Avalanche GM Greg Sherman says he’s “very confident” in his abilities

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There’s no question that Colorado Avalanche GM Greg Sherman has had his share of doubters since free agency opened on July 1. Actually, some would say that he’s been under fire since the moment he pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade that sent power-forward Chris Stewart and blossoming defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (and a pick) to St. Louis for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement (and a pick). It certainly didn’t help that the Avalanche only had one victory in 21 games between the end of January and the middle of March. Such is life around a team that finishes with the second worst record in the league.

The naysayers have become loud enough that Terry Frei of the Denver Post talked to Sherman about it at Semyon Varlamov’s press conference on Thursday.

“I’m very confident in my abilities to do the job I have to do,” Sherman said. “This particular job, while player personnel decisions are a big part of it, there are multiple facets to running a hockey club. I’m very confident in the role.”

Sherman isn’t shying away from it: For better or worse, these are “his” moves and he’ll be accountable for them.

“A hundred percent,” he said. “I make the decision. I’m surrounded by great hockey people, but at the end of the day, make the decision and move forward. I and we believe what we’ve done in the last couple of weeks, culminating with last Friday, has upgraded this hockey club. We’ve addressed the areas that were a priority for us and we believe we have put ourselves in position to continually grow this team together and get us back to where we rightfully belong.

“I don’t think it’s any different than any other major organization or sports organization. I surround myself with strong hockey people. I come to the hockey decisions. The recommendation is made and at the end of the day, I make the final call. So to me, it starts and ends with me and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by these strong hockey people, and keeping everyone on the same page as we move forward as a franchise.”

It’s probably not a good sign when the general manager of an NHL team feels that he has to start a response with: “I’m confident in my abilities.” Then again, it’s not a great situation for the Avalanche GM when an opposing general manager says, “I’m surprised we got such a good deal from Colorado.” Ouch. No wonder the man is more defensive than Dave Bolland against a Sedin.

Unfortunately for Sherman, there is going to be high profile criticism when he makes high profile moves. It’s easy for fans and pundits to sit back and criticize the Stewart/Johnson trade or the move for Varlamov. Did it look bad for the Avalanche when Chris Stewart went on his scoring binge in St. Louis? Absolutely. Do first and second round draft picks sound like a king’s ransom for a goaltender that has only started 59 NHL games? Sure it does. Honestly, only time will tell if those deals work out in the Avs favor—but the early returns don’t look good.

No matter what happens, you have to give respect to the man who takes ownership for his decisions. He did everything short of saying “the buck stops here.” He made a good move to acquire Tomas Fleischmann (health not withstanding) and he went out and got the goaltender who he thought would be the best for the Avalanche’s future. After his comments, we know that he made the final evaluations and is confident in his hockey decisions.

If Varlamov develops into an elite goaltender, fans in Colorado will be confident in his hockey decisions as well.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)