Around the rink – February 27; Lightning-Rangers highlight a busy Sunday

1:00 p.m.

Tampa Bay @ NY Rangers

It’s the first game of the day and perhaps the most intriguing. Bryan McCabe will make his Rangers debut after being traded by the Panthers yesterday. The Rangers hold a three point cushion over Carolina for seventh place in East and trail Montreal by three for sixth. Tampa Bay has a three point lead on Washington for the Southeast Division lead and lead Boston by two points for second. It’s all playoff spot jockeying  for now but the Rangers have won two in row including a humiliating 6-0 win over Washington on Friday night. Tampa Bay has won two in a row of their own and a win would help keep the heat off from the Caps.

3:00 p.m.

Columbus @ Nashville

Teams going in opposite directions here as Columbus has won five of their last six, including three in a row, while Nashville has lost four straight. The Blue Jackets are just two points behind Nashville in the standings now and while that’s great, both teams as of now are out of the playoffs. Nashville needs goals in the worst way as they’ve scored just four goals over their last four games and have been shutout twice. Columbus has been getting stellar play out of both Steve Mason and Rick Nash and if they want to hang in there in the playoff race, taking care of Nashville will go a long way towards that.

5:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Atlanta

This is a huge game for both teams as the Leafs look to get past their wild 6-5 shootout loss to Pittsburgh last night. Atlanta’s second half of the season has been beyond miserable and oddly enough, their season took a turn for the worse since beating the Leafs back on December 20th. Since then, Atlanta has gone 6-17-4 going from a likely playoff team to one that’s now six points behind Carolina for eighth with Buffalo and Toronto in front of them in that race. The Leafs can get to within three points of Carolina with a win. Atlanta can keep their pulse alive for the playoffs with a win.

New Jersey @ Florida

The Devils are coming off a tough loss to Tampa Bay and playing the Panthers today could prove to be the last one in a Florida uniform for any number of players. The Devils can expect either a team that will be demoralized and get run over or one looking to get one last rally in before tomorrow’s trade deadline. If it’s the latter, the effect it has on the Devils slim shot at the playoffs will be profound as a Devils loss could make them finally decide to pack it in and trade some players away themselves.

7:00 p.m.

Phoenix @ Chicago

Speaking of a team in need of a win, the Chicago Blackhawks everyone. The Hawks are just two points behind Minnesota and Dallas who are tied for sixth in the West. With how tight things are there, every game is important and wins in regulation come at a premium. Phoenix, meanwhile, sits in fourth with 75 points and three points behind San Jose for the lead in the Pacific Division. After dropping two in a row to Columbus and Tampa Bay, the Coyotes could stand to get better goaltending and defense after giving up eight to Tampa and five to Columbus.

8:00 p.m.

St. Louis @ Calgary

Welcome to the bigs Ben Bishop. The Blues goalie is coming off his first career NHL shutout in a 5-0 win over Edmonton on Friday. Playing the eighth place in the West Flames should provide a bit more of a challenge, however. The Flames are looking to get off the schneid after two losses in a row to Boston and San Jose, a pair of red hot teams in their own right. St. Louis is barely hanging on in the playoff race and a loss to the Flames would just about put a bullet in their hopes the rest of the way.

Boston @ Edmonton

Boston looks to stay perfect on their six game road trip. They’re 4-0-0 after beating Vancouver last night and they’re looking impressive while doing it. Tonight’s game will show off the top two picks from the 2010 NHL draft in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Hall’s had the better statistical season, but clearly Seguin is seeing more team success as the Oilers have the worst record in the NHL while the Bruins lead the Northeast Division. On the upside for the Oilers, they’re probably not going to face Tim Thomas in goal. Tuukka Rask, of course, isn’t much of a relief himself.

Colorado @ Anaheim

While the Avalanche’s playoff hopes are pretty much null and void, unless the Ducks can pull out of their tailspin they’ll be joining them. Anaheim has lost their last five games in a row and have gone from being locked in on making the playoffs to being alone in 11th place in the West, three points behind Calgary. With Dan Ellis in goal for the Ducks, it’s a great opportunity for him to prove himself. He played great the other night against Minnesota only to get burned in overtime. The only thing we know for sure with the Ducks is that as long as they keep losing with Jonas Hiller out of action, the stronger Hiller’s case for Vezina consideration is made.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

Getty
3 Comments

With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

Getty
Leave a comment

National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.