Around the rink – Monday, January 17th

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America and that means we’ll get some afternoon hockey to soak in on our day off from work. Here’s today’s rundown of games with all times being Eastern.

1:00 p.m.

Carolina @ Boston

It’s the front end of a home-and-home series between these two and the Hurricanes come in winners of four of their last five. Don’t look now but Carolina is just seven points behind Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division and one point behind Atlanta for the eighth spot in the East. All-Stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward are most responsible for the Hurricanes rise in the standings but dealing with the Bruins won’t be east. The B’s are coming off a tough loss on Saturday to Pittsburgh and will be itchy for redemption.

New Jersey @ NY Islanders

All right, so every game on the schedule isn’t a gem but the Islanders with Rick DiPietro back in goal are a much better team than they are without him. DiPietro is on a four-game win streak that had a five-game injury layoff in there to break things up after beating Buffalo on Saturday. For the Isles winning four in a row at all is outstanding regardless of the stretch of time. The Devils are looking to shake off a disappointing overtime loss to Florida on Saturday. These are the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference and as it is, the Isles are still eight points in front of New Jersey.

4:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Phoenix

San Jose snapped their losing skid on Saturday but beating divisional foe Phoenix would be a heck of a way to get into a groove. The good news for the Sharks is that their big guns all woke up against St. Louis with Dany Heatley getting two goals and Patrick Marleau helping out. Beating Phoenix will be a bit more difficult, however, as they come into the game winners of four in a row and scoring nearly five goals per game during that stretch. If the Sharks goaltending doesn’t tighten it up or the offense doesn’t return again, it could be back to the basement time for San Jose.

7:30 p.m.

Calgary @ Montreal

The Flames head into Montreal winners of two in a row after beating the Leafs in a lackluster shootout 2-1 on Saturday. The good news for Calgary is that both Henrik Karlsson and Miikka Kiprusoff did a good job of keeping opponents off the board in those two wins. The bad news is that their offense wasn’t really clicking and now they’ll have to deal with Carey Price. The Habs have won four of their last five and are fourth in the league in goals allowed. Times might be tough for the Flames tonight.

Atlanta @ Florida

Atlanta could sure use a win in this one. They’ve lost four in a row and nine of their last 12 games. What’s causing the problems? Poor defense and goaltending. Over those 12 games, the Thrashers have given up an average of 4.25 goals per game. It’s tough to keep up with anyone when you’re giving up that many goals per game and the consistent wear Ondrej Pavelec has had to take playing the majority of those games is showing. Sadly for him, Chris Mason is banged up and getting a break now might not be in the cards. Meanwhile, the Panthers are playing tough winning three in a row. The goaltending situation there is a bit different as it’s Scott Clemmensen getting it done of late instead of Tomas Vokoun. The Panthers will take the wins how they can get them as they’re seven points behind Atlanta in the Southeast.

8:30 p.m.

Los Angeles @ Dallas

The Kings will have to do without Wayne Simmonds who’s out with a knee injury suffered against Edmonton on Saturday night and having to deal with a Stars team that plays rugged won’t help matters. The Stars, despite everyone’s predictions, continue to rule the roost in the Pacific Division and they come into this one winners of three in a row and preventing goals all the way giving up just three goals in those three games. If the Kings are serious about getting back into the playoff hunt, knocking off Dallas would be a solid way to send that message that they’re not about to go away anytime soon.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

 

 

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.