Quebec Nordiques fans

Former Nordiques owner says NHL is returning to Quebec City soon

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We’ve already seen the Winnipeg Jets rise from the grave this summer and if things go according to how former Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut sees it, we’ll be seeing the fleur-de-lis around the NHL sooner than later.

Aubut, the man responsible for selling the Nordiques to be moved from Quebec City to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche, is more than fired up that a new $400 million arena is soon to begin construction in Quebec City. With its construction set to be completed in 2015 the hopes that the NHL will return are higher than ever.

With all of these matters swirling about, Aubut tells Sun Media that he feels confident that the NHL will come back to Quebec City and will even do so sooner than later.

Aubut says his hometown could have had a team sooner had a new arena been ready by this year, but the $400-million facility won’t be completed until 2015.

That means an NHL team that relocates in 2013 would have to play its first two seasons in the Pepsi Colisee, a 61-year-old facility that’s not up to NHL standards.

“If we had (built) earlier, we would have had a team today, not Winnipeg,” he said of the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Manitoba in May.

“I know that (NHL commissioner Gary) Bettman would have chosen Quebec City way before Winnipeg. I remember when the Nordiques left, he said ‘we just lost a big asset, with the cultural aspect that Quebec represents.’ This was an American talking!”

All right so there’s a lot of excitement here for Aubut since he’s been seen as one of the bad guys for letting the Nordiques get away. Considering that the lack of a new arena was one of the reasons the team left Quebec in the first place, it’s easy to see why a new arena being built would get him fired up.

What makes his excitement palpable is the financial state some teams are in as well as their inability to get a new arena deal done and making life hard for them to make money. The Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Devils, Islanders, Blues, and Stars are all dealing with either ownership problems or financial woes that helping to disrupt operations of their teams.

Obviously the Coyotes and their lack of an owner and an abundance of financial problems put them squarely in focus as a potential relocation candidate. While it would’ve made for dramatic coincidence to see the Coyotes move back to Winnipeg, if Quebec is serious and has someone willing to pony up the money to purchase the team, Quebecor Media’s Karl Peladeau for instance, they could get their shot to do that next year.

The Islanders could certainly be a candidate as well, but that would require there to be zero progress made on getting an arena somewhere on Long Island, Queens or Brooklyn for them to play in. If nothing happens by the time the Isles lease runs out at Nassau Coliseum, the new Quebec arena would be an easy target for Charles Wang to head for if he felt the need.

While Aubut won’t be the guy that plunks down the cash to make that dream possibly happen, he’s the figurehead here playing the part of head cheerleader for the city to bring the NHL back. If the NHL gets to resurrect the Nordiques through the misfortunes of another team, while it would sting for the United States to have another franchise moved, it could prove to be a huge financial boost for the league.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.