Sidney Crosby

Top 10 NHL stories to watch…once the All-Star break is over


The NHL All-Star break, which begins Thursday, is the last deep breath everyone gets to take before the playoff stretch drive. So with that in mind, here are 10 stories we’ll be covering closely in the coming months, once everyone’s filled up their lungs this weekend.

Will Sidney Crosby be back this season?

We’ve covered Crosby’s battle with concussions from time to time on PHT (and by “time to time,” we mean “obsessively”), and don’t expect that to change. He’s the best player in the world, and at just 24 years old, it’s not being overly dramatic to say his career is in jeopardy. Not to mention, if he can return in time for the playoffs, the Penguins go from probable Stanley Cup contenders to definite contenders.

The Feb. 27 trade deadline

This one has the potential to be epic, and we’re not just saying that because the trade deadline is great for the blogging business (though it is). Combine a ton of cap space for a number of Cup contenders (Chicago and Detroit leap to mind) with an unusually high supply of big names that have come up in trade speculation – from Bobby Ryan to Jeff Carter to Ryan Suter – and we could be in store for some blockbuster deals.

Teams that were expected to make the playoffs, but might not

The Washington Capitals, for example. Just imagine for a minute if they don’t make it. Would GM George McPhee have any hope of keeping his job? Would a new GM come in and blow things up? How would Alex Ovechkin handle it? Would Penguins fans ever stop laughing? Another team to watch is Los Angeles. The Kings still have the worst offense in the NHL, though things have gotten slightly better under new coach Darryl Sutter.

Teams that were expected to miss the playoffs, but might not

Ottawa, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, Calgary – all remain in the mix. To address just one of those teams, nobody expected the Senators (27-19-6) to be where they are right now, and that includes their owner. But while the Sens head into the break with a five-point lead over eighth-place New Jersey, we’ve seen already how quickly surprise teams can fall in the standings. (Ahem: Wild.)

The pursuit of a top seed

A quick glance at the standings and some fairly unexceptional teams occupy the seventh and eighth spots in each conference. Unexceptional compared to last year at least, when Vancouver won the Presidents’ Trophy and was rewarded with a first-round matchup against defending champion Chicago. The Blackhawks, who were treading water for most of the regular season, kicked it into gear once they got their hate on and took the Canucks to overtime of Game 7. While still possible, a scenario like that seems less likely this time around, meaning a first or second seed could be a significant advantage. Third and fourth? Not so much.

Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?

The richest team in the league in the capital of the hockey world (self-anointed, but probably true) hasn’t played a postseason game since 2004. Miss the playoffs again and it would make seven straight seasons. Which when you think about it, is pretty pathetic. GM Brian Burke’s job is likely safe regardless, but coach Ron Wilson, contract extension and all, would have to be out the door. (Right?) Expect Toronto to be active prior to the trade deadline to boost the top six forwards. The Leafs are one of the rare clubs with a surplus of defensemen, a commodity that’s always in heavy demand heading into the playoffs.

A new CBA needs to be negotiated

The current agreement expires in September, with talks between the league and players’ union expected to start after the All-Star break. For certain, the NHL is in better shape financially compared to the 2004-05 lockout that cost an entire season. However, if the owners try to cut the players’ share as we saw recently in the NBA, things could get…tense. New union leader Donald Fehr is no pushover, and by blocking realignment he’s already sent a message to Gary Bettman that the players won’t be bullied.

The race for the Hart Trophy

The league’s leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, is the current top candidate, having put the Penguins on his back minus Crosby and a host of other key Pittsburgh players that have suffered long-term injuries. But remember what Corey Perry did down the stretch last year. Anything can happen (including an injury to Malkin.) Claude Giroux, Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews are all in the MVP conversation. Shea Weber should be too, but the Hart rarely goes to defensemen.

Supplemental discipline as the games become more important

OK, let’s say the Capitals have five games left, they’re neck and neck with two other teams for the final playoff spot and, uh-oh, Ovechkin leaves his feet again to hit a guy. What does Brendan Shanahan do? Throw the book at Ovi? Go easy on him? Hide under some jackets? Not saying it’ll involve Ovechkin, but something like this is bound to happen in some shape or form.

The final days of the Phoenix Coyotes?

When the deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg was announced in May, the playoffs were still underway. And chances are, that deal didn’t come together overnight. So that gives you an idea of how much time is left for the league to find an owner that will keep the Coyotes at Arena. That is, assuming the NHL isn’t willing to give status quo another season in Arizona, which would likely necessitate the city of Glendale covering millions and millions more of the team’s losses. This really does seem like the last stand for the franchise in its current location. Granted, it’s felt like that before. Many times actually. But this really, really feels like it.

Report: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
Leave a comment

Simon Despres has played only once this season, back on Oct. 13, due to injury.

It now appears the Anaheim Ducks don’t see the 25-year-old defenseman returning to their lineup any time soon.

On Sunday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Twitter that the Ducks placed Despres, who carries an average annual value of $3.7 million, on long-term injured reserve, providing Anaheim with some flexibility in the salary cap situation.

By placing Despres on LTIR, it’s been suggested this could possibly allow the Ducks to sign restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Lindholm, 22, missed training camp, instead deciding to stay in Sweden while he awaits a deal with the Ducks. Six games into Anaheim’s season, and still no deal.

It was reported last month that Lindholm was seeking a deal of eight years, and at least $6 million per season.

Last week, on TSN’s Insider Trading, McKenzie suggested the two sides could be about $250,000, annually, apart. He also added that there is a “cap hit penalty” when restricted free agents don’t get signed before the season begins.

“For every day that (Lindholm) is not signed in this season, the cap hit for the team will increase by about $30,000 if he were to agree to a $5.5 million deal,” McKenzie reported.

“Let’s say he agrees to a deal that’s $5.5 million AAV, well the cap hit’s going to be up around $5.8 (million) as of now, for each day that goes on.”

Comeback Canucks? Not against the Ducks

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Alexander Edler #23 and Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks look on after Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to scoring a goal during the third  period of a game at Honda Center on October 23, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The Vancouver Canucks have made a habit of third-period comebacks early this season. Playing with the lead, though? Not so much.

Despite their early penchant for late-game magic — certainly not a sustainable method of winning in the long-term — the Canucks were unable to score a come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

Instead, they lost 4-2, as Nick Ritchie and Corey Perry scored late in the third period to nullify any chance of a Vancouver comeback.

Henrik Sedin had gotten the Canucks back into a tied game early in the final period, before the Ducks killed off a Vancouver power play and then surged ahead for good.

It’s Vancouver’s first regulation loss of the season. In six games, the Canucks have played with the lead only once.

Really, the score flattered the Canucks, playing the second half of a back-to-back set in California. The Ducks dominated possession, but goalie Ryan Miller kept the Canucks in it until late in regulation.

The Canucks are now 4-1-1. That’s still a good start, but there have been signs lately that they could soon be served a reality check.


Meanwhile, the Ducks have won two in a row after losing their first four games to start the season.

It was promising that their best players were their best players in Anaheim’s home opener.

Ryan Getzlaf had three assists. Corey Perry had an assist on the winner and scored to put this one away. Defenseman Cam Fowler, who has been at the center of trade speculation in the past few months, scored Sunday and is now up to three goals, with points in four of six games.

“He’s played great,” Getzlaf recently told the Orange County Register. “Cam put a lot on his shoulders last year. He had a great year for us last year and it gets overlooked a little bit because he does it in a little bit quieter way. He’s not flashy.

“I thought his play has carried over from last year. He’s continued to play the same way and at a high level.”

This win puts the Ducks within a point of the San Jose Sharks. The two California rivals face each other Tuesday in San Jose.

Video: Dan Girardi’s first goal in nearly a year lifts Rangers to victory

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
Leave a comment

An offensive defenseman, Dan Girardi is not.

His last goal prior to this weekend? Nov. 12, 2015. It’s been a while. Almost an entire year now. But in his return to the New York Rangers lineup on Sunday, the 32-year-old Girardi was able to bust his scoring slump on a slap shot from the blue line that beat Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue.

The Rangers eventually won by a final score of 3-2, with Girardi’s goal counting as the winner. He scored only twice last season, and hasn’t scored more than five goals in a single season since 2009-10.

Despite poor start, Elliott ‘will find his game very soon,’ says former teammate Jake Allen

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

OK. So, Brian Elliott isn’t off to a good start in net for the Calgary Flames.

He has lost all three of his starts. He’s allowed 14 goals with a save percentage of only .839. Not good. Not good at all, especially considering the Flames acquired Elliott with the hopes of addressing their goaltending concerns from previous seasons.

Chad Johnson has instead started three of the last four games for Calgary.

Whether it’s Elliott or Johnson in net, the Flames have given up the most goals against in the league, while giving up 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That puts them 18th in the league at even strength.

But despite Elliott’s difficult start, a former Blues teammate of his has voiced support for the 31-year-old puck stopper, optimistically stating that a turnaround will happen.

“I wouldn’t worry one bit. That’s just my perspective,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Calgary Herald. “He’s one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and he will find his game very soon.

“Obviously, he wanted to get off to a good start (in Calgary), that’s first and foremost, but if it doesn’t go that way, he will rebound and find it. I’m 100 (per cent) about that. I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was a Flames fan.”

That’s reassuring. Maybe.

Elliott enjoyed five strong seasons in St. Louis, playing alongside Allen for three of those seasons. But St. Louis was — and still is — a very structured team under head coach Ken Hitchcock, which certainly bodes well for goalies.

It’s still very early in Elliott’s tenure in Calgary, which also has a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan.

The coach will have an interesting decision coming up next week, with the Flames making a quick two-game stop in the Central Division. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and the Blues the following night.

Elliott didn’t get a chance to face his old team Saturday. Perhaps he’ll get that opportunity in St. Louis on Tuesday.