Owen Nolan faces long odds as he tries to find a spot on the Canucks

It’s tough enough for a 39-year-old veteran to make it in the NHL—let alone one coming off of a season in Switzerland that is forced to make an NHL team on a tryout. That’s exactly the challenge Owen Nolan is facing during training camp this season. After playing in 1200 NHL regular season games and netting 422 career goals, Nolan is being asked to prove his worth before the Canucks are willing to make any commitment.

Alain Vigneault has been happy with Nolan’s play throughout training camp and pleased once again during the Canucks 4-3 loss to the Sharks on Sunday night. The first overall pick in the 1990 draft could hypothetically bring an element to the defending Western Conference champs that they could use—a gritty, talented body to put in front of the net.

Of course, there’s a reason that he’s been out of the league for a season. In a league where players can’t lose a step—he’s lost two. Throughout his two decade long NHL career, he’s never been able to play a full 82 game season. It’s hard to believe that a body that has been through so many wars would magically find health as he approaches his 40th birthday. Playing Nolan’s style of game for twenty years is much different than a guy like Mark Recchi playing twenty years of his particular style. Endurance and durability are questions that Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault have thought about:

“Can the body hold up the pace and can his body sustain it on a consistent basis? You have to be able to practise and play to maintain a high tempo. He’s playing today. Is he going to be able to practise tomorrow? That’s part of the body being able to hold up at that age. He’s been able to follow the pace and has brought the skill he might still have — those hands are still there — and he goes to the net hard.

“That power forward type of player, if we could add it to our group, we would.”

The former Sharks captain understands the questions surround his worth, but he’s not ready to hand ‘em up quite yet. Most successful veterans acknowledge that the passion to play the game is almost as important as skill they near retirement. Nolan explains that the fire burns just as bright as ever:

“I know I’m not 20, but the willingness to compete and still do that is there and playing physical has been part of my career and I’m not going to stop. Sometimes you lose a step, but the longer you play the smarter you get. You learn to read certain situations and how to react to them so you don’t get caught out of position.”

Nolan has played for six NHL organizations throughout his lengthy NHL career. If he wants to add the Vancouver Canucks to the list that already includes the Nordiques/Avalanche, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Flames, and Wild, he’ll need the Vancouver organization to value his experience and leadership as much as his play on the ice. There are younger players signed who are itching for an opportunity to play energy roles on the Canucks this season. Players like Cody Hodgson, Mark Mancari, Marco Sturm, and Victor Oreskovich who are all battling to solidify their roles on the team.

Would the Canucks be willing to look past players who are younger, faster, or more physically imposing for a man in the twilight of his career? Thus far in training camp, he certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself throughout his try-out. But has he done enough to make the team?

Update: Minutes after we posted this article, reports surfaced that the Canucks have released Owen Nolan from his professional tryout. Impeccable timing as usual…

Nathan MacKinnon delivered another MVP-like performance on Sunday


Not only is Nathan MacKinnon involved in a tight playoff race, he’s also in the thick of the MVP hunt. His performance in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings certainly didn’t hurt his chances of winning the award.

MacKinnon finished the night with two goals, an assist and 11 shots on goal in 18:05 of ice time. Oh, and one of his goals looked like this:

The 22-year-old is now riding an 12-game point streak. He’s racked up an incredible 24 points during that stretch. The Avs forward has also racked up 28 points in his last 15 outings.

The Avalanche went 4-4 during MacKinnon’s eight-game absence between Feb. 1-16. With him in the lineup, they’re 35-21-8. That’s quite a difference.

“If we get in the playoffs, for me, he’s the MVP,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of MacKinnon, per the Denver Post. “I can’t imagine there is another player who means more to their team, and doing more for their team, than Nate’s doing for us. That’s just the way I see it. He is the driving force to our offense. And it’s consistent. It’s multiple-point games — seems like every night.”

Of course, his biggest competition will come in the form of Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a few others.

It’ll be difficult not to give MacKinnon the award if the Avs qualify for the playoffs. They’re currently sitting in the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but they haven’t clinched anything just yet.

On a positive note, they’re also just three points behind the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks

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Projected Lines

St. Louis Blues

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlexander Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Nikita SoshnikovIvan BarbashevChris Thorburn

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Joel EdmundsonRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[Check out the PHT Preview of the game]

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Matthew Highmore – Nick Schmaltz – Vinne Hinostroza
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAlex DeBrincat
Patrick SharpDavid Kampf – John Hayden

Duncan KeithJan Rutta
Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook
Jordan OesterleConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jean-Francois Berube

NHL Playoff Push: Another huge day ahead for Western Conference race


Entering play on Sunday there are six teams in the Western Conference that fighting for three playoff spots (the third spot in the Pacific Division, both Wild Cards). Those teams are all separated by just four points.

Five of those teams are in action on Sunday.

First, here is a look at how the standings look entering the day.

The Kings lost on Saturday to New Jersey and failed to gain any ground on the rest of the pack, while the Blues were able to get a huge win against the New York Rangers and set up another big game for them on Sunday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks. You can catch that game on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

On Sunday the Avalanche are hosting a Detroit team that is just circling the drain down the stretch and have a great opportunity to pick up two more huge points. The other Wild Card team at the moment, Dallas, is trending in the wrong direction down the stretch having won just five of their past 16 games. They are in Winnipeg on Sunday to play a Jets team that has one of the most powerful offenses in the league.

The Ducks, meanwhile, who can climb into the third spot in the Pacific Division with a point on Sunday, are hosing the Devils team that knocked off the Kings on Saturday.

The other team in that mix is Calgary. The Flames are the team that probably have the longest odds in this group, sitting four points back with all of the aforementioned teams sitting ahead of them. They are in Vegas to take on one of the best home teams in the league this season. The Flames, for what it is worth, have been one of the absolute best road teams. Given the standings and deficit they are facing the Flames have almost no margin for error the rest of the way.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

In the East, New Jersey has a chance to to move up a couple of spots in the standings with a win and some help.

A Devils win in Anaheim, combined with a Flyers loss to the Washington Capitals, would put the Devils into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Even if the Flyers win and maintain their hold on the No. 3 spot in the Metro the Devils could still leapfrog the Blue Jackets for the first Wild Card spot.

The other game in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with playoff implications is Tampa Bay hosting the Edmonton Oilers.

The Lightning have seen its lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle down to just two points after losing to the Boston  Bruins on Saturday night while the Bruins still have a game in hand. The Lightning could reclaim that four point lead with a win. The Oilers have been playing a bit better as of late, thanks almost entirely to Connor McDavid making a late season push for the scoring title.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Sunday’s Key Games

Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 4 p.m. ET
Edmonton Oilers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 5 p.m. ET
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Stars vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m ET
New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to continue playoff push against Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The St. Louis Blues are one of the many teams in the middle of the free-for-all playoff race that is the Western Conference and are in desperate need of wins. They got a huge one on Saturday night by defeating the New York Rangers in overtime, and now they need to come back 24 hours later and try to get another one when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

The only downside to Saturday’s win is that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko left the game due to an injury.

His status for Sunday is uncertain at this point, but it would obviously be a pretty significant blow to the Blues’ lineup if he is unable to go.

He is the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) and is second in total points with 57, trailing only the 59 that Brayden Schenn has.

The Blues enter the day three points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and have a chance to pick up a couple of more points in that race if they can knock off a Blackhawks team that is, if we are being completely honest, going in the tank down the stretch.

After losing to Buffalo on Saturday the Blackhawks are just 8-18-2 in their past 28 games.

This is one of three games that the Blues have remaining with the Blackhawks down the stretch.

St. Louis has been through a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks recently. It is a stretch that included a pretty significant collapse in the standings, a major trade (Paul Stastny), and some significant injuries. But they are still alive in the playoff race, barely, thanks to wins in three of their past four games.

They desperately need another one on Sunday night.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.