Luke Schenn; Carl Gunnarsson

Maple Leafs sign Carl Gunnarsson to two-year, $2.6M contract extension

Despite maintaining the troubling “zero playoff berths since the lockout” label, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed significant glimpses of promise late in the 2010-11 season. A big part of that surge came from rookie goalie James Reimer, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Leafs.

GM Brian Burke often gravitates toward big stars, but he also understands the importance of cultivating young talent. The Leafs took the next step in wrapping up their young pending free agents by handing defenseman Carl Gunnarsson a two-year contract extension worth $2.6 million.

Gunnarsson has been a pleasant surprise for the Maple Leafs, who drafted him in the seventh round (194th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He managed to play a solid chunk of the last two seasons, appearing in 43 games in 2009-10 (15 points, 21:26 time on ice per game) and 68 (20 points, 18:15 time on ice per game) in 10-11.

Michael Traikos explains that Gunnarsson really seemed to blossom once he received more offensive opportunities after Tomas Kaberle was traded to the Boston Bruins.

“We’re very happy with his development,” said general manager Brian Burke, “and what he needs to do is come up with an 82-game season. He had a real good second-half each of the last two years. But he’s got to start better than he has.”

Indeed, Gunnarsson had one goal and three assists in the first three months of the 2010-11 season. But then seemed to benefit from extra ice time when Tomas Kaberle was traded, scoring three goal and 13 assists in the final four months of the schedule.

Re-signing Gunnarsson takes one more problem off the table for Burke, who faces some tough decisions this off-season. Beyond getting into a likely bidding war for the services of Brad Richards, Burke also must make some choices regarding pending free agents.

While there are plenty of other names they must decide to keep or part ways with, the biggest negotiations will take place between the Leafs and three free agents: Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn and Tyler Bozak. Here’s what Burke said about the major negotiations with those players.

Now that Gunnarsson is signed, expect the team to now focus on locking up restricted free agent Luke Schenn. The 21-year-old was arguably Toronto’s most valuable defenceman last season, scoring a career-best five goals and 22 points in 82 games.

The Leafs are also expected to try and re-sign Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak and Tim Brent this summer.

“It’s not time-sensitive, for either player,” Burke said of negotiations. “We’ve told Clarke if he wants to file for arbitration he can go ahead and file for arbitration. That’s part of the process. That’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. But we anticipate that he’s going to be under contract and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall.”

Much like many other teams – from contenders to hopefuls – the Maple Leafs look like they have an interesting off-season in front of them. At least they won’t have to worry about keeping Reimer or Gunnarsson at a reasonable price, though.

Rangers’ Klein exits with muscle strain, won’t return

Kevin Klein

The New York Rangers lost versatile d-man Kevin Klein early in the first period of their game against Carolina and, shortly after, announced he was done for the night.

Klein played just 2:22 before leaving with a muscle strain. The injury forced the Blueshirts to use just five defensemen for the remainder of the evening — Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Dan Girardi.

While it’s unclear how the injury occurred or how significant it is, Klein’s absence could be costly if it’s long-term. The 30-year-old was having a good year, with six points in 24 games, and saw his ice time go up to 21:03 per game from 18:29 last year.

If Klein is out moving forward, it would present an opportunity for Dylan McIlrath to take up a bigger role on the New York defense.


‘It was a scary incident’: Colaiacovo returns to Sabres practice after dented trachea

Carlo Colaiacovo
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Carlo Colaiacovo‘s remarkably quick recovery from what appeared to be a serious injury continued on Monday, as he returned to practice roughly 48 hours after suffering a dented trachea.

Colaicovo, who was hospitalized after taking a Viktor Arvidsson cross-check to the throat on Saturday, skated with his Buffalo teammates on Monday in advance of tomorrow’s game against Detroit.

“I feel good,” Colaiacovo said, per the Sabres’ website. “Obviously it was a scary incident and at the time it was pretty painful but it is what it is.

“Right now, it’s not really stopping me from doing much.”

Though he said he’s still feeling pain in and around his throat, Colaiacovo is eligible to return to the Sabres’ lineup tomorrow.

The 32-year-old, who has appeared in 15 games this season, would no doubt like to play tomorrow. It’d put him up against the same Detroit team that employed him during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, only to buy out his contract at the end of the year.

Couture (fractured fibula) continues skating with Sharks, says return is on schedule

Logan Couture
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Some good news at Sharks practice today — Logan Couture continued to skate with teammates, just one week after returning to the ice from a broken leg suffered on Oct. 17.

What’s more, Couture says he’s on schedule to meet the 4-6 week timetable for return.

“[I’m] where I thought I would be at this point in time,” Couture said, per CSN Bay Area.

While the 26-year-old wouldn’t put an exact date on his return, it’s clear both he and the Sharks are anxious for him to get back in the lineup — especially with the club surging, and Couture having only played in three regular-season contests this year.

Looking ahead, there are some dates worth circling on the ol’ calendar.

The Sharks have a relatively light week. After beating Calgary 5-2 on Saturday, they play just once in five days — Tuesday’s home tilt against the Penguins — before a weekend back-to-back set against the Ducks on Friday and Lightning on Saturday.

The Ducks game is in Anaheim, but the following night’s contest against the Bolts is at the friendly confines of SAP. So that could be a potential date to watch for — but it is worth noting Couture said he’s still hesitant about getting into game action until his first step is back.

“Until then, I’m not going to force my way out there and put myself in a bad spot,” he explained.

Kesler believes Ducks are ‘too good to not be in the playoffs’

Shane Doan, Ryan Kesler

It’s been 24 games for the Anaheim Ducks, more than a quarter of the season, and still they’re having trouble winning.

Friday against Chicago, they surrendered two goals in the last two minutes of regulation and lost in overtime.

Currently, the Ducks sit five points out of a playoff spot with a record of 8-11-5.

Still, forward Ryan Kesler is confident they’ll find a way into the postseason.

“If we keep playing like we are, we’re going to get into the playoffs — this team is too good to not be in the playoffs,” Kesler told The Province ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver.

“We had a bad start and, to be honest, some guys weren’t ready to start the season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played and we’re ready for the challenge.”

To match the 45-30-7 record the Flames squeaked into the playoffs with last year, the Ducks would need to go 37-19-2 over their next 58 games.




Depends who you ask.

Anaheim’s playoff chances will depend a lot on how Pacific Division teams like San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver finish. The Ducks may need to leapfrog two of those three to get in.

Yes, there’s always the chance four teams from the Pacific qualify, because it’s not like Colorado, Winnipeg, and Minnesota don’t have their problems. Even Nashville you have to wonder about lately. Heck, even Chicago isn’t assured of anything yet.

Bottom line, though, the Ducks have dug themselves a hole, and it’s starting to look a lot like the one the Kings dug last year.

In the NHL, even good teams don’t always climb out.

Related: Boudreau does the playoff math, and it’s no ‘easy task’ for Ducks