Blues hoping to pick new captain in training camp

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The Blues and their fans have a few new things to look forward to coming into next season. They’ll have new expectations as they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season; and their first playoff win since 2004. They’ll have new veterans on the team to help bring success back to the Gateway City. They’ll even have a new slogan.

Most importantly from a leadership perspective, they’ll have a new captain leading them onto the ice.

There has been a vacancy at captain ever since the Blues traded away Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning in middle of last season. They finished the season with three alternate captains sharing the leadership responsibilities—Alex Steen, Barret Jackman, and David Backes. Interestingly enough, the Blues aren’t sure if they’re going to pick one traditional captain or if they’re going to go with a group of rotating captains. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford spoke to Blues GM Doug Armstrong about the captain situation for next season:

“We want to get the input of some of the other people in our organization – the coaches, some people in our management staff – and we’ll have that decision by the first day of training camp… whether we go with a group of players that will make up a leadership group or we name a captain.

“We’re further ahead that we were at the end of the season, but we’re not at the point where we’ve solidified what we want to do, and that’s something that we’ll spend the next three weeks discussing.”

Earlier this offseason, we here at Pro Hockey Talk looked at the Blues captaincy situation and explained that promoting David Backes seems like a no-brainer. But if the Blues were to go with a rotating situation similar to the Minnesota Wild under Jacques Lemaire, the list of candidates gets a little murkier. Would they want to go with the current group of leaders (Jackman, Steen, Backes) who have been with the Blues for a longer period of time? Would they want to go with newcomers who look like they could be future cornerstones like Alex Pietrangelo or Chris Stewart? Would they want to give the “C” to a veteran, free agent acquisition like Jason Arnott or Jaime Langenbrunner? Any one of those guys is capable of wearing the “A” over the course of the season—and each is capable of wearing the “C” for a period of time as well.

It gets into a much deeper debate about the role of a captain on an NHL team. Most coaches and general managers will tell you that they expect leadership from every member of the team—they don’t need a letter on their jersey to set a good example. From that standpoint, rotating captains puts the responsibility on the team as a whole to hold their teammates accountable. In theory, it makes sense.

On the other hand, there are those who think a team needs a strong leader who is the acknowledged leader in the locker room. He’s the guy who, whether the team has given him the captaincy or not, has the undeniable respect of his teammates. It’s more of a “buck stops here” attitude—a player who will face his teammates and the media when things aren’t going well. A player who can approach the coach and management when things aren’t going well and some sort of change needs to be made. In short: an undisputed leader.

The Blues will use the rest of the offseason to figure out their captaincy situation. What do you think would be better for St. Louis? Should they make a guy like David Backes the permanent captain or should they go with rotating captains?

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.