Around the Rink – Thursday, November 18th

Let’s take a look at the NHL’s five games of the day. All start times are Eastern (ET) as usual.

7:00 pm

New Jersey @ Toronto

Two of the worst teams in the East (and the NHL) square off in this one. At least each club will be “in their element” (relatively speaking), as the Devils are much better on the road (4-6-0) and the Leafs are much more comfortable at home (4-4-2). Whoever gets the start in the Toronto net should have a lot to gain; New Jersey has been shut out in three of their last six games and scored the least amount of goals in the NHL (33) so far this season.

Tampa Bay @ Philadelphia

This should be a real fun one to watch. The Lightning have fallen behind the Capitals quite a bit in the Southeast Division, but they are still a team on the rise. Steve Stamkos is making his presence felt as arguably the most unstoppable scorer in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Flyers finally dropped a game after getting shut out by the Montreal Canadiens and their red-hot goalie Carey Price, but they’re 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

The game is on NHL Network, by the way.

Florida @ Boston

It’s not yet clear if the Bruins will play Tim Thomas or rest him in favor of Tuukka Rask, but if Tomas Vokoun plays in both back-to-back contests, this could be a real showcase of great goaltending. Oddly enough, Boston has been a lot better on the road (7-1-0) than at home (3-4-1) at this point. These two teams aren’t quite rivals, but it might be interesting to see Nathan Horton play against his former team.

7:30 pm

Nashville @ Montreal

Not too long ago, the Predators were 5-0-3 and stood as the last team in the NHL without a regulation lost. In the eight games since then, the Predators went 2-6 and needed shootouts to gain those victories.

While the Predators are falling apart, the Canadiens are on fire. They have a four point lead on the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead, although it’s really a two win lead. That’s because they’ve played in two more contests than Boston, so Montreal still needs to continue to pile up the wins. Tonight appears to be a great opportunity to do just that, as long as they don’t take Nashville too lightly.

8:30 pm

San Jose @ Dallas

Both teams are playing well, but not exceptionally so, in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division. At this point, the Sharks just seem to be better at losing. Both teams have nine wins to their credit, but San Jose earned three points via shootout/overtime losses while every Dallas loss came in regulation.

These two clubs don’t like each other at all, so it should be entertaining. The Sharks come off a tough loss to the Colorado Avalanche, while the Stars are more rested and are at home, so I’d give Dallas a slight advantage going into this contest.

Report: Canucks meet with pending UFAs Gagner, Weal

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The Vancouver Canucks reportedly met with a pair of pending unrestricted free agent centers on Wednesday, as Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal were said to be in town.

That is according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger.

Vancouver’s top three centers for the 2017-18 campaign appear to be in place, with Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter. However, center is an area the Canucks especially need to improve going into next season and for the future.

Horvat’s development the past three years has provided hope he can eventually take over as the No. 1 center, and, as a pending restricted free agent, the Canucks need to get him under contract. Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is 37 in September and in the final year of his contract, along with brother Daniel, following a difficult year for the brothers. Sutter has four more years remaining on his deal, but his time in Vancouver has been disrupted by injury.

Gagner and Weal could provide interesting options for the Canucks.

Playing this season on a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner ended up having his most productive campaign with 18 goals and 50 points, despite the fact he averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, and barely over 11 minutes at even strength under John Tortorella.

Read more: Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for surprising Blue Jackets

Where he made his mark was on the power play, with 18 points. That number would’ve led the Canucks, who were dismal on the power play with a 14.1 per cent efficiency rating, good enough for 29th overall. At 27 years of age, and nearing 700 career games played, almost 30 per cent of Gagner’s career points have come on the power play, so perhaps Canucks’ management may look to him as a possible remedy for that ailment when next season begins.

But after giving big money and term — and a no-movement clause — to Loui Eriksson last summer, it would be wise for the Canucks to be a little more sensible in their spending, especially during a rebuilding phase.

Weal is from the Vancouver area, and is hoping to turn a productive two-month stretch (12 points in 23 games) with the Flyers into a raise from the $650,000 he made at the NHL level last season. At last check, Weal and the Flyers appeared good on term but weren’t on the same page when it came to compensation, leading the 25-year-old forward to check out other possible opportunities across the league.

He’s had no problem putting up big numbers in the AHL, reaching 70 points in 76 games three years ago. And the Canucks could desperately use more offensively gifted players in their lineup, particularly if they have age and time on their side.

When it comes to the Canucks, there is another free agent forward with apparent interest. That would be former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov.

NHL teams can now talk to pending unrestricted free agents to gauge potential interest, however no contracts can be signed until July 1.

Ducks add Konowalchuk, Morrison to Carlyle’s staff

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Anaheim has added two assistants to Randy Carlyle’s coaching staff — longtime NHLer Steve Konowalchuk, and AHL Manitoba assistant Mark Morrison.

Konowalchuk, 44, comes over after a successful stint as the bench boss in WHL Seattle. Last year, he led the Thunderbirds to a league title and a spot in the Memorial Cup. He has history with Carlyle from their days together in Washington — Konowalchuk as a player, Carlyle as an assistant coach.

Konowalchuk also has NHL experience, having served two years as an assistant in Colorado.

Morrison, 54, has spent the last six years with the Moose/IceCaps, Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate. Prior to that, he was the head coach of ECHL Victoria.

Today’s moves after the Ducks parted ways with Paul MacLean. He’d been with the organization for two seasons, serving under both Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau.

Report: Senators plan to keep Phaneuf, after asking him to waive NMC

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It’s been an interesting few weeks to say the least for the Ottawa Senators and Dion Phaneuf.

He was asked to waive his no-movement clause ahead of the expansion draft, which would’ve left him unprotected had he agreed to that request. There were also reports of trade interest in Phaneuf, who is 32 years old and with four years remaining on a pricey seven-year, $49 million contract.

Phaneuf denied Ottawa’s request to waive, and the Senators ended up losing Marc Methot to Vegas, which then flipped him to Dallas in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and prospect goalie Dylan Ferguson.

Now, it’s been reported, the Senators plan to keep Phaneuf.

What has transpired over the past few weeks likely makes for some awkward conversations down the road.

“They’re not easy conversations when you ask someone (to waive a no-move clause), but he understood,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion told Sportsnet.

“It was a man-to-man conversation. There was no bulls**t. When we talked to him I explained to him: ‘I said it’s not that you’re the fourth-best defenceman on this team, Dion.’ It’s ‘we want to try to top keep our top-four intact.’”

Phaneuf played in 81 regular season games for Ottawa in 2016-17, scoring nine goals and 30 points. He scored one goal and five points in 19 playoff games.

The Senators currently have six defensemen under contract for next season, with their star Erik Karlsson facing a four-month recovery from offseason foot surgery. With Methot gone, prospect blue liner Thomas Chabot should also have quite an opportunity to crack the Senators’ lineup next season.

Preds’ Ellis says he underwent ‘minor procedure’ after Stanley Cup Final

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Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis made an appearance on a Hamilton, Ont., television station Wednesday, sporting a large brace running almost the full length of his right leg.

Ellis left Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with an undisclosed injury and didn’t return in what was a blowout loss to the Penguins. He did, however, return to the lineup for Game 6, but Nashville’s playoff run came to an end on home ice with a stunning 2-0 loss.

During his appearance on CHCH, Ellis said he had a “minor procedure” done on his right leg.

“It looks worse than it probably is,” he continued. “Hopefully be back on the ice in no time.”

Predators general manager David Poile had acknowledged in the days following the Stanley Cup Final loss to Pittsburgh that Ellis undergoing surgery was a possibility.

From The Tennessean:

Ellis played in each of Nashville’s 22 playoff games, but coach Peter Laviolette said following the team’s season-ending loss Sunday that Ellis’ ailment was “pretty serious.” Poile said that more should be known next week.

The Predators made the playoffs as the second wild card team in the West, but swept Chicago in the first round and surged all the way to the final. Their top-four defensemen, including Ellis, played such a pivotal role in the team’s historic postseason. Ellis finished third on the Predators in playoff scoring, with 13 points in 22 games.