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Buffalo Sabres legend Rick Martin dies at age 59

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Buffalo Sabres legendary forward Rick Martin has passed away. According to The Buffalo News, Martin reportedly suffered a heart attack while driving. He was 59 years old.

He was a member of the legendary “French Connection” line for the Sabres during the 1970s. Paired up with Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, Martin was a goal scoring force for the Sabres during their early heyday. Five times during his 11-year NHL career Martin scored 40 or more goals, including back-to-back seasons with 52 goals in 1973-74 and 1974-75.

The Sabres statement on Martin pays reverence to the man who helped Buffalo hockey in their earliest years.

“The Buffalo Sabres are saddened to announce the passing of Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer and member of the famed French Connection, Rick Martin. Rick was not only one of the greatest players in franchise history, he was a great friend to the Sabres organization and the entire community. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Sabres organization go out to his wife Mikey and their two sons, Corey and Josh.”

Recently, new Sabres owner Terry Pegula brought back the French Connection as a means to celebrate the history of the team and to help new fans appreciate the roots that helped Pegula become a Sabres fan. Reuniting those three players was a great symbolic treat for fans in Buffalo and as Sabres Edge notes, Rene Robert, who just lost his brother this morning to a heart attack, said this will be a tough blow for fans in Buffalo.

“It’s like a bad dream,” said Robert, who is in Florida visiting his daughter. “First my brother, then my left winger. I lose Rico (Martin). I tell you what. This one is going to be tough for everybody in Buffalo. It’s too bad. (Owner Terry) Pegula just put us together. He told us, ‘You guys are going to be here now until you die.'”

Expect the outpouring of emotion and recognition for Martin to be very honorable and moving. The Sabres play this afternoon at home against Ottawa.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.