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Former Leafs, Predators enforcer Wade Belak found dead at age 35 in Toronto

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With the tragic deaths of tough guys Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien coming just months apart, the hockey world already fought through plenty of grief during this summer. The NHL’s nightmare off-season continues today, though, as QMI reports that former enforcer Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto Hotel room at age 35 Wednesday afternoon. The cause of Belak’s death hasn’t been revealed yet, but we’ll keep an eye out for details tonight and beyond.

Belak was beloved for his sense of humor and kind off-ice demeanor during his lengthy NHL career. Although he enjoyed stints with the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators, he will probably be best known as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent parts of seven seasons in Toronto, where he charmed many fans along the way. Belak was scheduled to appear on the popular CBC game show “Battle of the Blades” this year, another indication of his popularity.

Belak scored eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points while collecting 1,263 penalty minutes in 549 regular season games spread over 14 seasons. Belak also played in 22 playoff games – all with Toronto – scoring one goal and collecting 36 penalty minutes. Belak was involved in 136 fights in his NHL career, according to “fight card” information at Hockey Fights.com.

It’s been a brutal four months for the league, as Boogaard (28) died on May 13 while Rypien (27) passed away on August 15. The NHL and its players association already announced plans to examine and improve upon their support programs, but Belak’s death will probably do more to force that issue – regardless of the cause of death.

This is a tough blow to take, especially since Belak leaves behind a wife and two young daughters. You can read more about Belak’s life and career here. Our hearts go out to his family on another dark day for the sport.

Update: Belak’s final NHL team the Nashville Predators released this statement regarding his death.

“The entire Nashville Predators organization and family is shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Wade Belak. Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex. We offer our full support to them at this very difficult time.”

Update (7:44 p.m.): NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr issued this statement:

“All Players and NHLPA staff are sincerely saddened and shocked by the passing of former member Wade Belak. His affable personality made him popular with teammates, fans and media, and he was a hardworking, respected member of the Association. He will undoubtedly be greatly missed throughout the entire hockey community. Our deepest condolences go out to Wade’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”

Update (7:45 p.m.): NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement mourning Belak’s passing:

“The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of Wade Belak, who competed to the utmost every minute of his NHL career. Our hearts go out to Wade’s loved ones, his friends, his former teammates and to all who feel the horrible void left by this tragedy.”

Update (9:15 p.m.): Unfortunately, the Toronto Sun is reporting that according to their sources, Belak’s cause of death: suicide

More as it becomes available.

Would Blues trade Shattenkirk? GM says ‘all bets are off’ if losing continues

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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During an appearance on NBCSN last week, hockey insider Bob McKenzie mentioned that continued struggles could prompt the St. Louis Blues to trade Kevin Shattenkirk.

When asked by Hockey Central at Noon on Tuesday, Blues GM Doug Armstrong didn’t exactly shoot down the idea of trading Shattenkirk (and maybe some other assets?) if St. Louis doesn’t get it together.

“If we’re stumbling along like this, then all bets are off,” Armstrong said. “We don’t want to keep players here, hope to sneak into eighth place and get hammered in the first round.”

Yep, that basically follows McKenzie’s update note for note. As you can see in this video, McKenzie mentions that Shattenkirk is also more willing to explore different options, including the possibility of being a “rental” rather than signing an extension wherever he goes.

So, it seems like the Blues might be open for business (or at least willing to open up shop if things don’t turn around soon).

With that in mind, what would be a reasonable price for Shattenkirk and what are the Blues asking for? Perhaps we’ll need to wait and see if we get a little more information in that regard soon.

You know, unless the Blues began a run with tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course.

Some good news: Patrik Laine’s back for the Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets could use some good news – couldn’t we all? – and it doesn’t get a lot better than this in late January: rookie sensation Patrik Laine‘s back.

Paul Maurice said it simply enough, stating that “he’s in” for Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

Winnipeg lost its game against the Ducks on Monday while the Sharks rode Patrick Marleau‘s magical third period to a decisive win versus Colorado on that same night, so getting a burst from Laine is a pretty nice bonus for a Jets team that feels like it’s just sort of hanging on.

Laine’s been sidelined since Jan. 7 with a concussion thanks to a hard Jake McCabe hit that even the Jets considered “clean.”

He’s likely out of the upper ranks of the Calder race at this point, although who knows?

Laine already has 21 goals and 37 points in 42 games, so it’s probably foolish to say that the young sniper can’t pull something off.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 25: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 25, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins carry a four-game winning streak into Tuesday, staying within reasonable striking distance of their deadly competition in the Metropolitan Division.

The St. Louis Blues are familiar with that situation from the Central’s peak, but with a three-game losing streak and some serious struggles in net, they have to wonder about their chances of holding onto a playoff spot altogether.

So, yes, this is a battle of teams going in two different directions, yet the Blues can also note that the Penguins struggled quite a bit in 2015-16, only to win it all.

This game has the added bonus of featuring some of the NHL’s brightest scorers, including Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Malkin. It should be a fun one that you can watch on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream link.

Goalie nods: Bolts start struggling Vasilevskiy ahead of struggling Bishop

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning switches with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 during a break in play in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Since returning from injury, Ben Bishop has allowed 10 goals on 96 shots — an .896 save percentage — and was hooked on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes.

So it’s not a huge surprise that Tampa Bay will start Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight, when it takes on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

But it’s not like Vasilevskiy’s rolling at the moment.

The young Russian is winless in his last six outings, posting a 3.93 GAA and .877 save percentage. Perhaps head coach Jon Cooper was impressed with Vasilevskiy’s relief appearance over the weekend — he stopped all six shots faced in Arizona — or perhaps Cooper just flipped a coin.

As Brough wrote earlier, it’s crunch time for the Lightning right now. The club’s in desperate need of wins, and it’s estimated the Bolts will have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

If the goaltending doesn’t improve, it ain’t gonna happen.

For Chicago, Corey Crawford gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— The Red Wings will continue to ride Jared Coreau, who is 5-1-2 since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids. Coreau will face Tuukka Rask, who starts for Boston after leaving Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a migraine.

— After Jeff Zatkoff failed to impress in his start last night, Peter Budaj returns to the Kings’ net. The host Devils will go with Cory Schneider, who returns from a two-game absence (illness).

— Good matchup in Brooklyn. Thomas Greiss, the NHL’s reigning second star of the week, will start for the Isles, who play host to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.

— As we wrote about yesterday, Jake Allen‘s mental reset will continue as Carter Hutton gets the start in Pittsburgh. He’ll be up against Matt Murray, who’s coming off a 44-save win over Boston on Sunday.

Braden Holtby gets the night off for the Caps, who wills tart Philipp Grubauer in Ottawa. The Sens will go with their workhorse, Mike Condon, who makes his 27th appearance of the year.

Brian Elliott started last night, so Chad Johnson goes for the slumping Flames in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who is slumping himself. Price has lost three in a row, and five of his last six.

— The Preds have a good record with Juuse Saros (5-3-1) this year, so they’ll go with him tonight as they host the Sabres. For Buffalo, Robin Lehner is back in after making 36 saves in a win over Montreal over the weekend.

— No confirmed netminders from either side in tonight’s Sharks-Jets game from Winnipeg.

Devan Dubnyk returns to the net for Minnesota, after Darcy Kuemper gave him Sunday night off. Dubnyk will be up against Kari Lehtonen.