Joey MacDonald

Joey MacDonald could have been playing for Lokomotiv

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There have been plenty of stories that have filtered out since Wednesday’s horrific crash that devastated the hockey world. From bone-chilling tales detailing the ill-fated flight’s last few minutes, to imagining families being notified, to the stories of players and coaches that left us too soon, it’s been surreal to be a hockey fan over the last few days. After hearing so many tragic stories, it’s welcomed reprieve to hear something positive surrounding such a devastating story.

For Joey MacDonald and his family, they know just how close they came to being part of the “darkest day in the history of our sport.”

The back-up goaltender in Detroit revealed to reporters after practice that he had been contemplating a move to the KHL. More specifically, he was seriously considering a move to play with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. Sitting as an unrestricted free agent, MacDonald knew he had to keep his options open this summer. He had to weigh two-way contracts, a season or two with Grand Rapids in the AHL, and even the possibility of playing overseas.

If Detroit hadn’t agreed to make the second year of his contract a one-way deal, he likely would have been on that plane with ex-Red Wings Brad McCrimmon and Ruslan Salei:

“It’s tough, especially with me talking to them. If I would’ve known the guys (former teammate Ruslan Salei, Detroit assistant coach Brad McCrimmon) that were going over there, I probably would’ve signed with them.

“Knowing Rusty (Ruslan Salei) was going there… fortunately Detroit stepped up. This is where I always wanted to play and stay as long as I can.”

(snip)

“I was going over there. I talked to a few teams and there were a couple two-year deals pretty much figured out.

“I talked to them (Yaroslavl) early, before the end of the season. I know they are a great organization.

“No one wants to think about that (how close he came to being on the plane).”

(h/t to Kukla’s Korner)

While all of us grieve the tragedy, MacDonald and his family appreciate just how lucky they are—something that has nothing to do with hockey whatsoever. He even went as far to say that he’d have second thoughts if he was confronted the same decision in two years when his current contract expires. MacDonald explained that other players in the same situation may be hesitant as well:

“I don’t know (if I’d go in the future). Probably not, because my wife is kind of freaked out about it, especially when it was one of the teams I had talked to.

“It would be a tough decision. As of now, I’m here for two years and I don’t have to worry about anything.”

(snip)

“I’m sure it will (affect players’ decisions to play in Russia). I’m sure a lot of players that were thinking about playing in Russia, their decisions will be made a little easier now.”

For now, MacDonald will battle for his place on the Red Wings. In 15 games with the Wings last season, MacDonald put up some of the best numbers of his career. Despite a pedestrian 5-5-3 record, he had a .917 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average. He gave up three or less goals in 14 out of 15 appearances; just imagine what his numbers would have looked like if he could have avoided the 7 goals against St. Louis in his last appearance of the season.

With Chris Osgood stepping away from the game (as a player), it leaves MacDonald and Ty Conklin to fight for the back-up spot behind Jimmy Howard this season. Looking ahead, Conklin is only signed for one more season before his contract runs out. If MacDonald can hold off former first rounder Thomas McCollum, the back-up job is his to lose in 2012-13.

But today, all of the hockey stuff is secondary. MacDonald is just grateful that he didn’t end up signing that contract to play in the KHL this season. In this case, real life trumps hockey.

Deadline target Streit says ‘it’s too early’ for extension talks in Philly

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 09:  Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers completes a pass against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 9, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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Yesterday, we touched on the dynamic at play between Buffalo and veteran captain Brian Gionta.

Today, a similar situation to discuss — but it’s in Philly, and involves alternate captain Mark Streit.

Streit, 39, is in the last of a four-year, $21 million deal with a $5.25M cap hit. Like Gionta, he’s a pending UFA and — also like Gionta — has a limited no-trade clause (Streit can list 10 teams he’d accept a trade to.)

Like the Sabres, the Flyers are in a tricky spot.

Right on the wild card bubble, they’re cognizant that a veteran presence like Streit — who has 17 points in 35 games, averaging 19:43 per night — would be valuable come playoff time.

But if Philly falls out of playoff contention, Streit would undoubtedly be an asset worth flipping at the deadline. It’s something the team is surely aware of.

The Swiss rearguard has more than 30 games of playoff experience and, as we’ve seen at previous deadlines, the return for rental defensemen can be high.

More on this situation, from the Burlington County Times:

So if the Flyers were to keep him past the deadline and offer him a new contract, would he be willing to stay?

“At this point, I just want to play and I want to make it into the playoffs with the Flyers,’’ the Swiss native said. “That’s on my mind. I love it here, love playing for the Flyers.”

The subject of a new contract is tricky because the Flyers are currently right on the bubble for a playoff spot.

There’s really no point in opening contract negotiations if he’s only going to be here another five weeks, is there?

“Not yet, it’s too early,’’ Streit said. “I’d like to stay here. I’ve been part of this organization for four years now. I love the guys, I believe in the group.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall told the Times he hasn’t made any decisions on his UFAs, adding he’s in no rush to sign them.

There’s actually quite a lot of business for Hextall on that front — in addition to Streit, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are all up on July 1 — so it’s not surprising he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

As for Streit, he said he’d like to stick in Philly beyond this year… and, per the Times, even joked with reporters that he’d love to sign another four-year deal.

We assume he was joking, anyway.

Sens nab Wingels in trade with Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Tommy Wingels #57 of the San Jose Sharks looks to pass the puck while covered by Artem Anisimov #15 of the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center on November 25, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Tommy Wingels from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two AHL forwards, Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, and a 2017 seventh-round draft pick.

The Sens announced the trade via Twitter. As part of the deal, the Sharks will retain 30 percent of Wingels’ $2.6 million salary this season. The 28-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent. His total cap hit is $2.475 million.

Wingels has just five goals and three assists in 37 games this season, and his average ice time under head coach Pete DeBoer had fallen from 13:38 last season to just 10:03.

Perhaps he’ll find a bigger role now under Guy Boucher. Wingels is expected to join the Sens tomorrow in Ottawa.

In a press release, Sharks GM Doug Wilson called Wingels “a valuable member of our franchise for many years, a phenomenal teammate and a true role model on and off the ice for our organization and the NHL.”

Wilson added, “As a team evolves and younger players push for roster spots, unfortunately tough decisions have to be made. We wish Tommy and his wife, Molly, nothing but success in the future.

“We also want to welcome Buddy and Zach to our organization. They add size and depth to our reserve list and we look forward to having them in San Jose.”

It’s crunch time for the Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stays on the ice after giving up a goal to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning are desperate for wins.

How desperate?

Well, it’s estimated they’ll have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

So, pretty darn desperate.

It is shocking, frankly, that the Lightning have found themselves in this position. After 48 games, they sit dead last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-22-5. Even without Steven Stamkos, most observers thought they’d hang in there.

But if it’s not one thing (allowing too many goals), it’s been another (not scoring enough) for Jon Cooper’s bunch. Heading into tonight’s game in Chicago, the Bolts have just two wins in their last 10 games.

Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Coyotes, one of the NHL’s worst teams, was a low point.

“Disappointing is probably not even the right word,” veteran forward Brian Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “We’ve got to do a better job in (the room), I guess, especially the veteran guys. It’s got to be way better from the start, maybe in preparation? Obviously, our focus wasn’t where it needed to be. That’s a hard one to swallow.”

The Lightning outshot the Coyotes by a big margin, 48-23, but for the 13th time this season they lost a game in regulation despite finishing ahead on the shot clock. Only Carolina (17) and Boston (15) have lost more games that way. 

In a related story, Ben Bishop‘s save percentage has fallen from .926 last season, when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, to .905. He was pulled Saturday after allowing five goals on just 17 shots.

To be fair, Bishop had played well in his three previous starts since returning from an injury. But Saturday was a bad time to have a bad game. Those were two points the Lightning really needed, and they didn’t even get one.

Tampa Bay has two games before the All-Star break — tonight in Chicago and Thursday at the Panthers in Sunrise.

That game Thursday will be huge for both teams, each of which went into the season with high hopes, before injuries and other frustrations arose.

The reality now is that both Florida clubs are likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, there’s still time to climb out of their respective holes, but the odds say they’ll probably fail.

Sabres welcome back oft-injured Kulikov, who has missed 26 games

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Dmitry Kulikov‘s first year in Buffalo has largely been defined by his lingering back injury, but he’ll set about changing that narrative when he returns to the lineup tonight in Nashville.

Today, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Kulikov would play for the first time since Dec. 27, having missed nearly a month with his lingering ailment.

Kulikov also missed 13 games earlier in the year with the same back problem.

Acquired at last year’s draft in a deal that sent Mark Pysyk to Florida — along with picks being exchanged — Kulikov was expected to play a big role in Buffalo this season, and projected to play on the club’s top defensive pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

“You watch Florida when they go on the PK; he was the first guy on the ice, when they needed a goal on the playoffs he was on the ice, when they needed to protect a lead late in the game he was on the ice,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said at the time of the trade, per NHL.com. “So we certainly liked what we saw.”

All told, the 26-year-old Russian’s appeared in just 20 games this year, registering a single point. He has averaged over 22 minutes per, though — meaning head coach Dan Bylsma has used Kulikov quite a bit, when available.

Kulikov didn’t take this morning’s skate, so no clear indication on who he’ll pair with this evening.