Kevin Bieksa

Kevin Bieksa signs five-year deal with Vancouver worth $23 million

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What a year it’s been for Kevin Bieksa. Last summer, Bieksa fought off rumors of being traded as he was viewed to be the odd man out on a Canucks team that was dealing with salary cap issues. After this season, one where he was rock solid providing consistent play at both ends of the ice and stayed healthy amidst a team mired in injury problems, he proved himself to be one of Vancouver’s best defenseman.

The Canucks opted to reward Bieksa’s play with a new contract and a long-term commitment. Vancouver signed him up for five more years at a cost of $23 million. The deal works out to a cap hit of $4.6 million over the term of the deal and for Bieksa, it takes him off the market which he was set to join on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.

While the cap hit is still a bit of a bite, it’s not as much as Bieksa could’ve been set to make as a free agent. With the likes of Detroit and other teams looking to reach the salary floor, Bieksa could’ve cleaned house financially. Instead, he locks in in Vancouver while his teammate, Christian Ehrhoff, will likely head to free agency looking for a new team.

For Bieksa, while his point totals didn’t take a drastic jump, he proved to be one of their most reliable defensive players seeing his plus/minus rating jump to a career high +32. His career total before this season saw him as a -20. Thanks to Vancouver scoring the most goals in the league and the team tightening things up defensively all around, Bieksa’s play helped make that possible. His irritating play in the playoffs and snarly nature helped endear him to Canucks fans and made opponents lose their minds.

Vancouver locking up Bieksa also helps them square around on how they’re going to shape up their defense next season. They also have Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler, and Aaron Rome committed to contracts next season. Ballard was a healthy scratch through most of the playoffs and was even benched in favor of youngster Chris Tanev in the Stanley Cup finals. One would think he’s likely on his way out of town as well while GM Mike Gillis will attempt to work out deals on the free agent market as well as with in-house free agents Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts.

Vancouver’s summer of free agency will be curious to watch, but for now, the guy they once wanted to move out of town in Bieksa is their main man on the blue line for the next five years. It’s a start for a team that’s itching to correct their failure in the Stanley Cup finals.

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.

Outdoor game rumors: Jets host Oilers, Red Wings at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings face off during the first period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.

A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.

Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.

(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)

Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.

The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.

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Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.

Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?

Ducks likely to recall Khudobin after Gibson injury

Chicago Blackhawks' Richard Panik (14), of Slovakia, collides with Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Chicago. Anaheim won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.

The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).

The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:

The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”

Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.