Three (News) Stars of the Week: Kessel, Blue Jackets and Luongo

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“Three (News) Stars of the Week” will run every Friday. It’s our way of acknowledging the week’s big NHL stories that gave us lots of page views, thereby increasing PHT’s attractiveness to advertisers.

source: Getty Images

Third star: Phil Kessel is playing well

Toronto’s top sniper leads the NHL with seven goals and 12 points. Not coincidentally, the Maple Leafs are 4-1-1, second in the Northeast division – a good start for a team that hasn’t experienced the playoffs since 2004. Kessel was even a big story in Toronto’s 6-2 loss Thursday night in Boston. The TD Garden faithful chanted “Thank you, Kessel” following a goal by the Bruins’ Tyler Seguin, one of the players the Bruins drafted with the three picks Toronto sent Boston for Kessel. Predictably, this caused everyone to look back on the trade and debate it all over again.

source: AP

Second star: Columbus is bad

The Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest early disaster. Still winless after six games following a summer that saw the club jack up the payroll by millions and millions of dollars, the team president has already been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the general manager and the coach, and the general manager has been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the coach. The fans, meanwhile, have confidence in nobody. Now veteran forward Vinny Prospal is angry at how the young Blue Jackets are playing, and things don’t get any easier tonight when Columbus takes on the undefeated Red Wings in Detroit.

source: Getty Images

First star: Roberto Luongo is a polarizing figure among Canucks fans

Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, Vancouver’s all-star goalie surrendered four third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to the Rangers. The game featured a spectacular 40-save shutout by Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of ice, a contrast in goaltending success that didn’t sit well with a handful of Canucks fans who jeered and Bronx cheered Luongo. The fans’ discontent overshadowed the actual game and the next day Luongo was asked by the rabid media how it felt to be booed on home ice. He replied that it didn’t bother him because he was used to it by now. The Canucks, it should be noted, are one of the best teams in the NHL and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in June. Starting goalies don’t typically get used to being booed on teams like that. Then again, all-star goalies don’t typically have as many disastrous playoff games as Luongo has had with the Canucks. Then again, hockey is a team game. Then again, when you’re being paid like Luongo’s being paid, you have to bail your team out once in a while. Then again…you get the point.

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.

Avs dismiss three from coaching staff, but Bednar remains

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Colorado GM Joe Sakic said there would be turnover this offseason, but that head coach Jared Bednar was safe.

On Tuesday, Sakic followed through.

The Avs have parted ways with two of Bednar’s assistants — Tim Army and Dave Farrish — and also relieved goalie coach Francois Allaire of his duties.

Army, 54, has been with the club for the last six years, having previously served as the head coach at Providence. He served under three different head coaches in Colorado — Bednar, Patrick Roy and Joe Sacco — and was largely tasked with running the team’s power play (which finished 30th in the NHL this year).

Farrish, 60, just wrapped his second year on the job with the Avs after coming over from Toronto. A veteran of nearly 30 years in coaching, Farrish was brought aboard by Roy, and brought “a wealth of experience and hockey knowledge to our organization.” A journeyman blueliner who playecd 430 games at the NHL level, Farrish ran the club’s defense last season.

Allaire, 57, has been coaching goalies at the NHL level for over 25 years, with previous stops in Montreal, Anaheim and Toronto. His ties to Roy ran deep — he mentored the former Avs coach with the Canadiens, and the pair won two Stanley Cups together (in 1986 and ’93). Allaire has been with the Avs for the last four years, on the heels of an acrimonious departure from Toronto.

Today’s shakeup is a significant one, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Bednar was essentially forced into retaining all of Roy’s staff following the latter’s shock resignation last August, and probably wants to bring in some of his own guys.

Sakic, meanwhile, had to make some sort of changes after the worst regular season in franchise history — and today’s could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Related: Avs president gives Sakic vote of confidence

Same lineup expected for Pens, but Sens will have changes

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Plenty of injuries on both sides ahead of tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

We’ll start with the Penguins, who seem likely to ice the same lineup they did Sunday. Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed today that Justin Schultz, Chad Ruhwedel, Patric Hornqvist, and Tom Kuhnhackl remain out.

“Kuhnhackl, Ruhwedel and Hornqvist stayed back in Pittsburgh. They’re rehabbing back there,” said Sullivan. “Schultz is here in Ottawa with us. He is rehabbing as well, but he will not play tonight.”

As for the Senators, head coach Guy Boucher has some “warmup decisions” to make. Forward Ryan Dzingel will be back in. Forwards Chris Kelly and Colin White could be in, too, because Tommy Wingels and Alex Burrows are both out.

The question is whether the Sens go with seven defensemen again, or back to six. If it’s the latter, White could draw in.

White, 20, has not played in these playoffs, and he only played two NHL games in the regular season.  A Boston College product, he was the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft. He only recently signed his entry-level contract with the Sens.

“I mean, he’s a guy who’s a really smart player,” said Boucher. “He’s got speed, lots of speed, a guy that drives the net, and he’s very reliable on both ends of the ice. That’s why we’re considering him.”

The Senators need to win tonight. If they don’t, the Penguins will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

After playing for Canada, journeyman Chris Lee reportedly leaving KHL for NHL

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His numbers in the KHL jump right off the page.

And he just won a silver medal with Canada at the Worlds.

So it’s no huge surprise to hear, via Aivis Kalniņš, that defenseman Chris Lee has left Magnitagorsk Metallurg to pursue a shot in the NHL.

Lee, who turns 37 in October, had 65 points (15G, 50A) in 60 games for Metallurg this season. He was partnered with Viktor Antipin, the 24-year-old who will reportedly join the Sabres next season. Predictably, there has been speculation that Lee could be on his way to Buffalo.

A late bloomer, Lee was never drafted and has never played an NHL game. He spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, after getting his start in the ECHL following four years at SUNY-Potsdam. He left for Europe in 2010 and played in Germany and Sweden before arriving in the KHL.

Lee was the only non-NHLer on Canada’s roster at the Worlds.

“Lee fit,” coach Jon Cooper said, per Sportsnet. “You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”