Joe Nieuwendyk reflects on James Neal negotiations, Bobby Ryan and Marc Staal also in limbo

nealiceshower.jpgMany of the biggest restricted free agent chips have fallen in the last month or so, with tough-to-compare cases such as Patric Hornqvist’s coming to satisfying conclusions in their negotiations. Still, there are a few scenarios that could linger beyond training camp, with New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and Dallas Stars power forward James Neal ranking among the top of the list.

Neal’s situation was the topic of discussion between Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and Craig Custance of the Sporting News today. Nieuwendyk said that he hopes to get a deal done before camp but acknowledges that it could take quite a while to reach a compromise, despite having more comparable contracts to work with than they did in the beginning of the free agent summer.

Nieuwendyk said he has spoken recently with Neal’s agent, Pat Morris, and both sides continue to work on a deal.

Morris works for Newport Sports Management, an agency that has represented many high-profile restricted free agents this summer. Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, another Newport client, is also without a deal.

Newport’s Craig Oster negotiated a three-year, $9.25 million deal for Nashville’s restricted free agent Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist put up comparable numbers to Neal’s last season, but Nieuwendyk warned against drawing any conclusions from that contract.

“There are comparables and there are people who belong to the same agent,” he said. “But we do things that reflect where we are . … [Predators GM] David Poile did what he thought was best for his hockey club. We’ll do the same with ours, too.”

Thumbnail image for bobbyryan3.jpgAs you might have noticed from that excerpt, Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan still hasn’t finalized a deal yet either despite seemingly being on the verge of doing so last week. This summer must have been a protracted and frustrating one for Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikolai Khabibulin’s agent Jay Grossman, but judging from these currently fruitless situations, he’s far from alone in the frustration.

The Stars and Ducks are cash-strapped franchises whose real-life budgets probably fall well below the NHL’s salary cap ceiling. Ryan and Neal are important pieces of their teams’ future – both near and far – so hopefully both clubs need to get something done.

I’m still not sure why another team doesn’t send an offer sheet Ryan or Neal’s way, though. Sure, the Stars and Ducks would probably match it, but why not make them sweat and possibly put them in a tough spot?

I guess it’s not worth a little awkwardness at the next general managers shindig, then.

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    Gibson (lower-body injury) will play again this regular season, says Carlyle

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    The Anaheim Ducks have been without goalie John Gibson for almost two full weeks because of injury, but head coach Randy Carlyle provided reason for optimism on Thursday.

    Per reports, Gibson took part in practice and Carlyle has said that his No. 1 netminder will play again during the regular season. Anaheim has nine games remaining on its schedule.

    That’s good news for Anaheim heading into the post-season.

    While Gibson has been out, Jonathan Bernier has stepped beyond his back-up role and provided solid goaltending for the Ducks during the stretch drive — which should also be a bonus for this club with the playoffs quickly approaching.

    Bernier has wins in six of his last seven starts. In nine games this month, he has only twice allowed three goals or more.

    The Ducks have fought their way back into contention for the Pacific Division with a recent surge that has coincided with San Jose’s current skid — only four wins in their last 10 games and four straight losses.

    Related: Career back on track, Bernier hopes he can re-sign in Anaheim

    Report: IIHF needs NHL’s Olympic decision by end of April

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    The Winter Olympics are less than a year away and time is ticking on the NHL to make a decision — one way or another.

    From TSN.ca:

    International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

    NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

    For those hoping NHL players will compete in South Korea next year, the situation right now appears bleak, given the recent comments of commissioner Gary Bettman, who told Reuters that “…people should assume we are not going.”

    Bettman has also argued the compressed schedule that accompanies the league’s participation in the Olympics is bad for the NHL.

    Read more: Fehr: Players won’t negotiate with NHL over Olympics

    Meanwhile, a number of players — Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jakub Voracek and rising star Connor McDavid among them — have publicly lobbied for the opportunity to once again compete in the Olympics, adding that having the world’s best players there is a benefit to growing the game.

    (In McDavid’s case, he has never played in the Olympics, but given his stature as arguably the league’s best player right now in only his second season, he’d be a shoe-in to make Team Canada if healthy.)

    Voracek recently sounded off the matter, essentially calling the league’s position, “Absolutely ridiculous.”

    Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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    Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

    Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

    Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

    Perhaps you see where this is going.

    Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

    “It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

    Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

    The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

    Elsewhere…

    — The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

    Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

    — It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

    Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

    — After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

    Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

    Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

    — It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

    Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

    — Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

    — In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.

    ‘Hawks sign Kero to two-year extension

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    Chicago has re-upped with winger Tanner Kero on a two-year deal, the club announced on Thursday.

    Kero, 24, is in his second season with the ‘Hawks. He made his NHL debut in ’15-16 and has earned a more prominent role this year, scoring 12 points through 38 games.

    Undrafted out of Michigan Tech, Kero parlayed a strong senior season — which included being a Hobey Baker finalist — into a contract with the ‘Hawks. He’s spent quite a bit of time in AHL Rockford, emerging as a quality goalscorer.

    That said, Kero has developed a more well-rounded game with Chicago, and impressed head coach Joel Quenneville in the process.

    “He’s reliable in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “He puts himself in the right spot, down low in his own end, underneath coverage, and seems to be useful in killing penalties as well. There’s more offense in his game that hopefully can come around and add to his reliability defensively.

    “We feel he’s done a good job of being a guy in the middle you can use and we like what he’s brought to our team in a position where, [earlier in] the year, I don’t know if he was forecast to be a regular like that. But he’s become more and more reliable, or used more.”

    Financial details of the new contract weren’t released. Kero is in the last of a two-year, $1.85 million deal with a $667,500 average annual cap hit.