Cross Checks: Tampa Bay Lightning
BOSTON -- These are anxious times for young goalie Jonathan Bernier, who waits by this phone to find out where he might continue his NHL career.
It’s time for him to go elsewhere and become a No. 1 goalie, something he can’t do with the Los Angeles Kings with star goalie Jonathan Quick in place.
“I’m still part of the L.A. Kings and it’s been a great ride, but I feel really confident and I want to get to the next level to get a real chance to hopefully be a No. 1 somewhere,” Bernier told ESPN.com over the phone Wednesday. “I’m sure the Kings will make the right decision. If I’m staying there, I’m staying there. If not, I’m ready for the challenge.”
General manager Dean Lombardi indicated to Bernier that he would try to accommodate him if it’s a deal that makes sense for the Kings. The whole trade talk scenario is a new experience for Bernier.
“It’s actually exciting,” Bernier said. “But I really can’t control anything. It’s up to Dean. If there’s the right trade for him, I’m sure he’ll make the right call.
"I spoke with Dean at the end of the season, and he told me he can keep me there but also feels he kind of owed me the chance to be somewhere else [as a starter]. So I guess we’ll know in the next few weeks.”
Sources indicate five teams are in the mix on Bernier, to varying degrees: the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers.
For the Wild, it really depends on what happens with pending unrestricted free agent netminder Niklas Backtrom. If they can sign him in short order, then they would bow out of the Bernier mix. But if it appears they can’t re-sign Backstrom, they can go harder after Bernier or other possible netminders.
The Flyers, meanwhile, have shown interest in Bernier but obviously still have Ilya Bryzgalov on their books. As one source told ESPN.com Wednesday, they’re only going to buy out Bryzgalov if they have a concrete Plan B in place in terms of a goalie coming their way, whether that’s Bernier, Backstrom or any other goalie.
SPEAKING OF BACKSTROM ...
GM Chuck Fletcher said Backstrom, 35, has fully recovered from sports hernia surgery. Backstrom was injured minutes before the start of Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks and did not play in the five-game series loss.
“We’ve had some conversations with his representation, and had a good meeting with Niklas before he went back to Finland," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I think clearly he would like to come to back to Minnesota. We certainly would like to have him back. So the will is there from both parties. Now we just have to find a way, with respect to term and the cap and how do we manage all of that."
One of the issues for the Wild is durability, given Backstrom’s injury and the health issues being confronted by backup Josh Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis prior to the start of the season.
Fletcher said he thought the lockout-shortened season was an anomaly, and with Harding missing time, they rode Backstrom hard. That shouldn’t be the case next season.
“I think it’s a fair concern, but certainly we believe Nik will be fully healthy going into camp -- and we hope it’s our camp,” he said.
Although there has been some speculation the Wild might use a compliance buyout on a player like Dany Heatley, who has one year remaining on a contract with a $7.5 million cap hit (but only $5 million in actual dollars), Fletcher said the team wasn’t thinking in general about using the compliance buyout option.
“It certainly isn’t our first choice,” Fletcher said.
The agent for Kris Letang and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero met Wednesday before the NHL’s general managers' meeting, but a resolution is far from certain at this point.
“We’ve agreed to have further talks,” agent Kent Hughes told ESPN.com after the meeting. “Not going to say more at this time.”
“He’s a very valuable player for our team, and ideally I’d like to sign him and get him extended," Shero told a media scrum after the meeting. "But we’ll see where that goes over the next few days and weekend, so we’ll see."
Again, as I stipulated in Tuesday’s blog, I don’t believe Letang will take a whole lot less than $7 million a year in a new deal, and I suspect that message was reaffirmed by Hughes in Wednesday’s meeting.
My guess is the Penguins need that figure to be lower in order for Letang to fit into the cap puzzle moving forward.
The question now is: If Shero can’t get Letang signed over the next week or two, does he trade him or let him play out his final year in Pittsburgh?
“I think there’s a lot of speculation if we can’t have a deal next week what might happen,” Shero said. “But I can’t go that far. He’s under contract for another year. I think when we get into next week, we’ll cross that bridge and see what happens. But my focus is going to be trying to sign him.”
STARS COACHING UPDATE
Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, in a perfect world, will have his new coach in place by the June 30 draft. However, that’s not set in stone.
“I don’t want to have a set deadline, and all of a sudden it comes and goes,” Nill said after the GMs meeting. “There’s too many candidates out there. I want to make the right decision.”
While Nill would not name his candidates, it’s believed Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella are near the top at this point.
In light of Joe Sakic’s comments that the Colorado Avalanche might not pick Seth Jones with the first overall pick, one wonders what kind of impact that might have on other teams drafting behind the Avs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, are drafting third overall, and clearly their number one need is a defenseman. However, GM Steve Yzerman says he doesn’t believe in drafting on need only.
“We believe in taking the best player available,” Yzerman said after the GMs meeting. “That’s been our philosophy. Your needs change from year to year. When these kids are available to play, your needs may be entirely different for various reasons. So that’s a rule of thumb we’ve had.”
Would he move his pick up or down?
“We’re quite comfortable with the third pick, but we’re open to any scenario which we think makes us a better organization,” Yzerman said.
Asked generally whether he would use his buyout options, Yzerman responded Wednesday: “It’s something to consider. … Given that we finished in 28th place, we should be looking at every possibility of improving our team and what are options are. Other than that, I can’t say much.”
New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello remains committed to trying to re-sign power forward David Clarkson before he hits the UFA market July 5.
“We’ll do everything we can to sign him,” Lamoriello said Wednesday. “We’re not looking to do anything else.”
Contract talks have been ongoing. One thing Lamoriello has traditionally not done is trade a pending UFA’s rights during this time period, like the Islanders recently did with Mark Streit.
“You never say you’ll never do something, but we have not philosophically believed in that,” Lamoriello said. “If a player said he didn’t want to play [in New Jersey], that’s another story. You never know, but that’s never come across us.”
St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has his hands full this summer, with key restricted free agents Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk to bring under contract.
“It’s funny you can sign guys a year before you have to sign them, but when it’s two weeks before it takes a long time,” Armstrong said.
But he made it clear to other GMs: Don’t bother trying to poach those players with an offer sheet.
“With the new ownership group we’re financially solid," he said. "These are core players, and we want to pay them fairly. I’m not concerned at all about an offer sheet, because we’re going to match anything on those guys because they’re good enough players."
“We’ve called it cloudy, but I think it’s a good cloudy," Armstrong said. "Jake doesn’t need waivers next year, so he can go down, and a fourth year in the American league won’t kill him. Last year Jaro, every time he got ready to get going, the groin went. Brian had such a terrific ending to the season with a less-than-memorable start. We might be best served to come back with all three and let the chips go where they are. But we’re going to continue to debate that internally."
It’s clear, though, that Allen’s development is going to be important moving forward.
“The one thing is we need Jake to get ready, because both those guys (Halak and Elliott) are unrestricted after the year’s over,” Armstrong said.
Speaking of goaltending, the Calgary Flames’ goaltending situation remains in a state of flux. GM Jay Feaster said Wednesday he’s still unsure whether veteran netminder Miikka Kiprusoff will retire.
"I don’t think anything’s changed from the where he was at the end of the season," Feaster said. "I think if we forced to make a decision right now he’d say that he’s finished playing. We’ve said we’re going to give him time, and that’s what we’re going to do."
To prepare for Kiprusoff’s potential departure, the Flames signed Joey McDonald to a one-year extension after acquiring him from Detroit during last season. They traded for the rights to former Tampa Bay prospect Karri Ramo and will sign him in July, Feaster said. They also acquired the rights to Swiss netminder Reto Berra and signed him to a contract.
After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and being forced to trade captain Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Flames are desperate to return to the postseason dance and respectability.
“We’re looking at everything right now," Feaster said. "As I’ve said, we have three picks in the first round; we have cap space.
"I think it’s unique in that we certainly have an ownership group that’s willing to spend to the cap. We’re looking at guys that might be compliance buyout victims or however you want to call that. Looking at free agency and looking at making trades, too."
The GM did say he wasn’t contemplating any compliance buyouts at this point in time.
NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell says GMs also agree to implement a two-minute penalty for fighters who remove their helmets before a fight. So it would be a five-minute penalty for fighting, plus two more minutes for the helmet violation. The new penalty is pending Board of Governors approval.
So far, Dwayne Roloson is proving his Lightning boss wasn't crazy for taking a chance on a 41-year-old goalie. The move to bring the netminder to Tampa Bay is also further bolstering the case for Steve Yzerman as GM of the year.
With his team leaking goals for the first half of the season, Yzerman dealt for Roloson on Jan. 1, hoping there was still enough hockey left in the battled-tested veteran to steady a shaky Lightning net and save what was a surprising season so far for the Bolts.
If eight wins in 11 games, plus four shutouts and a .932 save percentage, doesn't define "answering the call," I don't know what does.
The Lightning have won six straight and are only two points behind Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead.
"When I first got here, it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but things settled down," Roloson told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "As a team, we've adjusted in terms of me getting to know guys and guys getting to know me. We've gone through the adjustment period and it's been great."
In late December, Yzerman was deciding between Roloson, who hasn't posted a save percentage under .900 in over a decade, or Russian exile free agent Evgeni Nabokov, a former Vezina Trophy nominee. Because the latter would have to clear NHL waivers, Yzerman feared it would be a major hurdle and chose Roloson. (The GM was right to be concerned; Detroit signed Nabokov only to lose him, ironically, to Roloson's former cellar-dwelling team, the New York Islanders.)
For Roloson, this is a special time. When you're 41, you don't get too many more chances to play for a Stanley Cup. The latest statement was a 38-save 4-0 shutout win over the powerhouse Flyers on Tuesday night. The adrenalin is pumping through Roloson's veins.
"No discredit to the Islanders' organization, I had a great time there," Roloson said. "It's a great organization, and I keep in contact with a couple of guys there. But I came down here to a team in a playoff spot and that rejuvenates you. It makes you excited again about hockey."
He doesn't have a Cup ring, and he hasn't come close to one since Edmonton's surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006.
"It's in the back of your mind, but at the same time, you try not to think about it too much," Roloson said of the chance at hand. "It's a long way away. And once playoff time comes, anything can happen. Case in point, the 2005-06 run with us in Edmonton. We were the eighth seed in the West and we ended up making it to the [Cup] final. Once you're in, it's a brand new season. You can't look at the big picture, you have to focus on each game."
Roloson has also had a first-row seat to the Steven Stamkos show. He actually played with the NHL's leading scorer at the 2009 IIHF World Championships, so he already had an inkling about the center's abilities.
"He's a great man," said Roloson. "He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he wants that role where the team is relying on him -- he wants to be that guy. Every day, he works on trying to get better. You can't say enough about him. Johnny Tavares in Long Island, same type of kid. It's fun to be around kids like that; all they want to do is succeed and get better every day. It's a cliché, but it's true. I enjoy being around those type of players."
Will Roloson be around Stamkos longer than this season? Throw out the birth certificate. He's not playing like a goalie that is nearing retirement.
"If the opportunity is there, I'd love to keep playing," said Roloson. "Physically, I feel great. As long as performance-wise I'm doing what I needed to do to help a team win, then I want to keep doing that. Hopefully I get an opportunity to play again next year."
Toews_me19: Pierre, First of all let me say that I love the Blackhawks and I am very proud of their accomplishments last year. That being said...WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP COMPARING THIS TEAM TO LAST YEAR'S TEAM? And why doesn't this team have any heart? When will this team quit playing on its collective heels and play with some flippin' urgency?? When will some of these guys quit waiting for someone else to make a play and do it themselves??? P.S -- did the Hawks forget that hockey games are 60 minutes in length, not 40 or 20. Come on, UGH.
Last year is long gone, as is a great deal of depth, options, players, whatever you want to say that made this team, oh wait...that team, so awesome. Whenever someone says something like "So-and-so defeat the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks", I want to punch them. This team is not that team so they can't be compared only contrasted -- same core, very different dynamic. And comparing them only causes the pain in my heart to flare into life...pain caused by the necessary roster changes that every team faces every year because of the draconian salary cap.
That being said...the Blackhawks have done a decent job but it's not December anymore. It's time to skate and play to win boys. You are running out of time to get things together and the Western Conference is too tight to let points slip away. If it takes another three years for this team to become lethal again, I may jump in the Chicago River...j/k, but seriously you guys. Go Hawks, sorry for yelling.
My take: Can't say there's a terrible amount of sympathy coming your way since your team was able to enjoy a Stanley Cup last June, something many of our regular readers on this site have never had to experience. So let's not get too carried away with the Chicago pity party. Still, I don't think anyone thought that despite losing half the regulars from the Cup champion squad that the team would be entering the post All-Star break hanging on for their playoff lives. Not with a core still featuring Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. I still think this team will figure it out here over the last stretch of the regular season. One particular statistic points me in this direction: Five-on-five goals/for against ratio. The Hawks ranked fifth overall in the 30-team league with a 1.16 ratio and that’s indicative of a team that at its base, special teams aside, knows what it’s doing most of the time. Barring Kane missing any team flights over the last 30-odd games, I think the Hawks are fine.
bio8r: Why has Keith Yandle not gotten more love from his outstanding play this season. He is the Coyotes most consistent player, plays big minutes every night, and can only barely sneak into the All-Star Game though leading all defensemen in points? I hope people can look past big names like Lidstrom, Letang, and Chara and give this guy some recognition.
My take: Bio8r, you're dead on about Keith Yandle, but to answer your first question: maybe because the Coyotes rank 29th in NHL attendance? If almost no one in his own backyard is noticing, how do you expect the rest of the fans around the NHL to notice? Just a thought. Having said that, Yandle does deserve the recognition, having taken a giant step this season and helping fill the minutes void left by Zbynek Michalek. Shane Doan told me before the season when I stopped through Phoenix during my camp tour that Yandle, before the end of this season, would be among the league’s very top defensemen. He was bang on.
Beastly Backes: The Blues are flat out a bad hockey team. They've won 2 of 12, and the 2 wins are against the sloppy kings. Jaroslav Halak has been inconsistent. One moment he'll make a great save, and the next shot, he lets in an easy goal. He needs to step up. Also, the Blues come out and look sloppy and lack motivation at the start of every game. They go out knowing they're gonna lose. It's great that they have Winchesters and Sobotkas trying to go above and beyond their potential, but the fact is, the coaching staff is extracting every ounce of effort from a lot of average players. Grit is great, but the Blues lack pure talent w/o Perron and McDonald. Even at the beginning of the year, when they won seven straight -- they won every games 2-1, 2-0, 3-1, 1-0 -- they couldn’t score goals!!! Oshie's return is nice and all, but the Blues need more weapons, BESIDES Perron and Andy-Mac. If the Blues don't trade some of their so called "depth" at defense, they will go nowhere. Pietrangelo however is one of the only bright spots on this team. Erik Johnson has played his worst hockey ever this year, Eric the gutless wonder Brewer happens to be playing his best, and Jackman and Polak are still grinding it out. They won't trade youth, which eliminates E.J. and Petro, but Jackman, Brewer and Polak could be trade bait. I personally think that Brewer may actually be worth something this year. TRADE HIM FOR A SCORER!!! GIVE THE "C" TO THE REAL CAPTAIN: David Backes.
BluesFanAlex74: WHY??? WHY DO MY BLUES FAIL? Night in and night out we fail to skate for 60 minutes, defend the net, or dish out hits that make the opposition fly the other way. In a town where hockey is loved, we have players who are young, energized, and have a great hockey sense, but there are also guys who are older and used to be 40 goal scorers (BRAD BOYES) and guys who think standing around and throwing pucks the wrong way are good (ERIK JOHNSON and ALEX PIETRANGELO) these guy would be greater if they knew what to do when the opposition runs around the D-men and behind the net, setting up shop, then scoring because we let the enemy fly in and shoot from the slot. Things were great 10 games into the season, but since Perron and McDonald are gone and we have no inspiration, we are going to lose half our money from season ticket sales because we are not going to win a playoff spot. Great Marketing idea, right? I had hope for this year with a great goalie and young stars, but we have been shot down and self destructive. I hope they find their pace for next year because I don’t think I can take another year of disappointment. From, THE ONLY SMART ONE IN CHESTERFIELD, MO. (JK)
My take: A double dose of Blues' blues. Tough year, indeed. It started with so much promise, St. Louis even leading the ESPN Power Rankings in early November. After improving to 9-1-2 with a win on Nov. 7, the Blues have won only 13 of their next 39 games (13-19-7). Ouch. They actually rallied with an 8-4-2 record in December but went only 2-8-2 in January. Double ouch. But let’s be honest, when you lose two thirds of your top line in T.J. Oshie and David Perron for such a long stretch, plus Andy McDonald, few teams in the NHL can recover from that. And as it was, the Blues actually weren't scoring that many goals even before those injuries. It's going to be a difficult assessment of the season for GM Doug Armstrong should the club not rally back, because he will have almost never had his full lineup in front of him to dissect. If I were the Blues, I would look to add a top-six forward in the offseason if possible -- that would be my priority.
ddiggler08: So, yeah, Patrick Sharp for MVP? What the ####.
My take: Well, Shea Weber, Nick Lidstrom, Anze Kopitar, Loui Ericksson and Danny Briere all had legitimate cases. The consensus press box pick was Weber, who was plus-6 with four assists. Part of the problem is that the 12-member media voting committee (I didn't vote this year, which is only right given my thoughts on the All-Star game) had to select a name midway through the third period. Hopefully next season, the NHL can circle back to USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen, the president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and check with him at the buzzer to make sure the MVP pick still stands. Still, I have no issue with Sharp winning because he's such a good story, a blue-collar guy who's worked his way up to this level. Plus, he's from Northern Ontario, so you know he's a good guy.
CapitalsFan74: LeBrun, I have been a Caps fan since 1985. I have seen good and bad Capitals teams over the years (yes, mostly bad). But can anyone explain what is wrong with this team this year? After last year I was expecting a Cup run, but this team is painful to watch. All the "experts" have said over the years that we were not built (defensively) to win in the playoffs. Now we seem to have THAT but are in jeopardy of not making the playoffs at all. How can we be so much better for the playoffs if we cannot win in the regular season?
My take: Indeed the Caps have tightened up defensively, sitting seventh in the NHL in goals against per game as of Tuesday morning, up from 16th where they finished last season. That's an important evolution for their playoff chances in my opinion. But it's about balance. After leading the league in goals last season, they're only 17th as of Tuesday morning, down more than a full goal per game. Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. I repeat, Alex Ovechkin has two power-play goals on the season. Unacceptable. Bruce Boudreau's task over the final stretch of the regular season is to better balance his team's new-found defensive play without forgetting how the team was built: with offensive stars. I think he's up to it.
SRDetroitfan: I'm from Detroit and a Wings fan and want to apologize to everyone who has to read people complain about why the Red Wings do not get any Love. I am not going to lie, I love when I see something about the Wings come up in one of these chats or in an article, but Detroit fans PLEASE stop complaining about how much love Detroit DOES not get and how no one pays attention to us. We don't need attention! The way we have played for the past 20 years should be attention enough! And lets be honest...is there really anyone happy with the amount of "love" their team gets from the media?
My take: My man, thank you so much for this post. I can't tell you how many Wings stories both myself and Scott Burnside have written for this website over the last three years. A 2,500-word Nick Lidstrom story, anyone? Wings fans are incredibly sensitive for a market that's done so much winning. Ken Holland is routinely labeled by us as the best GM in hockey. Mike Babcock is often called the best coach by most of the media covering the game. What else can we do????
egotonusf: OK, how do the Lightning win a blowout and then shut out the Leafs, BUT FALL 2 SPOTS IN THE POWER RANKINGS? I guess its just hatred for south hockey, we will see come playoffs...
My take: No hatred my friend, it's because Burnside and I alternate weeks and have different views on where the teams should rank. So a team's performance alone isn't the only factor in influencing the ranking, fixing Burnside's mistakes is also another. Or as Scotty would view it, fixing mine, ha ha.
Dubsg123: Pierre. What really bothers me is how little attention some of the outstanding young players of the NHL get league wide. One of these such players is Anze Kopitar. As a Kings fan, I know that he is one of the best two way centermen in the league, but when you have national hockey broadcasters that announce his name Annzee Kahpiter you really can see how he doesn't get much recognition. In the All-Star Game, he was the first player to score two goals, and he looked like he was having fun doing it. This year on the Kings, the players that have really been getting the attention (at least with the media, thankfully the fans got it right with voting him to the All-Star Game) overshadow his success: Drew Doughty, Jon Quick, Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth, etc. I know that Crosby has a concussion. I know that Ovechkin isn't scoring like he used to. I know that Steven Stamkos is too good to play in the NHL. I just don't want to be hearing their names in a headline article every morning. Let's give Kopitar the love he truly deserves!
My take: Kopitar is 12th in NHL scoring with 49 points in 50 games, having himself another terrific season. While I agree he doesn't get as much attention as some of the other young snipers in that top 15 group, it's ironic that Loui Ericksson is tied with him at 49 points and there's a guy who actually gets zero national attention. I mean, way less than even Kopitar. Here's what I really like about Kopitar -- he's sporting a plus-16 rating as of Tuesday morning. He was a double-digit minus player the first three years of his career. Last season, he finished plus-6. So his progression in his two-way play has been impressive. And when you consider he doesn’t really have a high-end, superstar winger to play with like other centers in this league, you understand that he is indeed full value for his production.
neufeld85: I am a Colorado Avalanche fan and they might be the most frustrating team to watch in the NHL. Whenever they get a lead, I never expect them to hold it. Their defense is pathetic and what happened to Craig Anderson this year? I love Adam Foote but the guy needs to retire, he constantly gets burned by speedier forwards. If it wasn't for all the miraculous comeback wins, the Avs would near the bottom of the West. They have given up the second most goals in the conference this season. Do you think the Avalanche will be able to squeak into the playoffs?
My take: Scott Burnside actually has a nice Avalanche feature story that's going to be posted this week after he spent some time there last week. So make sure to check that out. At this point, this team is not going to make the playoffs unless they can tighten up. Ranked 30th -- dead last -- in the NHL in goals against per game doesn't get you anywhere. Some of it, yes, is Anderson having an off-year, but I rest most of the blame on a blue-line corps that, as predicted by some of us last September, has been dreadful defensively.
benjies77: As a delusional Leafs fan, I, along with the rest of Leafs Nation, thought the Leafs might make the playoffs. Now, rather than rooting for the eighth spot, I'm biting my nails just to see them stay out of the cellar. It pains me to think we will give another lottery to Boston. I love Kessel and hope he will eventually come into his own when he learns to deal with the pressure of playing in Toronto. But, shoot me straight. With the Leafs sitting in the fifth spot of the bottom five, is there ANY hope of them climbing out of the bottom? I feel like that is the only thing left that can "save" another sad season.
My take: As most people know, I live in Toronto, so I see the pain and suffering that Leaf fans go through. My brother-in-law, Mitch, is a die-heard Leafs fan, watches every single game and allows the knife to twist in his gut. I actually sat beside Leafs GM Brian Burke on the flight down to Raleigh last Friday. Believe me when I say no one is taking this harder than him. He wants to turn this around badly. The work will continue over the next few weeks with the trade deadline approaching. Kris Versteeg, Francois Beachemin and maybe Jean-Sebastien Giguere (depending on his health) could get moved, while Tomas Kaberle will be dealt only if he chooses to waive his no-trade clause and the Leafs can accommodate the small list of teams he would hand over. Changes are coming, Leaf fans, hang tight.
curley214: I am so angry that John Tavares was not in the ASG. Yeah, we have it tough right now on LI, but the kid is damn good and earned a spot. I guarantee you if you asked 29 other GM's in the league would they rather have Patrik Elias or JT, 28 would go with JT (Brian Burke would trade his rights back to the Isles for Blake Kessel and the next 11 Leafs first round picks). The Isles get a bad rap and are rebuilding the right way. Kevin Poulin looks promising for the next couple years to get some regular NHL time. DP has been playing and has a .914 save percentage in the past couple weeks. Things are slowly looking better. My question Pierre, when do the Isles unload some assets for some proven help? THANKS!
My take: I don't agree every team should be represented in the All-Star Game, but I do think Tavares should have been at the game anyway. You are right to be angry.
Boston Bruins (28-15-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (24-5-6, 1.81 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (22-15-5, 2.70 GAA)
Preview: Two weeks after the Bruins finished a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes, Carolina tries to end the series with Boston on a high note. The Hurricanes got only two of their 76 shots past Tim Thomas in back-to-back losses to the Bruins on Jan. 17 and 18. Carolina is one point out of the eighth-seed in the East, while Boston leads the Northeast division.
Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 3-1 Chicago
Starting goaltenders: Marty Turco (10-10-2, 3.02 GAA) vs. Steve Mason (15-12-2, 3.20 GAA)
Preview: The Blackhawks begin a six-game road trip in Columbus after All-Star weekend featured four Chicago players, including game MVP Patrick Sharp. Heading into their final 32 games, the Blackhawks are tied for seventh in the West with San Jose and Colorado. Minnesota and Los Angeles are a point behind that group, and Columbus, tied for 13th, is five back.
Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4) at New York Rangers (29-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (23-11-2, 2.19 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (21-16-3, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers have lost four in a row to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden and haven't won a home game against the Penguins since Jan. 5, 2009. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight at MSG since a streak from Dec. 31, 1989 to March 17, 1991. Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin is ready to return, but the Penguins are 5-3-1 without Crosby and 2-1-0 without both Crosby and Malkin this season.
Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky (21-6-3, 2.42 GAA) vs. Dwayne Roloson (7-3-0, 2.25 GAA for Bolts)
Preview: The East's top two teams face off for the third time this season with the Flyers looking for their first win of the season against the Lightning. The Lightning have won five straight games and are in the midst of a 12-game home stand. The Flyers have won two straight and six of their last seven games. Philadelphia leads the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5) at Washington Capitals (27-15-9), 7:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Carey Price (24-16-5, 2.36 GAA) vs. Semyon Varlamov (8-7-3, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have looked like a different team since getting stunned by the Canadiens in the postseason. They cruised through last season and won the President's Trophy, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Montreal. This season, the Capitals are 17th in the league at 2.71 goals per game, have been shut out seven times and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in goals and points.
Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1) at Minnesota Wild (25-19-5), 8 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA) vs. Niklas Backstrom (15-11-3, 2.52 GAA)
Preview: After an up-and-down season, the Kings went into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Kings now begin a 10-game road trip. The Kings are 5-8-0 in their past 13 road games. The Wild won four of five before the break and are currently tied with the Kings, but Minnesota is just 4-6-1 at home since the start of December.
Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9) at Dallas Stars (30-15-5), 8:30 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Cory Schneider (8-2-2, 2.35 GAA) vs. Kari Lehtonen (22-11-5, 2.57 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks and the Stars both lead their divisions, but Vancouver has dominated the series. Vancouver has outscored Dallas 11-2 in the two games. But the Canucks will now need to depend on defenseman Lee Sweatt more with an injury to Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the Canucks with 24 minutes of ice time per game and tops the defense with 32 points, is having back surgery and will be out indefinitely.
Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9) at San Jose Sharks (25-19-6), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Ilya Bryzgalov (19-12-6, 2.64 GAA) vs. Antti Niemi (13-13-3, 2.69 GAA)
Preview: The Coyotes will try to win their sixth straight away from home Tuesday night and end a six-game slide against the Sharks. Phoenix has limited its opponents to 1 for 17 on the power play during its run on the road. Veteran center Joe Thornton has two goals and three assists, and Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average in two wins over the Coyotes this season.
Tuesday: Flyers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
The third game in a mighty 12-game homestand for the Lightning, and they host the league’s best team (at least for our money). Tampa Bay could pull within two points of Philly for the top spot the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: The Bolts start the post-All-Star weekend schedule with their third straight win.
Tuesday: Canucks at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Stars will be hoping to avenge their 7-1 loss in Vancouver shortly before the break. We wonder if the Canucks will be spending a few nights in Big D before the game as the Stars did in Vancouver? Probably not. Still, this should be a good tilt between two division leaders.
Prediction: The Stars will even the score at home.
Wednesday: Sharks at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET
The Ducks have won seven of their past 10 games and continue to impress. Goalie Jonas Hiller was solid in the All-Star Game, and he’ll have to keep up his strong play against a Sharks team that would like to create some breathing room for itself in the playoff bracket. San Jose is 4-0-1 in its past five contests.
Prediction: The Ducks will continue their strong play and defeat the streaky Sharks.
Thursday: Wild at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
The Avs hit the break tied with San Jose for the last playoff berth, while the Wild were just one point back and have come on strong in recent weeks. This is the kind of game that’s going to hurt for the loser.
Prediction: The Avs will get their game going.
Friday: Sabres at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
The Sabres have some ground to make up if they want to revisit the playoff tournament in April, and they’ll visit a Penguins team still missing Sidney Crosby even though the Pittsburgh captain has been given clearance to begin light workouts. There’s a better chance Evgeni Malkin will be on the ice, but either way, these are the types of games the Sabres have to win.
Prediction: Crosby or no Crosby, the Pens will be too tough for the Sabres.
Last week: 3-2.
1. It's not just about Crosby
Considering he wasn't even at the All-Star Game this past weekend, we sure heard a lot about Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. The game's best player is expected to begin light exercise as he struggles to come back from a concussion.
Toronto GM Brian Burke insisted that the recent focus on concussions and blows to the head was directly related to Crosby's situation.
"The concussion thing is the topic du jour," Burke said this past weekend in Raleigh, N.C. "It'll be shoulders next year if there's a rash of shoulder injuries. And frankly, I think the biggest reason we're focused on concussions is because of Sidney. If Mike Brown got that concussion, would you guys all be around with cameras asking about concussions? I don't think so."
Not sure that's fair. We seem to recall a lot of attention on the topic when Marc Savard got hurt, and David Booth before him. That said, if the fact that the game's most marketable asset has been sitting on the sideline for almost a month because of a concussion sparks more interest in the topic, so be it.
2. The playoff picture (who cares if it's early!)
So, we were checking out the standings this morning as we head into the unofficial stretch drive.
With most teams having about 30 games remaining, the playoff picture won't come into focus until the final week of the regular season. That said, if the playoffs began Monday, you would have these first-round matchups: Pittsburgh-Washington, Boston-New York Rangers, Detroit-Chicago and Vancouver-San Jose. And for all those who have been pining for those Vincent Lecavalier-in-Montreal storylines, the Lightning would face the Canadiens in the opening round.
Bring it on!
3. Here come the Red Wings
Hate to fall back on that old adage about "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but it applies to the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit has managed to keep a solid cushion over Nashville in the race for the Central Division title and is also within striking distance of Vancouver for the top seed in the West. (The Red Wings are five points out with a game in hand.) All this despite missing key personnel like Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary and Brad Stuart, among others. Well, sound the bugle, the cavalry is coming over the hill in the form of Cleary and Datsyuk, both of whom are expected back in the lineup this week.
The Wings are 6-4-1 in 11 January games, and coach Mike Babcock has seen impressive play from players who might not otherwise get much time on the power play or penalty kill or see top-six forward minutes. Four of the team's victories in January came in overtime or the shootout. The team must still deal with its goaltending depth, as Chris Osgood is out long term with a groin injury. (It failed in its efforts to land Evgeni Nabokov, who was picked up by the Islanders via waivers.) Still, watch for the Wings to take their game up a notch in the coming days. Interesting to note that the Wings play the Predators twice in their first five post-All-Star break games.
4. Tampa Bay and the Southeast race
The Tampa Bay Lightning will continue their monster homestand now that the All-Star break is over. The Bolts won the first two of a 12-game mother-of-all home respite, but the coming days will feature key clashes, including visits from the Flyers and Capitals this week. The Lightning lead the Caps by four points in the Southeast Division race.
Behind Dwayne Roloson, the Bolts have shut out the Caps in the past two meetings, and those head-to-head games will be crucial when it comes to deciding the division crown. It's not just bragging rights on the line in the Southeast, though. The team that fails to secure the division title likely will fall to fourth or fifth in the East and earn a likely first-round matchup with Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Win the division, and you're likely looking at playing Atlanta, Carolina, Montreal or the New York Rangers. On paper, at least, that's a lot more palatable.
A couple of players to watch during this homestand will be Lecavalier and Simon Gagne. Both have struggled with injuries and inconsistency this season but have shown signs of life lately. Their productivity will be crucial to a long playoff run.
5. The players have spoken
Interesting stuff in a wide-ranging poll released this past weekend by the NHL Players' Association and "Hockey Night in Canada." What caught our eye was the list of teams for which players do not want to play.
The Islanders were first in this category, which is understandable. The Isles play in an awful arena and are a mess organizationally. Edmonton was also near the bottom of the list, and that, too, is no surprise. Long winters, small market ... it's just not a sexy hockey place. Not anymore.
But our eyebrows rose in seeing Atlanta and Toronto next in the least desirable of NHL markets. It wasn't that long ago when the Maple Leafs brought in sought-after free agents like Gary Roberts, Alexander Mogilny, Shayne Corson, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. And there was winning in Toronto. Under coach (and sometimes GM) Pat Quinn, the Leafs advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 1999 and 2002. They beat Ottawa pretty much every spring. But the same dynamics that made Toronto a cool place during those years -- a lot of media and fan attention -- now make it a place that players want to avoid.
The Leafs haven't been to the playoffs since before the lockout and won't be going again this season. The culture of losing has turned all that attention into a perpetual black cloud. It creates a situation where the Leafs run the risk of having to overpay for free agents, making Burke's task of rebuilding the team even more onerous.
And onerous pretty much sums up the situation in Atlanta. That's what a decade of losing will do for you. But it shouldn't be this way. The climate is great, it's a great place to fly in and out of, and there are all kinds of cultural entertainment options and plenty of green space for families. Yet players want to avoid Atlanta like the plague. GM Rick Dudley is hoping to change the perception, but it's a big challenge, especially with an incompetent ownership that spends more time in court than trying to build a winning franchise.
One final note on the player poll: It was no surprise to see Crosby as the player other players would build a franchise around. But it was interesting that Crosby's coach, Dan Bylsma, was who other players most identified as the coach they'd like to play for. The coach they'd least like to play for: Toronto's Ron Wilson.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Zdeno Chara once again proved his domination, setting a record with the hardest slap shot (105.9 mph) at Saturday's SuperSkills competition. It was the fourth straight time Chara has won the event.
Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang just shook his head at the feat.
"Scary," he said. "Scary because I'm going to play against him a few more games this year."
The highlight for Letang, who ended up shooting on teammate Marc-Andre Fleury?
"Just being here," he said. "It's fun, it's an experience. Obviously, it's not a competition anyone wants to get hurt here, so just to be here having fun with the guys."
Was he disappointed at the lopsided Skills competition score?
"Honestly, I just want to have fun," said Letang, whose Team Staal squad pounded Team Lidstrom 33-22.
Shea Weber wasn't able to dethrone Chara, finishing second with a good showing nonetheless.
"We were having a blast," said Weber. "We're both competitors out there and he's got a great shot. He holds the record for a reason; he's a big man and he can really let it rip."
Weber hit triple digits and the crowd loved it.
"You surprise yourself," said Weber, who shot a puck through the net at the 2010 Olympics. "A couple of years ago in Montreal [at the 2009 All-Star Game] was the first time I timed my shot since I was a little kid. Just to see it go up there and see how hard it is was pretty crazy."
Weber hadn't checked his cell phone yet after the event, but he knew what would be waiting for him.
"I'm sure my teammates will be ripping me," said Weber. "There will be a few positives after the first round, but they were probably ripping me after the final."
No All-Star texts for Alex
Although Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge, he admitted he liked Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban's effort, but would have voted for Anaheim's Corey Perry if he had a chance to vote.
When it was suggested the players should have been given phones, so they could text their votes, Ovechkin explained he could have since he never parts with his cell.
Said Ovechkin: "Well I have my cell phone all the time with me, but I don't want to spend the 50 cents, you know what I mean?"
Subban's jersey swap
It's been interesting to watch just how big a deal Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner is in Raleigh. Subban wore a Skinner jersey in the breakaway competition, much to the crowd's delight.
Subban said the idea for his jersey switch came from San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle.
"Dan Boyle was just like, 'Hey man, you need an idea,"' said Subban. "I was just like, 'That's a pretty good idea. I think the crowd would like that.' So I threw it on and they liked it -- that's what it's all about."
Skinner wasn't sure what to make of the old switcheroo.
"I didn't know [what he was doing]," Skinner said. "Five seconds before he shot, he just came up to me and said 'I need your jersey.' I just took it off. He put on a good show."
Fans in Montreal might have taken a dim view of Subban's move, but he's not in any hurry to trade in the fabled Montreal colors.
"To be honest with you, I'm more comfortable in my jersey," said Subban. "That jersey was snug and there was a little too much black in it. I prefer the bleu, blanc et rouge, you know what I mean?"
Among Skinner's Team Staal teammates was San Jose's Logan Couture, who looks to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Carolina rookie for this season's Calder Trophy.
"If this was in San Jose, I'm sure it would be the same for me, but I love how they support him. He's a great player, very gifted," Couture said. "Eighteen years old to be doing what he's doing this year is spectacular. He's a great kid, too. This is my first time of really getting to know him and be around him. He doesn't say much, but he's a great kid. He's always got a big smile on his face."
Couture said a number of players complimented him on his strong first NHL season.
"A lot of these guys have come up to me and said. 'You're having a great year, you're playing really well,' and it means a lot to me to hear it from these guys. These guys do it year in and year out," Couture said. "A couple of coaches tonight said that to me as well, so it's a great honor to hear that, it definitely means a lot to me."
Fleury on fire
Fleury was dynamite in the shootout event. We asked him if he was swearing at his shooters like he did with his teammates during shootout drills in HBO's "24/7".
"I'm not as comfortable with the guys here like I am back home in Pittsburgh,'' said Fleury. "I gave it a bit to Tanger [Letang] when I stopped him, but I was mad against myself for Perry on the last goal. I moved too fast. I said a few bad words after that."
Why the success in the shootout?
"I have some good teammates shooting on me at home," said Fleury. "I guess practicing against them helped me out."
Stammer versus Marty
"I didn't even know what I was doing when I got to the dressing room today, so we didn't have time to have a side bet," said Stamkos. "He let me know that I beat him and that I have 15 years on him and that he said he had a bad start. We might have to have a rematch back home."
Stamkos also took honors for hardest shot among forwards.
"I'll take pride in that," said Stamkos, the NHL goals leader. "I was a little nervous after the first one, only 95 [mph], but I beared down. It was nice getting over 100."
VANCOUVER -- There are three current All-Star players sidelined by injury and the clock is ticking with the game less than a week away in Raleigh.
What to do if you're the NHL?
Instead of pressuring Ales Hemsky (concussion), Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (lower body) into a decision any day now, I'm told the NHL has decided to allow those three players all the time they need right up to All-Star weekend.
Why? Because the league will replace any injured All-Star from the pool of rookies already attending the skills event. I think this is an absolutely brilliant solution.
In previous years, it was a nightmare for the league to try to find a replacement so close to the event because players had already made plans with their families or friends for the break. Choosing from rookies already making the trip to Raleigh makes total sense.
As of Saturday, the league was kicking around how the rookies would be chosen for the game. Would they be part of Friday's fantasy draft, or would the rookies win their way into the game by excelling in Saturday night's skills event? Both are interesting ideas.
I know, I know ... I'm on record as hating the All-Star Game. But I give the league credit for being creative this year.
So, what are the Islanders' options if Nabokov doesn't report? Here we go:
• They can suspend Nabokov for not reporting to the team.
• They can go to the NHL and say they want to trade Nabokov, but two things have to happen for any trade to happen: Nabokov would have to waive his no-movement clause and the Isles would have to put him back on the waiver wires, as stated in section 13.23 of the CBA. Only teams that put in an initial waiver claim for Nabokov this past Friday/Saturday would have access to the goalie during this waiver period.
• If he clears waivers again, all 29 teams would get to participate in a second waiver-wire process. The team that sits lowest in the standings has first priority here if multiple teams put in claims.
• If he were to clear waivers a third time (this is highly, highly unlikely), the Islanders would then be able to trade the netminder.
TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Saturday that another possiblity is the Isles could suspend Nabokov for rest of season and then argue to NHL that the goalie owes them the full one-year, $570,000 contract next season, citing the Alexei Yashin precedent in Ottawa.
The waiver rule
With Nabokov joining Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood as players claimed away from teams who did the work to sign them, some clubs are wondering whether Section 13.23 of the CBA needs revisiting. Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com on Saturday he's going to table a discussion at the GMs meeting in March to ask that very question. The purpose of the rule is to prevent teams from adding "ringers" late in the season and gaining an unfair advantage.
Hits to the head
With Crosby's concussion reigniting the hits-to-the-head discussion, the issue will again headline/dominate the GMs meetings, league sources confirmed Saturday. The question they will ask is whether Rule 48 is doing its job or whether it needs to ban more types of hits. Should be quite the discussion.
I interviewed Wayne Gretzky earlier this week for a story that will run on his 50th birthday Wednesday, but wanted to pass on what he said about the hits debate.
"The good thing is, 30 years ago when we got hit like that, you came in and you said you were feeling kind of woozy and they would tell you, 'Get on the ice and skate through it,'" Gretzky said half-jokingly. "Then, if you had a couple of bad games, they would haul in the office and ask you, 'What's wrong?' So you know, we've come a long way.
"I think in today's game, people are on top of it," added Gretzky. "If there is an issue, they're not making knee-jerk decisions. They study it, they check into it. They really look into how they can help these players. It's hard, it's a fine line. It's just a bigger game now. I don't know how we can continuously look to protect the player without taking the physical aspect out of the game.
"I watch football games and I don't know how some of these guys survive because it's so physical. ... I think both hockey and football are always analyzing this and trying to figure out a way to keep the players from concussions. The good news is the NHL really is on top of it. But it's probably going to continue to be an even bigger issue because the players are going to get bigger and stronger."
This and that
• Kings GM Dean Lombardi told me Friday he's solidly behind Terry Murray as coach. Won't be a change there, he said.
• Peter Forsberg would not have to clear waivers if/when he signs with the Avs because he didn't play a game overseas this season.
• Spoke with injured Canucks blueliner Sami Salo on Friday. He says his Achilles' heel is healed, but it's building up muscle in the same leg that's the issue. It's taking a while to do that. He hasn't had any setbacks since he began skating, but he said he really doesn't know when he'll be ready to return. Once he's cleared, the Canucks will have a cap crunch and will need to move a player.
• A "Happy Birthday" note to big-time agent Pat Brisson, who turned 46 on Saturday. Not sure if it's because of his vegan diet, but he doesn't look a day over 36.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: It goes without saying this hasn’t been a banner season for the greatest goaltender of all time or the New Jersey Devils, but the Martin Brodeur we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks is certainly more familiar to fans. Brodeur was at it again Thursday night, as he collected his 114th career shutout and his fourth win in his past five starts in a 2-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brodeur turned aside all 23 shots and was especially heroic in the third period, when the Devils were outshot 10-3. The Devils are 4-0-1 over this recent span and playing their best hockey of what has been a lost season.
Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings: As usual, Detroit has found a way to win despite its injury-depleted roster. Helm has seen his opportunities increase and has taken full advantage. The Winnipeg native has 11 points in his past 11 games, including the overtime winner Thursday night against St. Louis, and has four multi-point games over that period. The Red Wings continue to hang around the top of the Western Conference standings despite of missing key personnel (Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Brad Stuart and Chris Osgood).
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: After being held scoreless in the Lightning’s 3-2 shootout win versus Atlanta on Thursday, Lecavalier has managed just one goal in his past 11 outings. Lecavalier has eight goals on the season and is on pace for his worst goal production since his rookie season in 1998-99. Lecavalier did miss some time earlier this season with a hand injury, but his struggles highlight the burden being carried by Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. The Lightning continue to hold down top spot in the Southeast Division, but it’s hard to imagine a long playoff run without Lecavalier contributing at a more significant level.
Nikolay Zherdev, Philadelphia Flyers: As the NHL ploughs into the second half of the regular season, you have to figure the Zherdev experiment is pretty much a flop. Maybe it doesn’t matter when you’re as good as the Flyers are? The gifted Russian has scored just once in his past nine games and saw his ice time diminish during Thursday’s 6-2 thrashing of the Ottawa Senators (he ended up playing some on the fourth line). Ostensibly signed to replace veteran Simon Gagne, who is enduring his own struggles in Tampa, Zherdev has 14 goals; but his streaky play makes it difficult to imagine him having much of an impact come playoff time.
Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.
Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ETStarting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.
New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.
Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.
Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.
Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ETSeason series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.
Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.
San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ETSeason series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.
Call this the anti-Vezina list.
Next week, we at ESPN.com will hand out our midseason awards. Today, we bring you what we believe are the five most disappointing goaltenders at the halfway point given their pedigree and expectations. In no particular order:
It seems like years ago when he put up 33 wins and a 2.29 goals-against average and won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. Well, it was just two seasons ago. Since then, the sophomore slump has extended into a Year 3 malaise. As of Thursday morning, his 3.20 GAA was 40th among NHL goalies, and his .902 save percentage was 32nd. He's played better of late, which is good, because the Jackets need him to turn things around. He's only 22, so I suspect everything will be fine. It had better be after the Jackets extended his contract, a two-year, $5.8 million deal that kicks in next season.
When the Thrashers signed him to a two-year, $3.7 million deal this past summer, it was with the idea that he would be their starter or at least compete with young Ondrej Pavelec for starts. Neither has happened. His .896 save percentage is 39th in the league, and his 3.66 GAA is dead last in the NHL. Luckily for the Thrashers, it hasn't mattered because Pavelec is having a Vezina-worthy season.
No wonder Lightning GM Steve Yzerman felt compelled to bring in Dwayne Roloson via trade. Smith's .883 save percentage is second-to-last in the NHL, and his 3.20 GAA is 41st. Dan Ellis hasn't been much better, but Smith is the guy long viewed as a possible starter after his trade from Dallas. The consistency has never come. He'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and won't be in Tampa next season.
How the mighty have fallen. Nominated for the Vezina last season after a sensational campaign, Anderson has the 38th-ranked GAA (3.13) and 33rd-ranked save percentage (.901) in the NHL. Granted, the Avs' blue line isn't Detroit's, so there's plenty of rubber coming his way, but it was the same when he stood on his head last season. Talk about bad timing, especially with Anderson set to be a UFA on July 1. There is plenty of time to turn things around, but if he doesn't, it will be a costly season for him.
It's safe to say we never thought the day would come when we would put his name on this list. We tremble just doing it. But the numbers don't lie -- a .882 save percentage (44th and dead last among all goalies) and 3.15 GAA (39th). Nothing from this season will take anything away from what is arguably the greatest goaltending career in NHL history. And to be fair, it's not as though the team in front of him has been any help. (Still, a bit surprising to see the Devils actually ranked first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed per game as of Thursday morning.) Brodeur has one more year left on his deal at $5.2 million. Let's hope next season is a bounce-back one and he can go out in style.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun are back to debate your hot topics. Today, they debate Canada's shocking loss in the World Junior Championship and Dwayne Roloson's reversal of fortune against the Penguins:
Burnside: Good day, my friend. Are all the flags north of the border at half-mast today after the Canadian junior team meltdown in the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.?
Up 3-0 heading into the third period, the young Canucks allowed five unanswered goals to a Russian team that showed, well, Canadian-like resilience throughout the tournament. I felt bad for the Canadians (OK, not really), but after the Americans folded in their title defense Russia's win does a world of good for the credibility of a tournament tilted in favor of Canada.
LeBrun: In an e-mail exchange with several of my Team Canada-cheering buddies, I said the same thing. Russia's victory is the best thing for the tournament, which once again was made a home tournament by Canadian fans in Buffalo. No other country outside of Canada cares about this tournament. With the United States winning in 2010 and Russia taking the crown Wednesday, you can only hope the tournament begins to find new fans outside Canada's borders.
Our good friend David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail predictably didn't hold back, calling Canada's 5-3 loss "an all-time choke job." Damien Cox of The Toronto Star referred to it as the "greatest meltdown in the long, proud history of the Canadian national program." Ouch.
Burnside: Yes, it's easy to forget that we're talking about mostly teenage boys (unpaid players, for the most part), and to subject them to the incredible highs and soul-sucking lows may be a bit unfair, especially in Canada. Oh, well.
Speaking of collapses ... it's been an interesting 24 hours for Dwayne Roloson and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Everyone was lauding rookie GM Steve Yzerman for adding the veteran netminder over the weekend. Yzerman's stock, already high, went through the roof when Roloson was outstanding in shutting out Washington in his first game for the Bolts. But Yzerman understands this is a work-in-progress, and he wasn't planning the Cup parade route after one win. Good thing, since Roloson gave up five goals on 23 shots and was pulled twice in Pittsburgh's 8-1 win over Tampa on Wednesday night.
LeBrun: Well, I think we can let Roloson off the hook. Judging from coach Guy Boucher's comments after the game, his team never had it last night. They spent all their energy the night before in Washington before giving up a season-high 41 shots on goal versus Pittsburgh. I don't think there's much to read into there. On a night Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin scored seven seconds into the game and Tampa's superstar Steven Stamkos fell during a penalty shot (losing an edge on his skate) and didn't get a shot away, Boucher said it best -- you just move on and forget about it.
Burnside: It is only one game, but the juxtaposition of the two performances is a reminder that it's rarely just one piece that completes a puzzle. The Lightning are an interesting team, though. As you wrote yesterday, Yzerman also signed free-agent defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, hoping to add another "piece" to a Lightning team that has come more sharply into focus this season. Bergeron is a menace in his own end, so that will make things more challenging for Roloson and/or Dan Ellis and/or Mike Smith between the pipes. But Bergeron also gives the Lightning something they have been lacking -- a big bomb from the point on the power play. Look at the baby steps taken by other new GMs, and Yzerman doesn't seem content to make those kinds of minor moves.
LeBrun: Don Maloney deservedly won the inaugural GM of the year award last season for his work with the surprising Coyotes. As of today, I would argue Yzerman should win it this season. He's been aggressive from Day 1, and his lessons learned at Red Wings University are quickly bearing fruit. His next move will likely have to be shedding either Smith or Ellis. I don't think Yzerman likes carrying three netminders. The biggest move of all, however, is his attempt to re-sign Stamkos. Talk tomorrow, Scotty.
When I wrote back in September that I thought the Tampa Bay Lightning would make the playoffs this season, I was thinking they would be battling for the seventh or eighth spot in the East. Tied for the most points in the conference with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh heading into a big game against the Penguins on Wednesday night? Not sure anyone saw that one coming.
"It's pretty good, but it's a long season," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier told ESPN.com on Tuesday night after his team's 1-0 overtime win at Washington. "A team like us, we're never going to give up. We're a hard-working team. We play well together. Everyone is contributing, everyone has a role on the team, and I think that's why we're having a lot of success right now."
I watched Tampa's thrilling win Tuesday night, a victory that gave the Bolts a one-point lead in the Southeast Division. Netminder Dwayne Roloson was easily the first star with a shutout in his first start with the Lightning, but the best skater on the Tampa side was No. 4. It was vintage Lecavalier out there Tuesday night; he was flying. He led all Tampa forwards with 20:42 of ice time, the most since his mid-December return.
Best you've felt in a while, Vinny?
"Yeah, since I've come back from injury, I've been feeling really good," said Lecavalier, who has eight points (4-4) in nine games since his Dec. 15 return after missing a month with a hand injury. "I think it definitely helps that my teammates are playing so well and it's easier to step into a lineup like that. It really brings you up."
Now that GM Steve Yzerman has added his goalie in Roloson and added depth on defense with power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron (should he clear waivers), the last piece to fall into place for this team is for Lecavalier to play like the Lecavalier of old. If he can continue his current play, the Bolts can throw out two dangerous forward lines and take the pressure off Steven Stamkos to be superman every night on the top line. On Tuesday night, the Bolts would not have won without Lecavalier taking charge.
He's only 30, but four years removed from a career-high 108-point campaign in 2006-07 that had many of us believing he was one of the very best centers in the world. Injuries and distractions from former owners talking about trading him, not to mention his team stinking out the joint for a few seasons, brought Lecavalier's play down a peg.
He's in the second season of an 11-year, $85 million deal, which comes with a $7.72 million cap hit and a salary that's $10 million a year through 2015-16. Lecavalier seems hungry to earn that salary now.
"I just think we have a really good thing going on here," Lecavalier said. "The last three years were really tough. I wasn't happy at the end of last year. You're never happy when things don't go well and you're not winning. So of course I want to prove myself. I know I can help this team and I've been trying to do that."
On Tuesday night, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher reunited Lecavalier with old pal Martin St. Louis on a line with Simon Gagne midway through second period. St. Louis has been Stamkos' linemate almost exclusively for almost three seasons, but Boucher switched things up and the Lecavalier/St. Louis connection meshed like it was 2003-04.
"I had barely played at all with him this year, but he put us back together in the second period," said Lecavalier. "You never lose it. Right from the first shift, we knew where each other was on the ice. It's like riding a bike when you play with Marty. We were clicking and we're still clicking. If I have an opportunity to play with him again, I would love that."
Interesting to hear the talk about the rising Lightning entering this week. A big test Tuesday at Washington (passed), and another one Wednesday in Pittsburgh. For Lecavalier and St. Louis, they went through all this in their younger years as the Bolts rose up the ranks to become Stanley Cup champions in 2004. Now, they're re-living the trip of a rebuilt team on the rise.
"It's a totally different team," said Lecavalier, distancing this team from the 2004 club. "But you can see the camaraderie that we have here. I've never had a team where everyone gets along so well. It's just a lot of fun. We had three miserable years, finishing last or second-to-last, now it's just so much fun. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We have to stay on an even keel here. We have to keep playing the way we can, and if we do, I believe we can have a lot of success."
Bring on the Pens.