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With prospects waning, Coyotes’ fate could be decided while they’re still in the playoffs

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As much as we admire every NHL fan base – especially one as resilient as the group that sticks by the Phoenix Coyotes – it’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that the league can fit this square peg in a round hole. Wednesday was another ugly day in the proceedings, as Nick Kypreos reported that the Coyotes would relocate to Winnipeg once their playoff drive concludes while league exec Bill Daly denied the rumors.

Thursday’s batch of news indicates that the league’s repeated measures to delay an inevitable decision might have run their course, forcing what some are calling “The Bettman ultimatum.”

On the brightest side (even optimism has traces of harsh reality in this case), the Phoenix Business Journal reports that there still remain some options to keep the Coyotes from relocating. Even if their front office staff told Gary Lawless that the team has a 50-50 chance of moving to Winnipeg, it’s not set in stone just yet.

There are two main options to pay off the $100 million in bonds that would help seal the $175 million deal with Matt Hulsizer, the chief issue that is holding up the sale.

  • The NHL itself could buy some of the bonds to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix.
  • Conversely, the City of Glendale could reach into its $400 million Enterprise Fund to help buy up the bonds themselves.

Of course, with each option, it comes down to the sides actually agreeing to fork over a big chunk of cash.

Would the 29 NHL owners be willing to pay off some of the bonds for another team? It seems far-fetched if they are unwilling to pay Wayne Gretzky the $8 million he was supposed to receive as the Coyotes’ fired head coach. (It’s tough to stomach stories about the league stiffing the most important player in its history a day after the NHL boasted its best business year ever with $2.9 billion in projected revenue, but whatever.)

The City of Glendale might be more likely to spend that money, although the city seems to have taken a few hits already, including covering the $25 million the league lost when it kept the team in Phoenix for another season.

I hate to ask this question, but is this all really worth it for a team that isn’t exactly selling tickets like hot cakes? At what point will everyone realize that Phoenix just isn’t that into the Coyotes? It never feels good to see fans lose their team, but reality must factor into the equation too.

Lawless discusses the possibility that Gary Bettman and the NHL will be forced to make a decision in the very near future in this Winnipeg Press column. In fact, Lawless claims that the league might be forced to make the call by the end of the Coyotes’ first round series or at least the Stanley Cup finals.

Bettman may reportedly use a transfer agreement with True North (the group looking to bring a team back to Winnipeg) as leverage, forcing Hulsizer and the City of Glendale to match a deal in a short window of time. Lawless points out that the Winnipeg group wouldn’t be out in the cold if the Coyotes do stay in Glendale/Phoenix, though, as the league would be forced to cough up a few million in compensation for True North’s “role and efforts” in leveraging Hulsizer and Glendale.

It’s important to note that most (if not all) of this information is based on speculation and anonymous sources, but the truth is undeniable: the countdown is absolutely on. We’ll keep you up to date as the Coyotes soap opera keeps spinning.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Ekblad back on the ice for Panthers after World Cup injury

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers had a bit of a scare during the 2016 World Cup when defenseman Aaron Ekblad, while playing for Team North America, was injured in a first-round game against Finland that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On Saturday, Ekblad was back on the ice for the Panthers doing some individual workouts following the injury.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said, via Alain Poupart of NHL.com.  “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

It was initially reported that Ekblad had a concussion, but it was later reported to be a neck injury.

The Panthers haven’t been overly concerned with the injury over the past week.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has quickly become one of the franchise building blocks for a Panthers team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Still only 20 years old, he is already a top-pairing defenseman in the league and has scored 27 goals in his career, a number that is pretty much unheard of for a defenseman that young.

According to the hockey-reference database, the only defenseman that has scored more goals at that age through their first two seasons is Phil Housley.

After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 and having a busy offseason that saw them add Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their defense, the Panthers look like they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and Ekblad is going to be a major part of that.

Ilya Bryzgalov’s Canada – Russia take is the best take

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of Russia comes into the game against Canada during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between Russia and Canada on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Admit it: you miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

Saturday presented the latest reminder that hockey’s just a little less fun thanks to the absence of Mr. Universe, as Bryzgalov regaled ESPN’s Craig Custance with his impeccable analysis of the drubbing Russia received from Canada during the 2010 Olympics.

You see, Breezy initially described Canada’s start “like gorillas out of a cage,” but upon further reflection …

… Well:

“Not gorillas,” Bryzgalov said. “More like Orcs from ‘The Hobbit.’ You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.”

Fantastic.

Now, it’s possible that Bryzgalov meant “Lord of the Rings” rather than “The Hobbit,” but both series featured “Big. Mean. Scary” orcs, so who knows:

Really though, it paints quite the picture. Imagine, for a moment, Shea Weber or Brent Burns decked out like that one especially big, mean and scary orc. One can only imagine the Photoshop masterpieces that may sprout up thanks to the vivid story Bryzgalov told.

***

Now, there are some great bits leading up to Saturday’s Canada – Russia semifinal. PHT should have more to come tonight.

Sportsnet looked back at a moment in which a seemingly sure-thing Canadian team hit a brick wall in a Russian opponent. NHL.com provided a fascinating look at Mike Babcock and his quest for control. TSN captures a moment of sorts for Steven Stamkos.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but Bryzgalov’s takes are truly one of a kind, and they’ve been truly missed.

Bruins’ Vatrano to miss three months with foot injury

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Frank Vatrano is supposed to be one of the young players the Boston Bruins will be counting on this season to help replace some of the offense they lost when Loui Eriksson signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they will have to wait a few months before he gets an opportunity to make an impact.

The team announced on Saturday that Vatrano is going to require surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot and is expected to miss at least three months.

General manager Don Sweeney said that Vatrano was injured in his training in preparation for the team’s training camp.

Vatrano appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in 2015-16 season and scored eight goals, including a hat trick in an early season win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent the rest of his season playing for Providence of the American Hockey League where he scored a league leading 36 goals in only 36 games. Just for some perspective on that goal total, only one other player in the league scored 30 goals for the entire season, and that was Chris Bourque who scored 30 in 72 games.

Star-crossed: Cody Eakin to miss about six weeks

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Cody Eakin #20 of the Dallas Stars waits for the face off against the New Jersey Devils on January 2,2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars’ run of injuries hasn’t ended even with the World Cup of Hockey winding down.

Training camps are starting up, so that’s a new way that the team can encounter bad luck, and it didn’t take much time for the hits to keep coming. Cody Eakin suffered a lower-body injury that’s apparently bad enough to sideline him for six weeks, according to the team.

That same announcement revealed that Devin Shore will miss “some time.”

Before that bad Eakin news leaked through, head coach Lindy Ruff tried to spin the injuries as positively as possible, as the Dallas Morning News noted.

“We’ve got a little bit of the injury bug hitting us, but you’ve got to get through it,” Ruff said. “I’d rather have it now than three or four weeks from now.”

In case you’re wondering, Ruff didn’t pass around bubble wrap to everyone in the Stars’ locker room after making that statement.

Eakin has only missed four games over the last four seasons, so this injury bug is becoming quite the epidemic for the Stars.

Related: Stars might be the biggest losers of the World Cup