Nashville Predators v Phoenix Coyotes

Oilers should benefit from Eric Belanger’s steadying presence

There were a lot of contracts handed out in early July, but a big chunk of them seemed to go to guys whose best days are (allegedly) in front of them. That’s why it was especially satisfying to see journeyman checking forward Eric Belanger get a three-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers; the two-way center has done everything that teams asked of him during his quietly impressive NHL career, only to see those clubs pass on bringing him back (sometimes in seemingly unprofessional ways) as a free agent or trade him to a different city.

Naturally, there’s always the chance that the Oilers could continue that string of instability by scuttling him out of town at some point, but that three-year, $5.25 million deal gives Belanger the consistency he’s been fighting for. If his previous work is any indication, Belanger should be worth every penny – even if it’s just doing the dirty jobs that the team’s talented young players aren’t quite as proficient at.

Again, it’s been a tough road for Belanger. The Edmonton Journal points out that the Oilers will be his seventh team since the lockout ended, which is especially odd since he spent the first 10 years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. The constant changes of scenery have been rough on Belanger’s family, but the experienced forward has a healthy outlook on the situation.

“My oldest was nervous and crying on her first day. She’s eight and she didn’t want to go. It’s tough for her, trying to get some new friends,” said Belanger, who signed a three-year, $5.5-million US contract on July 1.

“This is her fourth school in four years. But we’re in a neighbourhood with lots of kids, which is great. It’s hard on my wife (Alexandra), but more so on my kids (Lola Pearl is in Grade 1) because they’re here because of me.

“But I know it’ll be fine.”

(snip)

“It’s the reality of the new NHL. You see lots of guys moving around. It’s not a bad thing. It means lots of teams want you. You’re doing something right. I actually was in one organization for 10 years, in Los Angeles. But since the lockout, I have moved around. Every place I’ve been has been nice,” he said.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a longer contract, the French-Canadian forward has another reason to be excited: the Oilers will be the first Canadian NHL team he’ll suit up for. He said that he grew up watching the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens, so it will be a treat to play in a hockey hotbed – especially after a season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Belanger brings tangible and intangible assets to Edmonton

Belanger said that he was surprised the Coyotes didn’t want him back, and looking at his numbers there, it’s tough to dispute his logic. While his offensive numbers were modest (40 points), he was the top Coyotes forward in overall ice time since Shane Doan missed 10 games. Belanger averaged 17:20 minutes per game, third among forwards behind Doan and hulking center Martin Hanzal. That’s an impressive nightly average for an under-the-radar player, with 1:47 of shorthanded time per game. Belanger was also a go-to guy in the faceoff circle, winning an impressive 55.3 percent of his draws – earning a tie with Travis Zajac for the 17th-best mark in the NHL.

Considering the Coyotes’ questions at center, it’s that much more surprising that they showed little interest in bringing Belanger back. Phoenix’s loss will be Edmonton’s gain, because the Oilers have struggled in the faceoff dot over the last few years.

Belanger brings a nice all-around game, plenty of experience and dominant faceoff skills to a team that needs more of all three elements. If you look at him as a replacement for departed center Andrew Cogliano, he represents an attractive opposite to the disappointing young player. Where Cogliano seemed like pure, unrealized potential, Belanger represents sheer productivity.

That’s not the kind of change that will propel the Oilers to a playoff spot, but if they improve in other areas, it could be a very underrated move.

Eichel makes everyone look silly, Varlamov gets the early hook

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You know, with Connor McDavid hogging so much attention, it’s about time that Jack Eichel provided us with another awesome goal.

That tally came at the Colorado Avalanche’s (and especially Semyon Varlamov‘s) expense as that was the Buffalo Sabres first shot of the game.

Patrick Roy apparently felt like this just wasn’t Varlamov’s afternoon, as Colorado’s head coach decided to pull him after Varly allowed two goals on as many shots. Evander Kane nabbed the other goal for Buffalo.

You can watch the goal in the video above, which reminds us that “Eichel Tower” might not be a unique pun.

Another shot of it:

Check out Kane’s goal, too:

To be fair to Varlamov, Calvin Pickard has already allowed a goal as well. The Sabres are currently off to a 3-0 lead, and maybe a small roll considering how well they played against Montreal on Friday?

NHL on NBC: Red Wings, Bruins fight for Atlantic positioning

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) keeps Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) from the puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins are finding new ways to win these days, and while they might not be as obvious contenders as they once were, each team can still be dangerous.

Sunday’s NBC game proves enticing for plenty of reasons, yet the most obvious is that if the postseason began today, these two squads would face off in an intriguing first-round matchup.

The Bruins have taken the first two games between these teams in 2015-16, but they might be forced to face the Red Wings without crucial forward Patrice Bergeron, who may have been injured during an unlikely fight with Blake Wheeler.

Detroit features Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as usual, although Dylan Larkin is a new, ultra-speedy forward who is worthy of plenty of attention in his own right.

While Jeff Blashill continues to establish himself following up Mike Babcock, Claude Julien recently hit a milestone with his 500th win and earned plaudits from CSNNE.com as one of the best coaches in the league.

(Speaking of milestones, Brad Richards is expected to play in his 1,100th game.)

Boston currently holds the second spot in the Atlantic with 66 points in 55 games played, but Detroit is right behind them with 65 in as many contests. With the Tampa Bay Lightning hovering nearby, each team likely recognizes this as an important game.

Goalie nods: Backups battle as Kinkaid faces Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings prefer to lean on workhorse goalies Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick respectively, but Sunday presents a change of pace.

In the Kings’ case, Jhonas Enroth is playing in part because of (what Los Angeles hopes is) a minor injury to Quick.

It’s true that the under-sized goalie sports a mediocre 4-4-1 record, but he’s given the Kings legitimate chances to win games considering his impressive (especially for a backup) save percentage of .925. Perhaps he can earn a few more reps if he plays well in what may be a tight game?

Speaking of earning more reps, Keith Kinkaid must continue to work to prove that he’s able to make the jump from AHL goalie to at least an NHL backup. The Kings aren’t likely to make it easy for him, either.

Elsewhere …

Avalanche at Sabres: Semyon Varlamov vs. Robin Lehner

Bruins at Red Wings: Possibly Tuukka Rask vs. Petr Mrazek

Blues at Lightning: Best guess – Brian Elliott vs. Ben Bishop

Flyers at Rangers: Steve Mason vs. (possibly) Henrik Lundqvist

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.