Buffalo Sabres v Washington Capitals

Two days that could set up Capitals for a bright future

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Let’s make no mistake about it: the 2011-12 season is a pivotal one for the Washington Capitals franchise. Many players will be harshly judged if the team comes up short again, while head coach Bruce Boudreau’s job is probably on the line.

If you take a step back, however, you’ll see that this team could be bound for great things. Maybe they were already hurtling toward that destination by merely employing Alex Ovechkin, but two days of great goalie-related moves could plant the final seeds for something truly special.

July 1, 2011: The Capitals realize that they’re just not that into Semyon Varlamov – at least at the price he wants. Shockingly, they managed to trade him to Colorado for the startling package of the Avs’ 2012 first round pick and a second rounder in either 2012 or 2013.

Getting two high-end picks is a significant victory even out of context, but it gets downright crazy when you consider the fact that Colorado was bad enough to receive the third pick in 2011. Naturally, the Avalanche aren’t guaranteed to tank again – they made a surprising run to the 2010 playoffs, after all – but the fact that the 2012 first rounder isn’t lottery protected just makes the trade astounding.

(Somewhere, an especially optimistic Capitals fan is picturing a Washington team with dual Swedish center-Russian winger combos of Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson-Nail Yakupov.)

July 2, 2011: GM George McPhee didn’t rest on his laurels after that master stroke deal, though. He made sure that the Capitals’ short-term future could be brighter than ever by signing world-class goalie Tomas Vokoun to a ridiculously cheap one-year, $1.5 million deal.

The Capitals have been the victims of great runs by goalies, especially Jarsolav Halak’s masterpiece in 2010. Thanks to Varlamov’s demands and a lax group of rival general managers, Washington opened up a spot for their best goalie since the days when Olaf Kolzig was in full-on Godzilla mode. (Some might argue that Vokoun’s even better, but we’ll see.)

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Things could get really interesting if the Capitals win the Cup and get the top overall pick in 2012. Even if they fall apart in 2011-12, McPhee would have the option of blowing a big portion of the team up without being forced into any corners. Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Vokoun, Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman will see their contracts expire, so the team could change its direction in a single summer by letting them go.

Having what could be an outstanding first round pick wouldn’t hurt that hypothetical renovation process, either.

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
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Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

“We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

— Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

— Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

— Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.