Around the Rink – Friday, March 11th

The horrifying earthquake in Japan is yet another reminder that calling any sports game “important” is a matter of semantics. Obviously, there are much bigger thing in life than how the East and West playoff bubbles play out. We wish anyone affected by that scary seismic situation the absolute best. Hopefully they’ve already braved the worst parts of that disaster.

OK, let’s get back to the escapism and joy of hockey, shall we? All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

Boston @ NY Islanders

If the Bruins win this game, they’ll take the league lead in road wins so far this season with 23. Even if they end up taking the Northeast Division title, that’s still the kind of stat that must make them feel good about their playoff hopes.

(What, were you expecting more Zdeno Chara discussion? Take a break.)

Los Angeles @ Columbus

There was a time when these two teams were separated by a point or two (probably a few times, actually), but now there is a considerable distance. Eight points to be exact, as the Kings are in eighth place while the Blue Jackets are sprawling out of contention with six straight losses. They should be a hungry group, but Los Angeles has plenty to play for too, so this should be interesting to follow.

Carolina @ Washington

The Capitals have been red-hot lately, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the desperate Hurricanes. Carolina could capitalize on a struggling Rangers team if they win this game as the East playoff race intensifies. Washington is on a six game winning streak, so it won’t come easily.

7:30 pm

Ottawa @ Tampa Bay

On its face, this seems like a great situation for the Lightning to tie up the top spot in the Southeast. The Capitals play against a higher ranked and desperate team in the Hurricanes while the Lightning host the seemingly lowly Senators. The problem is that Washington is on that aforementioned tear while Ottawa is tougher than their record right now. We’ll see how it works out.

Edmonton @ Detroit

The Red Wings’ hopes of catching the Canucks for the top spot in the West have more or less been neutralized thanks to a four-game losing streak, but they shouldn’t need to worry about the surging Blackhawks unless they really fall flat. Beating up on soft teams such as the Oilers would help that avoid that fate.

New Jersey @ Atlanta

It seems a bit much to say that every game between the Devils and a bubble team like the Thrashers is “big.” Especially because both squads could go irrelevant with just a few more losses. Still, one side will feel much better about their odds after this match than the other. New Jersey is trending up while Atlanta is sliding, but the Thrashers are still above them right now, which just says how different their starts were.

8:30 pm

Minnesota @ Dallas

When you consider how fluid professional sports rosters can be, it’s tough to imagine that the Wild players are particularly aware of the fact that they are playing the ex-North Stars. Maybe they know, but it’s hard to fathom that this game means as much to them as it might to some Wild fans.

On the bright side, both teams need this for playoff reasons, so each side will play with plenty of gusto anyway.

9:00 pm

Anaheim @ Colorado

Amazingly, the Avalanche have fallen so far that they’re now the third worst team in the NHL from a standings perspective. The Ducks really need to take advantage of this wounded Colorado gang.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

Report: Dwight King could be KHL-bound

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Dwight King, the burly forward that won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, may be on his way to Russia.

Per News 1130 in Vancouver, King is set to sign in the KHL after failing to land a contract this summer. The 28-year-old finished last season in Montreal after spending the first seven years of his NHL career in Los Angeles.

For a time, King was an effective skater for L.A. He posted a career-high 15 goals and 30 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and followed that up with a 13-goal, 26-point effort the year following. He also had a nice showing during the Kings’ 2014 Cup run, finishing with 11 points in 26 games.

King’s biggest issue is his skating ability. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he was never the fleetest of foot, but had been working on his speed this offseason.

More, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

King is still looking for work after finishing the season in Montreal. There are a few Western Conference teams poking around.

“I’m just looking for an opportunity at this point. I’m going to be on the ice more this year, doing a little more skills and skating. Any bit of improvement I can find.”

King is going to try a couple new teachers, then decide which route to take. One also works with former teammate (and new Golden Knight) Brayden McNabb. King is quite the physical specimen, but will take a new approach. He regularly played at 230–231 pounds, but is going to go to 225–226. And he believes the Western Conference is better for him.

News 1130 reported that Vancouver had shown “mild interest” in King, who just wrapped a three-year $5.85 million deal with a $1.95M cap hit.

King appeared in 17 games for the Habs after being picked up at the deadline last season, scoring once. He went pointless in six playoff games.

McLellan excited about addition of ‘utility player’ Strome

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To hear Todd McLellan explain it, Ryan Strome could be wearing many hats next season.

That’s what the Oilers head coach said on Wednesday of the former Isles forward, acquired earlier this summer in the Jordan Eberle trade. McLellan expressed excitement over Strome’s ability to play both center and wing.

“He (Strome) is a utility player,” McLellan said, per the Sun. “He has the ability to play center and has in the past. He’s been able to win faceoffs and he’s comfortable on the wing. We have the luxury of moving players around, and as the fans here know, we like to do that.”

That last sentence is clearly a reference to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl has flipped back and forth between playing as Edmonton’s No. 2 center and as a winger on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. The talented German’s had success at both, which is why Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is still unsure if Draisaitl is a center or a winger.

More: Strome pumped at prospect of playing with Draisaitl, McDavid

As for Strome, he certainly gives Edmonton some flexibility — on the ice, and on the books.

With a $2.5 million cap hit (compared to Eberle’s $6M), he’s provided Chiarelli with more cap space to get the Draisaitl contract done. And there’s also the potential for him to be a real bargain. Remember, Strome is only two years removed from a sophomore campaign in which he scored 17 goals and 50 points in 81 contests. His subsequent two years with the Isles were a disappointment, but the talent is still there.

The wildcard in all this is the fact that Strome’s heading into a contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent next July, so the ’17-18 campaign will go a long way in determining his value… and, potentially, his future in Edmonton.

McDavid disappointed at NHL decision to skip Olympics

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TORONTO (AP) Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said he’s disappointed the NHL won’t be sending players to the Winter Olympic in South Korea.

“It would have been a special group, and you’re just hopeful to be a part of it,” McDavid told reporters at a charity event Wednesday. “It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible.”

McDavid’s comments came a day after Hockey Canada announced it was looking for non-NHL talent for Canada’s roster in Pyeongchang.

Sean Burke, the team’s GM, said Tuesday the bulk of Canada’s team will come from players based in Europe.

The NHL’s reasons not to participate in the upcoming Games include disagreements over costs as well as problems accommodating the Games during its regular season.

When asked whether there was the possibility of getting permission from the Oilers to attend the Olympics, McDavid was non-committal.

“I’m not too involved in all that stuff,” he said.

The NHL Players Association has said the league’s decision is “short-sighted.”

The NHL allowed its players to compete in every Olympics since 1998 Nagano Games, and Canada was won three of the last four gold medals.