Luke Schenn, Maple Leafs resume contract negotiations

With the last Shea Weber-sized domino of salary arbitration down, the NHL off-season is in near-shutdown mode. That doesn’t mean that every agent and GM can kick back and sip on umbrella-adorned cocktails until training camp kicks back up, though.

There are still a number of significant restricted free agents who need new contracts (but don’t have the deadline pressure of a pending arbitration hearing). While Los Angeles Kings phenom Drew Doughty is the most obvious example, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn also finds himself without a deal for 2011-12.

This would be a far more nerve-wracking situation if NHL GMs possessed the bravado to send offer sheets to opposing teams, but since that isn’t going to happen, this is probably just a matter of time. To give the situation a college student analogy, a world of offer-sheets would make the lingering Schenn situation as stomach-churning as a high school sweetheart spending a semester abroad in Spain.* Without that offer-sheet threat, the stress level is downgraded to “Uh oh, that 10-page paper is due in two weeks, I better at least get started.”

It looks like the Maple Leafs and Schenn’s representatives are starting to type up that outline again. Sean Fitz-gerald of the National Post reports that the two sides have resumed negotiations this week.

Schenn is represented by Newport Sports Management Inc., the agency founded by Don Meehan. Leafs assistant general manager Claude Loiselle handles most contract talks for the team.

“We had a discussion with Claude Loiselle today, and we’re going to have another one tomorrow,” Meehan said Wednesday. “So our discussions are ongoing.”

Because Schenn is not arbitration-eligible, there is no real deadline for a new contract aside from the absolute, worst-case scenario, which requires him to be playing by Dec. 1. If he does not have a contract by then, he would not be eligible to play in the 2011-12 season.

Could Schenn’s contract disputes stretch past that December deadline? I’d put the odds at “Zero x Dan Cloutier’s chances of making the Hockey Hall of Fame.” (Translation: “No, it won’t stretch past that deadline.”)

Schenn isn’t a prolific force offensively, which is probably why his negotiations aren’t getting anywhere near as much attention as Weber or Doughty’s (aside from in Toronto, maybe). Mere scoring stats aren’t the best way to capture his impact on the Leafs, though. It’s his defensive steadiness that makes him a genuine asset; his 251 hits topped all NHL defensemen in 2010-11 and he was Toronto’s leader in penalty kill time. He also became something of a beacon of hope during his rookie season, when Maple Leafs fans didn’t have much of a bright side to look on in 08-09.

It’s hard to say how much Schenn might get paid since defense-first guys can be a little bit tougher to quantify at the bargaining table. The Maple Leafs have plenty of cap space to work with right now, so again, they should be able to get something done … even if it takes an all-night, caffeine-packed cram session.

* – Seriously, I pity anyone who must fight off the mental images of countless impeccably dressed Lotharios wooing their soul mates with their exotic accents. That’s pure stress, folks.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.