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Renovation Watch: Major slippage

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Every now and then, PHT will glance at the teams who changed the most during the 2011 off-season in Renovation Watch.

Generally speaking, things have gotten quite a bit worse for the five most dramatically altered teams in the NHL since we last took a look at them before New Year’s. Here is a glance at how each squad fared, in order from highest standings position to the lowest (wins are the tiebreaker in one case, if it really matters).

Philadelphia Flyers

Record on Dec. 29: 21-10-4 for 46 points
Current record: 25-12-4 for 54 points

The Flyers already found themselves behind the New York Rangers for second in the Atlantic Division in the earlier edition; now it just seems like that surging, scrappy squad is that much further out of reach. Still, it’s likely that few teams want to tangle with this explosive Philly team, even if the wrong Russian seems to be in net most nights.

Minnesota Wild

Record on Dec. 29: 20-12-6 for 46 points
Current record: 22-15-6 for 50 points

It actually seems like Minnesota is righting the ship in most recent times, but maybe that’s just compared to their jarring fall from grace that was quite clear in the last Renovation Watch. They’re currently second in the Northwest Division, which is good for seventh overall in the West. It’s not an understatement to say that they have a tenuous grip on a playoff spot at the moment.

Florida Panthers

Record on Dec. 29: 19-11-7 for 45 points
Current record: 21-13-8 for 50 points

The Panthers have been exceedingly average lately, but give them a break. They’re taking some challenges in stride, especially when it comes to the health of their goalies. It’s tough to really be intimidated by this team as they’re currently constituted, but they are getting things done. Florida remains first overall in the once-again-weak Southeast Division.

Buffalo Sabres

Record on Dec. 29: 17-16-3 for 37 points
Current record: 18-19-5 for 41 points

Is it crazy to wonder if Lindy Ruff’s borderline-vampiric reign as the Sabres head coach is in danger? The NHL’s longest tenured bench boss is experiencing perhaps the most disappointing season of his time in Buffalo as the team’s summer splurge might not even amount to a playoff spot. They’re currently stuck in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and are only on top of the lowly Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Record on Dec. 29: 9-22-5 for 23 points
Current record: 11-26-5 for 27 points

Speaking of coach firings, the Blue Jackets finally handed Scott Arniel a pink slip. Let’s face it, though, the team’s problems aren’t about X’s and O’s. They don’t have much talent to speak of, especially for a team that perennially gathers high draft picks. Really, the wrong Scott might have been fired, or at least both Scott Howson and Arniel deserved the axe.

Andreychuk confident that Stamkos will re-sign in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Former Tampa Bay Lightning player Dave Andreychuk is now a member of the club’s senior management team, and he’s confident that the Bolts won’t lose Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer.

“Steven is going to come back. He’s going to be fine,” Andreychuk told Hockey Central today, per Sportsnet.ca.

“I still believe that Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen.”

Andreychuk — whose official title is VP Corporate & Community Affairs — is not part of the Lightning’s hockey operations, but presumably he speaks with Yzerman, the general manager, from time to time.

Of course, the challenge for Yzerman goes well beyond re-signing the captain. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin.

All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next.

Stamkos, Hedman, and Bishop are pending UFAs, while the other five are pending RFAs.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”