Logan Couture, Thornton, Dany Heatley

Pacific Division Watch (February 26)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Pacific Division outlook (February 26 -March 4)

1. San Jose Sharks (36-21-6 for 78 pts; 63 Games Played)

Current streak: Six wins in a row.

Week ahead: Two home games – vs. Colorado (Tuesday) and Detroit (Thursday).

Thoughts: After going five for seven in a road trip to start February (with only two one-goal losses), the Sharks won six games in a row. That means San Jose is 11-2-0 in their last 13 games and that roll could continue now that the Sharks will play six straight games in San Jose and nine of their next 11 at home. Overall, they play 13 home games to only six on the road to finish the season, making it tough to bet against their chances for another division title.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (33-21-9 for 75 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Chicago (Sun), home vs. Dallas (Tues) and @ Los Angeles (Thurs).

Thoughts: Once again, the ‘Yotes are in position to make the playoffs while their franchise is in limbo. Is it some twisted form of “good luck” or just a coincidence? (It’s probably just a coincidence.)

3. Los Angeles Kings (34-23-4 for 72 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Colorado (Sat), Detroit (Mon) and Phoenix (Thurs).

Thoughts: The Kings have an odd schedule right now. They just came off a highly successful 10-game road trip and will begin a five-game homestand. After that, they’ll play four games in a row on the road and then five consecutive contests in Los Angeles. They’ve already shown considerable resilience, but Drew Doughty & Co. will need to continue to do so to keep up in the Pacific.

4. Dallas Stars (32-23-6 for 70 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Sat), @ Phoenix (Tues) and @ Anaheim (Fri).

Thoughts: The Stars face an awfully daunting set of games after the trade deadline, which might justify a lot of “The Stars are falling apart after the Brad Richards trade/the team should have moved Richards because they’re falling apart anyway” columns depending on how that goes. After Saturday’s game against the Predators, the Stars will face in one crucial game after the other as they take a tour of the Pacific: four straight road games against Phoenix and the California clubs. An optimist will say they can control their fate while a pessimist will remark that it can all fall apart in about a week.

5. Anaheim Ducks (32-25-6 for 69 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: Five losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Colorado (Sun), vs. Detroit (Wed) and Dallas (Fri).

Thoughts: The Ducks are among the streakiest teams in the NHL. If that holds true, then expect them to trend up soon: they’re about to begin a five-game homestand and will play seven for their next eight games at the Pond.

Star struck: Sens chase Niemi after three goals on nine shots (Update: And now he’s back)

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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Bet Antti Niemi misses playing Buffalo.

Niemi, who stopped 46 of 47 shots in back-to-back wins over the Sabres last week, was hooked during Tuesday’s game against the Senators after allowing three goals on nine shots.

In Niemi’s defense, tonight’s goals weren’t exactly his fault.

John Klingberg coughed up the puck badly on Bobby Ryan‘s opening tally…

And on Ottawa’s second goal, Jyrki Jokipakka lost a board battle moments before Milan Michalek snapped one home:

The Sens’ third marker also came on a turnover.

Update: Well, this is quite the night for Dallas netminders. Kari Lehtonen replaced Niemi, allowed a goal, then got hurt in this collision with Klingberg, which forced him from the game and Niemi back into action.

Foley aware of Seattle reports, but says Vegas is ‘proceeding as if we will play in 2017’

Gary Bettman, Bill Foley
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Bill Foley, the man behind Las Vegas’ prospective NHL expansion team, says he knows about reports claiming the league is keeping an eye on a proposed Seattle arena.

He also says he isn’t going to worry about things out of his control.

“I’m aware of what’s going on (in Seattle) but in my communication with the league, our situation isn’t dependent on third parties,” Foley said Tuesday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We believe we’re in good shape and we’re proceeding as if we will play in 2017.”

Over the weekend, a Seattle Times piece suggested the NHL had yet to award Vegas or Quebec City an expansion franchise because the league is “avoiding any expansion decision until after an upcoming Seattle City Council vote likely to decide the fate of Chris Han­sen’s proposed Sodo District arena.”

The piece also suggested Seattle could be granted an expansion club for the 2018-19 campaign.


That vote, on granting Hansen part of Occidental Avenue South for his arena, is expected by January. No one knows how it will go, only that the lead-up should be politically charged and fiercely contested.

But passing it — future legal appeals notwithstanding — paves the way for Hansen to obtain his Master Use Permit and have his arena “shovel ready” should he choose to build.

And that means, once a vote passes, it’s entirely possible the NHL could conditionally award Seattle an expansion team.

To his credit, Foley remains solely focused on his Vegas bid — not what potential rival bids could bring to the table. And while he confirmed he has yet to be invited to the Dec. 7 NHL Board of Governor’s meeting in Pebble Beach, he re-iterated his only objective is to strengthen Sin City’s case for a hockey team.

“I’m focused on trying to find a place to build our practice facility,” he said. “I’m focused on the new arena and our fans who’ve put down deposits on season tickets.”

Report: Sabres’ Lehner (ankle) suffered minor setback in recovery

Robin Lehner
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Sabres fans hoping Robin Lehner would return early from his high ankle sprain received some tough news on Tuesday — per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Lehner suffered a “little setback” in his recovery.

Lehner was hurt in Buffalo’s opening game of the year and, originally, slated to miss 6-10 weeks. Six weeks have now passed, but optimism he’d be able to return in the earlier part of the timeframe has been dashed — LeBrun says Lehner’s projected return is now for mid-to-late December.

(So, closer to the 10-week estimate.)

While it’s not great news for the Sabres, it’s a positive development for the club’s other Swedish netminder, Linus Ullmark.

Recalled from AHL Rochester shortly after Lehner got hurt, Ullmark is on a really nice run in November — just check his last five games played:


The last Lehner update from the Sabres came in early November, when head coach Dan Bylsma told the News his goalie was “doing really well,” but “not close yet to getting back on the ice.”

Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill

Ryan Johansen

Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.

This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.

More (transcribed from video):

“That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’

“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”

The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.

It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.

Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.

All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.