Jettisoning salary: Washington sends Eric Fehr to Winnipeg for prospect, 2012 4th rounder

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Once the Washington Capitals’ payroll expanded beyond the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling thanks to the signing of rugged forward Troy Brouwer, it became clear that something had to give. While Washington isn’t quite out of the woods yet, they moved to around $63.84 million in cap commitments after shipping Eric Fehr and his $2.2 million salary to the Winnipeg Jets for right wing Danick Paquette and Winnipeg’s 2012 fourth round pick.

A nice boost for the Jets

Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been wise not to splurge too often on free agent talent, but some might be frustrated with the team’s lack of movement. They probably took a sober look at a very weak free agent field and decided to stay put. That’s not a bad strategy since it’s likely that the Jets won’t run out of goodwill from hockey-starved fans for at least one or two seasons, but some fans probably wanted some instant gratification.

Fehr probably won’t light the world on fire in Winnipeg, but the Jets (then the Atlanta Thrashers) did a nice job with the last first round pick they received via trade with another team who needed to get rid of cap space. That last example would be their current captain, Andrew Ladd, who had a career year with Atlanta after the Chicago Blackhawks completed their post-championship cap purge. Fehr was Washington’s first round pick in 2003 (18th overall) but only 20 points in 52 games in 2010-11 and his career high is just 39 points so far (from 09-10). Fehr should be able to use his substantial size and solid skills in a larger role with Winnipeg than he probably would have enjoyed anytime soon with Washington.

(If the injury-prone winger can stay healthy, that is.)

His $2.2 million salary cap runs out after the 2011-12 season, so he’ll share another similarity with Ladd’s previous season: the crucial motivation that comes with a contract year. Don’t be shocked if he has a career year as a medium-sized fish in a small pond with the Jets. It will also be a homecoming for Fehr, who is from the Winnipeg area.

Capitals might have a little more work to do

The Capitals will probably still need to move a contract or two (unless Tom Poti’s $2.875 million cap hit is erased after he goes on the long-term injury reserve, as some speculate will happen) if the team wants to lock up important restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner joined forces with John Carlson to form Washington’s young but often very effective shutdown defensive pairing in 2010-11, so he’s probably in line for a nice contract extension.

Paquette is a rugged right wing who was a 2008 third round pick (64th overall) of the Atlanta Thrashers. He scored 20 points and registered 197 penalty minutes in the ECHL last season. It would be surprising if he earned much playing time at the NHL level, but if nothing else, he continues the Capitals’ 2011 summertime trend of adding grit and sand paper to its lineup.

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This is an obvious salary dump for Washington. Fehr became expendable after the team added Brouwer and Joel Ward to their noticeably tougher mix. The Thrashers didn’t have to give up a ton to get Fehr, who might be another moderately valuable piece to their rebuilding puzzle. If he doesn’t fit in well, then they only needed to commit a toss-up prospect, a middle-of-the-pack draft pick and one affordable year of salary to him. This move constitutes a small (but potentially lucrative) win for Winnipeg and a survivable, necessary loss for Washington.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.

Brock Boeser will make NHL debut for Canucks today after signing entry level deal

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After a deal appeared imminent on Friday night the Vancouver Canucks made it official on Saturday morning and announced the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser to an entry level contract.

Not only is he under contract with the Canucks, but he will also make his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon against his hometown team when the Canucks visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks selected Boeser with the No. 23 overall pick in 2015.

He played his collegiate hockey at North Dakota where he put up some massive numbers, recording 94 points in 74 games over two seasons. That includes 16 goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season.

His addition to the Canucks lineup over the remaining nine games of the 2016-17 season will burn one of those years of his entry level contract, but it will give Canucks fans a glimpse of their future and maybe a reason for optimism in what has become a lost season. The Canucks enter the game having lost seven of their past eight.