Thrashers fans nervously await their team’s uncertain future

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When the Phoenix Coyotes were bounced from the playoffs, there seemed to be two major reactionary forces on Twitter: those who mocked the expected death of that franchise and those who were appalled by those jokers. However you may feel about the situation, the Coyotes sale/lack thereof receives a lot of attention. The league itself has done so much to keep the team in Glendale one can almost imagine NHL executives crab-walking into meetings.

Yet it seems like the other non-traditional, in-peril market receives little of the same attention. The Atlanta Thrashers franchise is seen to some as a “Plan B” for True North and the hockey-hungry Winnipeg market, but what about the Atlanta market and Thrashers fans?

Sure, there’s some validity to the notion that it’s a bit sadder to see a hockey market fail twice*, but there seems to be a perception that a possible Thrashers move is being met with a yawn. (At least compared to the outright desperation the league is showing regarding a Coyotes relocation.)

Of course, an Atlanta Thrashers move is far from certain. In fact, as anxious as the Winnipeg market is to bring back the NHL, it’s tough to think that a sale can be completed with enough time for everything to be ready by the 2011-12 season.

Either way, the Thrashers fan base is understandably uncomfortable about the situation. Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared some of their thoughts in this story.

“Many of us fans watched as Gary Bettman saved struggling franchises in Nashville and Tampa over the past several years,” season-ticket holder Tony L. Blair, an attorney who lives in Lawrenceville, said by email. “We continue to watch the league go to extraordinary lengths to save what many feel is a lost cause, that being the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet, many Thrashers fans are distressed by what appears to be on the surface the lack of the same commitment toward the Atlanta market.”

Blair added: “We as Thrasher fans must ask, where is the justice in this? Are we not deserving [of] the same devotion and loyalty as other troubled franchises? This very question, I think, is the lynchpin of the entire episode. I think it comes down to, will the league give up the market?

“If yes, we lose the team. If not, then there is an opportunity for transition to new ownership who will, I believe, excite the current fan base and hopefully re-energize the local hockey community.”

Blair is probably right when he says that, on a surface level, there seems to be a lack of commitment to keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta. It’s important to note that perception isn’t always reality in these cases; the league might just seem like it doesn’t care quite as much about avoiding the Thrashers’ relocation.

While that planned $25 million payment from the City of Glendale essentially puts the Coyotes’ countdown on “pause,” the Thrashers situation is on fast-forward. We’ll keep you updated whether the Atlanta Spirit group is forced to stick with the team for longer than expected, a new local ownership group keeps the team in Atlanta or True North brings them to Winnipeg.

*As you may know, the Atlanta Flames fled Georgia to become the Calgary Flames.

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

Paajarvi out, Barbashev in as Blues look for ‘physical element’

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After losing Game 1 — and with it, home ice advantage — of their series against Nashville, the Blues are making a lineup change for Friday’s Game 2.

Ivan Barbashev, who’s been a healthy scratch the last three games, will draw in, replacing Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi sits despite being a fairly productive player recently, notching a goal and three points in his last five games.

This, of course, includes the game-winning, series-clinching OT goal against Minnesota on Saturday:

“We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they’re coming out of the lineup,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). It’s in no way anything against Magnus. We’re very grateful and appreciative of what he’s done and what he can do for us, but ‘Barby’ has been a good player for us for a long time, too.

“Having him in the lineup, he’ll be energized and bring a physical element… When he gets the puck of the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. We’ll see how he does tonight.”

The hope is that Barbashev can rediscover some of the form shown during the regular season. The Russian rookie made an impact, scoring five goals and 12 points in 30 games.

Sabres granted permission to speak with Futa

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Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Kings promoted Mike Futa to assistant general manager.

But Futa received that promotion before the Sabres cleaned house last week, and that timing is important to note.

Because it’s now being reported, via a Kings spokesman, that the Sabres have been granted permission to speak with Futa about their GM vacancy.

It’s no surprise that Buffalo has asked to interview Futa. He was a candidate for the Sabres’ GM job in 2013 — a job that eventually went to Tim Murray.

Futa was once thought to be heir apparent to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. But when Lombardi was fired, the Kings went with Rob Blake instead.

Some background on Futa, courtesy the Kings:

Futa most recently served as Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. This upcoming season will be Futa’s 11th season with the Kings.

Futa recently concluded his 10th full season with the Kings, and third in his most recent position. He was named VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel in May of 2014 after serving as Director of Amateur Scouting, a position he assumed on June 5, 2007, when he originally joined the Kings.

Futa came to the Kings when he was appointed Co-Director of Amateur Scouting along with Mark Yannetti. Together, Futa and Yannetti rebuilt and retooled the entire Kings Amateur Scouting staff.

Related: Darryl Sutter wants to keep coaching

Habs sign Quebec League sniper Waked

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On Friday, Montreal agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal with QMHJL Rouyn-Noranda forward Antoine Waked.

Waked, 20, is coming off a strong season in which he racked up 80 points in 67 games. He finished tied for ninth in the league in goals, with 39, in what was something of a surprise. Previously, the Quebec native had never scored more than 15 goals in a campaign, suggesting Waked could be the prototypical late bloomer.

An undrafted free agent, Waked had been tied to the Habs earlier this season, with reports he’d receive an ELC at the end of his junior campaign.