Not wild about Heatley
Hard decisions ahead for Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo as he struggles to find a place for veteran winger Dany Heatley -- or, more to the point, determine if there's a place at all for the former multiple 50-goal scorer. Heatley was a healthy scratch for two games in the past week, but with injuries to a few of his teammates, he was back in the lineup in Thursday's shootout loss to Chicago. Still, Heatley played just 8:49 and was a minus-1. He has only 12 goals this season and has gone 15 straight games without a goal. The move makes one wonder what Heatley's short-term role will be as the Wild look to lock up the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference -- which would mean a first-round date with the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues (it would be Anaheim as of Friday). Beyond that, Heatley is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, although what will the market be for an aging sniper whose production has slowly declined in recent years? Still, until this season, Heatley had never scored fewer than 24 goals in any full NHL season.
Speaking of the Wild
We saw the Wild in St. Louis last week and wondered about their goaltending. Since then, rookie Darcy Kuemper went down with an injury and Ilya Bryzgalov has moved into the starter's role, at least temporarily, while Josh Harding returned to practice. There's no timetable for Harding's return and Bryzgalov has put together strong performances and is 4-0-3 since coming over from the Edmonton Oilers. Not that goaltending won't continue to be a storyline for the Wild, but the bigger issue might be generating enough offense to stay close in a first-round series: Mikael Granlund, an Olympic hero for the Finns and an important part of the Wild's attack, is out of the lineup after suffering what appeared to be a head injury against the Los Angeles Kings. With Heatley a non-factor offensively, the pressure will grow for the Wild’s young players to step forward. Needless to say, it's a lot to ask at this stage of the season.
Benn leading the charge for Stars
The Dallas Stars have put themselves in excellent position to end a five-year playoff drought, and a large part of the resurgence has, of course, been because of the play of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, a member of Canada's Olympic coaching staff, was bemoaning the education Benn received with the gold-medal-winning Canadian squad in Sochi earlier this year. Benn, who wasn't even invited to Team Canada's August orientation camp, was one of the team's best forwards in Sochi, ultimately playing on an imposing line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. "I could see him watching guys" throughout the tournament, Hitchcock said. "He picked up a lot of education that I think he's going to use against us for the rest of his life," the Blues coach added, only half-jokingly. There is a good chance the Stars and the Blues will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Tim Thomas' transition going well
The Stars, of course, were part of the 11 goaltender transactions involving 10 goaltenders (Jaroslav Halak was moved twice) leading to the trade deadline, acquiring former Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas. We caught up with Thomas in St. Louis and he talked about the ease with which he was able to make the move from Florida to Dallas, even if it was an unusual period given the number of goalies who changed locations. "I think it probably depends on the situation; for me, stepping in here, it was very comfortable transition," Thomas said, noting former Boston Bruins teammates Seguin and Rich Peverley helped immensely. He also knew Ray Whitney from previously working on the Garth Brooks Foundation one summer. And he'd played with Erik Cole at the world championships one year and briefly roomed with him. Then, in a reminder of just how tight the goaltending fraternity is, Thomas described having met Stars netminding coach Mike Valley years ago when Valley was considering playing in Europe and spoke to Thomas about the experience. "When he was still playing, I had talked to him once when he was debating on whether he should go and play in Sweden," Thomas said. "He came to Sweden and that was the year I was playing in Sweden, so he stayed at my house for a night." The veteran goalie even recalled having run into the Stars' equipment manager in Houston in the old International Hockey League back in the day. "There were a lot of things that made it feel real comfortable really fast," he said. "It was great. Very easy transition."
Legwand easing in too
David Legwand went to high school in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and played junior hockey in nearby Plymouth before the Nashville Predators selected him with the second overall pick in the 1998 draft. Until a month ago, he'd played all of his 956 regular-season games in a Predators jersey. But if he was going to find himself in a new jersey at the trade deadline, it was more than a little fitting that it would be the winged wheel of the Detroit Red Wings. Throw in a heated battle for a playoff berth and the fact Legwand was simply able to move into the home he and his family have had in the Detroit area for years and, well, you couldn't ask for a more seamless transition. "It's been exciting," Legwand told ESPN.com. "No one wants to play the last 10 or 15 games for nothing." With the Predators headed for a second straight season out of the playoffs, Legwand admitted that agreeing to a trade from the only team he's known was difficult, but he is enjoying the emotion of the Red Wings' battle to return to the playoffs for a 23rd straight season. Although he's 33 and headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, Legwand is suddenly among the grizzled veterans of a Wings squad that has relied on untested but talented youth to help carry the team in the face of injuries to established players Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. Indeed, Legwand points out, were it not for those injuries, the Wings probably wouldn't have needed his services. Whether or not he ends up staying with his hometown team, Legwand has certainly helped his market value with three goals and seven assists in his first 15 games.
Coyotes howling at the playoffs
Remember back in training camp, when we all delivered our Stanley Cup predictions? Remember when I suggested the Phoenix Coyotes could run the table in the spring of 2014? Ha-ha. OK, I remember it too. Lots of things have conspired to keep the Yotes on the other side of the playoff bubble heading into the final week of the regular season. And while there's still time to turn things around, the injury to Mike Smith and the sudden disappearance of the offense are major stumbling blocks. Of all the players who have been major disappointments in the NHL this season, it would be difficult to find a guy who has delivered less when it matters most than Mike Ribeiro. I remember having multiple heated discussions with my pal Craig Custance about whether the Capitals should try to retain Ribeiro's services long term after a strong season playing second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. Well, the Caps have their own issues, but it looks as if they did right by passing on Ribeiro, who has been a colossal disappointment in the desert. He has just one goal in his last 20 games and has recently been a healthy scratch -- all of this after signing a four-year deal worth $22 million last offseason. It's not really part of the Coyotes’ financial master plan to buy out players, but Ribeiro has a lot of ground to make up if he's still with the team next season, especially if his lack of production contributes to the Coyotes' missing the playoffs.