Ray Whitney, Eric Belanger, Shane Doan

While Coyotes focus on hockey, speculation over potential Winnipeg move grows intense

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Life as a Phoenix Coyote is pretty trying. The team has their hands full in dealing with a Detroit Red Wings team in the playoffs that looked all sorts of tough in Game 1 as the Wings took it 4-2. As things go these days for the Coyotes, half of what gets discussed about them comes off of the ice with regard to their in limbo status with ownership. The NHL still owns the team and time is ticking away for potential buyer Matthew Hulsizer to get a deal done to purchase the moribund Coyotes.

While the team is rumored to be getting closer to a decision being made, rumblings out of Winnipeg are growing louder that they’re soon to be in the serious planning stages of preparing to get back the franchise that left them 15 years ago. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless shares that the True North Sports and Entertainment group that would be the buyers for the Coyotes should Hulsizer’s deal fall through is preparing to start a campaign to sell season tickets for the returned NHL franchise.

A Winnipeg franchise is not a guaranteed economic success in the minds of many NHL types and it’s a certainty the league’s board of governors will tell True North, should they get to the point where they are prepared to relocate to Winnipeg, to go to its constituents and ask for a vote of confidence.

Such a cash call could come as early as next week.

True North, in order to satisfy the board of governors, will likely ask Winnipeggers to commit to purchasing season tickets for a minimum of three seasons.

It’s unknown how long the community will have to respond but count on a week to sell the vast majority of the MTS Centre’s 15,000 seats.

Before you get too excited about this, remember that Jim Balsillie also started to sell season tickets in Hamilton, Ontario when he thought he was about to land the Coyotes. Of course, that scenario is a bit different in that Balsillie ignored everything the NHL was trying to do in questioning his attempted purchase of the team. This time around, David Thomson’s True North group would seemingly be still playing by the rules and trying to prove something to the NHL in that Winnipeg is ready to have a team once again.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News says that a deal is a lot closer to being done with Winnipeg than not. As with all things having to do with reports on sales being imminent, take it with a grain of salt because nothing is ever as clear as it might read and you can never discount the possibility of a last minute Hail Mary coming through for Gary Bettman and the NHL. As it is, Campbell’s report looks like something we’ve read before and says that a potential deal would be announced between the end of the Stanley Cup final and the NHL Draft.

According to the source, the deal calls for the Coyotes to be sold to True North Sports and Entertainment for $140 million. It’s believed the deal will be announced at something north of $200 million, but that includes more than $60 million in renovations to add 2,500 seats to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

The source said the deal has not been signed, but there is a memorandum of agreement in place and that the deal will be signed when the NHL’s deal with Hulsizer officially dies.

Sources and insider takes on these things are what they are but with the way the chatter has inconveniently picked up just as the playoffs have started, the flashbacks for how the Winnipeg Jets initially left Canada  are starting to become a bit too surreal. In 1996, the Jets final game was played at home in Winnipeg as the Jets were bounced from the playoffs by none other than the Red Wings.

Should things break down the way it’s being said that it will the coincidences and the sadness that will be felt in Phoenix and Glendale will be all too similar and under the circumstances it’s a tragic story not just for the fans but for the city itself. Glendale has invested a lot of money in the area, the team, and the arena and to see it possibly go away for colder climes will be a bitter pill to swallow for the residents of Glendale who will be paying for an empty arena for years to come.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of all this for sure, but the bell is beginning to toll on the Coyotes days in Arizona.

PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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–In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

–Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

–Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

–Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

–Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.