2010 NHL Free Agency: Blue Jackets, Anton Stralman agree on 'last minute' deal

Thumbnail image for antonstralman.jpgWe’ve discussed a handful of deals that were made in the “last minute” before salary arbitration, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets and Anton Stralman’s contract might have taken that seriously. Apparently the two sides met an hour before the 9 a.m. deadline and agreed on a one-year, $1.9 million deal just a few minutes before the hearing was about to begin.

As we’ve noted before, salary arbitration often hurts both sides: one party might “win” more than the other but bitterness can be developed, especially if the team really turns the screws on its player. It’s almost like going to divorce court with your seemingly happy spouse.

There were some worries that an unpleasant arbitration award would force the Blue Jackets to allow Stralman to walk – and therefore mess up their already shaky powerplay point situation – so Columbus can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, the team signed Stralman to a low-risk one-year deal that will give him the opportunity to improve his market value for next summer.

Somewhat amazingly, Stralman will only be the fifth-highest paid defenseman in Columbus. He’s behind red afro enthusiast Mike Commodore ($3.75 million per year), Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla ($2.975), Fedor Tyutin ($2.84) and Jan Hejda ($2).

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson says that he “likes his group” of seven defensemen but is exploring trade options to improve the talent level. Let’s hope so, because to be honest, the Blue Jackets’ roster looks pretty thin when you compare it to the other teams in the Central division. That being said, things would be just a bit less positive without Stralman in the mix, so good on both parties for getting a deal done.

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    Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch

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    Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

    In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

    The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

    The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

    That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

    The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

    The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

    And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

    Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

    By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

    On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

    Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

    Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

    NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

    AT&T Sportsnet

    Oh, Sidney.

    Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

    Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

    Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

    And another angle:

    Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

    Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

    Remember this from John Tavares?

    It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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    Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

    No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

    The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

    Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

    With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

    Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

    “This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

    Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

    “I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

    Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

    “Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

    “He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

    Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

    “There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

    That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

    “That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

    It’s burned brightly ever since.

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Bruins at Blues

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    [Puck drop at 8 p.m. ET, CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.]


    Boston Bruins

    Brad Marchand / Riley Nash / David Pastrnak

    Ryan Donato / David Krejci / Danton Heinen

    Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

    Jordan Szwarz / Noel Acciari / Brian Gionta

    Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo

    Matt Grzelcyk / Kevan Miller

    Nick Holden / Adam McQuaid

    Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

    [Bruins – Blues preview]

    St. Louis Blues

    Jaden Schwartz / Brayden Schenn / Alexander Steen

    Patrik Berglund / Kyle Brodziak / Vladimir Sobotka

    Dmitrij Jaskin / Ivan Barbashev / Tage Thompson

    Nikita Soshnikov / Oskar Sundqvist / Chris Thorburn

    Carl Gunnarsson / Alex Pietrangelo

    Vince Dunn / Colton Parayko

    Joel Edmundson / Robert Bortuzzo

    Starting goalie: Jake Allen