Daymond Langkow passes Coyotes’ physical; Can he give them much-needed help at center?

For most of this off-season, the Phoenix Coyotes have avoided taking big risks. The one gamble they made was handing defenseman Keith Yandle a big contract, but that seems like the smart move considering the fact that he’s in his prime years and the team’s defense would crumble without him. They avoided a bigger dice roll by letting Ilya Bryzgalov walk rather than giving him an enormous contract, although some might say that relying on Mike Smith is the biggest risk of them all.

Coyotes GM Don Maloney seemed like he was going to play it safe all summer long, but then he traded cheap winger Lee Stempniak for an expensive, risky old center in Daymond Langkow. Joe rightly pointed out that the Coyotes will attempt to fill a void at center with Langkow, but the returning Coyotes center (he was traded from Phoenix in 2004) remains a big “if” coming off a serious neck injury.

Today provided some positive news on that front, as the team confirmed that Langkow passed his physical and is “fully cleared to play and participate in all club activities.”

So now that his arrival is all but confirmed, the $4.5 million question is whether or not he’ll be able to help them out. Maloney thinks that Langkow is the perfect fit as a two-way center, even if the aging pivot won’t win fans over with flashy play.

Many thought he would never play again, and even Langkow had his doubts after his 376-day rehab had more than its share of setbacks. But Langkow returned for the final four regular season games last year. And the video of his landmark return against St. Louis on April 1 told Maloney what he need to know.

“I ended up watching all of his shifts those last four games,” Maloney said. “And when he got cross-checked in the middle of the second period (by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman) and got back up, it was pretty good indication he would be fine.”

Langkow is the kind of player Maloney and coach Dave Tippett covet; hard-working leaders who let their play on the ice do the talking.

(snip)

“Daymond symbolizes what we’re all about in Phoenix,” he said. “There’s not a lot of flash and dash, not a lot of high-end speed. But he’s a very good player on both sides of the puck, he takes care of his own end and has enough creative ability to thrive with skilled players.

“When we add him down the middle to guys like (Martin) Hanzal and (Boyd) Gordon and, at some point,  Turris, it makes us look much more formidable as a team. He’s never going to win a public-speaking contest, but he’s very well respected and that goes a long way with us.”

At first, the monetary difference made the trade a little shaky; the Coyotes took on $2.6 million more in cap space after dealing Stempniak ($1.9 million) for Langkow ($4.5 million). Yet when you consider the fact that the Coyotes aren’t that much above the salary cap floor at just under $51 million, it gets a slight bit easier to stomach.

The Coyotes wanted to open up playing time for their young wingers while solidifying their shaky situation at center now that Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler are no longer in the fold. I’m not completely certain that Langkow has the health (or even enough gas left in the tank) to make that trade seem brilliant, but at least they did something to try to improve in a serious area of need.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.