Brian Rolston, Marc-Andre Fleury

Another unthinkable trade: Devils unload Brian Rolston to Islanders for Trent Hunter

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After the Florida Panthers acquired Brian Campbell earlier this summer, I was forced to contemplate the idea that there is no such thing as an “untradeable contract” in the NHL anymore. Not after teams unloaded the likes of Campbell, Scott Gomez and so on.

One of the first “Yeah, but …” comments I remember receiving revolved around the New Jersey Devils’ and Brian Rolston’s ugly 35+ contract. As it turns out, the Devils and New York Islanders proved that even Rolston’s deal could be moved as New Jersey sent Rolston and a conditional 2012 draft pick to Long Island in exchange for Trent Hunter. Let’s break down the ins and outs of the deal now.

Huge savings for the Devils = Re-signing Zach Parise?

If you shot Devils GM Lou Lamoriello with some truth serum (as seen in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”), he would probably admit that the team would’ve bought out Rolston or buried his cap hit in the minors if they could. The four-year, $20.25 million deal the Devils handed Rolston ranks as one of the worst moves the savvy GM ever made and most figured they would need to eat the last $5.06 million in cap space from the deal this season even though Rolston’s skills have diminished in a glaring way.

Instead of wasting precious cap space on Rolston, the Devils gain about $3 million to work with (Rolston minus Hunter), putting them about $8 million under the cap ceiling. That’s convenient timing for the franchise since Zach Parise’s August 3 salary arbitration hearing looms. Don’t be shocked if they find a way to avoid that process by giving the outstanding forward a hefty contract extension – one made much easier with that intense cap relief.

Oh yeah, there’s also Trent Hunter. In the grand scheme of things, his name could have been “Bag of Pucks” and this would have been a big win for the Devils. He carries a $2 million cap hit for 2011-12 and 12-13, with at least some potential to contribute. He’s big (listed at 6-foot-3, 210 lbs.) and is a two-time 20+ goal scorer. He missed 61 games last season with a torn MCL, however, so one wonders if he might even be a candidate for the long-term injured reserve. Either way, if he contributes in a significant way – which is plausible but unlikely – then this trade is an even bigger victory for the Devils.

The Islanders’ side of the equation

It’s pretty tough to look at this as anything more than the Islanders’ attempt to reach the $48.3 million salary cap floor. They’re certainly closer now; Cap Geek lists them at about $42.35 million after the trade. With solid power forward Blake Comeau and up-and-comer Josh Bailey awaiting new restricted free agent deals, they could inch a bit closer to that ceiling (not to mention the possible addition of some unrestricted free agent named Alexei Yashin).

The saving grace is that Rolston’s cap hit mercifully expires after the 2011-12 season. The 2012 off-season could be an interesting time for the Islanders, who will only have eight of their 20 current players under contract. While John Tavares will likely get a solid raise, the Isles could have some nice flexibility if the Collective Bargaining Agreement changes the NHL’s spending climate.

As far as the on-ice gains, it’s tough to imagine the Islanders getting a whole lot from Rolston, but maybe a change of scenery would help. He’ll get the chance to get revenge on the Devils plenty of times next season and also has the motivation of a contract year/last chance to continue his NHL career dangling in front of him. If nothing else, he’ll be the Islanders’ highest paid player next season.

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Ultimately, the Devils are probably cackling at their good fortune, possibly even more than they were when they landed Adam Larsson. There was a disturbing span in which it seemed like Lamoriello was “losing it,” but it seems like he’s back to fleecing other teams. The Islanders took on a lot of salary with limited reward, but if you look hard enough, you can see at least a few reasons why they did it.

That being said, this is a huge win for the Devils and a tough pill for Islanders fans to swallow.

Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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Talk about the ideal start.

Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.