The Florida Panthers might be in rebuild mode, but Tomas Vokoun is focused on present

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for vokounstays.jpgTomas Vokoun might not be a “hockey household name” but he warms many a hockey nerd’s heart even though he toils away in obscurity as a member of the Florida Panthers. He might not get many wins (a stat, like baseball’s runs, that bothers geeky bloggers and stat-crunchers quite a bit), but even Vokoun is aware that he consistently ranks highly in save percentage.

The issue is that the Panthers haven’t been able to provide much goal support – and let’s be honest – most of the optimism about the Panthers focuses on the light at the end of roster rebuilding tunnel. After all, most of the improvements made to the team came about with new GM Dale Tallon’s focus on adding young talent through the aggressive addition of high-end draft picks.

It’s not crazy to notice that Vokoun might not be a part of that future, especially considering the fact that his contract will expire after the 2010-11 season. For that reason, Vokoun is looking forward to October 2010 and not much further. The Hockey News captured his short-term focus in this story.

“You have to be positive,” said Vokoun. ”There are a lot of good players on this team-maybe not as high profile as some people think.

”But it’s hockey. If we play a good team game we can beat anybody. Colorado showed it last year. We’ve just got to be a little tougher in key moments, key games. When crunch time came, we weren’t able to score or do whatever. The key is for us to show it when it matters.”

If not, it could be another early vacation for the Panthers and for Vokoun, who has made a career playing for underdogs and has only been in the playoffs twice, both times when he was with Nashville.

”It’s been a little bit easier on me because I played for the (Czech) national team at the Olympics and world championships,” he said. ”That, in a little, tiny way, substituted for playing in the playoffs.

”But it’s frustrating. I’m spending the best time of my career and obviously you want a chance to get into the playoffs.”

As that Hockey News article points out, another reason Vokoun might take a short-term outlook is because the Panthers have a high-end goalie prospect in the pipeline named Jacob Markstrom. The 20-year-old goalie is considered by some to be the best goalie prospect outside the NHL, in no small part because of the fact that the 6’4″ goalie covers up a ton of net.

If Florida stumbles out of the gate as they often do or simply look like a rebuilding team in a tough year, don’t be surprised if the expensive-but-excellent Vokoun becomes the most coveted goalie during the trade deadline. The Southeast Division boasts a bunch of intriguing stories going into the season, but the Czech goalie’s fate might have one of the biggest impacts on how this next season shakes out.

Even if he’s not a Florida Panther for the full season.

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT

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The Columbus Blue Jackets made franchise history last season, reaching 50 wins and 108 points in a highly competitive Metropolitan Division.

Their campaign included a winning streak of 16 games and putting up 10 goals against the Montreal Canadiens. Consider last season a sizable step forward for this young group and a bounce-back year for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina Trophy winner.

Not only was their goalie recognized, but coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award — several months after oddsmakers stated he’d be the first coach fired last season.

Despite a terrific regular season, the Blue Jackets were bested in the opening round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would eventually move on to win the Stanley Cup.

Following their playoff defeat, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a blockbuster deal with Chicago GM Stan Bowman, as Columbus acquired 2016 rookie of the year Artemi Panarin, forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick in exchange for Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a draft pick next year.

In Panarin, the Blue Jackets get a 25-year-old forward that has reached the 30-goal mark in each of his first two NHL seasons while getting to play on a line with Patrick Kane in Chicago. He also has two more years remaining on his current contract, which carries an annual $6 million cap hit, per CapFriendly.

Columbus also acquired Jordan Schroeder from the Wild and signed him to a two-year contract extension, and bought out veteran forward Scott Hartnell. On Monday, the Blue Jackets signed college free agent defender Doyle Somerby.

Right now, the Blue Jackets still have two restricted free agents in Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg to get signed.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Blue Jackets as training camp approaches.

 

Weight hopes Eberle can re-discover ‘eye of the tiger’ with Islanders

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Jordan Eberle had a difficult season at times in 2016-17.

Yet he still managed to score 20 goals, hitting that mark for a fourth consecutive season and fifth time in six years. (He put up 34 goals in 2011-12.)

You can understand why having a skilled winger to perhaps play alongside center John Tavares — at least that’s the expectation prior to training camp — would be intriguing for head coach Doug Weight as the new season approaches.

“Jordan, to me, is really, really exciting,” Weight recently told the NHL Network.

Eberle’s first foray into playoff hockey was a struggle, as he recorded only two assists in 13 post-season games and the Oilers made it to the second round.

And that is where Weight’s extended comments get interesting, because it sounds like the 27-year-old forward’s confidence took a bit of a hit during his final campaign in Edmonton and, in particular, during the playoffs, when his offensive production wasn’t there and the public scrutiny intensified.

Several weeks later, Eberle was traded to the Islanders.

“I want him to come in with that eye of the tiger; that fire back that sometimes gets lost,” Weight continued. “It’s tough. You can get cemented in certain roles, you can have some tough times. But Jordan still produced. He’s a helluva talent and I’m excited to get that confidence back in him and excited for him to get here.”

It didn’t take long after the trade for discussions about a possible Eberle-Tavares reunion to begin. Playing for Team Canada, they combined for a thrilling tying goal against Russia in the dying seconds of the 2009 World Juniors semifinal.

One of the Islanders’ top priorities is to get Tavares secured to a new contract, as he enters the final year of his current deal.

Adding a proven scoring winger to Tavares’ line may also help the team’s captain rebound from a season in which his bottom-line production dropped as well, which would certainly boost the Islanders’ chances of getting back to the playoffs.

“[Eberle’s] bringing a right-handed shot as a forward that can obviously shoot and score from anywhere,” Islanders forward Anders Lee recently told NHL.com.

“He’s a playmaker out on the ice and sees the ice extremely well. He can add some extra threats for us on the power play that can really help elevate us.”

Report: Rangers among ‘final two or three teams’ in running to sign Kerfoot

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One of the big issues facing the Rangers this offseason was about depth up the middle.

New York could take a step in addressing that, with a potential solution in college free agent Alex Kerfoot, the former New Jersey Devils draft pick who decided to test the open market.

From the New York Post:

The Rangers are among the final two or three teams under consideration by Harvard free-agent center Alex Kerfoot, The Post has learned.

J.P. Barry, the 23-year-old center’s agent who confirmed the parties’ mutual interest, told The Post that Kerfoot likely would reach a decision no later than Tuesday following a weekend of reflection.

The Rangers traded Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes and lost Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, leaving them in a difficult spot at center heading into the summer months.

Now 23 years old, Kerfoot played four years at Harvard University — the same school as Jimmy Vesey, who became a college free agent last summer and signed with the Rangers — and had a terrific senior year. He put up 16 goals and 45 points and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Rangers are facing competition to land Kerfoot, who is from Vancouver and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam. The Canucks are reportedly still in consideration, as well.

According to agent J.P. Barry, Kerfoot and the Canucks management group reportedly had a “productive” meeting last week.

Luongo: ‘I haven’t had any issues’ in return from injury

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Roberto Luongo continues preparations for the upcoming season, after an injury cut his 2016-17 campaign short.

Luongo’s last game was on March 2. He didn’t play again after that due to reported aggravation of a previous hip injury that had required surgery.

However, per the Miami Herald on Monday, the 38-year-old netminder has returned to the ice. Luongo then gave a promising update on his status with training camp approaching in a few weeks.

“It’s good to be able to get back to my regular summer training program. This is my second week … everything feels great and I haven’t had any issues. That’s good,” Luongo told the Miami Herald.

“It’s comforting mentally to know I can go through a rigorous workout and go all out and not have any issues nor think about it. That’s a big first step for me after going through the ups-and-downs of having to deal with my issue last year. It’s nice to have that piece of mind.”

Luongo appeared in 40 games for Florida last season. He still has five years remaining on his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $5.333 million, per CapFriendly. James Reimer, in his first season with the Panthers after signing there for five years and $17 million, played in 43 games with a sound .920 save percentage.

Once heavily relied upon as a workhorse netminder, starting a career high 75 games one year in Vancouver, the reality is Luongo has a lot of mileage on him and is approaching 40 years of age. As he comes back from this latest injury and considering his age, it will be interesting to see exactly how many starts he gets and who will emerge as the No. 1 goalie in Florida over the course of this upcoming season.

“Listen, this has always been his team,” Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Miami Herald. “But everyone these days has to manage time better, not just us. Roberto can’t play 60, 65 games a season any more. Reimer shouldn’t either. It only gets tougher every year.”