Jacob Josefson

Travis Zajac’s injury could give Jacob Josefson a shot at second line duty

The New Jersey Devils’ offense is about as top-heavy as they come, so when word surfaced that top center Travis Zajac could miss anywhere between three and six months, the uneasy search for answers began.

Early indications point to Patrik Elias being the temporary first line center (a role he has some experience with), but second line center remains a question mark. If the Devils decide to side with familiarity, they might make Dainius Zubrus their second center. There’s a chance that the team might go with upside and a littler mystery, however, in the form of 2009 first round pick Jacob Josefson.

There are some who believe that the Swedish pivot’s development would be better served playing against weaker competition in a third line role, but Josefson lined up with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson during training camp on Sunday. Line combinations change enough during the regular season – let alone the earliest practices of the year – so it’s not safe to assume that Josefson will be a fixture on the second line. That being said, the fight to claim that spot ranks as one of the team’s most interesting training camp storylines.

Kovalchuk played most of last season with Zajac as his center. Josefson, who had three goals and seven assists in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2010-11, knows there is an opportunity there for him.

“Both Kovy and Clarkson are really good players,” he said. “Everybody knows that. I just have to read off of them, so we can we can make some good plays. It’s always fun to play with those kind of players.”

Zajac’s absence has created a sizeable hole for the Devils because he did so many things: top-line center, power play, penalty kill, took pretty much every key faceoff. So, if Josefson, who was drafted 20th overall by the Devils in 2009, is able to take the next step in his development and play significant minutes as a top-six forward and on the power play, that will help the Devils considerably.

“Obviously, he’s one of our key players,” Josefson said of Zajac. “He’s gone now, so that just means that other guys have to step up and play until he’s back. We’re a good team, so everybody has to chip in and play for the team.”

Just one year ago, Josefson was merely fighting for a spot on the team in training camp. Now he’s staring down an opportunity to earn time alongside a $100 million player in Kovalchuk. The Devils traded up in 2009 to make him the 20th pick of that draft, so he’s obviously held in high regard in the franchise. It would be an impressive leap forward if Josefson manages to nail down that second line spot, though.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE