Dion Phaneuf

Ron Wilson says Dion Phaneuf is the NHL’s best defenseman “by a country mile”

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With his red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs sitting atop the Northeast division and just three points back of Pittsburgh for top spot in the East (with three games in hand!), head coach Ron Wilson decided now was an okay time to talk up his captain, Dion Phaneuf.

“Personally I think by a country mile he’s the best defenseman in the league. It’s not even close right now,” Wilson said following a 4-3 win over the Penguins. “I think he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s comfortable being the captain, he’s healthy and I think without taking away from his play, the way Carl Gunnarsson’s played has made Dion’s job a lot easier. It’s just freed up Dion to play as best as I’ve ever seen him.”

And you know what? Wilson might be right. Phaneuf could be the NHL’s best. He leads all Leafs in assists (nine), plus/minus (+7) and time on ice per game (26:34) and is third amongst all NHL defensemen in points (11). He also captains one of the top-three teams in the league. What other defensemen boast that kind of resume?

There’s only one that comes close: Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang. And he comes very close. Which is why Wilson’s “by a country mile” comment doesn’t work.

Letang’s been an absolute horse for the Pens, putting up 10 assists in 11 games while averaging over 26 minutes a night. And for as good as Phaneuf’s been in carrying the Leafs, he’s been aided by Phil Kessel (the league’s leading goalscorer) and Joffrey Lupul, who’s on pace for a career-high 90 points. Letang hasn’t had nearly the support thanks to injuries suffered by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Zbynek Michalek and Tyler Kennedy, yet the Pens are still off to an impressive start.

So sure, Phaneuf might be the league’s best. But it’s not like he’s squinting at Letang in his rear-view.

‘No Spurgeon tonight’ for desperate Wild

ST PAUL, MN - MAY 9: Jared Spurgeon #46 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 9, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-2. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Desperate for a win and hosting the NHL-leading Washington Capitals, the Minnesota Wild be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for a second straight game.

“No Spurgeon tonight,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said this morning. “He’s not ready.”

Spurgeon has already missed one game, Tuesday’s 4-3 OT loss to Dallas. He suffered a “deep bruise” Saturday in St. Louis, and his status for this Saturday’s game against Boston is uncertain.

The Wild are also missing d-man Jonas Brodin, currently on injured reserve with a broken foot.

That’s two significant injuries on the back end, as Spurgeon and Brodin each average over 20 minutes in ice time.

In a related story, Ryan Suter played a season-high 33:15 against the Stars, while AHL call-up Mike Reilly was out there for just 12:27.

Related: Yeo was ‘disappointed’ to see Hoppy the rabbit holding a ‘YEO MUST GO’ sign

Quenneville says NHL disagreed with overturned goal call

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Perhaps Joel Quenneville was right to storm out of Tuesday’s press conference after expressing frustration with a disallowed goal.

On Thursday, Quenneville told reporters the NHL didn’t agree with the call made during Chicago’s 2-0 loss to San Jose — a decision in which Brandon Mashinter’s tally was wiped out, after officials judged Dennis Rasmussen had interfered with Martin Jones.

Mashinter’s disallowed goal came just days after Chicago was on the wrong end of another overturned marker. Last Thursday the ‘Hawks had one during an eventual win over Arizona, a call that sent Quenneville into histrionics on the bench.

Coach Q said storming out of Tuesday’s postgame presser was a culmination of calls going against his club, adding that the league provided a more detailed explanation of how and why these decisions are being made.

“I just think, we had a couple of occurrences in a short amount of time so obviously a little frustration there,” Quenneville said, per ESPN. “But we did speak to the league and got some [clarification] on the play.

“I just think there’s education across the board and you have a lot of people in the middle of the process making the decisions. As long as we’re getting right is what we’re looking for.”

Panarin’s illness ‘hopefully not long term, but he’s definitely out tonight’

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal on an assist from Patrick Kane against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-1. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
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From our friends at CSN Chicago:

Artemi Panarin will miss his second consecutive game due to illness and Corey Crawford will start when the Blackhawks host the Dallas Stars Thursday night at the United Center.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Panarin’s illness is “hopefully not long term, but he’s definitely out tonight.” Quenneville added that it’s comparable to what ailed Jonathan Toews prior to the All-Star break. Toews played through his illness for about a week but finally had to sit out the third period of the Blackhawks’ Jan. 26 game at Carolina. Toews also missed the All-Star weekend due to that illness and was suspended against Colorado on Feb. 2.

Panarin has 18 goals and 34 assists in 56 games, his 52 points by far the most among NHL rookies. Detroit’s Dylan Larkin is a distant second with 38.

This morning, Richard Panik skated in Panarin’s spot with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane.

Ehrhoff clears waivers; Jonathan Quick hurt?

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, right, stops a shot as teammate Christian Ehrhoff, of Germany, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Scott Hartnell watch during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Blue Jackets won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Christian Ehrhoff has cleared waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The Kings made the 33-year-old defenseman available yesterday. It’s expected he’ll be assigned to AHL Ontario, with 23-year-old d-man Kevin Gravel getting called up.

“Nothing wrong with Christian Ehrhoff,” coach Darryl Sutter told reporters Wednesday. “We’re not exactly world beaters here. We don’t have the best defense in the league or the best team in the league. We’re trying to get better in a hurry.”

In addition to the Ehrhoff news, goalie Peter Budaj has been added to the Kings’ roster on the NHL’s media website, meaning Jonathan Quick (reportedly “day-to-day” with an injury sustained Tuesday in Boston) could miss some time.