San Jose not the typical southern hockey market

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SanJose.jpgSince I grew up learning and loving hockey in Dallas, I am someone
who firmly believes that hockey is a sport that can work anywhere. It
doesn’t matter if it’s in Michigan or Mississippi, if the team is
successful and marketed right the fans will come and these issues facing
“hockey in the south” are forgotten.

With the possibility
looming over the past year or so that the Phoenix Coyotes might move
back to Canada, the argument that hockey doesn’t belong in the south
rose up once more. For most, it seems as if it’s just an issue that
hockey is a sport played on ice, it originated in the north on ponds and
the fact that there are two teams in Florida is sacrilege. That these
teams struggle with revenue and success on the ice is even more
frustrating.

Yet there are a few teams that have proved that if
there is some actual winning involved, and an effort to promote the
sport locally, then there will be success in the region and among the
fans. The Dallas Stars, until Tom Hicks’ financial misdealings derailed
them, were one of the top revenue-producing teams in the NHL and were
one of the most successful teams of the 2000s. In the regular season, at
least. While marching to the Stanley Cup in 1999, the town became crazy
with hockey fever and while the team doesn’t have the exact same
success today the sport of hockey is doing extremely well in local
rinks.

The San Jose Sharks are enjoying a similar story. As the
Sharks move deeper into the playoffs, a spot they haven’t reached since
2004, the rest of the NHL is finally getting to see just how crazed the
fans are. The Shark Tank is one of the toughest places to win at for a
road team, yet you rarely hear how the Sharks have a great fan base. You
hear about the Flyers and Canadiens fans, but rarely about the Sharks. Todd
McLellan is ready for the stigma that San Jose is a black hole for
hockey to be erased:

“Perhaps the most telling
thing for me was when we acquired Dany
Heatley and some of the pundits out there said he can go to California
and just hide,” said head coach Todd McClellan. “That’s not what it’s
like in San Jose, by any means. You can’t hide here when you play for
the Sharks.

“It’s a passionate hockey community and I don’t know
how I get that
across to the hockey world. You can’t walk down the street, you can’t go
for dinner (without being recognized). They know who you are and they
expect big things from you.

Perhaps the fact that the Sharks have developed a bit of a reputation
for choking in the playoffs has contributed to how the team and the
fans are dismissed nationally.

If the Sharks are successful
against the Blackhawks and find a way to get to the Stanley Cup finals,
that is most likely going to change. More and more national audiences
(and writers) will be exposed to just how passionate this town is about
the team.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.