Sean Avery

Around the rink: Friday, January 7th

I’ll be honest here, there’s not a lot going on with tonight’s schedule that reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and demands that you watch it. There is one game though that gives off the “circus side show” vibe and that goes down in Dallas as Sean Avery makes his less-than triumphant return to Texas with the New York Rangers. After Avery claimed 100% responsibility for screwing things up with Dallas, we’re suspecting that he’ll get welcomed very poorly back to town. All times listed are Eastern.

7:30 p.m.

Toronto @ Atlanta

The Leafs will have to tighten things up a bit defensively to deal with what should be a grumpy Atlanta team. While the Leafs got a great game out of Phil Kessel last night, getting that kind of output every night would help make them more of a pain to deal with. As for Atlanta, Dustin Byfuglien continues to be their most reliable player on offense. Getting better work from their forwards would do wonder for the Thrashers who are right in the mix of things in the Southeast Division.

Carolina @ Florida

The Hurricanes will have redemption on their minds against the Panthers. These two faced off on Monday night and the Panthers were able to escape with a win in overtime. If Carolina wants to get serious about getting in the playoffs, knocking off divisional foes like Florida will be the key to that. Of course, solving Tomas Vokoun sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

8:30 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Dallas

Sean Avery makes his return to Dallas where his signing there managed to splinter the locker room and caused the team to essentially have a mutiny until he was gone. Now that he’s back in New York the distractions are gone (for the most part) but if you’re a betting person, I’d say there’s even money out there on someone from Dallas looking to make themselves famous for going after Avery. On the other side of things, hey there’s a game to be played and one the Stars could stand to get a win out of to distance themselves from the rest of their division. The Rangers are hoping that Kari Lehtonen can have a relapse to help their offense get jump started and get a winning streak started.

Ottawa @ Chicago

Ottawa rolls into town with nothing but bad feelings surrounding everyone, especially coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray. Things aren’t going well there but getting a win over the Blackhawks would go a long way towards helping keep the psyche up in Ottawa. Chicago, meanwhile, has dropped four of their last five games and have to be looking at Ottawa as a must-win game to prove to themselves that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Desperate times often lead to spirited games. Let’s hope that’s the case tonight at United Center.

9:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Calgary

Detroit’s five game road trip got off to a good start in Edmonton with a win, but dealing with the Flames in Calgary is never an easy feat. With the Flames having lost two games in a row and eager to get off the skids this sets up like a trap game for the Wings, especially with a game against Vancouver tomorrow night. One curious thought is how Mike Babcock will handle goaltending duties. Will Jimmy Howard get both games or will we see Chris Osgood get his second straight start against Edmonton or a shot at Vancouver? We shall see.

10:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Vancouver

The Oilers are doing their best to hang tough as a lowly team in the West and getting a win over the Islanders last night helps their confidence. Taking on the streaking Canucks, however, is a completely different brand of monster. The Canucks have won seven in a row and their confidence is soaring. To say this game doesn’t bode well for Edmonton would be completely correct. Perhaps their one saving grace might be that the Canucks could be looking past them and ahead to Detroit tomorrow night.

Columbus @ Anaheim

The Blue Jackets’ four game road trip has not been kind to them so far. They’re 0-2-0 and dealing with an Anaheim team that plays them very hard doesn’t look so good for them to break their slide. The Ducks are winners of three of their last four but dropped their last game to a hot Nashville team. With both of these teams running as streaky as anyone can, it’ll be interesting to see which version of each team shows up tomorrow night.

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 27: Derrick Pouliout #51 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on December 27, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

When the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes following the 2011-12 season for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the No. 8 overall pick in the draft (which they used to select Derrick Pouliot), the latter was expected to be one of the key long-term centerpieces of the deal.

Pouliot was a top-10 pick and a puck-moving, offensive defenseman that had the potential to one day be a top-pairing player in the NHL.

Four years later and he has almost become the afterthought of the trade for Pittsburgh.

Dumoulin took a major step forward last season and blossomed into one of the Penguins’ best defensive players, while Sutter was traded before the season for Nick Bonino, who would go on to become a key part of the HBK line, along with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel. That line was their most productive line in the playoffs and probably the biggest reason they ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

Pouliot, meanwhile, is still trying to find his place in the organization and the NHL, and if he doesn’t take a big step forward this season he could be on the verge of running out of opportunities in Pittsburgh.

When Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff left the Penguins in free agency following the 2014-15 season, it was expected that Pouliot would be one of the young players that would step into the lineup and get an increased opportunity, especially with a head coach — Mike Johnston — that was familiar with him due to their time together in Portland of the Western Hockey League.

But a dismal showing in training camp and the preseason earned him a ticket back to the AHL, and even when he did get called up he never really played a significant role in the lineup.

His experiences in the NHL over past two years have been mixed to say the least. He had a brilliant stretch of play late in the 2014-15 season that highlighted the skills that made him a top-10 pick in the draft, and his possession numbers have always been outstanding. But his play away from the puck has always been a work in progress, and because of his style of play he can be vulnerable to the occasional mistake that can stand out like a sore thumb. Those mistakes always get noticed, and when it is a young player without much of a track record that makes them, it usually results in a very short leash and a lengthy stay in the press box.

The Penguins have almost all of their Stanley Cup defense returning with the lone exception being Ben Lovejoy after he signed with the New Jersey Devils in free agency. Lovejoy’s departure means there will once again be another opportunity for Pouliot to potentially earn a regular spot in the lineup. His main competition will be Justin Schultz, a player that has a similar skillset and has had a similar set of criticisms directed his way throughout his career (highly skilled with the puck, questionable without it). There is probably only room for one of them in the lineup at a time when everybody is healthy, so it is probably going to be a competition between these two for that sixth spot.

Pouliot turns 23 later this season, so he still has a chance to become a productive regular at the NHL level. It’s not like he is past his peak years in the NHL. But he is also at an age where he really isn’t a “prospect” anymore, either. He is starting to enter that suspect territory where his development is at a crossroads.

Entering the final year of his entry level contract before he is eligible for restricted free agency, and with other young defensemen in the organization passing him on the depth chart (Dumoulin and Olli Maatta specifically) this is going to be a big year for Pouliot to show he belongs in the NHL on a regular basis.

Looking to make the leap: Daniel Sprong

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 15:  Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck in front of Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 15, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

Daniel Sprong was stuck in a difficult position during the 2015-16 season.

He ended up being just one of eight players from the 2015 draft to play in the NHL, spending the first two months of the season in Pittsburgh after earning a spot on the roster thanks to an impressive training camp and preseason performance. But once there the Penguins really didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He showed flashes of the talent that earned him a spot on the roster, but it was also clear that his play away from the puck needed work and that he never completely had the trust of then-coach Mike Johnston.

If he was not a healthy scratch, he was only playing limited minutes.

But because he was only 18 years old, he was not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the AHL-CHL transfer agreement.

That meant if he wasn’t going to play in Pittsburgh, a league that was probably a little too advanced for him at the time, he had to return to the QMJHL to play for his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders, in a league that he was probably too good for. It’s an agreement that works great for the CHL, but doesn’t really give prospects the best chance to develop that season because their only options are a league where they are overmatched or a league where they are probably the best player on the ice every time they go over the boards.

Eventually, the Penguins were left with little choice and did in fact return him to the Q where he, quite predictably, dominated the competition and recorded 46 points in 33 games.

At the conclusion of Charlottetown’s season, he was able to play for the Penguins’ AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the playoffs where he scored five goals and added two assists in only 10 games.

The problem he is going to face this season two-fold. First, he is recovering from shoulder surgery that will keep him out of the lineup until January or February.

The second is that the Penguins’ forward group is already mostly locked in at the start as they are returning everybody from their Stanley Cup winning roster, which is going to make things tight for somebody new to break into the lineup.

But Sprong is still clearly the team’s best forward prospect at the moment and one of the few players in the system that seems to have top-six potential. Whether it’s through his own play forcing his way into NHL action or an injury, he should have an opportunity once he has recovered from his own surgery to be a factor at some point this season.

‘He’s earned it’ — Jets name Wheeler new captain

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 16: Blake Wheeler #26 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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It was widely assumed that Blake Wheeler would inherit Andrew Ladd‘s captaincy in Winnipeg and, on Wednesday, the club made it official.

Wheeler, 30, will become the second player to captain the Jets since the franchise moved from Atlanta in 2011, with Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele serving as alternates.

The Wheeler decision was something of a no-brainer, as he’s one of the club’s longest tenured player (seven seasons and counting), spending the the last three as one of Ladd’s alternate captains.

In the summer of ’13, Wheeler inked a six-year, $33.6 million extension with the Jets and has since established himself as one of the clubhouse leaders. He was a prominent voice during the Evander Kane saga, mincing no words when explaining what was expected of Jets players.

“There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to,” Wheeler said, per the Sun. “We’re professionals, we make a lot of money. And we’re expected to uphold a certain standard. That’s the code we live by.

“If you don’t like it then there’s other places to go. This is the way we do things.”

Flyers unveil golden 50th anniversary jerseys

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It might seem inappropriate to release Flyers news on Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT but, given the immediate backlash to said news, maybe it’s appropriate after all.

On Wednesday, the Flyers unveiled their commemorative 50th anniversary jerseys, which are basically regular Flyers jerseys, but with some gold on them.

Not sure what else to say. They’re gold. Guess it’s worth mentioning the inside collar of each jersey is emblazoned with “EST. 1967,” an homage to the year the Flyers entered the NHL as an expansion franchise.

Oh yeah, Philly will wear the new third jersey 12 times this season, per TSN.

Shortly after the release, the Internet went ahead and did what it does:

For more on the jerseys, click here.