Around the rink – Wednesday, January 19th

It’s a light night around the league with just three games but they’ve each got their own side stories and drama unto themselves. See, every game counts for something in the NHL, doesn’t it? That’s your feel-good moment of the day and you can just tuck that away into your pocket and save that smile for later. At least we’ve got an Original Six battle to fall back on tonight. All times are Eastern.

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ NY Rangers

A pair of teams butting heads on two-game losing streaks. As any promo might say, “Something’s got to give.” For the Rangers they want to put slow starts and bad efforts against Philly and Montreal behind them and jump out fast. Will we see a change in Marian Gaborik’s game after getting benched for parts of the game against the Flyers? We’re thinking he might break out against the Leafs. That’s not because the Leafs have been bad lately, just one guy’s dumb gut feeling. The Leafs are hoping Gaborik can stay quiet at least one more night so they can get back on the winning side. After a pair of lacking efforts in a row, the Leafs are hoping their anemic offense can break out against the defensively tough Rangers.

7:30 p.m.

Columbus @ Florida

Columbus’ Sunshine State tour concludes in Sunrise after a shootout loss to Tampa Bay last night. They’ll be dealing with a Panthers team that’s won three of their last four but are coming off a shootout loss to Atlanta. Perhaps both teams would like to avoid going to the skills competition to settle things then. Columbus would just like wins, period. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games. Their effort against Tampa Bay was better and continuing that against Florida would be a show of consistency the team hasn’t had since October.

9:30 p.m.

Minnesota @ Calgary

The Wild expect Niklas Backstrom to be back and ready in goal but maybe sticking with Anton Khudobin might not hurt. If it wasn’t for a dumb fight by Brad Staubitz leading to an Oilers power play goal late, the man they refer to as “Borat” would have two straight shutouts. Winning two in a row will have to suffice. The Flames come into this one losers of five of their last seven games and teetering on the edge of irrelevance in the Western Conference. Getting a win over a divisional foe at home would help stem the tide of failure.

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.

3 KHL players suspended after testing positive for banned substances

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The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced that three KHL players have been suspended after testing positive for banned substances.

Here’s an excerpt from the KHL’s website:

The IIHF has informed the KHL that three players – forward Danis Zaripov (then with Metallurg Magnitogorsk), defenseman Andrei Konev (Admiral Vladivostok) and defenseman Derek Smith (Medvescak Zagreb) – have tested positive for banned substances.

Derek Smith tested positive for a category S6.а stimulant.

Andrei Konev tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant.

Danis Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.b stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents.

Zapirov, who was part of Team Russia at the 2010 Olympic Games, has been banned from suiting up in “competitive hockey” until May 22, 2019. Konev will be unable to play until Nov. 19, 2017, while Smith, who is Canadian, will be suspended until Sep. 2, 2018.

Smith, 32, played in 94 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Report: John MacLean could join Tocchet’s coaching staff in Arizona

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The Arizona Coyotes have a new head coach, but Rick Tocchet still has to fill out the rest of his staff.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the ‘Yotes might be looking to add John MacLean to their coaching staff.

MacLean, 52, spent six years as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils (2002-2009) before becoming the head coach of their AHL affiliate. After one year of coaching in the minors, MacLean was promoted to head coach of the Devils. His tenure didn’t last very long, as he was fired after just 33 games (they were 9-22-2 under his watch).

He spent the following three seasons as an assistant in Carolina, but he was let go after the 2014 season.

MacLean hasn’t been back behind an NHL bench since being let go by the ‘Canes. Instead, he’s served as a hockey analyst on various television networks.

Related:

Tocchet wants Coyotes’ young players to be ‘creative’ and ‘calculated’

Tocchet brings lessons from past mistakes (and successes) to Coyotes

Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.