Cross Checks: Florida Panthers
The NHL's trade deadline is exactly one month from today. Where did the season go?
And yet, a month is still a lot of time to determine this year's buyers and sellers.
As of today, there are many teams with legitimate playoff chances, making it a short sellers' list. In addition, some buyers need to wait until the last possible moment so their rental pickups don't count as much against the salary cap.
Factor in both those issues, and that's why there still isn't a lot going on one month out.
"There hasn't been much real talk," Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com this week. "Teams are saying 'We'll talk later, we'll talk later.' But that's fine."
"Most of us have players that we would make available even right now for a trade, either because they're underperforming and/or overpaid," Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier told us this week. "But it's impossible right now to get an agreement on values. We're all hoping that we're going to be able to just charge a cost without taking anything back, and that's not reality. So I think, yes, we're all sitting around to the last day or two again [before the trade deadline]."
It's been a frustrating time over the past month for several GMs who are trying to shake things up.
"There's been lots of talk going on, but it's hard to jar anything loose right now," Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said this week.
The two clubs in Ontario have also burned up the phone lines without success. But you'd better believe the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will try to be busy between now and Feb. 28. The playoffs are a long shot at best.
"I'm open for business, yes, you can get that word out if you want," Sens GM Bryan Murray told us, his sense of humor still intact.
"We now know where we are," Murray added in a serious tone, referring to the team's 13th-place standing in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break, 15 points out of the last playoff spot. "As disappointed as we may be, we have to do something to rectify it."
Prefacing a question by saying I assumed the likes of All-Star youngster Erik Karlsson and top center Jason Spezza (no-movement clause) weren't going anywhere, I asked him how many untouchables he had.
"Yes, there's a couple of guys we wouldn't move," Murray said. "Certainly Alfie [captain Daniel Alfredsson] is another one we wouldn't move. I talked to [owner] Eugene [Melnyk] about that. We're not doing anything there. But other than that, we're open to many things."
The most obvious movable name is veteran blueliner Chris Phillips, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He's a perfect rental for a contender, a smart player who would help any good team. There are so many clubs looking for help along the blue line, including San Jose, Chicago, Montreal and Boston, among others.
The Maple Leafs had been hoping to pull off some sort of trade to bring in a big center, or at least a big forward, but it hasn't happened. So now what?
"We've been trying to add since well before Christmas without any success," Leafs GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com this week. "We have cap room and budget room, but we haven't been able to get anything done to upgrade our team. So now we're going to look at whatever opportunities present themselves leading up to the deadline, including younger players."
I'm reading between the lines here, but my guess is the Leafs are now finally ready to accept draft picks or prospects in trades after trying so hard to make a more traditional hockey deal. Still, it's not a bad thing for Toronto to clear out some cap space ahead of July 1. They'll need to outbid the New York Rangers, among other teams, for the services of Brad Richards (if he hasn't re-signed with Dallas before then).
Toronto's most coveted rental player would be veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who is a UFA on July 1. At some point soon, the Kaberle camp will likely have to make a decision. They'll need to inform the Leafs whether they'd be willing to waive the defenseman's no-trade clause and, if so, provide the Leafs with a list of teams. In the end, they may choose not to waive it and just ride out the final weeks of his career in Toronto. Burke, always respectful of players with no-trade clauses, will not ask Kaberle to waive it.
Expect Francois Beauchemin (one more season at $3.8 million) and Kris Versteeg (one more season at $3.08 million) to continue to draw attention from other teams, along with veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (UFA July 1) if he can show he's healthy and can help a team. (Giguere recently told local reporters he would "contemplate" waiving his no-trade clause if Burke approached him about it.)
And what of Sheldon Souray? He has one more year left on his contract next season at $4.5 million ($5.4 million cap hit). He's been buried in the AHL all season and has also battled injuries down there. Will he move before Feb. 28?
"It's pretty clear there's two options: either someone is interested on a re-entry situation or someone is interested in a hockey deal near the [June] draft," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told ESPN.com this week.
Should the Oilers put Souray on re-entry waivers, teams would be on the hook for half of his contract with the Oilers picking up the other half. Meanwhile, the Oilers are the only team that's clearly out of the race in the West. They don't have any high-end UFAs to sell off, but a forward like Dustin Penner (one more year on his deal at $4.25 million) might draw interest from other clubs.
While the Oilers know where they stand ahead of the trade deadline, plenty of other teams do not. The Blue Jackets are still in it at this point, and their Feb. 28 fate will be decided by their play over the next few weeks. They are five points out at the All-Star break, sitting 13th in the West.
"Yes, we're in no mood to be selling off right now; we feel we still have a chance," Howson said. "It's so tight and it's going to be hard, obviously, coming from behind over a group like this. But if you put together a really strong two weeks together, you get right back close to eighth. It's going to take a real good 10-game run for us to get back into it."
The Panthers are eight points out at the break. Buy or sell a month from now?
"Regardless, we're going to do what's right for the future," Tallon said. "If we can stay competitive this year, that's great, and we'll deal with the cards that are dealt. But we're still keeping an eye on what's best for the future. That's the most important part of this, regardless of what happens in the next month. We're not going to change our philosophy."
Will veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun, UFA July 1, survive the trade deadline? The Panthers have begun preliminary contract talks with his camp, but that doesn't mean anything will get done. Tallon said he spoke to Vokoun's agent again Tuesday.
"It's got to be the right term and the right amount," Tallon said. "I think there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to this. We'll keep hammering away on this and see what happens."
The Sabres, six points out in the East, have a number of UFAs-to-be on their roster, including Tim Connolly, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Craig Rivet and Steve Montador. Will those UFAs all survive the trade deadline?
"We're getting a lot of pop out of our young kids," Regier said. "Older players that we all believed in when we signed them aren't performing at the levels that they're capable of, or maybe we misjudged it. In some part, I think we could be selling veterans if we can sell them because we like what we see in our youth. I think it's going to be really interesting."
Florida Panthers (22-21-5) at Boston Bruins (27-15-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-0 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Scott Clemmensen 5-5-2, 2.43 GAA) vs. Tim Thomas (23-5-6, 1.84 GAA)
Preview: Tim Thomas has dominated the Southeast Division, going 10-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .949 save percentage in 13 starts against the Southeast this season. The Bruins are looking to complete a sweep of the Panthers after being shut out by the Kings on Monday.
Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-6) at New York Islanders (15-26-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Carolina
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (21-15-5, 2.71 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-8-4, 3.39 GAA)
Preview: The Hurricanes are hoping for another happy trip to Long Island. Over the last five seasons, Carolina has the second-best record of any team on the road against the Islanders of teams that have played at least five games there. Look for Jeff Skinner to lead the Canes as the rookie has more goals in January than any other NHL player.
Washington Capitals (27-14-9) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-2 Atlanta
Starting goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov (8-6-3, 2.22 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-12-7, 2.51 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 22. And, the Thrashers have allowed more than three goals in a game seven times over that stretch, so a trip to Atlanta could be just what heals Washington's power play ails. Alex Ovechkin has scored 30 career goals against the Thrashers, tied for the most by any player against Atlanta.
New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (10-18-2, 2.84 GAA) vs. Jimmy Howard (23-8-3, 2.86 GAA)
Preview: The Devils may have the worst record in the NHL, but they are playing their best hockey of late. They have won four straight and have earned a point in seven straight (6-0-1), giving them the NHL’s best points percentage since Jan. 9. Unfortunately, they have not enjoyed much success at Joe Louis Arena recently. Since they swept the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals, the Devils are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games at Detroit.
Nashville Predators (27-16-6) at Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9), 10 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-12-4, 2.11 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (22-8-7, 2.31 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks lead the Western Conference thanks to a strong home record. They will be looking to earn at least one point in a 13th consecutive home game when they face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville ended its three-game winning streak when it went 0 for 5 on the power play in a loss at Calgary on Monday night.
San Jose Sharks (25-19-5) at Los Angeles Kings (26-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (21-14-1, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Sharks attempt to win five in a row for the first time in more than a year, but the last time they won four straight, they followed it with a 4-0 loss to the Kings. The Kings will be playing their last game at home before beginning a 10-game road trip after the All-Star break.
VANCOUVER -- Greetings from the Left Coast. I see there's plenty of angry puck heads this week. Love it. Let's get at 'er:
gatorsandtitansfan44: The Nashville Predators are not getting enough notice. They have won 10 of 12, getting some of the best goaltending in the league from Pekka Rinne and look at their injury list! Two of their top scorers are on IR, their big offseason signing has played 1 1/2 games, a top four D-man (Boullion) and a filler they picked up to help with scoring since two of their top point guys are out (Svatos). Guess what, not only are the Predators quite arguably the hottest team in the league, but they are doing it while dealing with tons of injuries. Not to mention that they had to go nearly a month without starting goalie Pekka Rinne. The fact of the matter is the NHL season is a little over halfway done and the Nashville Predators with a rag tag group of guys and several key injuries are on fire and now sit just four points out of first in the division (second in the West) behind Detroit, four points ahead of the defending SC champion Blackhawks (who they have beaten in three out of five this year), and they are two points ahead of the Ducks (fifth in the West), who have played three more games than Nashville so far. Why can’t the fact that they have no "superstar scorer" be set aside and the fact that this is a good young hockey team with a solid foundation be brought out? The bottom line is this team has very good potential, and if they can keep playing the way they are this season who knows? Maybe a trip to the conference semis is finally within their grasp.
My take: Hey, I've done my best, writing a Preds story two weeks ago. But generally, you are indeed correct that this team just doesn't get the kind of national attention it deserves. Playing in a small and non-traditional market obviously doesn't help. What would also help is a deep playoff run, which they've never had. That would cultivate more of a respect factor around the league. Is this the year?
Kavashaforlife: Dear Mr. Nabokov:
Hey, it is me, Logic; I think we need to have a talk. I understand, the Islanders are not the ideal place to resume your NHL career, but are you not tired of the cold nights in Russia? Report to the Islanders, take the next week (including workouts over the All-Star break) to earn the starting goaltending job on despondent Long Island; play a week or so on the Island, show the rest of the NHL that you still have it (I see the headlines now: "Nabokov's 40 save night (again) sparks the resurgent Isles") and eventually get traded to Detroit (or another playoff contender) for a draft pick and mid-level player. Unlike at Burger King, you cannot always "have it your way;" take what the Islanders are offering you, it has to be better than what Russia's offering you.
Logic (Hopeful Islanders Fan)
My take: Problem is, my friend, the Isles can't trade him unless they put him on waivers first and it's unlikely he would clear. Hence, a trade is not a realistic option. By now, most hockey fans know I interviewed Nabokov on Sunday. He sounded genuinely surprised over the phone that the Islanders would claim him. And quite frankly, I'm with him on that. I mean, why aren't the Isles just focusing on losing games and getting another high lottery pick to join John Tavares and company on a young club that will be better over the next few years? Having said that, I also think Nabokov should report to Long Island. He needs to show the other 29 GMs that he can still stop pucks so that once July 1 rolls around, he'll get some interest.
phillyisbetterthanpitt: Stop protecting the players from headshots. This is a joke, they get paid all this money to play the sport the same way they have been playing it their entire lives. The NHL is getting more and more soft with each passing year Bettman remains the head. Stop letting GMs protect their money interests and let the players play the game the way it was intended to be played.
My take: Marc Savard has another concussion. David Perron hasn't played since his November hit to the head. Matthew Lombardi has played two games this season, still out with a concussion. The best player on the planet won't be showcased in the All-Star Game as he continues to recover from a concussion. Yup, you're right. No issue here whatsoever. All is well. I have no idea why we're even talking about it.
StLbluesfan314: I am so frustrated about the Blues this season! I feel like we are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. Every time the season begins, we all have the hopes of a Cup in STL. But year after year no such luck. DON'T GET ME WRONG, I enjoy getting to the playoffs but yet we can't make anything happen! Is it time to talk of trading some of those "cornerstone" pieces to get some real talent in here to make a playoff run? Any news on the talk of getting a sniper who can put pucks into the net with consistency? The addition of Oshie back from injury is nice but we still can't put up points. Is it inconsistency that is killing this team? GET US SOME HELP J.D.!
My take: Um, the Cubs of hockey are a team you may have heard of in Toronto. The Maple Leafs and Cubs have brought suffering to a new level for their fans.
LynchBages: Kings vs. Mike Murphy. Unfortunately Murphy has all of the leverage. However, the goal that was allowed to stand against Phoenix the other night from the high stick up around the head (never mind that Hanzal is 6'5"!) was ridiculous, especially when the feeds in the arena even showed it was almost two feet over the crossbar. The explanation from the "war room" was feeble, at best, and even though Lombardi's comment was out of line, the league should be embarrassed to ask him to pay that fine. With all of that in mind, it's painfully obvious that the Kings are frustrated because their plan to have the kids grow up fast makes them too thin -- they do have steaks where their talent is evident, but no consistency. REALISTICALLY, do you see any movement coming this season via trade? I'm thinking they're going have to look to the Eastern Conference ... more consistent scoring and a top-four D-man, but who??
My take: Hanzal's goal should not have stood. Bad call from the war room in Toronto. But Lombardi was out of line to say that publicly. Totally out of line. And when I spoke with the Kings GM on Friday, he felt brutal about it. Good on Lombardi to call Murphy on Friday morning and apologize. Classy move by Lombardi.
mrcheesenacho7: I'm tired of hearing everyone call out Sidney as a baby and a poor leader because he isn't able to play or participate in the All-Star Game. You have to realize that the guy would be on the ice in a second if he could help out his team, yet he hasn't skated in almost three weeks and does nothing but catch hell from haters for something he can't even help. The Sid haters have reached a new low.
My take: Anyone who thinks Crosby is not injured and skipping the All-Star Game on purpose it a moron. He's injured. He's got a concussion. He's doing the right thing by taking the week off to recover. Enough said.
cbjgatorhead: I'm not going to bash Scott Howson/Scott Arniel at all ... but I'm beginning to question some of their tactics lately. I don't understand why we sent down Kyle Wilson when we have Huselius floating around like a worthless bag of garbage. Also additional garbage, Anton Stralman, but thankfully we have Grant Clitsome! And obviously it's not because of money. We just sent our highest paid D-man down to the AHL. Why do we continue to keep Huselius around?!
My take: I feel terrible for Jackets fans. I love the city of Columbus, I've always thought it was an excellent choice for an NHL franchise. But it's been nothing but heartache and frustration for a decade plus. There are no easy solutions moving forward. The Predators model is the one to try to copy: patient drafting and developing and no quick fixes.
colt135: I will rant about Nabokov. I hope Islanders fans like what Snow did. The idea is to make your team better, and for them Nabokov is an upgrade. With over 30 games left in the season, if he caught lightning in a bottle and went 20-10 (he won 44 last year), they could grab the eight spot.
My take: Whatever you're taking, I want some of that.
raquelm5: Hi, I am a hockey fan, I love hockey, I play hockey and I live in Miami so I have Panthers season tickets. My hubby HATES hockey so I am always trying to find someone to go to the games with me and no one wants to go and the ticket is free. Their reasons are either: a) they don't care about hockey, or b) the Panthers are so bad. I play in a women's rec league and it seems that the Panthers make the same mistakes we do. It is sad to watch and when they seem to be winning for once, they manage to loose. We always say that they "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" like the game vs. the Hurricanes when they were up 3-0 and lost 5-3. Should I bother renewing my season tickets so I go through the trouble of finding who to go with or fighting with my hubby to go with me? Oh, BTW, Bank Atlantic Center is 50 miles from where we live.
My take: Raquel, don't give up on them yet. Dale Tallon showed in Chicago that he knows how to rebuild a team. It's just going to take time, which I know is tough to take given the long drought of non-playoff years in South Florida. But give Tallon a chance. He knows what he's doing.
fbullock: Pierre, We find ourselves with another annual useless hockey game this Saturday night. No it's not an Isles vs. Devils game. Although it would be a lot better if it was. But sadly it's the NHL All-Star Game. It's just plan useless not just for the fans but for those having to cover it. I feel for you having to trek down there to RBC but make sure you shake enough corporate hands to make it worth it. Only person that will be happy this weekend will be the wife since I will have no pucks on this weekend. I wish the hockey gods could help me with the work I will have to do in the garage. Anyway, I feel there is no need in bashing this hand-holding corporate event unless I have a solution and I do. Why can't we take the weekend and have an awesome round-robin tourney? How about the All-Stars from: NHL vs. KHL vs. SEL vs. EHL. After three days the top two points teams play for a stack of cash. I don't believe any of the above leagues lose because of the monster TV deal it would bring as well as international sponsors. It’s a no brainer. Not to mention the side games of the above leagues. They could include an all-amateur game as well as high stakes skills comp. Oh what a weekend. Puck heads would be on full puck tilt for three or four days. As well, I believe the media would have a much better time with the storylines. Well, just throwing out one fan's dream, instead me and my dog Hosehead are going to grab us some Elsinore and clean the garage.
My take: Well, the game is actually on Sunday, but yes, I'm with you. I've wanted the All-Star Game canceled for years. The addition of the Friday fantasy draft is a neat touch. But I suspect Sunday's game will be a dud once again. Solution? Just blow it up. The NHL schedule is brutal on the players. Adding back those three days from the break wouldn't hurt.
Toronto Maple Leafs (18-21-5) at New York Rangers (26-18-3), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Jonas Gustavsson (6-12-2, 3.13 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (19-14-3, 2.27 GAA)
Preview: The Maple Leafs seemed to have ignited their offense during a four-game winning streak where they scored 21 goals, but have since struggled to score. And, the Rangers have not had much more luck. After averaging more than 3.0 goals per game at the end of 2010, the Rangers have been held to two goals or less in all nine games in January, giving them the lowest goals per game rate this month (1.44). These teams haven't met since playing three times in October, but the Rangers are 3-0-2 in their past five home games against the Leafs.
Columbus Blue Jackets (21-20-5) at Florida Panthers (21-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Mathieu Garon (8-9-3, 2.66 GAA) vs. Tomas Vokoun (16-15-1, 2.56 GAA)
Preview: The Blue Jackets look to avoid their second seven-game road skid in less than two months in their first meeting of the season against the Panthers. Florida has earned points in four straight games (3-0-1) largely in part to its power play, which is 7-for-18 in that span. But, the Panthers have not beaten the Jackets at home since Jan. 3, 2004.
Minnesota Wild (23-18-5) at Calgary Flames (20-20-6), 9:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-2 Minnesota
Starting goaltenders: Niklas Backstrom (13-10-3, 2.58 GAA) vs. Miikka Kiprusoff (17-17-2, 2.75 GAA)
Preview: Niklas Backstrom is expected to make his first start since missing nine games with a hip injury, but rookie Anton Khudobin has been playing very well in Backstrom’s absence. Minnesota is within three points of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, and Backstrom is 3-0-1 with a 1.22 GAA against the Flames this season. The Flames have had their own goaltending issues as Miikka Kiprusoff was pulled from two of his past three starts. Kiprusoff has not had much luck against the Wild, going 1-7-2 with a 2.48 GAA in his past 10 games, but is expected to get the start. Watch for Flames teammates Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to find the net as Iginla has more goals and points against the Wild than any other active player with 31 goals and 58 points. Tanguay is fourth on the list with career 42 points against the Wild.
Another week, another chance to vent! Well done, my friends:
jimstin88: Why are the Panthers so inconsistent? They finally get over .500 and then they lose three pathetic games in regulation (of course, they didn't really lose Wednesday against Pavelec and the refs). I'm worried what is going to happen over the next month or so. DeBoer and Hulton need to go, in my opinion, but hopefully none of the players get sent out. What do you think, Pierre?
My take: Well, you bang on about your team being inconsistent, no question about that. Tough as a fan to deal with that. But firing Peter DeBoer? Man, give your head a shake. He's one of the best young coaches in the game. He's not the issue. Let’s sit back and remember the big picture here: your team hired GM Dale Tallon to come in and do his Chicago thing. Which means dress this down eventually and rebuild it. Don't worry about this season, this is about being better in three or four years. I know that's rich for a Panthers fan given how long it’s been without much success, but that’s why Tallon was hired.
completelunacy24: Pierre, can I vent about Rule 48 and how it's being applied? Right now, Colin Campbell never gets it right ... he was close with Kostopoulos, but his explanation made me cringe a bit. First off, six games really isn't enough to deter a repeat offender like Kostopoulos from doing what he does again in the future ... double that amount and maybe he'll think twice before charging from the blue line on a D-man near the puck.
OK, back to Colin Campbell. First thing: He said in a statement that the hit was not a blindside hit, though the principle point of contact was clearly the head. The rule states that it can be "lateral OR blindside," and in my view it was at least a lateral hit, so I'm not sure why he specifically mentioned that it wasn't blindside. Also, what does "blindside" truly mean? The bottom line is Stuart was looking at the puck and wasn't able to defend himself at all ... and it wasn't an "admiring my pass" type of thing where you blame Stuart, he was swatting at a puck less than 5 feet from his own net! But back to "blindside" ... I suggest they revisit the language of the rule, because while Kostopoulos wasn't blindside to Stuart's body, in relation to where his head was turned he most certainly was. Stuart looked to Kostopoulos at the last second, didn't have time to react, and BAM! Broken jaw. Sounds like a degree of "blindside" to me!
My take: The hit was straight on and wasn't blindside, I agree with Campbell on that. But nevertheless, it was an ugly hit to the head and the league is cracking down on that. The real question we now have to ask in the industry, whether you're media, fans, team personnel or league staff, is whether it's time to push Rule 48 all the way to where some people believe it should be -- any hit to the head, regardless of whether it was incidental or not, should be penalized. The best player on the planet is out with a concussion. Whether David Steckel meant to do it or not, and it’s impossible to prove either one, the end result is Crosby with a concussion.
ForzaJuve5150: PLEEEEASSSEE get rid of that silly trapezoid! The goalie should not only be able to come out and play the puck anywhere, but be able to receive and deliver body checks if he is out of the crease (he's got more pads than anyone, for crying out loud ... remember how fun Hextall was to watch play D? They’re hockey players for Pete's sake!). The crease should also be made larger (perhaps similar to the crease in the NLL) and the goalie should only be allowed to freeze the puck while inside the crease, otherwise it should be a delay of game penalty.
My take: GM Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks actually proposed this discussion at a GMs meeting in November 2009. But he found no support among his colleagues and the subject hasn't been brought up since.
etbumps18: The Boston Bruins ... why does it always seem like they are a man down in 5-on-5 play during big games? For instance, in the third period against Montreal on Saturday, they had a two-goal lead and halfway through the third period it started to look like Montreal was on the power play for the rest of the period; the majority of the Bruins just stopped skating and at times were just standing there waving their sticks at the Canadiens players as if it was disrupting them. Why does this always happen?
My take: Cue sound of baby crying. Now me handing you a tissue. Now me telling you to stop whining.
DNAscher: This is a rant in which people should be raving. As an avid Caps fan, I am very happy with the way the team is playing. Who cares that they are not blowing teams out? Who cares that the stars are not scoring? Who cares that the role players have taken over? Who cares that they are doing what they have not been able to do in the past few years: shut teams down and win games 2-1 and so forth. Wait. I take those last two back. I CARE. This team has transformed into a team that is capable of a long postseason run. I'm not worried that Ovi has not been scoring. This Caps team has gone from all offense to a team that can grind a game out and wear down the opposition, and I am drinking it all in. The stars will shine when their time comes (they are too good not to), yet the rest of the team will continue shutting people down and winning games. The only way to go is up for this team and that eight-game losing streak was the best thing that has happened to the Caps in a long time.
Thank you and Let's Go Caps!
My take: Technically, this is not a rant. You are raving, not ranting. But it’s well-said and yes, Mr. Boudreau has indeed transformed this team into a club that understands both ends of the ice. Very promising for April.
ab_67: I'm so dumbfounded by the play of the Sharks this year. Most fans vent about the team's inept D corps, but the forwards aren't getting the job done either. Been shut out seven times already. Unreal. Is it time to panic yet in San Jose or do you see this as a situation similar to Pittsburgh two years ago [when the Pens] toiled in mediocrity into February, then turned it on late in the season on their way to the Cup? Very frustrating seeing these results from what is supposed to be a top end team.
My take: Things are not right in San Jose. Hence Ryane Clowe's rant last week. Down years so far for Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, even Dan Boyle hasn’t played up to par on most nights. A real head-scratcher. You really felt like the light bulb went on last spring after a final four berth. I rarely agree with fans that jump to the conclusion that their team needs a trade. But in this case, that’s just what I think they need.
RestlessFox: Once again, (and this has become an annual thing since the late 1990s) I am worried about the Boston Bruins. I just cannot give my heart to this team with the way they play -- either from behind for most of the game or trying to hold onto a lead when they should be trying to extend it and put a team away.
While this Bruins team looks more physical than Bruins teams of the recent past, I worry that their strategy is too old-school to keep up with the NHL's elite teams. While I feel the Kessel trade was a huge success that will continue to pay dividends (Horton and Seguin have looked promising if inconsistent), I worry that the star potential of guys like Seguin and Lucic will arrive too late for this group of players to make a serious Cup run. While Recchi, Chara and Thomas have looked good so far, there's no telling what they'll be doing when some of the Bruins' youngsters are in their prime a few years from now.
My take: When they pulled off their choke job against Montreal on Saturday, I began to wonder just how much last spring's meltdown against Philadelphia still affected the psyche of this team. Then I sat back and watched their own miracle comeback Monday night in Pittsburgh and, well, forgot all about that. That’s the kind of victory, Monday night, that turns around a season.
USMCWackjob: Pierre, I don't see how anyone can consider the Bruins or Canadiens playoff teams this year. I mean, if you look at their division, they get 18 games against the Leafs, Senators and Sabres! That's like 36 free points! If you put them in a competitive division, like the Southeast, they would totally be looking for next season's lottery choices.
The above is obviously absurd, but I can't count the number of times I read the same speech reversed with the Capitals as the subject and the Southeast Division as 48 gimme points (and it pains me so to defend the Caps ... Go Canes!) with not even a mild complaint from the hockey public.
The talk over the Caps' and Lightning's runs so far and the Southeast possibly fielding three (four?) playoff teams this year is now drowning beneath the "Southern Hockey is a failure!" screams. When is the Southeast going to get some respect?
My take: Excellent point and I agree. The Northeast is a joke this season.
elenchus23: Being a big Wings fan, it really annoys me when other Wings fans constantly complain that the Wings get no love. The Wings very regularly get articles, if those fans care to look at the ESPN website regularly. I really enjoyed reading the Lidstrom article and watching Ozzy interview Lidstrom because LeBrun was "too lazy" to do so. I had a good laugh at that one. Anyway, I would love to read an article about the Wings more often, but that doesn't mean I want you to write about them constantly. I do not want to hear about Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos and the rest of the superstars all of the time, but they are going to get more media attention because they are the future of hockey. Not to mention, you don't hear about the Wings in the media much because they aren't flashy and talkative and don't draw attention. They come to work, earn their paychecks and go home. I hate being lumped in with all of the whiners. If people really want an article about the Wings, I'm sure there are plenty out there.
My take: We do our best to cover all 30 teams, my friend! But I've written more about the Wings than most other teams. Detroit is a second home for me.
prashanthiyer: Absolutely furious with the Kostopoulos ruling, and this is part of a larger problem with the NHL. In the last few years, we have seen more and more of these ridiculous hits that sideline players for incredible lengths of time, and yet the suspensions never exceed five or six games for the offending players, and in some cases there aren’t suspensions at all. Look at Matt Cooke last year after his hit on Marc Savard. He wasn't even suspended, and it took Savard almost a full year before he could play symptom free again. Brad Stuart is going to be out for six to eight weeks, having to drink his food for the first month after a reckless and unnecessary hit by Kostopoulos and Kostopoulos sits only six games. I appreciate a good hard, solid hit (Ballard on Drew Miller the other night), but when the hit is clearly to the head from the blindside, and the player doesn't have the puck, a suspension of six games is [not enough]. If the NHL is really serious about cracking down on these kinds of hits, force the offending player to sit as long as the injured player. If Kostopolous sat for six to eight weeks while Stuart recovered, the Flames would suffer the same way as the Wings. If Cooke had to sit for the entire year while Savard sat, the Pens' checking lines would have had problems. If Mike Richards had to sit as long as David Booth, the Flyers don't make the Cup finals last year. This is ultimately a drastic measure, but the only way to ensure that these hits get out of the game in a hurry.
My take: I spoke with 10 NHL GMs on Saturday as I prepped for Hot Stove on "Hockey Night In Canada." At the end of every call, I asked them about the Kostopoulous hit and what they'd do if they were Campbell. Their answers varied from five games to 10 games. He ended up going six, which is a few games lower than where I would have gone (8-10) but still in the wheelhouse of where smart hockey men had predicted Saturday.
shuvel55: Pierre, which conference is better? I know that this topic has been debated throughout the season, and many people have chosen the Western Conference as the stronger of the two. But I really do believe that the East is better when it comes to the top eight teams. There is no consistency in the Western Conference. Everyone is separated by eight points because they keep beating each other. The West is definitely more competitive in regards to the top eight, but I would have to side with the East having the better and more consistent teams. Flyers, Penguins, Bruins, Canadiens, Washington (although the Caps have had their issues regarding playoff success), and now teams on the up and up in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Can the latter two actually sustain any postseason success? It is looking like we may have two powerhouse teams in the East square off in the four vs. five seeds. Will that happen in the West?
My take: No debate -- West is best.
Los Angeles Kings fans need some good news these days, so I'm here to deliver some.
I'm told the team is on the verge of signing blueliner Jack Johnson to a multiyear extension, a deal that could be announced as early as Sunday or Monday. Look for the deal to be six or seven years in length and worth between $4 million and $4.5 million per year.
[UPDATE: Later on Saturday night, the Kings announced they signed Johnson to a seven-year deal that will carry into the 2017-18 season. The team did not officially disclose financial terms.]
Meanwhile, Kings fans keep wondering what their team will do on the trade front. I mentioned before this season that Patrik Elias is a player they've coveted; but I'm told the veteran, skilled winger will not waive his no-movement clause at this point, so he appears to be off the list.
Calgary Flames interim GM Jay Feaster has also said he will not trade Jarome Iginla. Check another name off Los Angeles' list. Brad Richards? I can't see the Dallas Stars moving him (see more on him below); the acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner sends a message they're going for it this season. Check another one off L.A.'s list.
But there is still time before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, and the key is to watch which teams believe they're no longer in the playoff race seven weeks from now and which players they're willing to introduce to the market. But it may just be that the big-name, top-line winger the Kings yearn for just isn't available before Feb. 28.
Panthers and Vokoun
It's been assumed for so long the Florida Panthers would auction off star goalie Tomas Vokoun by the trade deadline. While that is still a possibility, you might be surprised to know GM Dale Tallon has also reached out to the Czech native's agent to talk about a contract extension.
"It's preliminary at this point, just trying to get a feel for it. We'd like to sign him at the right number," Tallon told ESPN.com on Saturday.
"We've had some discussions with Florida, they're ongoing, and we'll see what happens," Vokoun's agent Michael Deutsch told us Saturday.
Vokoun is earning $6.3 million this season (a $5.7 million cap number), and I suspect the Panthers would like to get him at a cheaper price. If contract talks fail to produce an extension, he could be moved before Feb. 28.
Stars and Richards
So, what now for the Dallas Stars? Well, the Brad Richards situation looms large. The team has not yet made a contract offer to their leading scorer and pending unrestricted free agent, but I'm told they will approach his veteran agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports, at some point in the near future and begin the feeling-out process.
Next to leave New Jersey?
Jason Arnott is the next big name to possibly move out of New Jersey because he's the only real UFA of note left on the roster (Andy Greene is the team's other UFA). Arnott is in total charge of his situation thanks to a no-movement clause. Arnott is a competitive player who wants to win badly, so a move to a contender will likely be welcomed on his part.
The NHL has retained the services for former WNBA president Val Ackerman as a consultant. She's had a few meetings with the NHL so far as the league continues to explore the merits of possibly launching a women's pro league at some point. I love the idea. Girls hockey has exploded over the past decade, especially in Canada. Let's give girls something to aspire to in terms of a pro career. There are a couple of pro leagues out there, but a new league under the NHL umbrella would legitimize the women's game like never before. Will it happen? Too early to tell.
More updates ...
• Several teams have kicked the tires on Maple Leafs defenseman Francois Beauchemin, but Toronto has not received any concrete trade offers. Beauchemin's limited no-trade clause called for him to hand the Leafs a preseason list of 12 teams he'd be willing to go to, which he did.
• I had a rival team executive tell me Saturday he believed winger Mason Raymond might be on the market in order for Vancouver to alleviate its cap issues, but a Canucks source said that was totally false and Raymond wasn't going anywhere.
• Despite all the injuries in Detroit (top-four defenseman Brad Stuart being the latest, out 6-8 weeks with broken jaw), Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Saturday that Detroit wasn't planning on shopping for help and hoped the answer would come from within.
• Defenseman Mike Commodore, who requested a trade and then cleared NHL waivers, left the Blue Jackets from their road trip Saturday and returned to Columbus to await his fate.
"We are trying to work out a trade for Mike over the next few days," Jackets GM Scott Howson told ESPN.com via text Saturday. "Failing that, he will be assigned to the AHL."
Commodore is signed through 2012-13 with a $3.75 million cap hit.
Stock UpCorey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are hanging around the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference (they were tied for eighth as of the holiday break), due in large part to the production of their big line: Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf. Perry has been on fire lately with 13 points in eight games. He has scored seven times during this stretch and has moved into sixth in the scoring race with 41 points.
Dan Ellis, Tampa Bay Lightning
This has been an up-and-down year for the Lightning netminder, from his missteps on Twitter to complaining about Oilers rookie Linus Omark's shootout etiquette. But with colleague Mike Smith injured, the burden of keeping the Lightning in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference has fallen solely to Ellis, and he has responded nicely. The Lightning entered the holiday break atop the Southeast Division, and they are 3-0-2 in Ellis' last five outings. He was particularly good in a shootout victory over the New York Rangers that went 11 rounds on Thursday evening.
Stock DownDavid Booth, Florida Panthers
The Cats hit the holiday break with a big win over the Buffalo Sabres but were still eight points out of the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. You have to wonder if former scoring star Booth is ever going to get right after last year's brutal hit by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards. Booth has one goal and one assist in his last seven games and just eight goals on the season.
Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins
Speaking of former Panthers, are the Boston Bruins finding out what the Florida Panthers knew from season after season of disappointment with Horton? After getting off to a good start with his new team, Horton has stalled offensively. He has one goal and one assist in his last seven games and saw his ice time limited to just 15:27 in Thursday's 4-1 win over Atlanta. The big winger has three goals in his last 18 outings for the B's.
Barry Melrose says the Capitals have some thinking to do after a 3-0 loss to the Panthers, because they are not playing very good hockey.
- Tomas Vokoun stopped all 36 shots he faces for his 41st career shutout, and Florida extended Washington's current winless streak to four games (0-3-1).
- The Capitals went 6-0-0 against the Panthers last season and scored at least four goals in each game.
- Thursday's game was the first time the Capitals were shut out at home since Jan. 9, 2009, when Columbus' Steve Mason accomplished the feat.
- Michael Frolik, Steve Bernier and Mike Santorelli scored for Florida, which has now won three consecutive games for the first time this season.
- This was the fourth time in franchise history that the Panthers shut out the Capitals, and all four shutouts were in Washington (John Vanbiesbrouck in 1997 and Roberto Luongo in 2004 and ‘06 recorded the other shutouts).
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s hard to ignore the wild and woolly affair that was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 8-7 come-from-behind road victory over the Flyers on Thursday night. True, Steven Stamkos collected three goals and two assists, but let’s not forget St. Louis’ five-assist performance. The former NHL MVP is on a seven-game points streak with three goals and 10 assists over that period. He ranks third in points in the NHL, and we’ll soon have to start wondering aloud whether he and Stamkos are in danger of splitting Hart Trophy votes come April.
Daniel Cleary, Detroit Red Wings: Holy red-hot, Batman. After collecting just one goal in his first 10 games, the pride of Carbonear, Newfoundland, is on a tear with a six-game goal-scoring streak and an eight-game points streak heading into Friday’s tilt with Minnesota. We talked to Cleary during training camp and he was stoked about getting back into the groove after an injury-plagued 2009-10 campaign. Good to see one of the game’s good guys has finally gotten there. The Red Wings are thankful, too, as they have won six of seven heading into Friday.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Any hopes that the woeful Devils were going to turn their season around may have jetted home with the Hall of Fame-bound netminder Thursday night. Brodeur started the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but reinjured his right elbow and Johan Hedberg took over in net in the third en route to a 3-1 loss. Even when healthy, Brodeur has been, like the rest of the Devils, under siege. He has a 4-10-1 record and an un-Brodeur-like .901 save percentage and 2.74 GAA. Now it looks like Brodeur will rest the elbow while the Devils’ season continues to spin out of control.
David Booth, Florida Panthers: It’s been an up-and-down season so far for the retooling Florida Panthers, but it looks to be a lot more “down” than “up” moving forward if top scorer David Booth continues to struggle. The former 30-goal man who lost most of last season to a concussion (thanks to a Mike Richards blindside hit) has fallen off the map offensively with just one goal in his past eight games. He is riding a six-game goalless drought after the Panthers were shut out by Boston on Thursday. Booth has zero points over that span as the Panthers have sunk to 13th in the Eastern Conference as of Friday morning.
Jay McClement -- Known primarily for his penalty killing, McClement "just happened to be in the right place at the right time a lot." The Blues center recorded his first career hat trick to carry his team to a shootout where they beat the Thrashers.
Alex Ovechkin -- With one goal in his previous six games and an 0 for 16 mark on the power play in his previous five games, Ovechkin looked to be continuing his struggles in the first period in Calgary. But, Ovechkin caught fire in the second period, scoring two power play goals in a 12-second span and adding an assist to lead the Capitals' six-goal period in a rout of the Flames.
Tomas Vokoun -- The Panthers netminder repelled 40 shots in Montreal to end the Canadiens four-game winning streak. Vokoun will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so he will need a few more performances like this to earn his next contract.
Jonathan Quick -- Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t get a warm reception from the Los Angeles fans on Saturday night. And Quick made sure none of the Devils felt welcome at Staples Center. Quick made 39 stops as the Kings recorded their 800th regular-season victory.
- Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and an assist to back Chris Osgood's 23 saves in the Red Wings' victory. Red Wings 5, Predators 2 »
- Brent Johnson made 33 saves, and Pascal Dupuis scored two goals to lead the Penguins to a win without Evgeni Malkin. Penguins 3, Hurricanes 0 »
- David Booth scored on a penalty shot and Vokoun made 40 saves, leading the Panthers over the Habs. Panthers 3, Canadiens 1 »
- Thomas (6-0) stayed perfect with 29 saves and his third shutout of the season in the Bruins' win. Bruins 4, Senators 0 »
- Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger both scored two goals as the Flyers won their third straight in a rout of the Islanders. Flyers 6, Islanders 1 »
- Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots for his 25th NHL shutout and the Rangers extended the Maple Leafs scoreless streak to 122 minutes, 24 seconds. Rangers 2, Maple Leafs 0 »
- Andrew Raycroft made 34 saves for his eighth career shutout in his first start of the season, James Neal and Brenden Morrow scored power-play goals and the Stars snapped a three-game losing streak. Stars 4, Sabres 0 »
- After McClement recorded a hat trick in regulation, T.J. Oshie and Brad Boyes scored in the shootout to keep the Blues perfect at home. Blues 4, Thrashers 3 (SO) »
- Marty Turco bounce back from a woeful home performance with 25 saves in the Blackhawks' victory. Blackhawks 3, Wild 1 »
- Peter Budaj made 33 saves as the offense erupted for five goals and the Avalanche beat the Blue Jackets. Avalanche 5, Blue Jackets 1 »
- Dan Ellis made 23 stops to record his first shutout of the season and his first with the Lightning. Lightning 3, Coyotes 0 »
- Jarret Stoll had a goal and two assists as the Kings topped the struggling Devils. Kings 3, Devils 1 »
- Dany Heatley scored twice, Joe Thornton matched a franchise scoring record and the Sharks won for the fourth time in five games. Sharks 5, Ducks 2 »
- Trailing early, the Capitals got goals from Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Dave Steckel in a rout of the Flames. Capitals 7, Flames 2 »
Two weeks ago the Toronto Maple Leafs demoted Jeff Finger and his $3.5 million salary to the AHL, which served as an unofficial memo to the remaining 29 teams in the NHL: "We have $4 million in cap room now; make us your best offer."
At first, that didn't generate much action. But things have suddenly changed. I was told Tuesday night that things have heated up somewhat, although still no trade is imminent. I hear two unidentified teams have gained traction with the Leafs in talks.
Toronto's desire has been obvious for a long time: pick up another top-six forward. The lure, one that few teams in the league have, is that the Leafs can take up to $4 million in salary and send back little in salary if there's a team in desperate need of cap/budget relief.
Leafs GM Brian Burke and his trusted lieutenants Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle are scouring the league in search of that top-six forward.
"Burkey wants badly to make that move, but he knows he's got to [be] patient," another NHL GM said this week. "He's got one shot at it with the [cap] space he got by dumping Finger. It's got to be right."
Leafs third-line winger Colby Armstrong injured his finger Tuesday night and will require surgery. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Backes, Blues shelve negotiations ... for nowDavid Backes is another benefit of the collective bargaining agreement's liberalized free-agent rules. The power winger will be eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1 and will turn 27 years old May 1.
There were preliminary talks between Backes' camp and the St. Louis Blues before the season, but those talks have since been shelved ... for now. If I'm a betting man, I believe the Blues will pick up the phone again in 2011.
"It's a dynamic situation," Backes told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "Being an unrestricted free agent, they obviously can't lose me for nothing and not get anything back. I need to have a good year to establish myself. I think they like me, and I love St. Louis. Hopefully something will get done during the season, but obviously there's a business side to this game that if we can't come to terms, then unfortunately we'll have to maybe part ways."
I don't see this guy leaving St. Louis. My money's on GM Doug Armstrong and agent Wade Arnott of Newport Sports Management figuring this out before July 1.
Panthers not talking contracts with McCabe, VokounThe Florida Panthers have not approached their two most notable UFAs-to-be about a new contract: veteran blueliner Bryan McCabe and star goalie Tomas Vokoun.
"We'll just see how things go," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said Tuesday, leaving things at that.
Because Tallon is looking to rebuild this team and get younger, it's going to be interesting to see what the Panthers' GM ultimately decides to do with these veteran players.
"Dale just came in, and he's building a young team," Vokoun said Tuesday. "I'm sure he's evaluating people every night. There's no reason to even go there [contract talks] right now. I'm signed for this season, and we'll see how it goes after that. You never know."
Vokoun, 34, has a $5.7 million cap hit this season. He has a no-trade clause as well, which will be key if the Panthers are outside the playoff bubble come the Feb. 28 trade deadline. It'll be up to Vokoun to decide his future.
"You know what? My future is my next game," Vokoun said. "That's how I approach it. I've learned that it doesn't happen to think about what might happen in June or July when you're still in October. I'm trying to play the best I can, and we'll see what happens."
Although I have a feeling Vokoun won't be back with the Panthers next season, McCabe may not be as clear-cut. He's the captain of this team, and as the Panthers get younger, they'll still need a leader. For him to stay, he'll need to take less than the $5.75 million cap hit he carries this season.
"We haven't spoken about it at all," McCabe told ESPN.com on Tuesday, referring to contract talks. "I'm not the type of guy to worry about that. I'm sure it'll take care of itself as long as the team does well. I love Florida, and I'd love to stay."
Florida Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer started laughing as a certain ESPN.com writer fumbled and bumbled his way through the question Tuesday morning.
"Say it nicely," chuckled DeBoer.
He knew exactly what the question was. What's the deal with this group of six defensemen helping Florida carry the NHL's third-best defensive record going into Tuesday night's game at Air Canada Centre?
OK, everyone knows Bryan McCabe and Dennis Wideman. Those are top-four guys with brand-name stock. But has anyone noticed how well Jason Garrison, Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov and Bryan Allen have played?
It's the best-kept secret of the young NHL season.
"You're sort of hidden away in South Florida but I think we've got as good a group of six as any in the league," Allen, 30, said Tuesday. "All six of us play and we all contribute in different ways. It's working right now."
Weaver, 32, a shutdown type who is key on the penalty kill, came over as a free agent from St. Louis. Wideman, 27, was a big addition from the Nathan Horton trade with Boston.
"I like the six guys that we've got," DeBoer said. "I think we've changed our identity back there from last year. Adding Wideman and Weaver, Kulikov taking another step, Garrison taking another step -- I think we're a much more mobile group, much better with the puck and smarter. We can break out of our end with tape-to-tape passes whereas in the past we did a lot of rimming and just tried to jam it out."
And you can tell that when you watch these Panthers play. They've become a better puck possession team and it starts on the back end. They're not just hammering it down the ice from their zone like they did so often last season.
Garrison is probably the biggest unknown of the group.
"Garrison is a great player -- he does it all," McCabe said. "He's big, strong, shoots the puck, good both in offense and defense."
Undrafted, Garrison was signed by the Panthers out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth two years ago, with Joe Nieuwendyk doing the recruiting for Florida at the time.
"Joe came down and saw me in college," Garrison said Tuesday after the morning skate. "I got to know him a little bit. He's such a great guy. I [was] just in awe when he came down to see me. So were my teammates. It was a cool experience."
A self-described late bloomer, the White Rock, British Columbia, native didn't really think hockey was a serious avenue until his senior year in high school. Then he got focused on it.
"The NHL was a far reach," Garrison said. "I was like 5-6 or 5-7, small and skinny. I started growing in my last year of high school, started hitting the gym every day and started filling out. Every summer I was telling myself I had to get bigger and stronger. I peaked out at 238 pounds and realized I had to slim down a little."
Now at 6-2 and 220 pounds, he was the fittest player in camp for the Panthers. The man is a rock. After missing two games with a groin injury, Garrison returns to the lineup Tuesday night.
"He played real well for us last season down the stretch," DeBoer said of Garrison, who played 39 games last season with the Panthers in his NHL rookie campaign. "He's got a shutdown-type body, he's a big wide body, strong guy, stakes well, can move the puck -- he's a good first-pass defenseman, he's got the physical tools to do that. We've kind of pushed him into that [shutdown] role and he's embraced it. He's done a real good job for us."
Garrison teams up with Weaver right now in that shutdown pair. Weaver has been an unheralded player during stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver and St. Louis. One Panthers observer told ESPN.com Tuesday that he's the guy who has impressed him the most so far. Weaver was plus-10 on a Blues team last season that didn't make the playoffs.
"Real unsung guy," said DeBoer. "He's one of those guys, he's not big, and he's not the quickest guy on the ice, but he's got a long stick and anticipates well. He knows his job, battles hard every night and he's been a key guy for us."
The other pairings feature Allen with Wideman and McCabe with Kulikov.
"Maybe people don't look at the names and say, 'Wow,' but so far we've been really good defensively and our D has been great," star goalie Tomas Vokoun, himself brilliant so far this season, said Tuesday morning.
"Our shots against are down, our chances against are way down," added Vokoun. "Blocking shots, playing hard -- they're making my life easier."
The numbers don't lie. Last season, the Panthers were dead last in shots allowed per game at 34.1. Entering play Tuesday night, they were 10th in the league at 27.7. Last season, the Panthers were 19th in goals against per game at 2.85; entering Tuesday, they were third overall at 2.00 goals against per game.
They need to be tight defensively because goals will be hard to come by again this season.
"We do have to take pride defensively, because obviously we go through spurts of scoring goals and then not scoring so many," Garrison said. "But it's part of the game. And we definitely look forward to trying to shut down the other team every night."
There's a chip on the collective shoulder of these Panthers. It's a motivating force.
"Right from training camp we read where people had us dead last in the Eastern Conference and maybe the whole league," Allen said. "Obviously that fuels some ambition. You want to prove people wrong."
"I have not had any negotiations whatsoever with Montreal," veteran agent Don Meehan, Markov's agent, told ESPN.com on Tuesday afternoon. "These reports of a signing are absolute nonsense.''
Still, Meehan obviously expects to talk contract with Habs GM Pierre Gauthier at some point this season. Markov is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and would be the headliner among blueliners (not counting Nicklas Lidstrom).
I think Meehan and Gauthier will be able to get a deal done before July. I don't think Markov wants to go anywhere.
It makes sense for the Canadiens to wait and see how Markov plays once he returns. He had ACL surgery in the offseason.
Senators looking at trade possibilities
Senators GM Bryan Murray has been working the phones this week in view of his team's dismal start to the season.
"I've talked to a few managers, not everyone by any means, but I've called a few people," Murray told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "But there's nothing going on at this point. I think most everybody feels it's too early [for a trade]."
But at 1-4-1 to start the season, especially for a team with playoff aspirations, Murray has the itchy trade finger.
"Obviously we're not happy with how we've played," Murray said. "We feel we've given up too many scoring chances and goals. So we're trying to find a little bit of a solution there. The main one would be if a couple of guys played better. But we might look at what's out there."
The Sens are on the lookout for a defenseman. They miss Filip Kuba, who's likely out another two weeks as he recovers from a broken leg. And before you mention Sheldon Souray's name, I don't think he's an option. The Sens can't take on that money under the cap. They need to make a money-in, money-out trade. I think if Murray does something, it'll be more along the lines of a five- or six-type blueliner.
Tallon gets his ring
A few weeks ago, Panthers GM Dale Tallon got a text message from Blackhawks president John McDonough saying the 2010 Stanley Cup rings were in. McDonough asked Tallon, the former Hawks GM, whom he wanted to get the ring from.
"I texted him back and said I would like him to come down," Tallon told ESPN.com on Tuesday, hours after receiving the ring. "So he responded in kind and delivered it today. That was real classy of him."
Classy indeed, especially when you consider the bad blood that might or might not have existed more than a year ago when Tallon was pushed out as GM (most believe by McDonough) and replaced by Stan Bowman.
That wasn't a move that was welcomed by many national media members who value Tallon's keen eye for talent and of course his gregarious demeanor. He had rebuilt the Hawks, and it was seen as unfair for him to be bumped off just because he took the blame for the botched qualifying offers in late June 2009.
Whatever, it's all water under the bridge. The Hawks, led by McDonough, have been first class in the way they've treated Tallon in the wake of their Cup triumph, and the former Hawks GM has genuinely appreciated it.
"Having my name on the Cup and now this ring, it's a beautiful thing," Tallon said.
He said the Hawks also gave his wife a pendant.
"All of it is first class," Tallon said.
And now all of it is closure.
"I'm looking ahead to this challenge with the Panthers," he said.
Canucks' blue line
During a training camp stop in Vancouver last month, I remember the reaction of Canucks GM Mike Gillis when I asked him about carrying too many defensemen and most notably what he was planning to do once Sami Salo returned from injury later this season.
"We went into last year with nine defensemen, and at the end of the season, we didn't have enough," Gillis told ESPN.com in late September. "There's a lot of time, and a lot of things can happen between now and when Sami is able to return."
Talk about prophetic. Newly acquired blueliners Keith Ballard (concussion) and Dan Hamhuis (foot) both missed Tuesday night's game at Minnesota. They had missed a total of six games -- combined -- in the past three seasons before then. It's that durability that Gillis was keying on when he acquired them. Go figure.
As much as Kevin Bieksa (UFA on July 1) has been given his rites of Canucks passage several times since the summer by fans and media, the fact that Vancouver has been riddled with blue-line injuries the past few years, especially at playoff time, makes me think the Canucks will try to keep as many defensemen as possible for the long haul.