Cross Checks: Jared Cowen

Here’s something important to keep in mind as the Ryane Clowe situation plays itself out before next Wednesday’s trade deadline.

Clowe has a full no-trade clause. The San Jose Sharks have to run this thing by him in order to get a deal done.

Which means if, for whatever reason, Clowe doesn’t believe a certain team is a good fit, he can nix it. Although, in the same vein, Sharks GM Doug Wilson did well by Douglas Murray in the move to Pittsburgh, and the sense is that Wilson and Clowe have a good line of communication on what’s transpiring.

A solid playoff performance on a top contender would augment Clowe’s UFA market value this summer, so he’s not against a trade if it makes sense for him.

Of interest is where Montreal fits into all this. Boston is tracking Clowe, among other players on its short list, as a possibility in case it strikes out on Jarome Iginla.

Clowe, though, is exactly what the Habs need, a power forward to complement the skill they have up front. But GM Marc Bergevin isn’t terribly keen, I think, about the idea of giving up prime, future assets for a rental player. He knows his team, despite its success this season, isn’t in the all-in mentality of Boston and Pittsburgh when it comes to the trade deadline. And the Canadiens don’t have the same depth of prospects in the organization as the Bruins and Penguins do.

The early price on Clowe, I’m told, is a first-round pick and another young asset. There’s zero chance the Canadiens trade a first-round pick. Bergevin wants to continue to build his base. He’s got the long-term view in mind.

So my sense is that the Canadiens keep tabs on the Clowe situation but, unless the price comes down, they’re not getting him.

The Rangers are also interested in Clowe.

One more interesting twist here on the Clowe situation: Don’t just assume he’s 100 percent headed to an Eastern Conference team. I’m told there are Western Conference teams, the Vancouver Canucks among them, that also covet Clowe.

Given that the Sharks may make the playoffs, you wouldn’t think Wilson would want Clowe in his own conference come playoff time, but I guess it all comes down to who steps up the most in trade talks.

I know this: Clowe is a warrior. Despite his struggles this season, he would be a big-time addition to any contender. The games become more of a grind in the playoffs and he's the type of guy who excels in that context.

Jokinen clears waivers

Jussi Jokinen cleared waivers Wednesday and that seemed to come as a surprise to many given the reaction on Twitter.

Certainly there are teams out there looking to add a top-nine forward, no question.

But as one NHL GM told Wednesday morning, he would have loved Jokinen more if he were an unrestricted free agent after the season. That extra $3 million left on his deal for next season made him hesitate, so he didn’t put in a claim for the player.

What’s at play here is that the salary cap next season goes down to $64.3 million from this season’s $70.2 million maximum. Teams will be careful and picky in the kind of dollars they add to next season’s payroll over the next week.

It’s not over on the Jokinen front though. There are teams interested in him but they want Carolina either to eat some of his salary or take a player back in return.

Meanwhile, how about Boston claiming Kaspars Daugavins off waivers from Ottawa on Wednesday? He’s the same player, of course, who had Bruins players raising their eyebrows earlier this month with a shootout move heard around the world. Now he brings his shootout skills to Beantown. Go figure.

Extension talk with Visnovsky

New York Islanders GM Garth Snow, I’m told, reached out to Lubomir Visnovsky’s camp Tuesday to see if there was any interest on the player’s part in talking extension.

It’s not clear whether it will lead to a deal, but agent Neil Sheehy’s answer was sure, let’s talk.

Visnovsky, 36, is slated for UFA status this summer, a five-year, $28 million deal expiring ($5.6 million cap hit).

If contract talks don’t produce a deal, you can bet Snow’s phone will ring April 3. As a rental, Visnovsky is the kind of puck-moving blueliner that many playoff-bound clubs covet and, in fact, other teams have already been calling on him.

Of course, the Islanders themselves aren’t out of the playoff running -- they pulled off a huge win Tuesday night in Washington -- so Snow might not have any inclination in moving Visnovsky even if he’s not signed.

Cowen on the mend?

The Ottawa Senators might make their best late-season addition from within.

Local media were stunned Wednesday when they arrived at the rink and saw Jared Cowen practicing with teammates.

The top-four blueliner originally was expected to be out for the season after undergoing hip surgery in mid-November.

Sens GM Bryan Murray, while watching Cowen skate Wednesday, told over the phone that there’s a possibility of a late April return, although truthfully he said it wasn’t clear at this point if/when the player could return.

Still, a welcome sight for the Senators on Wednesday; Cowen has been missed this year.

Tell you what, if the Senators can get Cowen, goalie Craig Anderson and star center Jason Spezza all back in time for the playoffs, hold on to your seats.

Hemsky, again

It wouldn’t be a trade deadline without banter about Ales Hemsky’s availability. A year ago the rumors were put to bed when Hemsky signed a two-year, $10 million extension. Now his name is surfacing, although almost it seems out of habit in media commentary as opposed to actual signs that the Oilers are shopping him.

I don’t think Edmonton is actually going out of its way to shop him, but I do think they’re taking phone calls on him and at this point, they have to be receptive to many things because the rebuild is lasting a bit longer than the ticket buyers had hoped in Edmonton.

The Oilers want to get tougher/grittier in their top-six forward group and they also need more help on defense. They’ve got lots of skill in their top-six forward group, but a little more room to skate for Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would go a long way. Acquiring a power forward, however, is easier said than done.

I suspect you’ll hear Hemsky’s name out there right up to the deadline. He’s got one more year left on his deal at $5 million and he does not have a no-trade clause, so Edmonton is free to do what it wants with him.

No guarantee he moves, though.

Meanwhile, there have been contract talks between the Ladislav Smid camp and Oilers brass. Smid is UFA after the season. He’s a dependable blueliner, but if they can’t sign him before April 3 and the Oilers remain out of a playoff spot, he could be a trade target. But the hope with the Oilers right now is to sign him and keep him.

Ribeiro's future

So what do you do if you’re the Washington Capitals?

Mike Ribeiro is a pending UFA who also happens to be leading your team in scoring.

The 33-year-old center told Washington reporters earlier this week that he’d like a long-term deal, whether that’s staying put or hitting the free-agent market.

There has been a conversation between the Caps and Ribeiro’s camp and word is veteran agent Don Meehan is slated to circle back to GM George McPhee before the end of the week.

The decision here isn’t just intriguing from the Caps’ point of view, in terms of whether they want to invest long-term in a 33-year-old Ribeiro. The player has a call to make here, too. The free-agent market isn’t terribly deep this summer and he might enter the marketplace as the top-scoring player available.

It all depends, in the end, on how far Washington is willing to go with him.

Simply put, you don’t replace the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer from last season.

It just doesn’t happen.

Sure, the Ottawa Senators will work the phones and keep an eye on what’s out there in terms of possibilities, but star center Jason Spezza will never be replaced while he’s out six to eight weeks, if not longer, recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc.

"He looked great early on for us," veteran Senators GM Bryan Murray told Friday. "I thought for sure he’d have another year like he had for us last year."

Spezza, frankly, warranted more Hart Trophy talk than he got last season. That’s how good he was while putting up 84 points on a young and surprising team.

Now the Senators, 5-1-1 entering the weekend, have to find a way to get by without him. Sheesh.

"How do you ever overcome a top player getting hurt? You can’t replace his impact, but you hope that the rest of the players play well enough every night that you stay at a competitive level," said Murray. "I think we have a strong group. We have to survive it, but we don’t pretend it’s going to be easy."

No. 2 center Kyle Turris will step up to be the No. 1 man. Turris, 23, is off to a solid start with seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in his first seven games this season, so he seems up to the task. It also opens the door over the next few weeks for the likes of Peter Regin, Zack Smith and rookie center Mika Zibanejad to play bigger roles, depending on what coach Paul MacLean ends up doing. Zibanejad scored his first NHL goal against Montreal on Wednesday and looked good.

And, yes, in the meantime Murray will work the phones.

"I don’t think any other general manager is going to call and offer me a replacement that’s going to take Jason’s spot, by any means," Murray said with a chuckle. "But we’ll investigate what’s out there and see what we can do."

But he’s not giving up the farm to get a top-line center. After all, Spezza will be back one day.

"In all likelihood, I’m not going to want to give up 2-3 young kids," said Murray.

So you’re looking more likely at a rental player or a depth center.

"You probably have to look at an expiring deal, a veteran guy," said Murray. "But we also have some kids that we’ll give a chance to first."

That starts with Zibanejad, and Murray also pointed to current AHL players Stephane Da Costa and Derek Grant, promising prospects who should also get a look at some point.

"All those guys can fill in and play games, and that’s what we may have to do for the time being," said Murray.

Thing is, Spezza isn’t the first significant injury the Senators have had to deal with.

Top-four blueliner Jared Cowen is out for the season after undergoing season-ending hip surgery.

"So that’s two big studs for us that are out," said Murray.

Cowen was hurt while playing in the AHL during the lockout, which makes you think about Spezza, who played in Switzerland during the lockout. But that wasn’t the case. Spezza’s back injury didn’t occur until the NHL season was under way.

"He told me he felt great playing in Switzerland, he felt great coming into camp, then he felt something in one of our early games," Murray said. "Then we played Pittsburgh [on Sunday]. Didn’t seem to be much, but [he] woke up the next day with pain down his leg and all that type of thing."

As I wrote about last week, the compacted schedule this season plus the fact there was a short camp and no preseason is having its effect on the injury front. It’s about surviving this season, and the Senators are trying to do just that.
No doubt Damien Brunner is one hot name in fantasy hockey league drafts this week with news that he’s slated to begin the season on the top line for the Detroit Red Wings with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackhawks rested and ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't doubt Duchene

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

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

But that’s in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sens' depleted blue line

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

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

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

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