Northeast Division Watch (March 3)

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.

Northeast Division outlook (March 3 -March 9th)

1. Boston Bruins (37-19-7 for 81 pts; 63 Games Played)

Current streak: Six straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Tampa Bay (Thursday), home vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday) and @ Montreal (Tuesday).

Thoughts: After putting together their best road trip since 1972, the Bruins get a couple home games … unfortunately it’s against some tough opponents. After that, they’ll play five of their last six games away from home, so their division lead isn’t a sure thing.

2. Montreal Canadiens (34-23-7 for 75 pts; 64 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Florida (Thurs), @ Tampa Bay (Sat), home vs. Boston (Tues).

Thoughts: The Habs are in the middle of a tour of the non-traditional Southeast Division teams (everyone but the Washington Capitals) before the play what could be a big game against the Bruins. They need to work on their road game, though, being that they’re currently below .500 (14-15-1) away from Montreal.

3. Buffalo Sabres (30-25-7 for 67 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four road games – vs. Carolina (Thurs), Philadelphia (Sat), Minnesota (Sun) and Pittsburgh (Tues).

Thoughts: The Sabres began their seven-game road trip with a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers. They’re hoping they can match their division mates in Boston for heartiness outside of their home digs. It won’t be easy considering the fact that they play two likely playoff teams from Pennsylvania plus two teams fighting for their playoff lives. The game against Carolina tonight is obviously one of the truest tests.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-27-9 for 65 pts; 64 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away against Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Chicago (Sat) and @ Islanders (Tues).

Thoughts: The Leafs need a big week, as they trail the Hurricanes by four points while the Sabres are two points ahead of them with two less games played. If only they could play against the Penguins more often, as they beat them twice in extra innings (once in a shootout, once in overtime) in the last three games.

5. Ottawa Senators (21-33-9 for 51 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: On the road against Atlanta (Thurs), home vs. Rangers (Fri) and @ New Jersey (Tues).

Thoughts: If the Senators were in playoff contention, playing 10 road games vs. five home contests would make this March a horrible month. Instead, this is a good thing because Ottawa will (probably) lose enough to get a better draft pick. Hopefully they won’t turn on Craig Anderson because of it.

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.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.