Around the rink – Monday, January 3rd

With just five games going on tonight, the NHL schedule is a bit light. That’s OK because it’ll let us peek in a bit more occasionally on Team USA vs. Team Canada in the World Junior Championships semifinals at 7:30. If you’re more into the NHL though, there’s a couple games that pop off the list tonight that are worth keeping an eye on. All times are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Boston @ Toronto

These two teams do still hate each other and the Bruins are still loving the fact that the Leafs are near the bottom of the NHL as they’ll get Toronto’s top pick in the 2011 draft thanks to the Phil Kessel deal. All is not all rosy in Boston though as the Bruins erratic play has some fans calling for coach Claude Julien to be removed. Toronto, meanwhile, is still living high off the beating they handed out to Ottawa on Saturday night. If Toronto can get one over on Boston in this one it could help make the calls for Julien’s removal to be a bit louder.

Florida @ Carolina

The Hurricanes look to make it four in a row as they face the Panthers. Florida is flying high after Tomas Vokoun’s shutout win over the Rangers yesterday. They’ll need to keep that momentum going as they’ll have to deal with Cam Ward tonight. That’s not an easy task, especially this season as Ward has been All-Star-like in his play. Considering the team’s inconsistency, it’s pretty remarkable.

7:30 p.m.

Team Canada @ Team USA

It’s the semifinals of the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY. It’s a rematch of last year’s gold medal game and the one and only time these two get to face each other. The winner of this game moves on to the gold medal game to face either Sweden or Russia. The difference between this year and last year is that the United States go into this game as the favorites. Regardless of those standings, these two teams are #1A and #1B in the world at hockey at this level. Expect this to be a heated game with Canada having the advantage of the crowd as Canadians eat this tournament up like candy.

9:00 p.m.

NY Islanders @ Calgary

Can the Islanders keep it going in Calgary? The Isles have been downright great of late but now they’ll need to do it with Rick DiPietro getting the majority of starts. DiPietro isn’t a bad goalie, you’re just worrying about when his next injury is coming. John Tavares’ great play of late has also carried the team. Calgary, meanwhile has a four game win streak of their own they’re looking to continue, one where goaltending is carrying them. Over those four games they’ve given up just seven goals. Could this game actually turn out to be fun?

Chicago @ Los Angeles

A big game with an early start in L.A. for the Kings and they’ll have their hands full with a Chicago lineup that gets to welcome Jonathan Toews back to action after missing a couple games with a shoulder injury. Both teams roll into this game with three game losing streaks with some ugly losses mixed in for both of them. With Toews back, that could mean problems for the Kings.

10:30 p.m.

Vancouver @ San Jose

This too should make for a fun game and with the Canucks and their fans going ga-ga over having the top record in the NHL, this game screams out for a humbling defeat for Vancouver. I don’t say that out of spite, I say that after looking through the Canucks franchise history of fortune. Seriously though, the Canucks are playing some all-round solid hockey. Getting inspired performance out of Jeff Tambellini and with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler playing better, smarter hockey the Canucks look to be a nightmare to deal with. For the inconsistent Sharks, that doesn’t bode very well, even at home.

Oilers re-sign Pakarinen for one year

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The Edmonton Oilers have given winger Iiro Pakarinen a one-year contract extension.

From the release:

Pakarinen just finished his third season with the Oilers organization, appearing in 14 regular season games in 2016-17, posting four points (2 goals, 2 assists).  The 25 year old forward missed 53 games due to an injury suffered during the pre-season. He appeared in one playoff game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers brought Pakarinen over from Finland in 2014. Since then, he’s split his North American career between the AHL and NHL while drawing praise for his versatility and hard-nosed style.

Per CapFriendly, Pakarinen’s cap hit will be $750,000 in 2017-18. It’s a one-way deal.

Market heating up for prized Czech d-man Rutta

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Coming off an impressive performance for the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, Jan Rutta is now being courted by a number of NHL clubs.

Per The Athletic, the Blackhawks are in contention for securing Rutta’s services. That comes on the heels of earlier reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said there are “multiple” offers for the 26-year-old, including ones from Edmonton and Calgary.

“He’s a steady defenseman with size, and he had a strong finish of the season,” an NHL scout told The Athletic. “He was very good in the playoffs and played his best at the Worlds.”

Rutta, who was never drafted by an NHL club, has spent his professional career with Czech League outfit Pirati Chomutov. He’s blossomed into a talented offensive defenseman — finishing second among Czech League d-men with 32 points in 46 games this year — and, as mentioned above, has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Last week, Rutta’s agent — longtime Octagon Hockey representative Allan Walsh — tweeted that his client would make a decision on NHL offers soon.

 

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.

Avs dismiss three from coaching staff, but Bednar remains

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Colorado GM Joe Sakic said there would be turnover this offseason, but that head coach Jared Bednar was safe.

On Tuesday, Sakic followed through.

The Avs have parted ways with two of Bednar’s assistants — Tim Army and Dave Farrish — and also relieved goalie coach Francois Allaire of his duties.

Army, 54, has been with the club for the last six years, having previously served as the head coach at Providence. He served under three different head coaches in Colorado — Bednar, Patrick Roy and Joe Sacco — and was largely tasked with running the team’s power play (which finished 30th in the NHL this year).

Farrish, 60, just wrapped his second year on the job with the Avs after coming over from Toronto. A veteran of nearly 30 years in coaching, Farrish was brought aboard by Roy, and brought “a wealth of experience and hockey knowledge to our organization.” A journeyman blueliner who playecd 430 games at the NHL level, Farrish ran the club’s defense last season.

Allaire, 57, has been coaching goalies at the NHL level for over 25 years, with previous stops in Montreal, Anaheim and Toronto. His ties to Roy ran deep — he mentored the former Avs coach with the Canadiens, and the pair won two Stanley Cups together (in 1986 and ’93). Allaire has been with the Avs for the last four years, on the heels of an acrimonious departure from Toronto.

Today’s shakeup is a significant one, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Bednar was essentially forced into retaining all of Roy’s staff following the latter’s shock resignation last August, and probably wants to bring in some of his own guys.

Sakic, meanwhile, had to make some sort of changes after the worst regular season in franchise history — and today’s could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Related: Avs president gives Sakic vote of confidence