Matthew Lombardi, Dany Sabourin

Matthew Lombardi admits he’s nervous about making his Leafs debut tonight

The Toronto Maple Leafs go into the 2011-12 season with plenty of wild cards. From James Reimer backing up his breakout season to their unexpected top line keeping it together and plenty of health questions, the Leafs really could go either way.

Even with some rather big “ifs” floating around, Matthew Lombardi’s battle with post-concussion syndrome ranks as one of the most mysterious (and potentially difference-making). Lombardi scored a great contract to become a significant checking center for the Nashville Predators, but he instead just played in two games before a concussion ended his season in Tennessee.

In what some might consider a surprisingly quick recovery (or semi-recovery), Lombardi will make his preseason debut with the Leafs tonight. Who knows if he’ll really be able to stick with the team from a health and fitness standpoint off the bat, but the Maple Leafs aren’t easing him into the action. He’ll center a line with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel during the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

While he practiced in full-contact drills for a week, this still seems like a surprisingly quick phase in his comeback. Lombardi knows that physical challenges will come sooner or later, too.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Lombardi said on Saturday after a pre-game skate at the Air Canada Centre. “It’s going to be a weight lifted off my shoulders…to get this first game in and then move on and put everything behind me.

“I’m definitely going have some nerves going on but it’s good…It’s been so long. I’ve been so anxious the last couple of weeks. It’s finally here. Getting into a game and putting all the bad stuff behind me and moving forward…

“Mentally, I’ve been preparing to play. I had it in the back of my mind (since being cleared for full contact this week).”

(snip)

“I’m confident I’m healed,” he said. “We play in a game that is physical. There’s always a risk even if I never had a concussion. That’s the way it is.”

Lombardi drew attention during his last season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 09-10, as he scored 19 goals and 53 points while exhibiting great speed and strong versatility. His concussion problems almost made him seem like a throwaway in the deal to bring Cody Franson to Toronto, but the shift-skating center could be significantly more valuable if he can stay healthy.

Of course, the Maple Leafs have plenty of “ifs” going into the season, but a healthy Lombardi could Toronto a more balanced team. We’ll see how things go for him during the next few days to see if that claim is valid, though.

Matt Nieto should be available to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 03:  Matt Nieto #83 of the San Jose Sharks skates against the Nashville Predators during the second period of Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 3, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks are confident that forward Matt Nieto will be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Whether he actually plays or not is a different story.

The 23-year-old suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of San Jose’s second round series against Nashville and he hasn’t suited up since.

Nieto might not be one of the biggest names on the Sharks roster, but he’s definitely a useful piece of the puzzle.

“He brings speed,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, per NHL.com. “He’s one of our faster forwards. He’s another guy that gives us a little bit of a different dimension and a little bit of a different element.

“I’ll know more by Monday, but I’d anticipate that he’d be available.”

Nieto practiced with his teammates on Saturday, but he didn’t skate on any of the Sharks’ top four lines. It doesn’t look like DeBoer will make changes from the team that beat St. Louis in Game 6 of the conference final, but a lot can change between now and the start of Game 1.

Nieto has one goal and three points in 11 postseason games in 2016.

Chiasson’s agent expects his client to be moved this summer

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10:  Alex Chiasson #90 of the Ottawa Senators skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Alex Chiasson has been in Ottawa for each of the last two seasons, but he’s fallen way short of expectations.

Chiasson was a key piece of the trade that saw Jason Spezza head to Dallas in 2014. The Sens received two prospects, a draft pick and Chiasson in the deal. During his two years in Ottawa, he’s scored 19 goals and 40 points in 153 games. It simply hasn’t worked out the way either side had hoped.

Now, it sounds like his camp is expecting him to be moved before the start of next season.

“I think that’s a potential scenario, but I don’t know if you ever really know if anything materializes until it happens,” agent Kent Hughes said, per The Hockey News. “But yeah, (a trade) wouldn’t surprise me.”

Chiasson may have struggled in the last two years, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple teams inquire about him. He’s still just 25-years-old, he has size (6’4, 205 pounds), and he’s set to become a restricted free agent on July 1st. Whatever contract he signs will likely be pretty affordable.

“I think at the end of the day, for a lack of a better term, it’s the lack of a successful marriage, I guess,” added Hughes. “You get to a point where you either decide you’re going to say to an organization, ‘move on’ or you’re going to continue to try, but as you continue to do that, your asset continues to diminish in value.”

P.K. Subban takes Canada 2016 World Cup ‘snub’ in stride

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 02:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on March 2, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just about any contending hockey nation will force some “snubs” heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Snubs feel especially inevitable for Canada, though.

P.K. Subban has taken some confidence hits, relative to his abilities, when it comes to international play. Maybe that explains why he essentially shrugged off not making the team, as Sportsnet notes.

“I mean, everybody wants to make the team, right? And there’s a bunch of guys that I’m sure wanted to be on the team. But that’s the way it goes,” Subban said. “Listen, at the end of the day, we could take four or five teams to this thing. When I was speaking to [Team Canada GM] Doug Armstrong, my number one thing was I just want to see Canada win gold. So, I’ll be there cheering just like everybody else.”

Let’s face it, it’s probably pretty easy for Subban.

He’s super-rich, generally beloved and has a gold medal to his name. That probably makes it easier to shake off a snub.

That said, he also brings up a fun idea. If the Team North America idea runs out of steam, wouldn’t it be fun to watch Canada A vs. Canada B, or something of that nature?

Hey, if you’re bored, feel free to fantasy draft a second Canadian team for such a scenario. Or, you know, each a sandwich instead.

In other Subban news, he had fun with the Toronto Blue Jays:

Should Lightning trade Bishop and hand the torch to Vasilevskiy?

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Erik Erlendsson poses what may seem like a bold question on Hockey Buzz: should the Tampa Bay Lightning hand the reins to Andrei Vasilevskiy by trading Ben Bishop?

Erlendsson points to these comments made by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, with the last sentence likely being most pertinent:

“I think we’re in a fantastic position,” Yzerman said. “We have two outstanding goaltenders, based on what we’ve seen from Andrei both last year and this year and in particular, him coming in in the Pittsburgh series, I think we have a brilliant young goaltender and a proven, I don’t even want to call Bish a veteran because he’s still relatively young in terms of years played and games played, but we’ve got two outstanding goaltenders. I know that at some point, when that is, we may for expansion or cap reasons, have to make a decision.”

Yes, at some point Yzerman would be forced to make a decision. Assuming an extension doesn’t come early, both Bishop’s $5.95 million cap hit and Vasilevskiy’s rookie deal ($925K cap hit) will expire after 2016-17.

One would think that this would be the fork in the road moment … but what if Yzerman decides to be proactive and trade Bishop now?

Stevie Y has plenty on his plate with new deals needed for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin.

Still, this is expected to be an expensive offseason, whether it’s literal (locking all or more of those big pieces) or more figurative (possibly losing franchise player Stamkos). As great as Bishop has been, his near-$6 million could go toward locking down those pieces, especially if management already expects Vasilevskiy to be The Guy.

Granted, the Lightning have seen firsthand how crucial it can be to have two starting-quality goalies (at least for however long you can hold onto them).

Quite a conundrum, right?

If nothing else, it’s a point to consider, even while acknowledging Bishop’s strong work.

More on the Lightning off-season

Steven Stamkos on the situation

The Bolts want to bring back Jonathan Drouin