Edmonton Oilers v Pittsburgh Penguins

The untradeable player looking for redemption: Gilbert Brule

Say what you want about Gilbert Brule—he’s had an remarkable offseason. This is the guy who made headlines during the Stanley Cup final for picking up a hitchhiker in Vancouver’s Stanley Park; a passenger that happened to be Bono from U2. A few weeks later, he was reportedly traded at the draft as part of the prodigal son, Ryan Smyth’s return to Edmonton. The deal with LA fell through because of questions surrounding his concussion recovery; thus leaving him in the awkward position of being an Oiler—but knowing the Oilers tried to trade him.

The point that gets lost in all of this, is that Brule was supposed to be a star when he was drafted 6th overall in 2005. Back in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, he showed that he was the type of player who could play on the edge, agitate the opposition, stick up for teammates, while racking up significant points. Those were the days.

Like so many other Columbus Blue Jackets draft picks, Brule struggled once he hit the NHL. He only managed 12 total goals in over the course of three seasons in Columbus, before he was shipped to Edmonton for Raffi Torres. In a league that isn’t always kind to youngsters, he was afforded the gift that many prospects would kill for: a second chance.

In 2009-10, he finally looked like he had turned the corner and found his niche in the NHL. While playing an improved all-around game, Brule set career highs in goals (17), assists (20), and points (37) over 65 games. His timing couldn’t have been better as he parlayed the career season (and show of potential) into a two-year contract worth almost $2 million per season. If he could build on his newfound success, he’d be set up for a long, profitable career. Then the injuries hit again.

He had a problem with his spleen. He had the flu. He had problems with a bad ankle. Then to cap it all off, he had a concussion that ruined the rest of his season. For a guy looking to build on his previous success, each and every ailment proved to slow the momentum he had worked so hard to create.

Entering yet another contract year, Brule will have to earn the opportunity to prove his worth. As Jim Matheson from the Edmonton Journal reports, there’s a place for Brule if he fights for it:

“…It’s very crowded at forward, but if Brule can stay healthy and can get his emotions in check, he’s exactly what the Oilers need. He can skate, he can hit, he can win face-offs on a team that was 44 per cent last year, worst in the league, and he’s got a wicked shot. He brings a lot to the table when he’s right.”

The emotions that Matheson speaks of could be the key to next year and beyond for the 25-year-old. Brule spoke to Matheson about the mental side of the game that he’s been fighting with over the last few years:

“I’ve been working with a sports psychologist like crazy this summer to get away from thinking I should have done this, I should have done that. That drags me down. I’m thinking too much after games. You do that and you can’t get to sleep.”

“Last year I was just going along. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve talked to our sports psychologist Kimberly Amirault and with Dr. Saul Miller in Vancouver.”

If Brule can get his head straight, he should prove to be a much more valuable player than simply the buy-out candidate that the Kings were looking for in June. He’s shown signs over the course of his career—just mix in a little consistency and he can be a professional for years to come. Now we’ll just see if he can work the “contract year” magic that so many players seem to find.

Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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Talk about the ideal start.

Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.