Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, David Clarkson

Devils’ off-season questions go beyond Brodeur, Parise

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For some, the New Jersey Devils’ surprisingly deep postseason run revolved around the possibility that this could be a last hurrah for lynchpins Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. Upon further inspection, it’s clear that those crucial choices are just the headliners in what could be one of the most eventful off-seasons in GM Lou Lamoriello’s lengthy reign.

Really, the team doesn’t have a ton of guys locked up long-term beyond Ilya Kovalchuk and a handful of defensemen.

Taking a look at the Devils’ Cap Geek page, it’s stunning how many players are a) scheduled to become free agents this summer or b) only have one more year left on their contracts. To spare you all that tedious clicking, I thought I’d rattle them off with some thoughts.

Free agents this summer

Parise – As you may know, it all comes down to what Parise thinks. Perhaps the deep playoff run and familiarity in New Jersey will make him a Devil for the rest of his career, but we’ll need to wait and see.

Brodeur – For a long time, it seemed like the Devils were holding all the cards. Brodeur gained quite a bit of clout and leverage with his playoff performances, however, so it’ll be interesting to see if New Jersey ponies up. If you ask me, the sticking point might be term instead of cash.

Johan Hedberg – Interestingly enough, both Devils goalies are unrestricted free agents this summer. It’s tough to imagine seeing two older netminders in New Jersey next season, but Hedberg’s quietly played well for the Devils.

source: Getty ImagesBryce Salvador – Could he parlay a surprisingly productive postseason into a bigger paycheck?

Alexei Ponikarovsky – Will his friendship with Kovalchuk help his chances of finally sticking with a team? Maybe if his asking price is reasonable.

Mark Fayne (restricted) and Peter Harrold – Two fairly young defensemen whose negotiations could be intriguing.

Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta – Hey, remember how excited everyone got about the great play by the Devils’ fourth line? Their agents are probably the most excited.

Petr Sykora – Sure, he’s been a healthy scratch, but it’s amazing he even got this far with the Devils.

Free agents after next season

Patrik Elias – He’s had tough scoring luck in the playoffs, yet he had a stealthily outstanding season. He’ll almost certainly need to take a generous pay cut from his $6 million cap hit, though.

Travis Zajac – One underrated reason why the Devils got this far was that Zajac finally seemed close to 100 percent after struggling to recover from off-season surgery. Something tells me that the underrated pivot would get some of Elias’ money – unless he bolts.

source:  Adam Henrique – Who knows how much more money he can earn for himself in his sophomore season?

Jacob Josefson – Don’t be surprised if a healthier Josefson at least establishes himself as an NHL regular next season.

David Clarkson – One of the league’s better young power forwards could fetch a nice sum if he has a strong contract year.

Marek Zidlicky – Zidlicky is one of the only “wild cards” in a defense that’s locked up or a few more seasons.

Dainius Zubrus – Another underrated fixture in New Jersey.

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Honestly, the Devils’ deep run scores another bullet point for the “greed is good” principle of contract year successes. Once he sorts out Brodeur’s and Parise’s situations, Lamoriello must step back and determine if this core can put together more runs like this. If he leans toward yes, it’ll be costly.

PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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–In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

–Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

–Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

–Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

–Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.