll is still not close to playing -- he hasn’t even resumed skating -- but there was some news reported by Sutter on Thursday morning.

“He rode the bike yesterday for a few minutes,” Sutter said. “He’ll do that again today. It is protocol. Is it progress? It is if it’s good today [how he feels on the bike ride].”

Sharks at Staples

The Kings have won 12 straight at home, where they’re a comfortable bunch. What do the Sharks have to do to get traction here?

“I think we can build off of Game 2; we played a good enough game to win here,” center Logan Couture said. “Obviously we took a couple of penalties at the end of that game that cost us. I think we played a really good road game that night. Hopefully we can build off that.”

Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle agreed.

“It’s important for us not to be complacent, not to be satisfied with what we’ve done so far,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the past, I’ve been on teams where you come back a little bit in the series and then there’s a letdown, you almost exhale for a second. I just think this team needs to keep going on what we’ve done over the past four games. We just need to keep going.”

Better starts

The Sharks have had better starts three games in a row, and that’s something the Kings were keying on heading into Game 5.

“I think it’s based on your top guys,” Sutter said. “I know we keep coming back to that, but if you look at how especially their top two lines early have been really good, we’ve had to sort of weed into that. That’s the challenge for those groups.”

The Sharks know the Kings were preparing for a big start and have also talked about that heading into Game 5.

“The first 5-7 minutes are going to be important for our team,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re going to have to get on our toes and make sure that we’re aggressive and try to play those minutes in their end. I think they’ll try to make the start a focal point on their behalf. We have to be prepared for it.”

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The next day often matters just as much as the game itself when it comes to a player returning to the ice after a lengthy absence.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene gave it a thumbs-up Wednesday.

"I feel pretty good all things considered," Greene said after practice.

The veteran played his first game of the playoffs Tuesday night, when the San Jose Sharks defeated the Kings 2-1 in Game 4 to tie their West semifinal series 2-2. Greene was noticeably trying to get involved physically early on.

"That's the easiest thing -- get a hit, take a hit. It gets you in the game," said Greene.

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter had hinted Tuesday morning that Greene might be close to ready, talking about how he trusted veteran players more because they understood the difference between being injured and being hurt.

I asked Greene on Wednesday how the decision to play came about.

"Everybody wants to play right now," said Greene. "Sometimes maybe it's good that doctors step in there and tell you maybe you can't. But it was a combination of everything: I was feeling better, doctors OK'ing it and Darryl finding a spot in the lineup."
I'd count on Greene playing again Thursday night. At least given how Sutter rated Greene's performance in Game 4.

"I think Greener had trouble a little with the pace early, [his] competitiveness kept him in it, and as the game went on he played better. Which is refreshing to see," said Sutter.

Respect for the Kings
Back in San Jose, where the Sharks practiced before flying to L.A., it was clear the underdogs knew what is awaiting them in Game 5.

"They're a great team. You know, they're the champs," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. "They've been good on home ice all year, but we feel like our game is getting better and better. Each series, it just keeps getting better. We have to go into L.A. and win one now."

The Kings outshot the Sharks 14-2 in the third period Tuesday night in a rally that felt just short.

"I think last game showed, as well as we played, that they just stick around," said defenseman Dan Boyle. "I think that's one of their strengths -- in the games or the periods that they could easily be down three goals, they find a way to just kind of stick around long enough to the point that a couple of late goals win games. I think they're a good, balanced team."

The Sharks have won two straight, but they don't believe they've seized momentum.

"In the playoffs, you turn the page after a win or a loss,” said Boyle. "I don't believe in momentum that much come playoff time."

Added Patrick Marleau: "It's only good if you re-establish your game early on in the next game. You've gotta continue it, I guess. You can't sit back and rest on it."

The Kings have won 12 straight at home, a well-known fact in the Sharks' dressing room.

"Their record proves they're a pretty darn good team there," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. "They have been for a number of years. The energy that they gather from their fans is a factor, as well. We know that, for us to accomplish our goal, we have to take something away from them in their building.

"This crack is our first chance at it, and it could be our last, so may as well do what we can right off the bat."

Quick in the middle again
One storyline that won't go away is how the Sharks will deal with Kings netminder Jonathan Quick and the aggressive manner in which Quick comes out to the top of his crease to stop pucks.

Quick has complained about contact from Sharks players, and it's a flash point in this series with on-ice officials fully on the lookout for it.

"The thing that kind of bugs me about him -- I don't know if I should say it -- is a little embellishment every now and then," Sharks winger T.J. Galiardi said Wednesday of Quick. "You skate by and you don't even touch him or you barely even touch him and he's throwing his hands in the air. But it's playoffs. Everyone is trying to draw a penalty. Whatever."

Galiardi himself has been accused of diving. But in this case, the Sharks winger says to just look at video of Quick for the proof.

"You guys see it," said Galiardi. "With video, something we like to say around here is, 'The ball don't lie.' It's an old basketball term. When you watch video, the video doesn't lie.

"When I'm skating by and I barely touch him and he's throwing his hands in the air, it's kind of one of those things -- he looks bad on video, not me."