Avalanche stumbling when it matters the most

The Colorado Avalanche were the surprise of the season, as the burst
out to a great start behind the stellar play of Craig Anderson in net
and a potent offense. We kept waiting for this supposedly overachieving
team to crash back down to earth, yet all season long they’ve held onto a
top spot in the West.

Except lately the Avs have started to falter. Colorado was in perfect
position coming out of the Olympic break to challenge for a top three
seed in the West and the Northwest division crown, yet’s been nothing
but inconsistency and struggle in the five games since.

It’s what you would expect from a young team that despite it’s sudden
surge this season is still finding its way after a couple of years of
painful rebuilding. But what about this season? Is this is a team that
is going to stumble on its way into the playoffs only to lose in the
first round and exit? It would be a wholly disappointing end to a
remarkable season, yet it certainly seems they could be headed that way.

The Avalanche are 3-4-0 in their last seven games, with all four
losses against teams they are battling with for playoff positioning.
Most alarming was the way in which the Avalanche fell apart in an
extremely important home game against Vancouver, with the possibility of
tying the Northwest division leading Canucks. Instead of hanging onto
an early 4-1 lead, the Avs allowed five straight goals en route to a
disastrous 6-4 loss.

“We got away from our game,” said Avs defender
John-Michael Liles, who finished minus-2. “That’s ultimately what
allowed them to get back in it. We need to cut down on turnovers. We
were making our own chances and forcing them into some turnovers, but
we got away from that.”

It’s certainly not time to
push the panic button. The Avalanche will make the playoffs and they
still have a good shot at challenging the Canucks for the top spot in
the division. But with points at a premium and each game more important
than the last, Colorado has not taken advantage of the opportunities
they’ve been handed.

Yet it also seems as if Colorado is playing
with fire. They are last in the NHL in shots per game, and 25th in shots
allowed, yet somehow maintains a healthy goal differential. The team is
relying heavily on the play of Craig Anderson and obviously has some of
the most efficient scorers in the NHL to score like they have, but are
we seeing what happens when the good fortune they’ve enjoyed starts to
wan a bit?

There’s no doubt that the Avs can be a dangerous team
in the playoffs, with solid goaltending and young, talented players up
forward. But there’s also a good chance that either the goaltending or
scoring will give way in the playoffs and I doubt one side can overcome
the stumble of the other.

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    With DeKeyser locked up, Holland still has work to do in Detroit

    Ken Holland
    AP
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    There’s nothing too flashy about Danny DeKeyser‘s game.

    “Basically,” he told reporters today, “my game, I just try to move the puck well, play solid defensively, chip in some points or goals here or there when I can, and just try to be a good team player and do things that help the team win.”

    For that, the Red Wings gave the steady defenseman a six-year, $30 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing in the process. Yes, it’s a significant amount of money for a d-man that doesn’t contribute a ton of offense, but as we’ve already seen this offseason, players like DeKeyser have significant value. The Edmonton Oilers gave up Taylor Hall to get one.

    Re-signing DeKeyser is not expected to stop GM Ken Holland from trying to add to his blue line. The Wings have a surplus of forwards, and Holland has said he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” prior to the start of next season.

    If Holland can’t swing a deal, Detroit’s pairings could look something like this:

    DeKeyser — Mike Green
    Jonathan Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall
    Brendan SmithAlexey Marchenko
    Xavier Ouellet

    It’s not a particularly young group. Kronwall is 35, Ericsson is 32, and Green is 30. The Red Wings chose not to re-sign veteran Kyle Quincey, and so far he has not been replaced. In June, they drafted a defenseman in the first round, but Dennis Cholowski is a ways away from playing in the NHL; he’s off St. Cloud State in the fall. There are a few other young blue-liners in the system, like Joe Hicketts, Ryan Sproul and Robbie Russo, but they all still have some developing to do.

    At the very least, Holland now has some cost certainty with DeKeyser. The next step will be getting Petr Mrazek‘s deal done, possibly with the aid of tomorrow’s arbitration hearing. After that, it’ll be working to get that defenseman he covets.

    Related: Blues GM says he might just keep Kevin Shattenkirk

    Nugent-Hopkins trying to ignore trade rumors — ‘If it happens, it happens’

    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 14:  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on December 14, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    The Ryan Nugent-Hopkins trade speculation may have died down since it peaked at the draft in late June, but it’s not entirely dead.

    The 23-year-old former first overall draft pick was asked to address the ongoing rumors Monday at an Oilers charity golf tournament.

    “I try not to pay attention too much,” Nugent-Hopkins said, per the Edmonton Journal. “If it happens, it happens. I know it’s definitely a different group than the one we finished with last season.”

    Indeed it is. Most notably, Taylor Hall is in New Jersey now, traded for defenseman Adam Larsson. The Oilers also signed Milan Lucic and drafted Jesse Puljujarvi.

    What’s still lacking is an offensive defenseman who can run the power play, which is why the names Tyson Barrie (Avalanche) and Matt Dumba (Wild) have been floated as potential targets.

    The Wild in particular could use a good, young center like Nugent-Hopkins, and the expansion draft is looming for a Minnesota club that already has defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella locked up in long-term contracts.

    Barrie, meanwhile, has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Friday.

    Blues d-man Kevin Shattenkirk is another name that’s come up; however, he can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, and whether he’d re-sign in Edmonton is in doubt.

    Flyers reportedly avoid arbitration with Manning, sign him for two more years

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    Chalk up another arbitration hearing that won’t be required. This time it’s Brandon Manning‘s. The 26-year-old defenseman has agreed on a two-year, $1.95 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, according to CSN Philly.

    Manning’s hearing was scheduled for next Tuesday. He was the last restricted free agent on the Flyers, after Brayden Schenn re-signed Monday.

    Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the Manning signing.

    Manning played 56 games for the Flyers in 2015-16, his first full season in the NHL. He had one goal and six assists while logging an average ice time of 16:32.

    Report: Blackhawks, Rundblad agree to terminate contract

    DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 09:  David Rundblad #5 of the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 9, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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    The Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly parting ways with defenseman David Rundblad. The two sides have agreed to a contract termination, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

    Rundblad, 25, was set to earn $1.1 million this season, per General Fanager. His cap hit was $1.05 million, meaning the ‘Hawks will gain $100,000 in cap space by not having to bury his contract in the AHL next season.

    Rundblad was unlikely to make the Blackhawks in 2016-17 — not after the additions of Brian Campbell and Michal Kempny, and also the re-signing of Michal Rozsival.

    It remains to be seen where Rundblad will end up. One possibility is back in Switzerland, where he spent part of last season before dressing three times for the ‘Hawks in the playoffs.