Patrice Bergeron, Carey Price

Patrice Bergeron, Keith Yandle and Pekka Rinne named three stars for the month of January

The NHL named its three stars for the month of January today, with Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron getting the top nod, Phoenix Coyotes Keith Yandle receiving the second star and Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne earning the third star.

Here are summaries of the months for those three players, combining notes from the league’s press release with our own observations.

First star: Bergeron

I was going to write that the Boston Bruins center is grabbing a contract year by the horns, but Bergeron signed a three-year, $15 million deal in October to avoid that drama. His hot streak and the improvements he’s shown over the last few seasons must be a nice bright side for concussion victims to look at. Perhaps Marc Savard can look to his fellow teammate and centerman as inspiration in his dark times?

Bergeron led all NHL scorers with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) and posted a +13 rating in 14 games, helping the Bruins (28-15-7) hit the All-Star break first in the Northeast Division. Highlighting Bergeron’s month was a streak of four consecutive games with multiple points, beginning with a pair of goals and +2 rating in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens Jan. 8.

Second star: Yandle

The Coyotes defenseman received a much-deserved All-Star nod. One can assume that his hot start in 2011 didn’t hurt matters for the underrated blueliner.

Yandle also tallied 17 points, tallying three goals and 14 assists, and posted a +9 rating in 14 games as the Coyotes (25-17-9) went 8-4-2 in January, climbing to sixth place in the Western Conference. Yandle tallied points in 11 of 14 games, closing the month with a nine-game point streak — the League’s longest active streak at the All-Star break.

Third star: Rinne

If you set out to construct a list of the most underrated goalies in the NHL, Rinne may very well rank first. Sure, he plays behind a great defensive system in Nashville, but he’s still putting up world-class numbers. The best part is that he succeeded in some tough situations in January.

Rinne started 11 of the Predators’ 13 games in January, tying for first in the NHL in wins (eight), ranking first in goals-against average (1.71) and second in save percentage (.947). He allowed just a single goal five times. Rinne kicked off 2011 by winning seven of his first eight games, four of which came on the road; the team played only three home games during January, a franchise low for home games in a month.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.