Cross Checks: Joffrey Lupul
"Yeah, I guess so, but I’m not sure what to do, I've got to ask for some advice around here. I’ll have to ask these older guys what to do. Like how to cook and stuff," Rielly, all smiles, said after practice Thursday.
The 19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner was given the news Thursday morning that he’ll be sticking around past the 10-game mark, an important threshold in the CBA for junior-eligible players: it signifies the first year of his entry-level contract will be burned regardless now of how many more games he plays this season.
But it was the right decision, as he’s been a solid contributor on Toronto’s blue line this season and deserved to stay at least for now.
Leafs GM Dave Nonis informed the fifth overall pick from the 2012 draft before practice.
"I was just getting dressed and he pulled me aside," Rielly said. "It was short and sweet."
All Nonis promised him was that he was sticking around past the 10-game mark. Another important marker in the CBA is whether he stays past the team’s 40-game mark, which would burn a service year from Rielly’s UFA eligibility (players are UFAs after seven years’ service).
"He told me if I keep playing well, I won’t have any problems, that won’t be an issue," Rielly said. "I guess it’s up to me now. I have to play well."
Joffrey Lupul has been a dynamic offensive force for the Maple Leafs ever since coming to Toronto from Anaheim, second on the team in scoring early this season with 10 points (6-4) in 10 games.
But avoiding the injury bug has been his bugaboo. He left practice Thursday after taking a shot to the foot and went for X-rays. Word filtered out later that he joined his teammates for the trip to Columbus, where the Leafs play Friday night. GM Dave Nonis told said Lupul is day to day with a bruised foot. Josh Leivo has been called up from the AHL Marlies in case Lupul can't go.
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle relayed frustration that Lupul wasn’t wearing shot-blocking gear -- plastic shields that cover the skate.
"It’s hard to defend the position of them not putting them on for practice," Carlyle told the assembled media after practice. "So there is a little extra frustration to get possibly an injury through practice where the protective equipment that’s made available to the player, they don’t want to wear."
At least winger David Clarkson returns for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets after serving out his 10-game suspension. More on Clarkson in my Friday blog.
LUPUL, NIEMI AND HALL NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (April 1, 2013) – Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul, San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi and Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending March 31.
FIRST STAR – JOFFREY LUPUL, LW, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Lupul led the League with nine points in four games and also tied for first with five goals, including three game-winners and three power-play tallies. He opened the week with one goal in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins March 25. Lupul then scored the game-winner in each of Toronto’s next three games – he recorded two goals in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers March 26, collected one goal and one assist in a 6-3 triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes March 28 and posted three assists plus his 20th career game-winner in a 4-0 win at the Ottawa Senators March 30.
The 29-year-old Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native has 8-5—13 in nine games this season, all of which have come in his last six outings.
SECOND STAR – ANTTI NIEMI, G, SAN JOSE SHARKS
Niemi had an NHL-best four wins and two shutouts to go along with a
1.22 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in four appearances. He made 24 saves in a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks March 25. Niemi then posted back-to-back shutouts, recording 22 stops in a 4-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks March 27 and 27 saves in a 2-0 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings March 28. He closed the week by making 27 stops, plus another two in the shootout, in a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes March 30. The 29-year-old Vantaa, Finland, native has appeared in 30 games this season and ranks in the top 10 in the League in wins (16), goals-against average (2.13), save percentage (.925) and shutouts (three).
THIRD STAR – TAYLOR HALL, LW, EDMONTON OILERS
Hall tied for first in the NHL with five goals and ranked second with eight points in four games. He scored one goal in a 3-2 loss at the Nashville Predators March 25, collected 1-2—3 in a 3-0 victory over the St.
Louis Blues March 26 and recorded one assist in a 6-4 triumph over Columbus Blue Jackets March 28. Hall then broke Wayne Gretzky’s franchise record for the fastest hat trick to start a game when he scored three times in the first 7:53 of a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks March 30. The 21-year-old Calgary, Alta., native and former No. 1 overall pick leads the Oilers with 23 assists and 34 points in 31 games this season.
The incident occurred at 0:45 of the third period. Lupul was assessed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head (Rule 48).
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and based on his average annual salary, Lupul will forfeit $45,945.94. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
It has been a week since the NHL returned from its self-imposed lockout exile. It’s far too early to draw lasting conclusions but certainly enough to gather initial impressions, now that we’re detailing power-play success over HRR and back-diving contract control.
So much for boycotts and fan apathy. The NHL reports that average per-game announced attendance is up 6.6 percent, or more than 1,000 fans per game, through the first 49 games of this season compared to the first 49 last season.
Not only have the fans come back with a vengeance, filling almost every NHL rink to capacity, but they’re watching on television in record numbers as well. NBC’s opening-weekend games (Chicago in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh in Philadelphia) were the most-watched regular-season games, outside the Winter Classics, in 14 years. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago reported record local ratings. NBC Sports Network’s offering of the Boston-New York Rangers tilt on Wednesday drew 956,000 viewers, the biggest single regular-season-game audience in the network’s history and the most-watched regular-season game on cable since 2002. An incredible 27 percent of the Canadian population tuned in to the Montreal-Toronto season opener. Boston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas and Florida also reported significant spikes in viewership for their local broadcasts.
It’s not all roses and cherries, though. Phoenix drew an announced crowd of just 8,355 Wednesday night, and this for a team that went to the Western Conference finals last spring. While the Blue Jackets are clearly not a big draw in Denver, the Avs announced 14,325 Thursday night, well short of a sellout at the Pepsi Center. The Panthers and Blues were also short of sellouts in home games Thursday night.
A better indication of whether fans and sponsors are prepared to forgive and forget when it comes to the lockout will come in a month or two, especially if teams like Florida or Columbus or Carolina have fallen out of the playoff race. What will the numbers look like then? Maybe the short season will keep eyes on the game and butts in the arena seats in record numbers right through to the end. Maybe not.
Not many would have predicted that the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings would start a combined 3-13-1. Throw in a 1-3 start for the Phoenix Coyotes, who won the Pacific Division last season and advanced to the Western Conference finals, and a 1-3 start for the defending Southeast Division champs from Florida, and you’ve got a lot of teams with high expectations and standards that are wallowing near the bottom of the standings. Worth noting is that the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils started 0-3-1 and went on to win the Cup during that 48-game, lockout-shortened season. Is there a similar rags-to-glory story among these slow starters? Maybe the better story is which of this group of well-heeled bottom-dwellers can turn things around enough to make it to the playoffs in late April. Our guess is no more than three.
Markov Is Back
Yes, the absence of unsigned restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban has been a problem for the Canadiens, but the return to form of Andrei Markov and the emergence of young Swiss defender Raphael Diaz means Subban’s absence is felt less keenly. Before the start of the 2013 season, Markov had played in just 65 NHL regular-season games since 2009-10 because of a series of mostly knee-related injuries. But Markov has three goals and an assist while averaging 23:47 of ice time to help bolster a power play that must produce if the Canadiens are to make it back to the playoffs. Diaz has also been a revelation after a strong lockout spent playing with Damien Brunner and Henrik Zetterberg in Switzerland. He has five assists in three games for the Habs, who won two in a row after an opening-night loss to Toronto.
Injuries Hitting Hard
Everyone assumed injuries were going to be a major theme in a shortened season. But whether it's the compressed schedule (it actually just seems busier than a normal 82-game slate) or the lack of a training camp or the disparity between those who played during the lockout and those who didn’t, the injury bug has bitten and bitten hard. The Flyers are without Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, and their defensive depth at the AHL level has been ravaged by injury. The Red Wings have been nicked up, testing their defensive depth. Steve Downie is gone for the season for the Avs. Joffrey Lupul suffered a broken forearm after being hit by a shot from Maple Leafs teammate Dion Phaneuf and will be gone for a couple of months. Mike Smith left the Coyotes’ net midway through the first period this week, although his injury isn’t believe to be serious. Still, don’t expect the bug to be stopping its bite anytime soon. With that in mind, look for the teams with the greatest organizational depth to rise above these injuries and stay in the hunt for playoff berths and/or top seeds.
Rookies On A Roll
Maybe it’s no surprise that a handful of youngsters are having an immediate impact in this young NHL season. Whether it’s Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis, who had four goals and six points to lead all rookies as of Friday, or Detroit's Brunner, who scored one of the prettiest shootout goals you’ll ever see, or Dougie Hamilton, who looks as if he has been patrolling the Boston blue line for years and not just days, the lockout has given way to a serious youth movement. Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov in Edmonton, Cory Conacher in Tampa and Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida are other noteworthy first-year players making a name for themselves. Usually coaches and GMs worry about the final third of a normal season for rookies, the travel and the physicality of a full schedule often taking the bloom off the rookie rose by the last 25 or 30 games. But with a 48-game slate, these rookies might keep lighting it up from beginning to end.
Good for the league and the players to get together and adjust the buyout process to allow Montreal and the Rangers to part company with unwanted players Scott Gomez and Wade Redden, respectively. We understand the logic that led to both teams initially planning to park both players for this season with the intent of buying them out next summer. Teams can’t buy out injured players, and it made more sense business-wise not to have them play. But there was something inherently wrong about it and the two sides agreed to alter the language and allow the Rangers and Habs to buy out those players. That has allowed Redden to resume his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and Scott Gomez to sign a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks. Both have much to prove, although wouldn’t that be an interesting storyline if either were to end up holding up the Stanley Cup in the spring? Bottom line, it was the right thing to do. If only the two sides had been able to summon up that spirit of cooperation last summer.
Sharks Have Bite
San Jose head coach Todd McLellan told us before the start of the season about the challenges of putting together a lineup with players who were at varying degrees of readiness, some having played extensively in Europe or the AHL, some having played a bit and others not at all. Whatever McLellan is doing, it’s working: The Sharks were one of two undefeated teams in the Western Conference through Thursday's games (Chicago was the other). Patrick Marleau, who did not play during the lockout, had three straight two-goal games to lead the league in goals; linemate Joe Thornton, who played in Switzerland during the labor impasse, leads the NHL with nine points. Will the Sharks, off the Stanley Cup radar for the first time in years, make skeptics pay with their first championship, regardless of who played where and how much during the lockout?
You Get The Power
It’s interesting to see which teams have been able to take advantage on the power play early on and how important it has been. The Blues and Sharks led the NHL with seven power-play goals each. The Blues were clicking at a shocking 53.8 percent rate while Chicago was third with six man-advantage goals. The three teams were a combined 10-1-0 to start the season. At the other end of the ladder, the Kings and Red Wings were the only teams without a power-play goal at week’s end. They were a combined 0-for-34 with a man advantage and had combined for a 1-4-1 record.
--It was a night of triumph and pain for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they thumped the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 Wednesday night, ruining the Pens’ home opener. James van Riemsdyk, a key offseason acquisition, scored his first two goals of the season for the 2-1 Leafs but they lost Joffrey Lupul indefinitely to a broken forearm, courtesy of an errant Dion Phaneuf shot. Also noteworthy for the Leafs, who were coming off a tough 2-1 loss to Buffalo, was the play of James Reimer, who got his first start in goal and first win of the season.
--The big boys finally got it together for the New York Rangers as Marian Gaborik netted a hat trick, including the overtime winner as the Rangers collected their first win of the season, 4-3 over the Boston Bruins, who had spanked the Rangers in the season opener in Boston on Saturday. Rangers coach John Tortorella, looking for a spark after his team started 0-2, threw Gaborik together with newcomer Rick Nash and Brad Richards. The trio combined for three goals and two assists and Gaborik’s winner was a thing of beauty, as he batted his rebound out of the air past Tuukka Rask just 27 seconds into extra play.
--Another triumph mixed with concern dynamic at play, this time in Phoenix, where the Coyotes earned their first win of the season thanks in large part to a Steve Sullivan hat trick, as the Yotes whipped Columbus 5-1. But the Coyotes lost the services of starting netminder Mike Smith, who left the game during a commercial break after playing just 11 minutes. Smith -- who is listed as day-to-day with what was termed by a team official to ESPN.com as a "minor" injury -- was replaced by Jason LaBarbera, who got the win. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had two goals and an assist for Phoenix. Former rookie of the year Steve Mason took the loss in his first start of the season for the 1-1-1 Blue Jackets, giving up five goals on 42 shots.
--Vancouver fans are breathing a little easier after Cory Schneider rebounded from a ghastly opening-night performance to backstop the Canucks (1-1-1) to their first win of the season, 3-2 in a shootout over the Calgary Flames. Schneider, the heir to the Canucks' goaltending throne, was solid, stopping 34 of 36 shots and then blocking four of five shootout attempts. The 0-2-1 Flames, meanwhile, continue to struggle, although the shootout loss did represent the team’s first point of the season.
The conspiracy theories will abound about Brian Burke’s GM firing Wednesday, but I believe there were a number of factors involved, not just one crystal-clear reason.
And despite the denial from Toronto Maple Leafs COO and president Tom Anselmi, I believe the last straw was Burke’s reluctance to trade for star Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
That’s a sentiment shared by several NHL team execs we talked to Wednesday, who believe the rest of the Leafs' front office is pro-Luongo, but Burke wasn’t sold on him.
(On a side note, expect trade talks between the Leafs and Canucks to heat up big time now that Dave Nonis is GM. Nonis acquired Luongo during his days as Vancouver's GM and has always been high on him.)
There might not have been one singular reason for his firing, but a source close to the situation told ESPN.com that the relationship between Burke and the new owners -- Bell and Rogers -- was not warm and fuzzy, and that some board members didn't appreciate Burke's bombastic style.
The decision by the MLSE board of directors to make a change was in the works before Wednesday -- perhaps in the works going back weeks.
After all, as everyone tries to uncover the conspiracy, sometimes one can’t see the forest for the trees.
Fact is, this is a team that’s been mediocre in the four-plus years Burke has been at the helm, failing to make the playoffs once, although it showed promising signs last season in holding a playoff spot until crumbling late.
Since Burke’s hiring as GM on Nov. 29, 2008, Toronto went 129-135-42, tied for 26th among the 30 NHL teams during that stretch. Also during that stretch, the Leafs ranked 30th in goals-against per game and 30th on the penalty kill.
But if there’s a signature moment that Burke was never able to distance himself from, it’s the Phil Kessel trade. The September 2009 blockbuster that sent two future first-round picks plus a second-round pick to Boston for Kessel simply has backfired to no end.
The Bruins used those picks to draft Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. We already know what Seguin’s soft hands can do in the NHL, and Hamilton will be a stud on defense.
It wasn’t all bad, not at all. Burke’s acquisition of Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner in February 2011 from Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin was an absolute steal for the Leafs. Burke deserves to get more credit for that deal.
Another positive from Burke's tenure was how he rebuilt the reserve list for the organization. The team has more depth from top to bottom, especially at the minor-league and junior level, than when he took over, in November 2008. No one can argue otherwise. So perhaps in three years when some of those youngsters blossom, people will look back and give Burke more credit.
Still, his inability to get Toronto over the hump -- the Leafs haven’t been in a playoff game since April 2004 -- cost him in the long run.
And as too many GMs who have taken office in Toronto have found, the incredible allure of wanting to win overnight and end the Cup drought that dates to 1967 hindered Burke’s decision-making. He wanted to win now. He didn’t want to rebuild as the Edmonton Oilers have done. He made a point of saying that publicly, that he didn’t believe in the bottoming-out, traditional rebuild.
Guess which of those two teams has a brighter future.
Still, I have a lot of time for Brian Burke. He’s an honest man. He cares about the game. He’s passionate about selling the NHL brand and, unlike some GMs, is able to think big-picture while trying to improve the game on and off the ice, and not just think about his own needs.
He’s also a Stanley Cup champion from his days as GM in Anaheim, so although Toronto will have been a major disappointment on his resume, you can’t ignore his success with the Ducks.
In the end, what I find unfair in the firing is not the fact he lost his job, but rather the timing of it.
MLSE should have either fired Burke in September if it knew this would be the outcome or -- and this is what I would have liked to have seen -- given Burke at least half of the shortened season to see if his team was finally turning the corner.
I believe Burke deserved that chance.
In the end, though, I’m not sure the result would have been any different.
- Joffrey Lupul skated for the first time since separating his shoulder in March and said he is "100 percent," according to the Toronto Star.
- Carolina GM Jim Rutherford tweeted that the team is close to signing Jeff Skinner to a new deal. The extension will be for six years at $5.725 million a season, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
UPDATE: Skinner officially signed for six years for $4.35 million in 2013-14 and $6 million each of the five seasons after that.
- The Red Wings expect Tomas Holmstrom to make a decision about next season by the end of the month, Detroit GM Ken Holland told The Detroit News.
- Cristobal Huet's agent is shopping the goaltender to all 30 NHL teams as Huet looks to return to the NHL after playing the past two seasons in Europe, according to The (Vancouver) Province.
- The site plan to build a big-league arena in Markham, Ontario, will be submitted to the city this week, according to TSN. The arena is expected to seat more than 20,000 people, according to the report.
- Nashville radio personality Adam Davis is suing the Predators for injuries he suffered during the rehearsal of a human hockey puck promotion, according to The (Nashville) City Paper.
- The St. Louis Blues shuffled their front office staff, making Al MacInnis special advisor to GM Doug Armstrong and Dave Taylor the vice president of hockey operations, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Richard Park signed with HC Ambri Piotta in Switzerland after the Penguins did not offer the center a contract, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Former Oilers anthem singer Paul Lorieau was pulled out of Kinbasket Lake near Valemount, B.C., by rescue workers, according to the Edmonton Journal.
- New Jersey officials were not surprised by a lawsuit brought by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA against Trenton's plans to allow sports betting, according to NorthJersey.com.
ALFREDSSON, LUPUL AND PACIORETTY NAMED MASTERTON TROPHY FINALISTS
NEW YORK (April 24, 2012) -- Right wing Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators, left wing Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs and left wing Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens are the three finalists for the 2011-12 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” the National Hockey League announced today.
A $2,500 grant from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association
(PHWA) is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.
The local chapters of the PHWA submitted nominations for the Masterton Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season and the top three vote-getters were designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 20, during the 2012 NHL Awards from Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas. The 2012 NHL Awards will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network in the United States and CBC in Canada.
Following are the finalists for the Masterton Trophy, in alphabetical
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
The NHL's longest-serving captain (1999-2000), Alfredsson returned from off-season back surgery for his 16th NHL campaign and was a key contributor to the Senators' successful Stanley Cup Playoff drive.
Alfredsson was the leading vote-getter among NHL forwards in All-Star balloting, selected by his peers as an All-Star captain and the recipient of a thunderous standing ovation from hometown fans at Scotiabank Place following his two-goal outburst against Team Chara. Alfredsson finished the season with 59 points -- 27 goals, including the 400th regular-season goal of his career, and 32 assists.
Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs
Returning to health after his career had been threatened in 2010 by two back surgeries and a blood infection, Lupul earned a spot on the Maple Leafs' top line and enjoyed the most productive season of his eight-year NHL career. Teaming with wing Phil Kessel to form the highest-scoring duo in the NHL, Lupul did not go more than one game without a point until January and was selected as assistant captain for Team Chara at the NHL All-Star Game. He notched a career-high 67 points in 66 games before a shoulder injury ended his season in early March.
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Pacioretty returned to action this season after missing the team’s last 15 regular-season games and the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010-11 due to injuries suffered on March 8, 2011 against Boston. The 23-year-old left wing set single-season career highs in goals (33), assists (32), points (65), game-winning goals (five) and shots on goal (286). His 29 even-strength goals ranked fourth in the League. On March 8 at Edmonton, the New Canaan, Connecticut native became the first U.S.-born player in Canadiens history to notch 30 goals in a season.
The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and who died on January 15, 1968.
OTTAWA -- All-Star Game MVP Marian Gaborik had planned it before puck drop.
If he scored on Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist, the Artem Anisimov machine-gun celebration was coming out.
"I was thinking about it before the game that if I scored on Henrik -- I wouldn’t do it any other way -- but I wanted to do against Henrik to give him a little Anisimov celebration there. I don’t think he was too happy about that," Gaborik said with a smile.
"I was laughing when he pulled it off," linemate Marian Hossa said.
"I tried to feed him towards the end of the first to get a hat trick right away," Hossa said. "Hank Lundqvist came up to me and said 'C'mon you can't feed him that much.'"
Gaborik scored two of his three goals against his Rangers netminder, making it seemingly look easy.
"It’s not easy," Gaborik said. "I was just fortunate to be lucky against him. I think he’s one of the best -- if not the best goalie in the league. But I’m glad I got a couple of goals against him."
Gaborik and Lundqvist were exchanging friendly barbs via Twitter all weekend long. Just for fun, right?
"I think I tried to get into his mind over the whole weekend," Gaborik said with a laugh. "I think it was a pretty good challenge against him but it worked out better for me."
Talk about a line, Pavel Datsyuk between the two slick Slovaks.
"With Marian, we’ve played together on international level," Gaborik said. "With Pavel, I mean, he’s one of the best. You can see the pure talent. He’s got it all."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Teammates turned opponentsIt is always interesting to see teammates end up facing each other in a game like this. Given the low-key nature of the game, there are lots of opportunities for chirping.
Take Evgeni Malkin, who took a shot at Pittsburgh teammate Kris Letang for allowing him to set up an early Team Chara goal.
"Kris plays sometimes in the offensive zone, not defensive zone -- gives me a chance to score, you know. So I say thank you to him," Malkin said.
Letang shot back that he was counting on taking advantage of Malkin’s lack of defensive abilities.
"I was trying to beat him on his defensive part of the game, which doesn’t exist, so we'll see what he says about that," Letang retorted.
New York Rangers teammates Dan Girardi and Lundqvist were both victimized by Gaborik, who had three goals and an assist.
"I was obviously on the minus end of two of his goals, so that wasn’t too good," Girardi said. "He made a couple of good plays and he just had one of those games that everything was going in for him."
"That line was pretty dangerous out there," Girardi said of the Gaborik-Hossa-Datsyuk line. "Every time they came on the ice the D wanted to change."
-- Scott Burnside
Thomas gets fourth straight winTim Thomas arrived at All-Star Weekend under a cloud of controversy. He left with his fourth career All-Star victory.
"I’m very happy with the end result," Thomas said. "Going into it I was shooting for four [wins], but I didn’t really realize how much I wanted it until we got into it. Then my team came up big and scored a couple of goals early for me. Then I said, 'Let’s do this ... I might as well.'"
He denied local favorite Daniel Alfredsson from completing the hat trick in the third period.
"I wasn’t thinking about [Alfredsson’s] hat trick," Thomas said. "I just didn’t want the other team to get any closer, because all of a sudden, the way goals get scored in these games ... boom, boom, boom ... you could get three goals scored in a minute and a half. I didn’t want to let anybody score. It wasn’t anything against Alfie, I guess."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Behind the benchAlthough this event isn’t really about the coaching, both Todd McLellan -- who coached Team Alfredsson with John Tortorella -- and Claude Julien -- whose Boston coaching staff guided Team Chara -- enjoyed the chance to get to know players they see only from the other side of the ice.
"It’s an opportunity to get to know these individuals personally," McLellan told ESPN.com. "We really appreciate the skill level they have, but we see it almost every day. There are no secrets. There’s a lot of video out there. Where they expose themselves is personally in the locker room. The way they interact with each other and they’re all gentlemen, they’re all professionals, they all carry themselves extremely well. You see their interaction with their families. For me that’s the most rewarding opportunity we get throughout the weekend."
Julien, also, could not say enough about the players involved in this year's game.
"They’re not only special players on the ice. They’re special players off the ice," Julien said. "All quality people. Even for us to be able to put our competitiveness aside and away for a weekend, and get a chance to talk to these guys individually, they’re great people. It gives you a lot more respect for the individual, especially after you get a chance to chat with them."
Most of these players get it. It's a chance to give back.
"The weekend is, first of all, it’s for the fans," Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul said. "Everything we do is for the fans, the behind the scenes, the interviews, wearing a microphone during the game, if you’re going to do all that stuff, you’re not really going to expect a competitive 3-2 game. This event is about more than just the game. It’s to show the fans another side of the guys and have fun. I think everyone in the crowd today had fun. I know I had fun today wearing the microphone."
-- Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
Campbell at plus-7There’s not much defense in an All-Star Game, but it still was impressive to look on the score sheet and see Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell at a plus-7. He finished with the most ice time (21:40) of anyone on Team Chara and assisted on Phil Kessel's goal.
"It’s one of those games where you don’t want to get behind too early," Campbell said. "Everyone is playing to be MVP, but it’s tough to get up there and battle with the forwards when they’re already at the red line when you are in your zone. It was nice playing with Zdeno Chara. That was fun."
Chara is one of the game’s biggest competitors, so Campbell didn’t want to let his captain down but said the game was about showing off skill more than anything.
"You want to compete as much as you can for the fans. But no, it’s not too intense and there’s no hitting," Campbell said. "You try to make it fun for the fans and you hope it’s close at the end. Usually it’s pretty tight and that’s when it picks up. It was fun."
Oh, sure, fans of the Senators and Maple Leafs still dislike each other, but no matter how you skin it, it’s been a good half decade since Ottawa and Toronto have played meaningful games against each other.
Starting with Tuesday night’s tilt at the Air Canada Centre and the remaining two encounters Feb. 4 and March 17, there’s a chance this once burning rivalry might just be rekindled, with both teams in contention for a playoff spot.
"Just looking at the standings, we anticipate this will be a team that we’re going to battle with the whole year for one of those playoff spots," Leafs first-line winger Joffrey Lupul said Tuesday morning after the skate. "So every time we’re going to play them, it’s going to be huge."
Not since the 2006-07 season have both teams played games each other this late in the season that truly mattered in the standings for both, the Sens ultimately going to the Cup finals that season and the Leafs missing out on the playoffs on the final day.
Otherwise, these matchups have largely been empty of any true meaning to at least one of the teams, the Leafs having missed the playoffs every year since the lockout and the Senators two of the past three years.
"It’s good that both teams are up in the thick of it going into the second half. It brings the intensity into these games,’’ said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Well, he would know about the true Battle of Ontario. The 39-year-old Swede is one of the very few holdovers from those playoff tilts against Toronto. He’s still reviled in these parts for something he did in a playoff game here almost 10 years ago in the spring of 2002. His hit from behind on former Leafs winger Darcy Tucker in ’02 still gets Alfredsson booed whenever he touches the puck at the Air Canada Centre.
What does he expect for Tuesday night?
"It’ll be same as usual,’’ he said Tuesday morning, smiling.
Thing is, you won’t find too many souls on the Leafs roster that have a clue why the fans boo Alfredsson. The team doesn't have a single holdover from the last payoff series against Ottawa, in April 2004, and only one player on their roster actually was born in Ontario (Nazem Kadri) and might have grown up watching those playoff series.
So, yeah, the whole Battle of Ontario thing is lost on most of the current Leafs players, at least until they create their own version.
Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur at least remembers those Battle of Ontario playoff series.
"(Former Senator) Wade Redden is from where I’m from, Lloydminster (Alberta),’’ MacArthur said Tuesday morning. "I used to watch those games all the time. They had some great series. It always seemed like Ottawa was better in the regular season and get knocked off by the Maple Leafs, who would bang and crash in the playoffs. Those were always great series to watch.’’
And that’s just the rub, isn’t it? The Battle of Ontario was all too one-sided despite rosters that were of equal skill. The Senators managed a trip to the Cup finals in ’07 and a conference finals berth in ’03, but never were able to beat the rival Leafs, losing all four playoff series to Toronto in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. Those Leaf teams under Pat Quinn reached the conference finals in 1999 and 2002 but never beyond. But they had Ottawa’s number, though.
"It never worked out well in our favor, so it’s tough to accept that,’’ veteran Senators blue-liner Chris Phillips, another holdover from that era, told ESPN.com Tuesday morning. "I think one year we played them 6-7 times in the regular season, won every one, then go into the playoffs and they swept us. They always had a veteran team. Those guys stepped up. They rose to the challenge. I think it was in ’04 when in Game 7 Joe Nieuwendyk had a big night for them. They found a way.’’
Phillips just knows he’s never experienced anything like it. That was a true rivalry in those playoff series.
"It was intense,’’ he said. "Never mind game to game, every shift was a battle. It hard-hitting and fun to be a part of.’’
And just maybe, if both teams can stay in the race over the next three months, it might be fun again.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Has there been a more dramatic turnaround in the league this season?
Elliott, 26, was unwanted in Ottawa last season and shipped to Colorado, where the Avalanche didn’t retain his services, either, after a season in which he posted awful numbers, albeit for a pair of doormat clubs.
Hat in hand, the native of Newmarket, Ontario, accepted a two-way contract with the Blues with the only promise that he could battle young Ben Bishop in camp for the right to back up Jaroslav Halak.
And Elliott signed the exact same deal as Bishop -- $600,000 NHL salary, $105,000 AHL salary.
“I thought he made a really wise business decision to take the exact same contract that Bishop had,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com this week. “If he would have come in at $900,000 or something like that, we may have maybe looked at it from a business perspective and wondered if it was worth the extra money. But he came in under the exact same contract and made it a true competition on the ice.”
In the end, Armstrong said, Elliott and Bishop had good camps, but the Blues decided to keep the more experienced Elliott on the NHL roster.
“He’s certainly made the most of the opportunity,” Armstrong said.
You think? How about leading all NHL goalies in goals-against average (1.52) and save percentage (.944) entering Friday night? Unreal.
Funny how a player can react when his career hangs in the balance.
“He had to recalibrate, he had to re-establish himself,” Armstrong said. “Early in the year, he played a great game in San Jose and was able to follow that up. And quite honestly, we’ve played a really good team game in front of him also to try and minimize second opportunities.”
Indeed, the Blues give up the fewest shots of any team in the NHL, so that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Elliott, meanwhile, is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“We haven’t talked to any of our players yet who will be unrestricted,” Armstrong said. “Once we get to the 45-, 50-game mark, it may be time but we haven’t got there yet.”
You better bet they’ll want Elliott back to continue his terrific tandem with Halak.
Had you told anyone on the Florida Panthers in September that Jason Garrison would be leading all NHL defensemen with 10 goals entering their last game before the Christmas break, they would have asked how many drinks you’ve had.
After all, Garrison entered the season with seven career goals in 113 career NHL games as mostly a rugged, defensive blueliner in his first two years.
But first-year coach Kevin Dineen saw the merits of trying out Garrison’s heavy shot on the power play. Combined with Brian Campbell’s silky smooth setup passes teeing him up, Garrison has struck gold with his thunderous blasts from the point.
“He’s got a cannon for a shot, he gets some nice feeds from Soupy and he’s been a real fun surprise for us,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com this week. “We’ll certainly take it.”
And it just so happens that the 27-year-old Garrison, a native of White Rock, British Columbia, is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. He’ll be getting a raise from the $675,000 he’s earning this season, and Tallon told ESPN.com both sides have begun preliminary contract talks.
"Cha-ching" might just be Garrison’s new middle name.
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk joked with ESPN.com in early October that the Sean Avery contract was the gift that keeps on giving.
Little did he know how true that actually would end up being for the Stars.
When the New York Rangers demoted Avery in the first week of the season, it threatened to put the Stars under the league’s minimum salary floor, because suddenly half of the winger’s contract was coming off the cap (the Rangers claimed Avery off re-entry waivers from the Stars during the 2008-09 season, keeping Dallas on the hook for half his four-year deal).
So the Stars were forced to scramble and pick up a salary ASAP as not to fall under the floor. They scoured the early-season market -- there certainly wasn’t much out there -- and settled on Nystrom from the Minnesota Wild organization.
To Nieuwendyk’s credit, he told me the very day, Oct. 12, Nystrom was acquired that the Stars felt they picked up a player who could help them and that it wasn’t solely a payroll-saving transaction.
Still, Nystrom never ends up with the Stars if the Rangers don’t demote Avery first.
“Funny how things play out sometimes, right?” Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com this week.
The 28-year-old Nystrom, son of famous Islanders player Bob Nystrom, has put up 11 goals in 28 games for the Stars, nothing short of stunning while playing on an effective third line with Vern Fiddler and Radek Dvorak.
“Eric’s been great for us,” Nieuwendyk said. “I think when you go through some of the things he’s been through, like signing in Minnesota and then being put in the minors, you get a young guy who is appreciative of the opportunity. It’s infectious around the locker room. There’s not too many rainy days with this guy. The sun is always shining. That positive energy has been terrific for our hockey team.”
The native of Syosset, N.Y., has one more year on a deal that pays him $1.4 million next season.
Ilya Bryzgalov exited Phoenix last summer, and Smith replaced him.
And with that, very few people in the hockey world held out any hope the Coyotes had a chance this season.
Coyotes GM Don Maloney told me last September during a preseason game in Glendale, Ariz., that if somehow his club could get top-15 goaltending this season, it would be able to hang in there.
I shook hands with Maloney and wished him good luck, while I thought, “Top-15 goaltending from Mike Smith and Jason Labarbera? Dream on!”
Once again, those of us who doubted the Coyotes are reminded not to have done so.
Smith, 29, entered the Christmas break sixth in the NHL among goalies with 15 wins and 15th with a solid .920 save percentage.
That’s nothing short of surprising for a guy who was discarded by the Tampa Bay Lightning last season and even spent time in the AHL.
“For the first 20 games of the season, Mike was at the top of the league in every category and was one of the very best goalies in the league,” Maloney told ESPN.com this week. “The last few weeks he hasn’t been quite as dynamic but he’s still giving us a chance to win every night.”
When Bryzgalov wouldn’t re-sign last June, it left the club with a big hole and not a lot of money to fill it. Maloney scoped the market and decided Smith was a worthy gamble, partly because Smith broke into the league under Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, when Tippett coached the Dallas Stars in 2006-07.
“For us, it came back to Mike’s age, Tipp’s familiarity with him, Burkey’s (goalies coach Sean Burke) potential tutoring. We just felt if could help him along he was poised to take on a No. 1 role,” Maloney said.
Maloney, the 2009-10 NHL GM of the Year, has been proved right so far.
Of course, the cynics will say any goalie can thrive in Tippett’s system.
“I think our system certainly helps Mike, but at the end of the day he’s still the guy stopping the puck,” Maloney said. “There’s games we had no right being in earlier this season that he kept us in. I just think it’s all come together for Mike.”
Michalek, 27, has already surpassed his entire goal tally from last season (18) and is easily on pace to eclipse his career high of 26 goals he set in 2006-07 with the San Jose Sharks.
The obvious difference this season is that he’s finally healthy. Serious knee problems and ACL surgeries over the past few years have limited his durability and effectiveness. But the Czech winger is back.
“There’s no question that knee injury really hurt him and set him back,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com earlier this month. “That’s the real difference this season; he was able to work hard over the summer. He came to camp in great shape and his skating is really good at this point.”
A concussion suffered after colliding with teammate Erik Karlsson on Dec. 13 on the same night he scored his 19th goal (in 31 games) has sidelined him, but all signs point to a return after the holiday break.
He’s one of several key reasons the rebuilding Senators have surprised this season.
Michalek is in the fourth season of a six-year deal that carries a $4.33 million cap hit, paying him $4.75 million in salary next season and $6 million in 2013-14.
Lupul had a contract the Anaheim Ducks could not wait to discard last season.
Serious back problems -- including a scary infection -- limited Lupul over a two-year stretch, convincing the Ducks he wasn’t worth the $4.25 million a year he had coming through the 2012-13 season. Few people would have argued with them, either.
The Ducks found a willing trade partner when the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed to take Lupul and prospect Jake Gardiner in exchange for Francois Beauchemin last Feb. 9.
Gardiner, who has surprised himself this season in making the Leafs out of camp, was the main attraction, but Leafs GM Brian Burke was hopeful in the back of his mind Lupul would rediscover the touch that netted a career-high 28 goals for Burke’s Ducks in 2005-06.
“Never ‘had’ to take him,” Burke, disputing that notion, wrote ESPN.com via email this week. “The year I traded him to get [Chris] Pronger, he was our best forward in the playoffs. The deal last season made sense -- [the Ducks] were at a higher point than we were, couldn’t wait for the infection to heal while they paid him big dough. We were in a position to wait.”
Few knew what to expect from Lupul entering this season, but challenging for the NHL scoring lead certainly wasn’t among expectations.
Now healthy and his back problems a thing of the past, the 28-year-old entered Friday night with 37 points (15-22) in 34 games, a dynamic force alongside linemate Phil Kessel.
"You can expect more moves, we're not done," Leafs GM Brian Burke told a news conference at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs unloaded veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for winger Joffrey Lupul, prospect blueliner Jake Gardiner, as well as a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2013.
An exchange of e-mails with a Leafs source after the trade gave me the impression a second move might be coming on the same day. So blame me after my tweet saying as much got Leaf Nation overly excited for nothing. I read the tea leaves wrong there, although Burke made it clear at his news conference he hopes to make a few more moves before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
That could be Kris Verteeg, it could be Jean-Sebastien Giguere or it could be most notably, puck-moving defenseman Tomas Kaberle if and when he waives his no-trade clause (no news on that front Wednesday).
For now, Leafs fans are left with Wednesday's trade to dissect, and digest.
What exactly does this transaction signify? In the shorter term, Toronto hopes to have improved its top-six forward group with former 28-goal scorer Lupul. In the long term, the Leafs hope the University of Wisconsin standout Gardiner is a keeper.
In other words, because Toronto doesn't have its first-round pick in the upcoming entry draft (for the second year in a row), there's no point in blowing it up and finishing last. So the goal in any move, it would appear, is to improve short-term and long-term all at the same time. Easy, right?
"We're trying to be competitive while we get younger," Burke said. "Our plan here is to try and build toward a championship. And that seems remote, some people will snicker, but that's the plan. What we're trying to do is the twin track of getting younger and getting better, long-term planning; but also at the same time remain competitive. And so far we've been able to do that with our recent play."
The Leafs are indeed 4-1-0 since the All-Star break but remain eight points out of the last playoff spot in the East with Florida, hard-charging Buffalo and Atlanta between them and that No. 8 position held by Carolina. The odds aren't good, but again, since there is no point in going backwards, you see Burke's point about trying to help the short and long term.
The goal all along this season was to try to augment the top-six forward group. Whether or not Lupul is the answer is debatable on both sides. He's got five goals in 26 games this season. Hardly reassuring for Leafs fans. On the flip side, he missed a calendar year through injury and any player would need time to get his rhythm back after that. As well, he was buried on the third line in Anaheim because of the Ducks' star-level depth up front. He'll get to play more minutes and a more meaningful role in Toronto.
Burke, in fact, said Wednesday he had tried to acquire him when Lupul was in Philadelphia a few years ago. He had him before in Anaheim and feels there's still lots of hockey left there -- and more importantly, lots more goals.
"I bet on Joffrey Lupul because of his skill and character," said Burke. "I believe in this player, I believe in this person."
While Lupul tries to answer the Leafs' short-term needs, Burke said Beauchemin's place on Toronto's top four on defense would eventually be taken by AHLer Keith Aullie, who has impressed. He was part of the Dion Phaneuf deal with Calgary last season, and Burke said once a roster spot opens on the Leafs, Aullie will get the call-up and play significant minutes.
"I watched him today and in my mind he's ready to do that," said Burke.
One foot in the present, the other foot looking at the future. It's a delicate balance and Burke has mounting pressure to pull it off in one of hockey's most demanding and increasingly impatient markets.
In Anaheim, Ducks GM Bob Murray delivered on two fronts: Since last September, he's wanted to strengthen a suspect blue-line corps. That group actually played better than most expected so far this season but the reality is that Jonas Hiller also saved its bacon on many nights. Beauchemin could be the perfect tonic in his old stomping grounds. The Ducks have played themselves into playoff contention, and the GM has rewarded them with an important add-on. There's no guarantee Beauchemin will revert back to the way he played in Anaheim the first time around, but it's worth the gamble.
But even more importantly, Murray saved some money and cap space here. Beauchemin has only one more year left on his deal at $3.65 million ($3.8 million cap hit) while Lupul has two more years left at $4.25 million per season. The Ducks could not afford to have a third-line winger making that kind of cash. It also means Lupul's salary won't be on the books when the new CBA kicks in for the 2012-13 season, the Ducks, like other budget-conscious teams around the league, being careful with how they approach that season.
On the surface, this is a trade that addressed key needs for both clubs: the Leafs needing top-six offense and the Ducks blue-line help. In the long run, both GMs are betting on players they once knew well, hoping they'll bounce back.
The Feb. 28 trade deadline is creeping up on us, isn't it?
Colorado and Boston have made a few trades since the start of the season, and the Avalanche are the big winners so far (Tomas Fleischmann is on fire for them).
But otherwise, it's been predictably quiet. The salary cap and parity in the standings are forcing teams to wait until closer to the deadline to make their moves. Keep in mind there's also a holiday NHL trade freeze from Dec. 19-27 (starts Sunday).
Let's take a look at 10 players who could possibly move before Feb. 28. Repeat could; this doesn't mean they will move.
The Stars' leading scorer has been dynamite so far this season and is an unrestricted free agent July 1. Tough call for Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. His team sat third in the Western Conference as of Thursday morning, although only three points clear of ninth. Where he sits in the days leading up to Feb. 28 will have some bearing on his decision.
Nieuwendyk wants to re-sign Richards and remove that tough trade decision come Feb. 28. The young GM is hoping to sit down with Tony Tavares at some point after he's named Dallas' new team president to convince him to keep Richards past this season. Keep in mind Richards has a no-movement clause, so he controls his fate.
It's about saving money now in Florida, and there's little chance the rebuilding Panthers will be re-signing the veteran goalie. He has a $5.7 million cap hit this season, which is an easier pill to swallow come Feb. 28 because most of the salary has been paid. Look for GM Dale Tallon to see what's out there, but keep in mind Vokoun has a no-movement clause. He would be a big-time addition to a playoff-bound team looking for an upgrade in goal.
Kaberle's agent, Rick Curran, told ESPN.com last week that his client wasn't looking to go anywhere this season. Kaberle has a no-trade clause. He's also UFA on July 1 and clearly doesn't seem to fit in Toronto's future plans. Unless Kaberle and Curran have a change of heart (which is possible closer to the deadline), the Leafs may their asset for nothing after the season. Best chance for Toronto is a big-time contender calls just before Feb. 28 and entices Kaberle into a Cup run.
Lupul has looked good since his return from a long-term injury. That's good news for the Ducks, who could possibly try to move him in exchange for help on defense. The Ducks have nice depth up front and can afford to lose a solid forward like Lupul. But he's not UFA and he has two more seasons left on his deal that pays him $4.25 million per season, so teams may shy away.
Set to become UFA on July 1, the veteran, mercurial winger will be 38 years old once the trade deadline rolls around. His days in Ottawa won't extend past this season, that's almost for sure. GM Bryan Murray insists he's not shopping Kovalev, despite the player's public feud with coach Cory Clouston. But if the Sens are out of it come February, Kovalev (earning $5 million) might be moved, although he's in control with a no-movement clause.
Again, this depends greatly on whether the Sabres will have worked themselves back into the playoff bubble come the last week of February. Connolly, earning $4.5 million, is UFA on July 1, and given his inconsistent performance this season (13 points in 23 games) the Sabres likely aren't interested in bringing him back. He could be a nice addition for a playoff-bound team needing a power-play boost.
The 36-year-old center, earning $4.5 million, has a no-movement clause, but given how things are going in Newark these days we can't imagine that being much of an issue. UFA on July 1, Arnott has Stanley Cup-winning experience and could be a valuable commodity for teams looking for another key ingredient.
Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils
The 35-year-old Devils captain is earning $2.8 million this season and will be UFA on July 1. Does he want to go down with the sinking ship or re-energize with a playoff-bound team? Up to him. The Team USA captain would be a big-time addition in the grit and character department for a playoff-bound team. I love him as a fit on teams such as Los Angeles, Montreal or Vancouver. He could help any playoff team. But would Devils GM Lou Lamoriello move one of his favorite players?
Two years removed from a career-high 31 goals, the 23-year-old winger has disappointed and frustrated the coaching staff in San Jose. He has two goals in 22 games this season, having also missed time with injury. He's earning $1.8 million this season and is a restricted free agent come July 1. The Sharks could target a top-four blueliner before the deadline. Could they move Setoguchi to make room for such a move? They don't have to trade him, since they have all their 2011 draft picks in hand and some terrific prospects in the minors. But we know other teams covet Setoguchi.
There has been a lot of attention on Kaberle, but here's a top-four blueliner who had 46 points last season. Earning $4 million this season, he's UFA on July 1. He's the type of puck-moving, power-play blueliner that's always in demand. Of course, he'd only be available if the Hurricanes aren't close to a playoff spot come Feb. 28. Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose are among other UFAs the Hurricanes have on their roster. If they fall out of playoff contention, some of them may move.