Brent Burns, Mikkel Boedker

Offseason acquisition Brent Burns raises the expectations in San Jose

Expectations are pretty high in San Jose these days. Back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Finals will do that for a team. Then in the offseason, they went out and acquired the best defenseman they could get their hands on when they traded for former Minnesota Wild all-star Brent Burns. It didn’t take long for people to start asking Burns if he was feeling comfortable with his new team.

“Is this a chemistry question?” Burns said with a laugh before his second game. “Do I feel like a Shark? I have all the gear. I hope so. Yeah, it’s going to take a while, but it’s been great.”

Good thing it’s been a good start with his new teammates, because he signed a 5-year contract with San Jose before playing a single game. It was a big life decision for a guy who was only a year away from unrestricted free agency.

“It was pretty easy,” Burns said about the decision to sign an extension. “Me and my family didn’t know much about the city or the organization for that matter. I knew that it was tough to play against them and they had a great team. But right after we got traded, it can be a pretty devastating thing for somebody. The organization was just awesome. It almost takes me back to when I was 18 and pumped up to get one-piece sticks for the first time! The organization does everything they can to make sure you are ready to win—that’s all you have to care about. So it was a pretty easy decision once we started to see all the little things the team did. It was a no-brainer.”

Now that he’s in San Jose for the next six seasons, Burns should start getting used to the expectations. They’re the only team in the league that has been to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons. Before that, they were the #1 seed in the Western Conference before bowing out to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. The team has plenty of talent all over their roster—but until they take the next step in the playoffs, there will always be doubters (whether its warranted or not).

With Burns, the organization adds even more talent to a team that sent more players to the Olympics than most countries.

“Another puck-moving, active defenseman in the rush,” Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan said. “[He has a] Great shot. Huge man, he’s our biggest defenseman and can play physical. In and around the blue paint, we feel that we’re stronger in that area.”

He’s not the only player who can play in the tough areas of the ice. Douglas Murray knows his way around the crease as well—and he’s excited about Burns joining the team.

“He’s an elite player,” Murray said. “He brings that extra dimension offensively and he has a big body too. He’s physical. Danny Boyle has done the heavy lifting as far as offense, so it’s great to have another high-end, top defenseman as well.”

Expectations are sky-high for the Sharks each season. Another trip to the conference finals may be a great season for most teams around the league—but it’s only the first step for San Jose. Not only do they want to make it back for the third straight season, but they want to break through this season. Everyone around the team has hopes that this could be the year it finally happens.

“I think he’s a big piece to the team,” Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn said about Burns. “If you look at the teams that win the Stanley Cup: last year, Zdeno Chara—a big defenseman. You go down the line of teams that win the Cup and almost every team that wins the Cup has that big-time, big man on the back end. Taking nothing away from Dan Boyle, he’s a tremendously gifted player with and without the puck, but he doesn’t bring the size.”

Pacific Division foes know that Burns is going to fill a big void for one of their rivals. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle says Burns brings something the Sharks were missing last season.

“I thought that they had missed Rob Blake type of player and they look to have that element back on their backend,” Carlyle said. “That’s what Brent Burns brings. He’s a big man that can move, he jumps in the rush, big shot, plays big minutes, so I think that’s their mandate [for bringing him in.]”

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan expounded on Carlyle’s take:

“Maybe more with all due respect to Blake, because he has younger legs and can go a little bit more,” McLellan said. “But the same shot, the same tenacity, not quite the same maturity level obviously, but he does replace some of those assets lost when Blake retired.”

Carlyle and McLellan aren’t the only ones who think Burns can bring the “Rob Blake” presence either. Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn admitted that he thinks the team actually found an upgrade when asked about Burns replacing Blake’s productivity:

“With them not having to play together as a pair,” Hahn continued, “it gives the Sharks two sets of D [pairings] now that can truly dominate on the ice. That’s an element that even when Rob Blake was here, we didn’t quite have. No disrespect to Rob, but he was at the end of his career. We’ve never had this element that Brent Burns gives us with Boyle on one pair and him on a second pair. It makes us WAY tougher to match-up against.”

Take note: people around the Sharks think they’ll be “way tougher” to match up against than last season. This is a team that finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, won the Pacific Division crown for the fourth consecutive season, and eliminated both the upstart Los Angeles Kings and perennial power Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.

We’ll know how much better they are when April and May roll around. But if they are, the Eastern Conference better start preparing themselves.

Ekblad back on the ice for Panthers after World Cup injury

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers had a bit of a scare during the 2016 World Cup when defenseman Aaron Ekblad, while playing for Team North America, was injured in a first-round game against Finland that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On Saturday, Ekblad was back on the ice for the Panthers doing some individual workouts following the injury.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said, via Alain Poupart of NHL.com.  “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

It was initially reported that Ekblad had a concussion, but it was later reported to be a neck injury.

The Panthers haven’t been overly concerned with the injury over the past week.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has quickly become one of the franchise building blocks for a Panthers team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Still only 20 years old, he is already a top-pairing defenseman in the league and has scored 27 goals in his career, a number that is pretty much unheard of for a defenseman that young.

According to the hockey-reference database, the only defenseman that has scored more goals at that age through their first two seasons is Phil Housley.

After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 and having a busy offseason that saw them add Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their defense, the Panthers look like they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and Ekblad is going to be a major part of that.

Ilya Bryzgalov’s Canada – Russia take is the best take

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of Russia comes into the game against Canada during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between Russia and Canada on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Admit it: you miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

Saturday presented the latest reminder that hockey’s just a little less fun thanks to the absence of Mr. Universe, as Bryzgalov regaled ESPN’s Craig Custance with his impeccable analysis of the drubbing Russia received from Canada during the 2010 Olympics.

You see, Breezy initially described Canada’s start “like gorillas out of a cage,” but upon further reflection …

… Well:

“Not gorillas,” Bryzgalov said. “More like Orcs from ‘The Hobbit.’ You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.”

Fantastic.

Now, it’s possible that Bryzgalov meant “Lord of the Rings” rather than “The Hobbit,” but both series featured “Big. Mean. Scary” orcs, so who knows:

Really though, it paints quite the picture. Imagine, for a moment, Shea Weber or Brent Burns decked out like that one especially big, mean and scary orc. One can only imagine the Photoshop masterpieces that may sprout up thanks to the vivid story Bryzgalov told.

***

Now, there are some great bits leading up to Saturday’s Canada – Russia semifinal. PHT should have more to come tonight.

Sportsnet looked back at a moment in which a seemingly sure-thing Canadian team hit a brick wall in a Russian opponent. NHL.com provided a fascinating look at Mike Babcock and his quest for control. TSN captures a moment of sorts for Steven Stamkos.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but Bryzgalov’s takes are truly one of a kind, and they’ve been truly missed.

Bruins’ Vatrano to miss three months with foot injury

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Frank Vatrano is supposed to be one of the young players the Boston Bruins will be counting on this season to help replace some of the offense they lost when Loui Eriksson signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they will have to wait a few months before he gets an opportunity to make an impact.

The team announced on Saturday that Vatrano is going to require surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot and is expected to miss at least three months.

General manager Don Sweeney said that Vatrano was injured in his training in preparation for the team’s training camp.

Vatrano appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in 2015-16 season and scored eight goals, including a hat trick in an early season win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent the rest of his season playing for Providence of the American Hockey League where he scored a league leading 36 goals in only 36 games. Just for some perspective on that goal total, only one other player in the league scored 30 goals for the entire season, and that was Chris Bourque who scored 30 in 72 games.

Star-crossed: Cody Eakin to miss about six weeks

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Cody Eakin #20 of the Dallas Stars waits for the face off against the New Jersey Devils on January 2,2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars’ run of injuries hasn’t ended even with the World Cup of Hockey winding down.

Training camps are starting up, so that’s a new way that the team can encounter bad luck, and it didn’t take much time for the hits to keep coming. Cody Eakin suffered a lower-body injury that’s apparently bad enough to sideline him for six weeks, according to the team.

That same announcement revealed that Devin Shore will miss “some time.”

Before that bad Eakin news leaked through, head coach Lindy Ruff tried to spin the injuries as positively as possible, as the Dallas Morning News noted.

“We’ve got a little bit of the injury bug hitting us, but you’ve got to get through it,” Ruff said. “I’d rather have it now than three or four weeks from now.”

In case you’re wondering, Ruff didn’t pass around bubble wrap to everyone in the Stars’ locker room after making that statement.

Eakin has only missed four games over the last four seasons, so this injury bug is becoming quite the epidemic for the Stars.

Related: Stars might be the biggest losers of the World Cup