Avs take chance on Shane O’Brien with one-year deal

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Life just got a little more interesting in Denver this winter. The Colorado Avalanche announced today that they have signed former Predators defenseman Shane O’Brien to a one-year deal. Renaud P Lavoie of RDS reports that it’s a one-year contract worth $1.1 million.

The Avalanche will be O’Brien’s fifth team in the last six seasons after stops in Anaheim, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, and Nashville. He had career highs of 4 goals and 17 assists in his first full season with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2007-08. Since then, he’s acquired the reputation for bad penalties on the ice and great quotes off of it.

Avalanche General Manager/Executive Vice President Greg Sherman added his thoughts in the wake of the signing:

“We are pleased to have Shane under contract. He adds depth and brings an element to our defense.”

He also adds some much needed salary to a team that is flirting with the salary cap floor. According to the incomparable CapGeek.com, the Avalanche have 23 players signed for next season’s roster and have spent approximately $45.5 million on next season’s payroll. For those keeping track at home, the cap floor has been set at $48.3 million for the 2011-12 season. There are other factors at play that should help the team make it to the league minimum though—they have $2.7 million in bonus money that may be collected and Gabriel Landeskog’s entry-level deal would add around $3 million to the mix if he were to make the team. They’ll be close—and O’Brien’s $1.1 million certainly helps the cause.

For O’Brien to be successful in Colorado, he’ll have to cut down on the number of penalties he takes over the course of the season. Between the 2006-07 and 2008-09, he averaged 175 penalty minutes per game. Last season, he lead the Predators with 83 penalty minutes, 29 minor penalties, and 5 fighting majors despite only playing about 17 minutes per game. It wasn’t just the number of penalties he took—he has been known over the last few seasons to take bad penalties at the worst possible time. There’s a reason that five Predators defensemen played more minutes per game than O’Brien.

Looking over the Avalanche’s roster, O’Brien will have to fight to earn his ice time this season. Free agent acquisition Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson, and Ryan O’Byrne will get 20+ minutes per game. Kyle Cumiskey and Kyle Quincey will try to have bounce-back seasons, leaving Matt Hunwick, Ryan Wilson, and Shane O’Brien to battle for the last spot on the blueline. GM Sherman says he’s happy with “the element” that O’Brien can bring to the team—we’ll see if Colorado likes that element enough to give him sustained ice-time this season.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.