Canucks GM denies Luongo trade request, says Kesler had “no excuses” this season

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We had a feeling this would happen – Canucks GM Mike Gillis spoke to Team 1040 radio in Vancouver today and once again stated it was possible goalie Roberto Luongo could be back with the team next season.

As for coach Alain Vigneault’s widely reported comments on French-language TV that seemed to confirm Luongo wanted out of Vancouver?

“Alain also went back and corrected that, which is my understanding,” said Gillis. “I haven’t heard the interview, but he went and told whoever was conducting [the interview] that he had misspoke.”

All Gillis would say is that Luongo told the Canucks he’d accept a trade if they felt it was the best for the team.

Anyway, no surprise there. Even if trading Luongo were a fait accompli, the Canucks wouldn’t want to admit it publicly.

Perhaps more interesting were Gillis’s comments on the Ryan Kesler-related drama that unfolded this week.

To refresh your memory, it all started Wednesday when Vigneault told reporters that Kesler’s shoulder injury that required offseason surgery “was not in our mind the reason for his diminished production. That shoulder wasn’t 100 percent, but our medical staff and Ryan did a great job of maintaining the strength. The injury wasn’t the reason his production fell.”

To which Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, responded with, “I am not a doctor, I’m a lawyer, but after having conversations with the player and with the club, anyone who thinks this injury did not affect his play must have fallen off a turnip truck.”

Gillis’s take?

“[Kesler] was cleared for play and he wanted to play and clearly he wasn’t as effective as he had been the year before and there’s probably a lot of reasons that went into that,” he said. “Injuries are part of it, but if you’re cleared to play and you play, there’s no excuses. You have to perform. This year, among others, he didn’t perform at the level that he expected or we expected.”

In other words, the GM and coach are on the same page.

On top of that, Gillis addressed Kesler’s – how to put this – theatrical performance in the playoffs.

“I’m not fine with it. We have had discussions about it,” he said. “Sometimes players in the heat of the moment, they don’t use their best judgment occasionally.

“Ryan understands his role. He understands the process of becoming a great player, and he accepts it. Occasionally there are some lapses, and I think that’s what happened in the first game in particular against Los Angeles in the playoffs. And we’ve addressed it and we’re moving on.”

In addition to the alleged embellishing, Gillis might also have been referring to Kesler’s decision to give Kings goalie Jonathan Quick a snow-shower early in Game 1 while the Canucks were leading, 1-0 – a decision that led to an unsportsmanlike penalty and a Los Angeles power-play goal. Questionable call or not, Kesler’s reputation likely played a role in the referee’s verdict.

Johnny Hockey: ‘I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong’

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Johnny Gaudreau made headlines last week when he went on Philadelphia radio and said it would be “sweet” to play for the Flyers one day.

Gaudreau — a South Jersey native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, but currently stars for the Calgary Flames — has now been offered a chance to clarify a few things about that interview.

“I think if you ask any player in the NHL if they’d like to play in their hometown at some point they’d all say it would be pretty sweet,” Gaudreau told the Courier-Post in a Q&A. “You’ve got friends, you’ve got family, you’ve got kids you went to school with, you’ve got teachers, you name it. You’ve got people that will be supporting you. The people support me down here, like it’s crazy down here. I’m just really fortunate they follow me up in Calgary.

“I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great city and they’re so passionate about our team. It’s a real hockey city. I really enjoy it up there, don’t get me wrong, but I think if you ask any player if he wants to play in his hometown they’d say it would be pretty cool to do that.

“I’ve still got five more years on my contract and who knows…if we’re playing well up here in Calgary I could end up staying another four or five years there because I love the city so much. It’s tough to have all those articles come out when it’s something so small, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

It’s certainly possible that Gaudreau opts to explore unrestricted free agency when his contract expires. But he doesn’t have that option until 2022.

For now, Gaudreau’s excited about the next few years in Calgary, where the Flames are trending the right way, possibly soon into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Related: Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

“Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

“This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Spooner

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Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.

Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

 McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.