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.

NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

“This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

“What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.